Edinburgh is frequently listed as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Brimming with history, the pretty skyline is filled with castles and sandstone, and its cobbled streets are lined with museums, boutique hotels, galleries, traditional pubs and artisan shops selling everything from hand-made quilts to loose leaf tea. The perfect combination of upmarket sophistication and olde worlde charm, it makes the perfect setting for a Christmas break. And the city has worked hard to provide residents and visitors alike with a dazzling array of activities and events to see them through the festive season.
The first thing to do if you’ll be spending Christmas here is to book your Christmas meal. If you’re visiting family, then you’ll already be taken care of, but if you’re only here for a few days it’s a great excuse to luxuriate and let one of the top hotels or restaurants take care of you. Elliot’s Restaurant at the Apex Waterloo Hotel does a particularly luxurious Christmas day lunch or dinner, but there are plenty of pubs offering great home-made grub if you look around (try Witchery by the Castle for a good ‘in-between’ – homely, welcoming, but very good quality food. They do a fabulous parma-wrapped rabbit).
If you’re leaving the usual sights to another time (the Castle, Arthur’s Seat, the Scottish Poetry Library), and want a full-on Christmas experience, then head straight to the Real Christmas Fair on Castle Street (1-6 Dec). Christmas lights and traditional music fill the streets, and there are free tastings at lots of the stalls selling traditional fare. The Ethical Christmas Fair picks up where the Real Christmas Fair leaves off, selling home-made and ethical wares including hand-crafted Christmas garlands, candles, jewellery and clothing. Or if you head to The Mound, you can enjoy the German Christmas Market and its festive food and drink offerings. A cup of Glühwein on a frosty day is a marvellous thing, and the traditional German biscuits and pastries are as delightful as the general feeling of cheer in the place.
Aside from the food, the absolute highlight of Christmas in Edinburgh is the fireworks. Every year, fireworks light up the sky from Edinburgh Castle to Holyroodhouse in a dazzling display of gunpowder brilliance. This year, Light Night has been scheduled for November 29, but don’t worry if you miss it. There are plenty of fireworks displays all over the city between Christmas and New Year’s. Check ahead of your trip to make sure you don’t miss them. And if you’re staying on for New Year’s, join the torchlight procession up Calton Hill to watch the traditional burning of the wicker man.
If you’ve brought the kids with you, make sure you book ahead for the specially set up Christmas ice rink at East Princes Street Gardens. It’s a stunning setting, and the rink is big enough that you don’t get crowded out by the throng of tourists. This year, there’s a 3D cinema on site, and as per usual, there’ll be festive foods and mulled wine sold at the sides of the rink, so you can warm up your hands and get warmed up for those Christmas carols later. Just don’t forget your gloves!