Edinburgh is *always* a good idea and even more so during the festive season. Edinburgh at Christmas time is truly magical. The whole town comes to life, the streets are decked in lights, the Christmas market is in full swing and there is a truly wonderful atmosphere in the town. It’s hard to imagine that Christmas Day only became a public holiday in 1958 in Scotland! Indeed, Christmas was banned for almost 400 years but we’ve sure made for it since then!
There are free events including the Night Light switch-on (in November), nativity Carol Concerts and more. Edinburgh’s Christmas kicks off mid-November so there’s plenty of time to get into the spirit of things! Read on for some of our favourite things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas. We also made a video just for you – scroll to the end!
Have a mulled wine at the Christmas Market
There’s an incredible Christmas market in Edinburgh! It’s made up of a Scottish market section as well as a German Christmas market that sprawls across the whole of East Princes Street Gardens. You’ll find all kinds of crafts, gifts, food and drink. Stop off for a warming mulled wine or a hot chocolate. The markets are open daily from 10am – 10pm but note that they’re closed on Christmas day.
Have a glass of fizz at the Dome
Nothing says Christmas quite like the Dome in Edinburgh! A hot chocolate, a glass of bubbles🥂… the Dome is the place to go to and is most definitely something of an institution in Edinburgh. You will be blown away by the lights and Christmas decorations. It’s our go-to place to mark the beginning of the festive period in Edinburgh. It definitely need to feature on your Edinburgh bucket list!
Go to a Panto!
Christmas isn’t complete without a trip to the Panto! The Pantomime is a quintessentially British stage-show that everyone should experience once in their life – whether you have kids or not! There are goodies and there are villains and before you know it, you’ll find yourself booing the baddies and shouting ‘he’s behind you!’. We have been known to go several times before our children were even a twinkle in our eye. It’s great fun – laughter and good times guaranteed. We recommend the acclaimed yearly Panto that takes place at the Kings Theatre.
Catch a festive show
If a panto isn’t your thing, there’s lots of other options! You’ll find plenty of other shows on offer that often have a festive twist. This year, the Lyceum theatre is putting on “An Edinburgh Christmas Carol” (check here for tickets). Don’t be a Grinch and head to Capital Theatres for the musical version of “How the Grinch stole Christmas” (check here for tickets). Or for something more classical, admire the graceful dancers of the Scottish Ballet in “The Snow Queen” at the Festival theatre (check here for tickets).
Go ice-skating >>> UPDATE 2019 – Ice rink has been axed this year!
Unfortunately, Edinburgh’s iconic elliptical ice rink – located in St Andrews Square – has been axed following a ban from the property owners. I’ll leave the entry here in the hope that a compromise will be reached and that festive skating will be a feature of the winter festival in 2020!
[Get your skates on and enjoy a trip down memory lane. There’s a fantastic elliptical icerink that’s set up at St Andrews Square. If you’re tired from the exertion of skating, you can finish off the event with a stop off at the Cider Lodge just next to the rink. The price of skate hire is included in the entry fee and you’ll be allocated a specific time slot.]
Go on the rides at the Christmas market
Find your inner child and take a ride on the thrilling star flyer, helter skelter, the chair-o-planes, the big wheel or a carousel. You can buy tickets online or directly that the booths.
Check out the Christmas tree at Jenners
Jenners is something of an institution and every year they erect a giant Christmas tree in their store on Princes Street. Every time we visit the store, we wonder how on earth they manage to get it into place… Well apparently, the tree is squeezed through the entrance on St David Street (the door is taken apart) and in true James Bond style, acrobats abseil down from the beams within the shop to hoist it into an upright position. Decorations and lights are then placed on the giant tree. You must pop in to check it out!
Go on the big wheel at the Christmas market
For a fantastic panoramic view of Edinburgh, jump on the large Forth 1 Big Wheel. You’ll get a unique view of the Edinburgh skyline as well as the Christmas festival from one of the 36 enclosed, weather-proof pods. We recommend you buy tickets ahead to avoid having to queue up. The tickets are date-specific but you can choose whichever time-slot you like between the hours of 10am and 10pm. Tickets are priced at £6.50 (concessions), £10 (adults) and £28 (family ticket).
Check out the Winter Light Trail Evenings at the Botanics
This.is.amazing! We went on Christmas Eve last year and and what a magical experience it was ! The Edinburgh Botanical Gardens have launched a wonderfully festive event during the Christmas period – the Winter Light Trail. You’ll be mesmerised by the decorations, lights and magical atmosphere. Highlights include the Cathedral of Light, the Scented Fire Garden and visiting Santa and his Elves.
Booking ahead is essential – check out their website for details.
Go to see Santa and his reindeers in Princes Street Gardens
If you’ve got little ones, be sure to visit Santa and his reindeers! Head to Castle Street to meet the man himself in the comfort of his own grotto. He welcomes groups every half hour and the visit lasts 25 minutes.
You may also wish to head to Santa Land which is located in the lower East Princes Street Gardens. Highlights for the little ones will include the Santa Train, the Christmas Tree Maze as well as Reindeer Rides. It’ll be a truly memorable experience for them.
Take part in the Santa Run
Source credit: Sophie Maulevrier from Ooh My World
This is definitely on our bucket list! How fun does this look? Every year at the start of December, hundreds of keen adults, kids and even dogs take part in the Santa Fun Run and Walk in Princes Street Gardens. This 2.5 km run is open to everyone and the money raised from the event helps the charity ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’. This is a charity that works at granting special wishes for children who are living with a life threatening illness. There is an entry fee (£15 for adults, £3-5 for children) and the grown ups are asked to commit to raising a minimum of £15 in sponsorship.
Go Christmas shopping
This might seem obvious but why not take the time to get ahead with some of your Christmas shopping. You can head to the main shopping area (Princes Street and George Street) or alternatively find some quirky, unique gifts at the Christmas market.
If you’re visiting Edinburgh in November fear not as the Christmas market actually kicks off mid-November so you’ll get a chance to enjoy the start of the festive celebrations before it gets too busy. And if you time your visit, you’ll get to enjoy ‘Light Night’ – the night when they switch on the Christmas lights. Can it get any more magical? The event includes the light switch-on (obviously), choirs singing and spectacular fireworks. It gets busy so leave plenty of time to get there and travel by public transport.
Edinburgh at Christmas Video
In case you needed any more convincing, check out our video on Edinburgh at Christmas time for plenty of festive inspiration.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our round-up of 14 best things to do to celebrate Christmas in Edinburgh. We’re very excited about spending Christmas in the capital this year and have many of the above activities planned for the festive season.