28 Festive Things to do in Edinburgh in Winter

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Bustling Edinburgh’s Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens, George Street lights illuminating the midnight blue sky and The Dome’s towering tree of varying colours. Keep reading to find out the ultimate list of festive things to do in Edinburgh in winter for locals and tourists alike. Why don’t you stay a little longer and experience the world’s biggest New Year’s Eve party too? Edinburgh has three days of events celebrating Hogmanay.

Why trust us? I’m Gemma, a local. I love Edinburgh at Christmas. The smells, the skating, the shopping and the celebration!

Edinburgh in Winter Activities and Events

1. Edinburgh Christmas Market

Start at the top of the world-famous (East) Princes Street Gardens and get ready for sensory overload – sounds, smells and tastes from around Europe. The market consumes every stretch of the park and starts again on the other side of the train tracks. 

For mulled wine and hot cider, there is ‘rent-a-cup’ service at some stalls, to save on plastic waste.

Drinks come in a festive mug which is ideal for photos, and when you return it, you’re given your deposit back.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case at all stalls, with others giving single-use coffee cups.

This is something Underbelly really needs to work on as they are also the company which hosts the Edinburgh Fringe and their plastic consumption is terrifying.

Street food ranges from Scottish venison burgers to spiral potato fries on a stick.

Edinburgh Christmas Market Stalls

Probably one of the most identifiable landmarks in the market is the Star Flyer.

Soar 60 metres in the air above the shops, trams and Christmas huts.

For rides, you need to purchase tickets at the ticket huts before you wait in line.

Running from the 20th November – 2nd January, the market opens from 10 am to 10 pm every day.

If you can, avoid the weekends as the line goes as far back as Waverley Train Station, and then some.

If you want to be close to the Christmas mayhem but not in it, head to the National Galleries cafe for the floor to ceiling views of the market.

Princes Street Gardens Christmas Market huts and lights and rides

2. Cocktails at Twenty Twenty

A wee hidden gem across from the Waverley Train Station, Twenty Twenty’s windows span the city!

Watch the Star Flyer while you sip on a Strawberries and Steam or classic cocktail.

3. Waverley Festival Village

If you enjoyed the Festival Village gin menu this summer, you’ll love its autumn/winter transition.

Take the stairs to the top of Waverley on the Princess Street side to find a collection of pop-up bars at the Waverley Festival Village.

Cute seasonal sponsored menu, roaring fires and every kind of tipple under the sun, I mean moon.

Waverley Festival Village Edinburgh

4. The Dome Cocktails (George Street)

When The Dome winds its lights around its Graeco-Roman façade pillars, you know the festive period has started in Edinburgh. It is a tradition for many locals to grab a cocktail underneath the bar to ceiling tree.

It’s not really the tipple we are after, we want a waft of the legendary Christmas scent they fill the downstairs bar with. Good luck finding out what is in that magical potion. 

In previous years, George Street, which is the street behind Princes Street (Edinburgh’s main drag), has been partly closed off for festivities and light shows. 

5. Christmas Lights Switch On

Kick-off the festivities at Light Night on George Street as choir songs fill the air.

Fireworks light up Edinburgh at the end of the night after a celebrity guest switches on the Edinburgh Christmas Lights!

Previous locations include George Street and the Royal Mile.

6. Ice Skating at George Street

The previous home of the official Edinburgh’s Christmas ice rink was St Andrews.

The curricular rink enclosed the ice skate exchange and St Andrew’s bothy bar.

There are whispers that George Street will now take over.

Local’s tip: Dine at the Harvey Nichols Forth Floor Restaurant for St Andrews views, without the chill.

7. Edinburgh Botanical Gardens Light Trail

Music, lasers, water reflections and the tunnel of light, Royal Botanic Garden (Arboretum Pl, Edinburgh EH3 5NZ) change shape come Christmas.

This popular thing to do in Edinburgh in December gets busy. You can actually book your tickets now.

8. Edinburgh Castle at Christmas

Forget a Game of Thrones feast with horror and tragedy and enjoy an Edinburgh Castle Christmas afternoon tea instead!

Lunch is served at the opulent Queen Anne Room, fit for royalty.

Edinburgh Castle. Winter. Snow

9. Meet Santa in Edinburgh

Have you beebn a good kid this year?

Santa wants to meet you!

Book a breakfast, lunch or just a meet and greet at one of the popular grottos.

Read the full guide on Santa grottos in Edinburgh.

Santa Grotto Edinburgh

10. Be Amazed at the Christmas Decor and Lights

Watch Rose Street, George Street, Cockburn Street and alike twinkle as they are transformed from blank canvasses to free Christmas shows.

See Christmas colours at historic restaurants, modern bars and busy shops.

11. Stay in a Festive Hotel

Feel like you are on the set of a Hollywood classic movie at one of Edinburgh’s Christmas hotels where no money is spared for festivities.

Waldorf Astoria Christmas Lights Edinburgh

12. Walk up Calton Hill

Ok, not very festive but you do get magic views of the city all lit up.

The walk up Calton Hill is relatively easy and close to Princess Street.

You might just get some snow.

The National Monument on Calton Hill in winter, Edinburgh, Scotland. Snow. Christmas.

13. Hike Arthur’s Seat

A very popular Edinburgh activity throughout the year is the short hike up Arthur’s Seat.

It doesn’t matter that it is touristy because the views are worth it.

A great cobweb blower if you’ve had a bit too much the night ‘afore.

See also our guide to walks in Edinburgh.

Arthurs Seat Edinburgh

14. Silent Disco Adventure Tour

I’ve now done the silent disco tour around Edinburgh twice. Once at Christmas and once for a fitness class.

It is such a laugh. You get given headsets which tune into the same frequency and an enthusiastic guide coordinates a routine around Edinburgh’s landmarks.

Expect song battles, cheeky dance-offs to Mariah and lots of public snap-shaming.

It is super popular (runs throughout the year and is always sold out during the Fringe) so book before it is too late.

Silent Adventure Disco Tour Edinburgh_

15. Catch a Panto

He’s behind you! Oh no, he isn’t.

Pantomime shows are engrained in Scottish Christmas tradition.

Catch a show with the family at many of Edinburgh’s theatres and community centres. 

Expect goodies, baddies, talking animals, and a whole lot of crowd participation.

16. See a Christmas Show

If panto isn’t your thing, if you are child-free, I don’t blame you, then check out one of the festive shows running from November through to January. 

Musicals, ballet and plays dominate the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh Playhouse and The Festival Theatre.

17. Watch a Festive Film

Honestly, Edinburgh has two of the most charming film houses, the vintage Cameo on Home Street and Morningside’s Dominion.

You can even buy some alcoholic drinks with your snacks at the Dominion. Chill with your partner on the comfortable seats, one of the romantic things to do in Edinburgh in December.

Dominion Cinema Morningside Edinburgh

18. Watch a Festive Film in a Pub

Get comfy at the Brass Monkey film room where you can lounge on thick matresses while you sip on a beer and enjoy a seasonal movie.

Student discount is available making this a perfect cheap thing to do this winter in Edinburgh for students before they go off on Christmas break.

Brass Monkey pub beds

19. Go Christmas Shopping in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is great for shopping any time of year but especially at Christmas.

High street names can be found at St James Quarter, Princes Street and at Ocean Terminal in Leith.

At OT, check out The Leith Collective for gifts made by locals.

You can also find independent stores on Cockburn Street on the way to the Royal Mile and in Stockbridge and Bruntsfield.

Commercial shop sales often start just before Christmas, if you are looking for some bargains.

The Edinburgh’s Christmas market stalls actually sell some local brands so you can shop local there too.

Bow Princes Street Edinburgh

20. The Royal Boat Britannia at Christmas

Deck the deck with balls of holly…

Docked at Ocean Terminal, Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia is the former royal yacht of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II and damn those royals know how to decorate their sea home.

Read our guide to the RYB here.

21. Take That Insta Pic on Circus Lane

Circus Lane is cute every day of the year but super cute at Christmas.

The Insta-famous mews can be found in the New Town, wrapped up in green shrubbery with splashes of red bows.

Circus Lane Stockbridge Ediburgh Winter

22. Do the Santa Run

Make some space for the turkey and chocolates to come by running the 2.5K Santa Fun Run around West Princess Street Gardens.

This event is for charity, infants run free.

Did I mention you have to wear a Santa outfit?!

Remember to take your outfit home, there was an uproar about the mess left in previous years.

23. Eat a Traditional Turkey Meal

No, Scots don’t eat haggis at Christmas! Traditionally meals include turkey, sometimes, ham, potatoes, vegetables and everyone’s seasonal favourite, pigs in blankets. These wee cheeky fellas are sausages wrapped up in bacon. Delicious.

Christmas meals can be found at many of the Edinburgh hotels and restaurants.

24. Rooftop Rendezvous

Make it a date night or grab your pals for drinks at one of the many Edinburgh rooftop and beer garden bars with heating of course!

Drink with views of Edinburgh Castle at Cold Town House or Terrace 51 at Moxy.

Hand holding pint on rooftop with Edinburgh Castle views from Cold Town House Edinburgh

25. Celebrate Hanukkah

Keep an eye on the Chabad of Edinburgh website for Festival of Lights updates in the city.

Special Mention: Jenner’s Christmas Tree

The Jenner’s tree, which was erected in store by a team who harnessed the tree upright and then scaled the branches to put on the light and decorations, will be missed.


Edinburgh at Hogmanay

26. Edinburgh Torchlight Procession

Of course, the holiday season in Scotland only begins with Christmas.

The real partying starts in the run-up to New Year.

One experience loved by tourists is the Edinburgh Torchlight Procession.

For the Procession, you purchase a fire and waxed based torch with your ticket.

This year the event will be static whereas in previous events the procession moved.

Here’s what it used to look like.

During the event, you walk with thousands of fellow torchbearers, pipers and drummers.

Regardless of how many times I hear the pipe band, the hairs of my neck still stand on end when the drums do their intro and the pipes whining kicks in.

I’m going to be honest here, I did the Procession and I found that it was more waiting around than walking.

First of all, you wait in line to collect the torch, then you wait to move on to the next section.

Once you are in place you wait for your torch to be lit. Then you wait to walk. Finally, the fun begins when you get to walk behind a local pipe band.

Glad I did it, don’t think I’d do it again.

Torch Lit at Torchlight Procession Edinburgh Festival Royal Mile_

27. Edinburgh’s Street Party

Join Edinburgh for the world’s greatest street party! To really understand how to party Scottish style, get ready to ceilidh with strangers, party in the park and make a new pal or two or the bells. 

Beginning at 7.30 pm, you will be dancing in the streets to well-known bands from across the globe. Wandering through Princes Street Gardens, you can soak up the happy atmosphere and enjoy meeting new people.

As the bells to welcome in the New Year, get ready to sing and dance to some well known Scottish tunes like Auld Lang Syne, Loch Lomond, and 500 Miles to name a few.

Edinburgh's Hogmanay Fireworks. Festival. Night.

28. Loony Dook

On the 1st of January, visitors and some locals celebreate the new year by running into the Firth of Forth waters with the Forth Bridges as company.

This tradition raises funds for charity and Loony Dookers are encouraged to wear costumes.

Forth Rail Bridge. Sunset. Night

Weather in Edinburgh in Winter

Edinburgh’s weather in December and January is cold and sees dark mornings and evenings.

Sunset is around 4-4:30pm. While snow is unlikely, days can be damp and wet.

Pack accordingly because there is no such thing as bad weather in Scotland, just bad clothing!

If you are lucky you will get to enjoy crisp mornings and that glorious east coast sunrises.

Expect temperatures as low as 1-degree Celsius and highs of a staggering 7!

Winters are getting milder though so it is not uncommon to see highs of 12 -degree Celsius on weather apps.

If you plan to travel out of Edinburgh to do a day trip or road trip, take the shorter days and seasonal opening times into consideration.

Glenfinnan Viaduct Scotland Highlands

Edinburgh in Winter Packing List

  • Layers such as cardigans and pullover sweaters or jumpers as we call them in Scotland
  • Tights with skirts and dresses
  • Avoid denim if you can as it’s not pleasant when wet and takes an age to dry
  • Waterproof coat\jacket and a padded warm coat
  • Waterproof shoes or boots and trainers without air holes
  • Hats, gloves and scarf
  • Umbrellas are a pain when windy
  • Refillable water bottle – you can drink the water here
  • Tote bags for shopping – bags are 5p in Scotland
  • Camera! So much beauty to snap
  • Anker battery packs for an extra charge on phones US / UK
  • Hydration tablets for hangovers US / UK
Circus Lane Stockbridge Edinburgh Winter

Christmas Day in Edinburgh

The 25th (Christmas) and 26th (Boxing) of December and 1st (New Year’s Day) and 2nd of January are official public holidays in Edinburgh which means there will be little to no activity around the city.

On Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, public buses run on a very limited timetable which you can access at the Lothian Buses website.

Trains do not run at all. Taxis will be difficult to find and will charge public holiday prices.

On Christmas Day and New Year’s Day the main things that will be open will be:

  • Hotels that serve Christmas lunch/dinner – reserve while booking stay
  • Chinese/Indian restaurants who do not celebrate Christmas
  • Local convenience stores who do not celebrate Christmas
  • Some pubs may be open on the 1st

Edinburgh attractions such as Edinburgh Castle, Botanics, Holyrood Palace and museums will be closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, re-opening until January 1st and 2nd.

Boxing Day used to be a big shopping day, it is less so now but most major brands will open Sunday/holiday hours.

If staying in an apartment, get your grocery shop done before Christmas Day and enjoy the city to yourself!

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Queen St Christmas Deco

Edinburgh Travel Information

Getting to Edinburgh

If you arrive by air, the airport is a short ride from the city centre. There are a few ways to get into Edinburgh and it’s a good idea to have this planned before you arrive. 

  • Edinburgh Airlink: This is a bus which offers free wifi and comfortable seating. Located just outside the terminal, you won’t have to look hard for it. Pre-book your ticket here.
  • Private airport transfer. Take the worry out of waiting in cab lines and have a car pick you and your luggage up, taking you straight to your accommodation. Book here.
  • Edinburgh tram: the tram runs from the airport to Princes Street.

Here’s our guide on the best ways to get to Edinburgh from the airport.

Tram transport West End

Getting Around Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s public transport includes the bus, train, and now tram. Lothian Buses have a useful trip planner on their site.

Buses run throughout the day and on a night timetable.

Edinburgh’s Airlink bus connects the city and the airport.

Edinburgh has three stations, Waverley is the most central (Princes Street 2 mins walk away/Royal Mile 10 mins walk away), Haymarket is in the west (closest to the West End and Murrayfield Stadium), and the Edinburgh Gateway connects users to the Gyle Shopping Centre and Edinburgh Airport.

Edinburgh Waverley has toilets (30p), showers, food places, and a bar.

Haymarket is smaller but has a coffee stall.

Trainline is a great app/website for train journeys in the UK.

Edinburgh trams run from York Place to Edinburgh Airport.

Purchase your ticket at the machine and validate at the machine before you board the tram.

Without a ticket? You will be charged £10 if caught. Day tickets available.

The trams will be running for free after midnight on Hogmanay to get party-goers home safe.

We have Ûber in Edinburgh (order through the app) as well as private taxi firms (order by calling) and black taxis which you can hail down on the street or hire from a taxi rank.

Victoria Street Edinburgh Christmas Lights_

Where to Stay in Edinburgh

We have a dreamy guide on the best Edinburgh Christmas hotels to stay at.

Alternatively, here is a snapshot of hotels to consider. I’ve personally stayed at all three.

Want more choice? Here’s our guide on where to stay in Edinburgh.

Waldorf Astoria Christmas Decorations Edinburgh

Final Words

Whether you are nipping to the capital for a weekend festive cocktail or choosing the city as your annual December trip, there are so many things to do during the Edinburgh winter festival. Tell us what you do in the comments below.

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