After spending most of our lives watching the Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations on the TV we finally decided to ditch the traditional evening with Jackie Bird (it’s a Scottish thing) and actually join in ourselves. My brother-in-law was having his 50th birthday so it seemed like the perfect excuse to just go for it. Although we live in Germany, my wife is from Glasgow and her family still live there so the logistics of getting to Scotland pretty much took care of themselves. However, planning to attend the various parts of the proceedings we wanted to became a major international exercise spanning 2 countries. We learnt a lot about planning a trip to Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve. We also made a few mistakes along the way as well, so I thought it would be interesting to share it all with you.
Torchlight Procession – Edinburgh New Year’s Eve Eve
The first event that’s part of the celebrations in Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve is the torchlight procession. One of our friends had done it last year. and it looked fab They posted loads of pictures on Facebook and we felt really jealous sat up the road in Glasgow not being remotely as adventurous. I think this was one of the reasons we decided to go for it this year. It’s useful to start thinking ahead as the tickets for all the events normally go on sale in mid-July (it was the 17th last year).
Before I go any further, I have a very important message for you. Think Clothing! When we arrived we saw loads of people with waterproof poncho things on. It was like we had arrived in the middle of the Log Flume ride at Alton Towers. We laughed a little at these people in ponchos even though it wasn’t raining. The weather was cold but we were convinced we would be fine wrapped up warm in our normal clothes. What amateurs we were.
The torches are great big sticks of wax. They burn well and create and impressive flame but they also throw melted wax all over your clothes. The people in the ponchos were laughing now because it has taken weeks to clean my jacket properly and it really will never be the same again. Before you come, my advice would be to find yourself some fireproof, waterproof heavy duty ponchos. Don’t buy something too cheap that will melt when the wax hits it either.
The first choice to make when you are buying tickets for the torchlight procession is which of the 3 starting points to choose from. Assuming that things are the same as the past 2 years (from our experience and that of our friend), the best starting point is North Bridge. This is the first to properly start moving and when we walked back up the hill on the way home over 2 hours after we had started, there were still people coming down the Royal Mile. Some people had some very long waits.
The other choice is how many torches to get. If you are like us, your first instinct will be just to get one each and have done with it. However, bear in mind you might have to carry it for a couple of hours, The experience is very exciting and you’ll want to take lots of photos. This isn’t very easy if you are carrying a burning hot stick of fire at the same time. One between 2 worked out fine for us.
The route in 2018 was pretty straight foreword but at the same time takes you past some of the best spots in Edinburgh. At the point where the different starting points meet the procession hits the beautiful Royal Mile. Not that you will get to see so much of it in the dark in a crowd full of people. Either way, it’s pretty impressive to walk down the hill and see the line of torches heading off into the distance.
You then make a turn in front of the Scottish Parliament building. There’s loads going on around this part of the city with all sorts of entertainment and commentaries. As you approach Arthur’s Seat various things are projected onto the wall of rock in front you. Almost immediately you turn into Holyrood Park where the procession continues to the end of the park. The whole thing took a good 2 hours or so (more if you include all the Scotword fun).
Scotword – #Braw
An excitement for 2018 was to form the Scotword. To commemorate the year of young people in Scotland, they had surveyed thousands of young people to find the most popular Scottish word that summed up this wonderful country. The word chosen was #Braw, which means fine, good or pleasing. I prefer the last definition because it really sums up the nice feeling of the word more than the other two. At the end of the evening there were some great fireworks to round things off in style.
Having had a wonderful experience at the procession it was time to head back into the middle of Edinburgh. One big lesson for you to help learn from our mistake. If there are still people coming down the procession route with torches do not try and go back in the opposite direction on the path. There is huge bottleneck outside the Parliament that is a total nightmare to negotiate. I would advise going out of the right side of Holyrood Park as you look back towards the castle and the hill. Also, don’t leave too early or you’ll miss the fireworks.
Another thing to bear in mind is that the tram line along Princes Street closes around 4 or 5 pm on 30th December. That means that if you got the tram into Edinburgh from the Park and Ride at Ingliston near the Airport you will have to catch the return tram at the far end of Princes Street. It’s quite a long walk so be prepared for it time wise.
Hogmanay Street Party – Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve
The big event for Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve is of course the Hogmanay Street Party. As long as you are happy to accept all the wind and rain that the great British weather can throw at you, I would hugely recommend going along. As the name implies, it’s a great big enormous party with an awesome atmosphere. Despite lots of people consuming copious amounts of alcohol I didn’t see any trouble at all during the evening.
You can bring your own alcohol in plastic bottles. There are bag searches so check the Hogmanay for information about what you can and can’t take. There are also plenty of places to buy drinks inside the Street Party and the prices aren’t too crazy either. There’s also a reasonable selection of food as well. Toilets can be a problem so think ahead and don’t leave it to the last minute. For the guys, there are badly signposted urinals behind many of the lines of cubicles. Sounds trivial but you’ll thank me for this tip one day for sure.
Most of the main street party takes places on Princes Street below the castle. There are various stages set up along the street and also lots of drink stands serving wine, beer and other things. Princes Street also has a pretty good selection of food stands. At the ends of Princes Street as well as various side roads there are lines of public toilets. As I said earlier, figure out where your nearest one is and prepare for some long queues. The whole Edinburgh Christmas Market area is open and I’ll expand on this a bit more later on.
The Different Tickets for Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve
If you want the best possible night in Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve, don’t do what we did when it comes to buying tickets. We just bought the standard street party tickets because we didn’t know any better and thought that was all that was available. We later found out there was also the Concert in the Gardens where Rag N’Bone Man was on stage as well as the Ceilidh Under the Castle. Not that we would necessarily changed our mind but it would have been useful to have had known more about them both. So before you buy, think about what kind of evening you want and then buy the tickets from there.
Getting To and From Hogmanay Edinburgh
Obviously the easiest thing to do is to stay in Edinburgh itself. Prices will be high so think well in advance. If you are staying or living anywhere nearby it’s fairly easy to get to and from Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve. If you are coming from further afield, the Ingliston Park and Ride is a good option but there are other Park and Ride’s around the city that might be useful for you. The trams and other public transport are free after midnight so this is a useful option. Having said that also bear in mind that there are lots of road closures and restrictions so leave yourself plenty of time to travel both into and out of Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve.
Christmas Market Area
One of my favourite things about Edinburgh over the festive period is its really awesome Christmas Market. I currently live in the German city of Cologne so I pride myself on knowing a thing or two about Christmas Markets. You can check out my guide to the Cologne Christmas Markets if you are interested to check out my Gluhwein drinking credentials. Anyway, the one in Edinburgh is a top notch. There’s loads of great food and drink to enjoy plus loads of rides and other stuff to do. One useful thing to know is that if you have tickets to the Street Party in Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve then you can spend as much time as you like on the market.
We didn’t even realise that the Christmas Market would be open for the street party so it was a great surprise. It’s good thing to be aware of so that you aren’t tempted to eat loads at the street food stands in Princes Street early on. The choice of both food and drink is probably bigger in the market than anywhere is in the party area. There is also loads of different rides to try out and of course the wheel that is a great place to get amazing views across the city in the darkness.
Edinburgh New Year’s Eve Entertainment
There’s loads of entertainment to enjoy at the various events at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay. The headline act for the main Street Party for 2018 was the legendary Human League – it really doesn’t get much better than that. Although it does, because the Concert in the Gardens starred the stratospheric Rag N’Bone Man. His performance was played on the big screens across the Street Party and really was something special. There are all sorts of other bands, act and we even had fun doing some Scottish country dancing in the street.
The Fireworks are Breathtaking
The grand finale of the proceedings in Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve is a totally awesome firework display of truly epic proportions. The fireworks are launched from the castle so position yourself at a spot with a good view and hope the weather doesn’t spoil things. We were treated to a wonderful 9 minutes of fireworks intertwined with some wonderful Scottish music to see in the New Year in a special way that we will remember for the rest of our lives. Have you been to Edinburgh’s Hogmanay? Let me know what’s your favourite thing to do.
A Few Other Ideas for Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve
So that completes my summary of the best bits of Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve. Remember to book tickets as early as possible and that normally they are released in July. Keep tabs on the Edinburgh’s Hogmanay website for more details. While you’re in the Edinburgh area, there are a few only really interesting things to do that I wanted to let you know about before I sign off for this post.
The Looney Dook
The final part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations is the wonderfully titled the Loony Dook. As you can probably imagine from the picture it involves getting quite cold and wet. However, from stories I’ve heard from a few people who have taken part it really is loads of fun. It takes place on New Year’s Day in the Firth of Forth at South Queensferry. Over 1,000 people, many in fancy dress, take a slightly chilly swim in the freezing waters.
There’s a fancy dress parade and as experiences go, it’s probably hard to beat. The exact timing depends on the tide so you might need to think ahead. You can get more information and get tickets to take part at the Edinburgh Hogmanay website.
The Falkirk Wheel
As an engineer there’s a very special place that I always recommend to people spending time in Central Scotland. The Falkirk Wheel is a truly amazing feat of engineering that everyone should she and experience at least once it their lives. The wheel is a rotating boat lift that connects the Forth and Clyde Canal at the bottom of the hill with the Union Canal at the top. Until 1933 they were connected by 11 locks but they fell into disrepair and the canals were totally closed in the 1960s and 70s.
For many years rejuvenation plans were put together and funding was finally secured in 1997 and construction began in 1999. Following a huge engineering project involving over 1000 people, the 35m diameter wheel was finally opened by the Queen in 2002. Ever since it has served as an exciting tourist attraction where people can take a boat trip and experience this amazing structure for themselves.
Not far away from the Falkirk Wheel is another totally stunning structure, or rather structures. The Kelpies are two 30 metre high horse head structures on the edge of Falkirk. They were completed in 2013 and represent the mythical creatures that supposedly have the power and strength of 10 horsed. Stunning both in the daytime and at night, they are located in the Helix Park that provides an open space that connects 16 different communities.
Not only do they look amazing, they serve a clever functional purpose as well. They are part of a canal extension that finally reconnects the Forth and Clyde Canal to the Firth of Forth and the North Sea beyond. The weight of the Kelpies act as part of a displacement lock system. There a great little cafe in the park and it’s a wonderful place to wander around and enjoy some fresh Scottish air.
St Andrew’s – The Home of Golf
A particularly beautiful place to visit if you are in Edinburgh is the Fife coast area right up to St Andrew’s, which is the spiritual home of golf. Beautiful little fishing villages such as Anstruther and Pittenweem are perfect to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The fish and chips in the Anstruther fish bar are some of the best you will find anywhere in the UK. Less than an hour North of Edinburgh is the wonderful town of St Andrew’s.
The town was originally founded in 1413 and it’s University is the oldest in the English=speaking world. It is also home to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, that controlled the rules of the game of golf since its inception to 2004. The sight of the famous links course and especially the view from the Swilken Bridge toward to the clubhouse on the 18th hole is one of the most iconic in world sport. There’s also a Cathedral dating back to 1158, some beautiful beaches and gorgeous streets of cafes and shops. It really is worth the trip up from Scotland’s capital.
Eden Mill Distillery
While you are in the St Andrew’s area another interesting place to visit is the Eden Mill Distillery. The distillery holds a very special place in my heart. I spent a memorable couple of years stationed at RAF Leuchars, which is right next to their distillery in the village of Guardbridge near St Andrews. This was about 15 years ago and back then the distillery was a working paper mill. Sadly, the mill closed in 2008 with the loss of 180 jobs.
It was a terrible blow to a small village like Guardbridge, so it is fantastic that the site is back in action. The location of the distillery at the site brings history back full circle. Originally, the site was first used in 1810 by the Haig family for their Seggie Whisky Distillery. It was turned into a Mill in 1874 in an attempt by the family to find a most profitable business.
The Eden Mill Brewery and Distillery began in 2012. It was founded by Paul Miller, who has an enviable reputation in the brewing industry. He previously worked for the huge brewery company Molson Coors as well as Diageo and Glenmorangie. Back in 2006 after a day looking after the former company’s CEO, Pete Coors, on a golfing trip to St Andrews he was asked to arrange a tour of the nearest brewery or distillery later that day. Being unable to think of any distilleries or breweries in the St Andrews area, the idea for Eden Mill was conceived.
Having discovered that the a Guardbridge Paper Mill might be available, the company was formed with some private investors. The goal was to establish a sustainable business at the heart of it’s local community. In just a few years, Eden Mill has gone from strength to strength. Today it employs around 40 people making not just Gin, but also Whisky and some wonderful Beer as well. Today they have an awesome visitor centre and do tours of the distillery. It’s a great place to spend a few hours.
A Quick Summary
So how to finish. First to say that we had a totally great time in Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve. Both the torchlight procession and the street party have given us memories that will stay with us forever. Edinburgh is an amazing city that is perfect for a city break destination. There are also some wonderful sights on it’s doorstep, making a great start or end point for a longer trip to Scotland. As for Hogmanay, hopefully you’ll find my tips useful if you do go yourself. If you do nothing else remember what I said about the toilets.