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, nativity Carol Concerts and more. Edinburgh’s Christmas normally 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! [17/11/23 – 06/01/24]
There’s an incredible Christmas market in Edinburgh! It runs from Friday 17 November 2023 to Saturday 6 January 2024. 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.
>> Top Tip: If you can, try to visit the Edinburgh Christmas Market on a weekday rather than the week-end as it is getting incredibly popular. Evenings also get very busy so mornings or early afternoons are recommended and why not visit at the start of the festive season (it kicks off on 17 November!)<<
Check out the Winter Light Trail Evenings at the Botanics [16 Nov – 30 Dec 2023]
This.is.amazing! We went on Christmas Eve a few years ago 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.
>> Read about our experience visiting the Botanics’ Light Trail! <<
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! We recommend you check the Dome’s website for booking guidelines and of course, to check their festive menu.
>> Are you looking for quirky and unique bars to visit in Edinburgh? Check out this post!<<
Have a dram at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society on Queen Street
This is definitely an experience to add to your list of things to do in Edinburgh in December! Before having kids, we held a Scotch Malt Whisky Society membership, however, we swapped it for an Edinburgh zoo membership when our wee ones came along. While entry to the whisky society is exclusive to members, we were delighted to discover a few years back that the ground floor bar, the Kaleidoscope Bar, on Queen Street was now open to non-members! This is such a great (off the beaten track!) place to visit – especially during the festive season – as it exudes festive ambiance with its open fireplace, warm lighting and delightful Christmas decorations. It’s not surprising it’s been named as the Icons of Whisky Global Bar of the Year in Whisky Magazine’s World Whisky Awards 2022.
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 highly popular yearly Panto that usually takes place at the Kings Theatre. This year (2023), the King’s Theatre will be closed for refurbishment and the panto will move to the Festival Theatre. It will be putting on “The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan” from Sat 25 Nov 2023 to Sun 31 Dec 2023.
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 “The Snow Queen” from 23 Nov 2023 – 31 Dec 2023 (check here for tickets).
Candlelight: Festive Christmas Films Concert (16 & 21 December 2023)
Now for something unusual and oh so festive… a Christmas Films Candlelight Concert! This unique event takes place in Nicolson Square, a city centre venue, which will be illuminated by thousands of candles. The audience will be treated to a nostalgic themed musical programme of movie soundtracks performed by a string quartet and which will include Let It Snow, Last Christmas, Love is All Around, Jingle Bells, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas and many more festive favourites. Nothing says Christmas like a candlelit setting, so get yourself booked up for this one-of-a-kind unique experience.
→ There are two concerts taking place on 16th and 21st December – embrace the festive spirit and book here!
Spooky Ghost Walk
If you’re in Edinburgh during December, a ghost walk tour can add an unexpected and memorable element to your festive itinerary. Ghost tours take place in the evening, allowing you to experience Edinburgh under the cover of darkness. The city takes on a whole new ambiance at night, and with the Christmas lights adding to the magic, the setting becomes even more enchanting and mysterious. Check out our favourite ghost tours below:
Here’s a spooky selection of walking tours:
Get your skates on and enjoy a trip down memory lane. Located on West George St, between Castle Street and Charlotte Square, you’ll find a fabulous undercover ice rink ! If you’re tired from the exertion of skating, you can finish off the event with a mulled wine or check out the artisan fair. The price of skate hire is included in the entry fee and you’ll be allocated a specific time slot. Click here to book tickets.
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. Edinburgh’s Christmas Market will run from 17 November 2023 til 6 January 2024. Click here for price information.
Check out the Christmas tree at Jenners
*** Update 2023 – unfortunately the giant Christmas tree at Jenners is no more 🙁 *** Jenners, the department store, was something of an institution and although it has now changed hands, the new owners have confirmed that they will continue the tradition of erecting a giant Christmas tree in the building on Princes Street. Every time we visited the store, we wondered 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.
Santa’s Stories in St Andrews Square
If you’ve got little ones, be sure to visit Santa! Head to St Andrews Square to meet the man himself in the comfort of his own grotto. He welcomes groups every half hour and the visit lasts 20 minutes. It’ll be a truly memorable experience for them. Click here to book your tickets!
>> Are you visiting Edinburgh with kids? You need to read this guide! <<
Take part in the Santa Run – 10 Dec 2023
Video 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 and the grown ups are asked to commit to raising a minimum of £10 in sponsorship. The event will take place on Sunday 10th Dec 2023.
Santa dash around Cammo Estate (17 Dec 2023)
Head to the Cammo Estate in your fancy dress and take part in a Santa 5k or 10k dash. There’s even a free elf dash (1k) for the little ones. The race will take place on Sunday 17th Dec 2023 and you can sign up here. All finishers will be rewarded with some tasty mince pies and hot chocolate.
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.
>> Check out our 35+ fun Christmas gifts from Scotland in this post as well as our quirky ideas for gifts from Edinburgh! You can also check out our guide to Broughton Street for a comprehensive round-up of local shops, boutiques and businesses. Head to George Street or smaller neighbourhoods such as Stockbridge, Marchmont or Leith. <<
Castle of Light at Edinburgh Castle
This is a relatively new event that’s been put on by Edinburgh Castle during the festive period. Head to the castle for a special evening of lights and colour at the Castle of Light event. The castle is lit up in projections, illuminations and colourful twinkling lights during several week-ends during the festive season. Check the website for details and to book your tickets.
Light Night [19 Nov 2023]
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. This year’s ‘Light Night’ will take place on Sunday 19th November 2023 from 3:30pm – 5pm at West Parliament Square.
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 15 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.
> Final Tip: Check out the official Edinburgh’s Christmas website for up-to-date information on what’s on, free events and more. <<