The Christmas season is almost here, and holiday festivities will soon take place all over the world. If you're looking for a more unique time of the year to visit Edinburgh, this post is perfect for you. To make this Christmas truly special, there are many ways to experience Edinburgh's festive spirit in style and comfort.
In this post, I explore Edinburgh’s best spots for enjoying the Christmas atmosphere while sightseeing. From Nativity Scenes to Ice Skating, from tasty tours to royal Christmas this article gives tips on how to beat the cold so you can also enjoy the best bits of Christmas time like never before. Not sure which walking tours are the best? Check out this article too
- Get to and from the Airport: Save on airport transfers with HolidayTaxis. From only US$69.08
- Visit Edinburgh by train. Get Cheap Train Tickets from only $10
- The easiest way to get around Edinburgh is to use the City Sightseeing Edinburgh Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour. Get Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour tickets starting at US$22.48
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Here we have listed 13 top places where you can enjoy an unforgettable holiday:
Table of Contents
1. Winterfest at Edinburgh Christmas Market
If you want to get away from everything then why not try out the famous Edinburgh Christmas Market. Here are just a glimpse of things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and what will happen from 20 November – 4 January
- East Princes Street will host festive food & drink and the Christmas Market
- West Princes Street will include Santa Land, featuring the magical Santa’s Grotto and family-friendly attractions.
- An icon of Edinburgh’s Christmas, the Forth 1 Big Wheel with 36 enclosed, weather-proof pods
- Nativity Carol Concert 28 November in St Andrew Square at 3pm.
- Ice Skating on famous George Street
- The Nativity Scene at St Andrew Square.
2. Light up your winter!
Winter Lights are back this year – see what’s happening when it gets dark outside.
Christmas at Botanic Garden
Ever wonder what it would be like to live in a botanical world, immersed in the joy of Christmas?
Join Christmas Lights at The Botanics where you can experience all the festive cheer. Christmas Cathedral, Digital Rain, Laser Garden, Santa, there are just a few sparkling illuminations.
A delicious twist of tasty treats is also available. Toasted marshmallows for anyone?
Starting 25th of November till Sunday 2nd January. Trail times start from 4:15 pm with the last entry at 8 pm. See the booking page for details
Castle of the Light: Hidden Treasures
The festive season is the perfect time to visit Edinburgh Castle. The castle, which has been at the very centre of Scottish history for over 1000 years, will be filled with state-of-the-art lighting installations.
It will illuminate the iconic landmark walls with holograms to make it even more enchanted.
Expect wonder, enchantment and a spectacle of colour this festive season as Edinburgh Castle, the defender of the nation, becomes an indoor winter wonderland.
19 Nov 2021 to 9 Jan 2022, Thur to Sun (excl 24-26 & 31 Dec and 1, 2, 6 Jan). Also on Mon 27 to Thur 30 Dec, from 4.30 pm to 10 pm (last entry 8.30 pm)
See the booking page for details
Edinburgh Zoo’s Christmas nights
A dazzling light trail will take you on a journey to discover the magic of the Christmas spirit and Santa’s time at the zoo.
Edinburgh Zoo is inviting you to take a magical journey this festive season with their annual light trail.
Starting from Friday, 19 November until Sunday, 2 January, you can explore the zoo and meet some of the animals, whilst admiring their beautiful decorations.
Entry slots are available every 15 minutes from 4.45 pm with the last available entry time at 7.30 pm for a 9 pm finish. Please book online in advance to secure your preferred date and time.
3. Christmas at the Palace of Holyroodhouse
The must thing to do in Edinburgh at Christmas is to visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
The Great Gallery will display a 15 foot, glittering Christmas tree adorned with decorations of all sorts.
There will also be lights, making the entire palace seem to shine even brighter this time of year.
They will decorate apartments and the Royal Dining Room with flowers, wreaths and spires of faux candied sugared fruits.
Palace of Holyroodhouse will offer festive events for adults and children through November and December. You can find here the details of the events.
Do not forget their gift shop offers a wide range of exclusive gifts inspired by the royal palaces and the works of art in the Royal Collection.
Insider tip: Complete your visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse or The Queen’s Gallery with homemade cakes and tea.
From Friday, 3 Dec 2021 to Thursday, 6 Jan 2022 (Every Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday) Tuesday and Wednesday closed.
4. Edinburgh Afternoon Tea Experience
The best way to get around Edinburgh is by foot, but if you don’t have time or the Edinburgh weather is not what you like, then opt for a tour on the vintage 1966 Routemaster Bus.
We found what might be the coolest way to do afternoon tea in Edinburgh on a double-decker bus! So whilst you take in the stunning sights of Edinburgh, you can indulge in first-class traditional afternoon teas.
Red Bus Tour Departing at 12 pm or 3 pm, Tuesday to Sunday
5. Guided tour and whisky tasting
Winter is perfect for enjoying a dram or two of the finest whisky. This guided tour will introduce you to the aromas of the drink while walking you through the production stages.
A ride in a whisky barrel? Oh man, you can’t wait to see the World’s biggest collection of Scotch whisky!
6. Chocolatarium Tour, Tasting & Chocolate Making
Edinburgh’s winter visit could not be completed without tasting and making chocolate.
This tour is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas.
This unique tour allows you to make your chocolates using various chocolate moulds.
In the Chocolate Kitchen, you can choose your bar design, select your favourite flavours and create your personalized bar.
The entire experience is very interactive for both children and adults, whilst you learn a lot about the history of chocolate from the Aztecs to the first chocolate bar and the newest inventions.
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Follow this self-guided tour for some of the best highlights of Edinburgh’s Old Town along with some spectacular hidden gems.
It’s no question that the holiday season is one of the most magical times of the year. From the sweaters and scarves, we wrap up in to watch Christmas movies with our family, to the hours we spend at work playing Christmas music and decorating our desks. It’s a time of giving and sharing and spending time with those we love.
I would encourage you to travel to places yet to be discovered. The area of Stockbridge Edinburgh, well-known to locals, has something of a village atmosphere mixed with some bohemian vibes. Its unique character along with the scenic route along Water of Leith invites many urban explorers who prefer to travel off the beaten road.
7. Royal attractions with Hop On Hop Off
Have a limited time in Edinburgh? Then the Royal Edinburgh ticket is a perfect solution. For the 48h, you can use all three City Tours (Edinburgh Tour, Majestic Tour and CitySightseeing Edinburgh) plus entry to Edinburgh Castle, Palace of Holyroodhouse and The Royal Yacht Britannia.
8. Hogmanay New Year's Eve Fireworks
Oh, New Year’s Eve celebrations – the event takes place every year on December 31st and has become something of a symbol for the city.
You get to enjoy spectacular fireworks displays over the castle and other historic venues in town. It doesn’t get more exciting than this!
You can watch the fireworks for free (they are visible all over the city) but if you like to join the street party you need to buy the tickets
9. Candlelight Procession
One of the highlights of any visitor to Edinburgh must surely be taking part in the world-famous candlelit procession through the streets of the Old Town.
A spectacular and unforgettable family-friendly event finishing in the historic Holyrood Park.
You must have a ticket to take part in the Torchlight Procession.
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10. See Scottish Opera & Ballet
Enjoying opera and ballet performances during the holidays is something everyone should do once in their lifetime. And what better way than watching them live from the magnificent stage of the Usher Hall?
11. JK Rowling's Edinburgh and the Writing of Harry Potter Tour
This tour is not like the others. You get to see areas tucked away from main tourist areas and items relevant to Harry Potter. The guide is a ‘Harry Potter’ fan who shares fascinating details about the wizarding world in Edinburgh.
It takes 4 h of listening and walking, so come prepared for 5 km of up and down walking through Edinburgh’s hilly old town. You’ll see the inspiration for many locations in the Wizarding World, including Old College and Greyfriars Kirkyard.
12. Cook Traditional Scottish Classics & Supper Club in Georgian Edinburgh
Would you like to learn to cook traditional Scottish classics and enjoy a delicious dinner at the same time?
Scottish cuisine is rich in tradition and reflects both English and Irish influences, including recipes such as haggis, neeps and tatties, clootie dumpling and cranachan. This class will be taught in the traditional Scottish style with the focus on learning how to make a delicious dinner while you’re at it!
If you’ve never had haggis (and you’re not sure what it tastes like) then here’s your chance to try it!
Local host Nell welcomes you into her beautiful 200-year-old home in Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town for some traditional Scottish hospitality
13. Visit Georgian House
One of the best places to learn about the life of the late 18th and early 19th century. The grand townhouse was designed by acclaimed architect Robert Adam and was a true statement of luxury in an era of enlightenment, for those who could afford it.
The Georgian house hosts numerous events including the reading of the Christmas classic Dickens’ famous ghost story.
The Georgian House is now closed 1 Nov–28 Feb 2022. Bookings are open for the Georgian House Santa Experience on 11 & 12 and 18 & 19 December and for Public Reading: A Christmas Carol on 18 & 19 December. Make a booking here
Where to stay in Edinburgh this Christmas
As mentioned earlier, it doesn’t matter what your budget is; whether you’re looking for a romantic escape or simply want to enjoy a few days off work, Edinburgh offers everything that makes a holiday memorable. For a taste of home away from home, book now one of Edinburgh hotels with the best festive decorations.
- 5*Balmoral Hotel – An iconic, luxury hotel located at the most prestigious address in the city centre
- 5*Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian an imposing hotel with views of Edinburgh Castle
- 4* InterContinental Edinburgh the George, an IHG Hotel combines five Georgian houses welcoming guests since 1881
- Cheval The Edinburgh Grand is a collection of prestigious serviced apartments in a very grand location
- 4*The Rutland Hotel glamorous and stylish has bedrooms and serviced apartments
- 5* The Witchery by the Castle luxury in a Gothic style property with a range of opulent suites
- 4* Hilton Edinburgh Carlton is an impressive Victorian building with an excellent location in the heart of the Old Town
- 4* Nira Caledonia luxury boutique hotel in the heart of elegant New Town