Hogmanay in Edinburgh, Scotland is one of the world’s most well-known New Year’s festivals. The voices of thousands of people singing Robert Burns’ Ol’ Lang Syne can be heard throughout the city just after midnight on New Year’s Eve each year. It’s a traditional part of Hogmanay, a multi-day New Year’s festival held annually, which follows the fireworks demonstration over Edinburgh Castle.
Whether they’re participating or spectating, nearly 167,000 people are estimated to visit Edinburgh in the days around Hogmanay, December 30th to January 1st. With only 17% of attendees being Edinburgh locals, thousands of people descend onto the city to participate in 18 events. The most popular ones are the Torchlight Procession, New Year’s Eve Street Party, Hogmanay in the Garden, Ceilidh Under the Castle, and Loony Dook.
While the Street Party, Hogmanay in the Gardens, and Ceilidh (pronounced kei-lee) are not always appropriate for children, there are events targeted toward families, such as Bairns Afore on New Year’s Eve and First Footers Family Ceilidh. So, Hogmanay is a festival that can be enjoyed by every member of the family!
But what’s Loony Dook? Well, you can don your bathing suit, fancy dress, or crazy outfit on January 1st and take the plunge into the Firth of Forth in South Queensferry. This annual freezing swim raises money for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Each time I’ve visited Hogmanay, the experience has been unique. Those New Year’s Eves are cherished memories. However, with hiccups along the way, in this complete guide to Hogmanay, I share the lessons I’ve learned so you can have the best Hogmanay experience this New Year’s Eve!
1) Participate or Spectate in Hogmanay
After two adventurous visits to Hogmanay, my favorite events are always the Torchlight Procession on December 30th and the Ceilidh Under the Castle, a traditional Scottish dance, on New Year’s Eve.
The Torchlight Procession is an event that is just as beautiful to watch as it is to participate. It’s one of the most breath-taking things I’ve ever experienced and the sight is quite unbelievable.
Even if you don’t want to attend the procession, instead you can take the time to appreciate the view by standing at the top of the Royal Mile and looking down. It’s an incredible sight, seeing thousands of people process in unison down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Park. The organization amidst the seeming chaos. The beauty of the ancient buildings lit by firelight.
The Torchlight Procession isn’t the only event you can participate in or spectate. You can hit the beach for Loony Dook as a participant or spectator—a great opportunity to see the crazy costumes.
2) Make Reservations and Buy Tickets
With thousands of visitors descending on the city, it’s essential to plan ahead of your arrival: where you’ll stay, eat, and visit.
The first time I attended Hogmanay, I went solo. Yet, I still got turned away from nearly a dozen restaurants in one night. The need for restaurant reservations, even if it’s just a pub, shouldn’t be overlooked.
The second visit I made to Hogmanay, which was a party of five, went much smoother with reservations at nearby pubs and restaurants for dinner. Lunch was often on the go, and we ate at off-times or picked up takeaway, like jacket potatoes or sandwiches. But really, reservations for any meal at a restaurant is important.
Although technically not a reservation, you’re going to want to buy your Hogmanay passes and tickets when they go on sale in the fall. You’ll need to buy separate tickets for the Torchlight Procession (and reserve your torch); Street Party; concerts; Ceilidh; and all the other events. There isn’t an all-in-one ticket or pass to get you into everything.
3) Be Patient
Even with reservations, there is a good chance you’ll have to do some waiting.
Restaurant staff, customer service representatives, store employees are all stretched thin for these few days of the year. It’s not just the thousands of visitors, but it’s also the holiday season. Have a little patience, and be kind.
Additionally, you’ll have to do some waiting in line (see #5) for events like the Torchlight Procession and the Ceilidh, so have patience. Bathrooms are also at the top of this list at the Street Party, be prepared to wait 30 minutes to an hour for an overused Port-o-Potty.
4) Rent A Place To Stay
While hotels are great, you might want to rent a room or apartment with access to a kitchen.
I enjoyed the escape my AirBNB kitchen allowed last time. If you don’t always want to experience the hustle of restaurants, pubs, and cafes for every meal, a kitchen can provide you the freedom to prepare your own food. It can be your tranquil respite for a few minutes as you indulge in a homemade meal.
Apartment rentals are available through a number of websites and apps. It’s important to make these reservations early, as many rentals and hotels are booked as early as a year in advance. My advice is to book before February.
5) Get To Hogmanay Early
So much of Hogmanay is learning to manage the crowd. The Torchlight Procession welcomes over 19,000 people each year, with every person picking up a torch, then lining up, and then walking in a procession down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Park. It takes time.
Get there early to secure your place, so you can enjoy the festivities. You’ll start the procession quicker, and not be coming up the back as the celebrations end.
6) Dress Warm
Weather at night in Edinburgh in December and January can drop to mid-30 degrees Fahrenheit (1-degree Celsius), so dress in layers for events and use thermals!
While the crowds offer a certain level of warmth, you will rarely feel overheated, even dancing at the Ceilidh. I’ve never felt the need to shed my coat, or even my hat and gloves. However, layers will allow you to better regulate your body temperature if you do get warm.
7) Be Prepared For Large Crowds
What’s that British saying? Keep Calm and Carry On, which is exactly what you need to do at Hogmanay.
As a short person, crowds can sometimes make me uneasy. I can’t see over people, and sometimes, people don’t notice me (I’ve caught an elbow to the head once or twice because of this). However, big crowds are sometimes part of the Street Party, and you’ve got to stay calm and literally keep moving forward.
When I feel like it’s too much, I remind myself that I’ve made it this far and will eventually reach the end. Even if it’s the entire length of Princes Street, it’ll end eventually. So, take a deep breath and continue to push on.
8) Find Your Spot
Everyone wants a view of the fireworks over Edinburgh Castle at midnight. Leading up to the final clock stroke of the year, fireworks will be set off over the castle on the hour until the big finale.
Use these as a guide to finding your perfect spot to watch the final display, which is absolutely amazing. Fireworks over a castle? What’s more magical than that?
If you’re at the Street Party, anywhere free of trees along Princes Street will give you an unobstructed view. The Ceilidh is located below the castle, and you’ll have a unique view of the castle, that will be mostly unobscured no matter where you stand. If anything, you’ll see the castle in more detail, as you’ll be much closer.
9) Schedule New Year’s Day
Even if a freezing plunge into the water isn’t your cup o’ tea, you’ll probably still want to plan your New Year’s Day out ahead of time.
After two long nights of dancing the night away and nearly unending celebrations, New Year’s Day can be a tough morning. Beyond that, keep in mind it’s a holiday, so many stores, restaurants, and attractions are closed.
My favorite way to spend the first day of a new year in Edinburgh is walking the Royal Mile, taking photos of all the picturesque closes (alleys) and beautiful buildings, and touring the royal residence, Holyrood Palace and Abbey. Edinburgh Castle is also open for a part of the day and offers beautiful views over the city.
But have a realistic plan of what you’ll be able to do that day. My advice: a late morning, a tour of Holyrood, and a mid-afternoon tea at the palace. Then, find a pub and cheers to the new year with a warm mulled wine.
No matter what you plan for January 1st, do yourself a favor and book tickets ahead of time for attractions. You can spend precious time waiting in line, or you can explore these beautiful historic sites.
10) Have Fun
I’ve made a whole list of things to avoid, so why do I keep going back? Because Edinburgh at Hogmanay is amazing: the excited energy running through the city, the cheerfulness of attendees and community members, the sheer fun of roaming the streets with a lit torch. I tear up every time I hear the crowds sing Ol’ Lang Syne in unison.
There’s nothing like a city bursting with excitement and anticipation. Everyone is excited about Hogmanay festivities, even with the crowds. The city comes alive in a whole new way— after over a half dozen visits to Edinburgh, my favorites are from Hogmanay. The music, the food, the culture, what’s not to love?
What To Know For Visiting Scotland
Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, which typically provides a free stay of up to 180 days in the entire UK to visitors from many countries. This means you can enter Scotland and stay for up to 6 months on each entry.
However, as of publication Brexit may change the visa policy. Be sure to check the official United Kingdom Immigration Website for the latest information.
The currency used in Scotland is the Great British Pound (GBP). The current exchange rate is approximately 1 GBP to 1.30 USD. You can check the latest EUR exchange rate on Google.
While traveling, our number one tip is to use a free Charles Schwab Debit Card which gives unlimited worldwide ATM Fee Refunds and the true exchange rate.
Best Tours In Edinburgh
Some of the best tours and things to do in Edinburgh are:
- Harry Potter Magical Guided Walking Tour
- Loch Ness, Glencoe & the Highlands Tour
- The Scotch Whisky Experience: Guided Tour and Whisky Tasting
Where To Stay In Edinburgh
We recommend booking your hotels on Booking.com to get the best rate and many hotels offer free cancellation in case your plans change.
Some of our favorite hotels in Edinburgh are:
- The Bonham: Situated in Edinburgh’s West End, this hotel is a beautiful converted Victorian House.
- The Edinburgh Grand: Modern Aparthotel with luxury apartments, including their own kitchens.
- Kimpton – Charlotte Square: 5 Star hotel very close to old town and Princes Street.
AirBnB is also a great option in Edinburgh (and you can save $44 using that link to sign up!).
Best Time To Visit Scotland
The best time to visit Scotland depends on if you are looking to embrace the winter or get outside for the summer. If you are going for Hogmanay and the Christmas Markets (like we recommend!) then plan to visit any time in December.
If you are more interested in being outside in nice weather, then plan to visit between April and September when the weather begins to get warmer and drier.
Best Books About Scotland
Read more about Scotland before you go! Some of the best books about Scotland are:
What Power Adapters Do You Need
Scotland uses 3 prong Type G adapters also commonly used in England.
You can buy a universal adapter that will work in any country and has extra ports for USB cables to charge your phone and other devices.
We also always travel with a portable battery pack which is great to keep your phone charged on long journies.
Transportation In Scotland
- Public Transportation: Scotland has good public transportation, with both local buses and trains. Google Maps works well to find the best routes depending on your location and time of day.
- Rental Cars: If you want flexibility, we recommend renting a car at the airport. Parking in Edinburgh can be expensive but it is available.
- Uber: Uber is readily available in Edinburgh. You should not have to wait long for a ride from Uber as long as you are near the center of Edinburgh.
Our top recommended travel insurance companies for Scotland are:
- World Nomads: Comprehensive coverage for medical, travel delays, and electronics.
- SafetyWing: Cheaper monthly coverage primarily for medical, starting at $37 for 4 weeks of coverage.
More Articles About Scotland
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit Edinburgh for the New Years’ Eve Hogmanay Celebration. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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An avid traveler, Caitlin Burns is a Public Relations professional by day and a travel blogger by night. While completing a master’s degree in London in 2015, Caitlin traveled throughout Europe on solo and group adventures. These travel experiences have led her to chronicle her travels under the Instagram name @distilling_destinations.
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