13 Things to Do in Edinburgh at Christmas

If you are visiting Edinburgh at the end of the year, you won't be short of things to do, here are all the options available to you!

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

9 min read

13 Things to Do in Edinburgh at Christmas

Edinburgh at Christmas | ©Mark Harkin

Edinburgh is well known for being a city with a lively cultural life, always full of events and festivals throughout the year. Christmas is no exception. During this time of year, as elsewhere in Europe, interesting events take place.

If you plan to visit the Scottish capital at Christmas, you will be spoilt for choice. Music, fireworks, Scottish folklore, ice skating and so much more. I've brought you the best things to do to make the most of this vibrant time of year. All of them, of course, complement the list of what to see and do in Edinburgh valid at any time of the year.

1. Experience the magic of Christmas and Hogwarts at the same time

Hogwarts castle|©Francisco María Martín Martínez
Hogwarts castle|©Francisco María Martín Martínez

Did you know that Edinburgh plays a very important role in the Harry Potter saga? It was in the Scottish capital where J.K Rowling began writing her book and where she found great inspiration in its landscape, specifically in places like The Elephant House cafe.

If you are traveling with children to the city or you are a fan of the saga, taking a Harry Potter tour is a good way not only to discover where Rowling wrote and what inspired her, but also to start to get to know Edinburgh.

In addition, at Christmas the city is filled with lights and beautiful decorations typical of the time, so this tour will not only take on a special magic worthy of Hogwarts, but it will be an original way to walk the Scottish streets.

Book the Harry Potter Tour of Edinburgh

2. Discover the mysteries of the Scottish Christmas season

Camera Obscura Garden, Dumfries,|©DM PHOTOGRAPHY
Camera Obscura Garden, Dumfries,|©DM PHOTOGRAPHY

If you thought Christmas was a time of light, quiet and merriment you were partly wrong. When night falls in Edinburgh, many mystery tours begin to uncover the city's spookiest myths and legends, both Christmas and any time of the year.

For example, did you know that the name of Ebenezer Scrooge, the protagonist of Charles Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol, was chosen by the writer when he saw him on a gravestone in Edinburgh's Canongate Cemetery? Who would that man really be?

If you want to take advantage of the hours of darkness, nothing better than doing it with a ghost tour in Edinburgh. The Scottish city is one of the European capitals of mystery, where legends proliferate in each of its corners and buildings.

Book a ghost tour in Edinburgh

3. Celebrate New Year's Eve with Midnight Moment

New Year's Eve in Edinburgh| ©*Debs*
New Year's Eve in Edinburgh| ©*Debs*

The entry of the new year in Edinburgh is done in style with fireworks that can be seen from several points of the city, although the best is the Edinburgh Castle and Calton Hill.

Although the highlight takes place at 00:00 hours (the so-called Midnight Moment), there are previous fireworks shows that you can enjoy from 22:00 hours. In short, an ideal plan to enjoy with the family and that is totally free.

By the way, if you go there and you are impressed by the Castle, you can not miss a more detailed exploration of this impressive monument. Here you can discover all the details on how to visit Edinburgh Castle.

Book a guided tour to Edinburgh Castle

4. Take a stroll through the Christmas markets

Edinburgh Christmas Market| ©Steve
Edinburgh Christmas Market| ©Steve

Few things bring more atmosphere to the streets at Christmas time than Christmas markets. Edinburgh is no exception in this case; in fact, the city is characterized by its interesting Christmas markets. You will find them scattered throughout the city center, although the main ones are the following:

  • East Princes East Gardens
  • Around the Scott Monument
  • St Andrew Swuare
  • Scottish Market

In them you will find the usual in this type of markets: typical products, Christmas sweets, food, drink and traditional crafts. It deserves to be highlighted the Children Market located in St Andrew Square. A perfect place to stroll among stalls full of toys for children. And if before you want to know the city, but do not lose all your energy to enjoy the markets, you can take a sightseeing bus tour of Edinburgh.

More information about Edinburgh

  • Date: they begin in late November and extend throughout December to end in early January.
  • Hours: 10:00 am to 8:00 pm daily.
  • Price: free except for what you buy or consume.
  • Location: in the historical area of the city.

Book an Edinburgh Sightseeing Bus Tour

5. Visiting the Highlands at Christmas? Of course!

Visiting the center of Edinburgh at Christmas is a must, but at this time of year there is much more than just markets, lights, decorations and fireworks. It is also a very good time to make a trip to the Highlands from Edinburgh for two reasons: it is low season and you can find the mountains snowed.

The Highlands or Highlands of Scotland is a mountainous region of northern Scotland full of hills, vegetation, waterfalls, castles and legends. In short, an absolutely magical place that is much more enjoyable when there are no large hordes of people.

If you want to live a typical Christmas, but at the same time different, the Highlands can not miss on your route.

Book an excursion to the Highlands

6. Ice skating

George Street Ice Skating| ©GR
George Street Ice Skating| ©GR

You can not miss the ice rink in St Andrews Square, basically because it is considered one of the largest ice rinks in Europe. It is very interesting because the rink has a circular shape and wraps like a ring around the square itself.

In addition, it is an area that from the second half of December presents an incredible atmosphere: Christmas lights, music and food and drink stalls where you can have a good mulled wine.

It is also an activity of great architectural interest as St Andrews Square is surrounded by buildings of the eighteenth and nineteenth century absolutely impressive. Tickets can be purchased from 9 € for adults and from 7 € for children.

7. Enjoying a Christmas concert at the Cathedral

Saint Giles Cathedral at Christmas| ©Nathalie L
Saint Giles Cathedral at Christmas| ©Nathalie L

Saint Giles Cathedral, despite the name, is not really a proper cathedral since it is Protestant and therefore not the seat of any bishop. However, its appearance is monumental like that of the most beautiful cathedrals.

A good way to get to know it from the inside is to attend one of the Christmas concerts that take place inside. There, surrounded by the music of its famous choir and its 4,000-pipe organ, you can enjoy its stained glass windows and the beauty of its Thistle Chapel.

More information

about the concerts

  • Date: throughout December, although their frequency increases from the second half of the month.
  • Hours: may vary, although the most frequent time is usually 6:30 pm.
  • Price: depends on the type of concert, but they range from 10€ to 20€.
  • For more information... Here you can consult the Saint Giles concert program.

8. Enjoy the Giant Advent Calendar

Home with the Giant Advent Calendar| ©Flavio Vallenari
Home with the Giant Advent Calendar| ©Flavio Vallenari

If you arrive in Edinburgh a few days before December 25, you will be able to see the sensational Giant Advent Calendar. It is a mapping on the facade of the General Register House, a beautiful neoclassical building of the eighteenth century that is included in the catalog of charms declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

It is very interesting especially because in the countries of southern Europe, such as Spain, we are not so accustomed to the importance that northern countries give to the Advent Calendar. In fact, it is also a very important tradition in countries like Germany.

Until December 24, its facade is illuminated with spectacular images of Christmas past, day by day, as the countdown to Christmas takes place. This spectacle of light and color takes place every day from 5 pm to 10 pm. Of course, this activity is completely free of charge.

9. A plan with children: Edinburgh Christmas Fair

Edinburgh Christmas Fair| ©Antonio R
Edinburgh Christmas Fair| ©Antonio R

The Edinburgh Christmas Fair takes place from mid-November to early January. An opportunity to enjoy family attractions in some of the most significant points of the city. And all with a Christmas atmosphere full of lights. The places where you will find the attractions are:

  • George Street
  • Princes Street Gardens
  • St Andrew Square

The price of tickets ranges between one euro and 6 €. The variety of attractions is very large and you can from riding the legendary Edinburgh Wheel (Edinburgh Wheel) to attractions such as the Starflyer, an iconic attraction consisting of hanging chairs that rotate at high altitude.

10. Enjoy the Christmas lights at the Edinburgh Botanic Garden

Christmas in the Botanic Garden| ©Mad AB
Christmas in the Botanic Garden| ©Mad AB

At Christmas time all Edinburgh is adorned with colored lights and probably the Botanic Garden is one of the places where this lighting is more spectacular. They stand out for the beauty of the lights (which are also sometimes accompanied by music) spaces called Choir of the Trees and the Fire Garden.

They are also very interesting Victorian greenhouses for the fantasy of its lighting.

The entrance times are from 16:30 hours and shifts are usually 15 minutes. The last entrance takes place at 20:00 hours although the Botanical Garden itself closes at 22:00 hours. You can buy tickets from 15 €, although children up to 3 years old have free admission.

11. Dazzle with the giant lantern show at Edinburgh Zoo

Giant lantern show at Edinburgh Zoo| ©Loic M
Giant lantern show at Edinburgh Zoo| ©Loic M

A very interesting plan if you travel to Edinburgh with children is to go to the Giant Lanterns. It takes place at Edinburgh Zoo and consists of a festival of Chinese lanterns. Many of them take the shapes of animals and radiate their light along the kilometer and a half route that integrates the Giant Lanterns.

Just because they are Chinese lanterns does not mean they are small, quite the contrary. There are reproductions of animals that are quite large. They will surely excite the little ones.

I advise you to dress warmly because the show, to be more spectacular, takes place when there is no sunlight. Therefore, it will be colder. Also note that, although you are at the zoo, you can only see this show, watching live animals is not included in the Giant Lanterns.

More information about the Giant Lanterns

  • Duration: you can go through it in about 1 hour and a half.
  • Schedule: the show starts at 4:45 pm and ends at 9:00 pm, although the last entrance is at 7:45 pm.
  • Price: from 16 € for adults and from 10 € for children.

12. Experience the Gaelic New Year's Eve with the Torchlight Parade

Torchlight Parade| ©Ryan T
Torchlight Parade| ©Ryan T

As you may have already had the opportunity to see, the Scots always show pride in their origins. That is why they have managed to combine their pagan Gaelic tradition with later customs. The result of this mixture is Hogmanay, the celebration of the Gaelic winter solstice that in Edinburgh begins a little earlier with a lot of partying. Undoubtedly, the most colorful event is the Torchlight Parade.

This event takes place on December 30 and consists of a massive parade in which each participant carries a torch. The route runs along the Royal Mile to Holyrood Park, where the closing ceremony takes place. In short, an incredible atmosphere, lots of bagpipes and drums and, above all, lots of fun.

If you are interested in this event but your trip to Edinburgh cannot be at Christmas, that's okay: there is a very similar celebration in the Shetland Islands, a plan that can complement your list of things to do in Edinburgh in March.

13. Buy your Christmas presents on Boxing Day

On George Street:| ©byronv2
On George Street:| ©byronv2

Boxing Day takes place on December 26 and is the kick-off of the UK sales. This date has its origins in the custom, during centuries past, of giving items in boxes to employees. Today it is the perfect excuse to go shopping and take advantage of lower prices.

There are many places to do it in Edinburgh. I recommend the following:

  • Princess Street: a street that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the city. It is also the artery where you will find the main fashion brands such as Zara or Primark. It is also home to the famous Waverley Mall.
  • George Street: the most suitable place for the most exclusive fashion and accessories. It is here where the main luxury brands in Edinburgh are concentrated.
  • Grass Market: the best place to find the latest and best of retro and vintage fashion.