It’s winter so that means that it’s time to hibernate. Just curl up and wait for the distant spring to make an appearance. Right? Wrong! So wrong as this is when Scotland’s capital really steps into top gear with a flurry of festivities, cosy pubs and wintry walks, with an award-winning youth hostel to stay in too.
Edinburgh for me really comes into its own at this time of year. There are often crisp blue-skied days, which make its remarkable architecture really shine. With a dusting of snow it becomes even more dramatic and picturesque, like some sort of dreamy Victorian Christmas card scene. There are massive globally renowned events you can time a visit to coincide with, but whenever you visit winter in Edinburgh is serious fun.
Image: Edinburgh Christmas
Edinburgh in winter is not just about looking pretty. Join me now as I take you on a thrilling ride around the festive capital, chilling with mulled wine and in cosy pubs, as well as hurling yourself around ice rinks and on adrenaline pumping theme park-style rides.
Image: Edinburgh Christmas
1. Edinburgh’s Christmas – This relatively recent arrival to Edinburgh’s booming festival scene sees swathes of the city centre taken over by all things Yuletide right up until January 7. I take my wee girls in every year now and they love it. There really is something for all ages though. My girls adore the old-fashioned carousel ride in St Andrew Square, and an annual visit, of course, to meet the great man himself, Santa, in Princes Street Gardens. The really brave can tackle the epic Star Flyer, which sweeps you 60m high into the wintry Edinburgh skies to enjoy jaw-dropping views. The ice-skating is great fun too, with a bar on hand laden with mulled wine and myriad other drinks for spectators. You won’t go hungry or thirsty at Edinburgh’s Christmas with myriad food and drink stalls where you can sample everything from traditional German gingerbread biscuits, through to fresh East Lothian lobster.
Image: Hogmanay Revellers, Stuart Nichol
2. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay – Today this globally famous event is quite simply one of the biggest and best New Year celebrations anywhere on the planet. The highlight is on the big night itself, with a massive ticketed street party taking over the city centre. There are stages with free live music, with highlights this year on the main stage in Princes Street Gardens the Lightning Seeds and Paolo Nutini. I prefer the acts on the Waverley Stage. Headlining are the legendary The Charlatans, who are being joined by Ayrshire’s brilliant Fatherson and rising star Be Charlotte. The whole Edinburgh’s Hogmanay shenanigans bash on in the days building up to Hogmanay and after too. The highlight outside the big night for me is the frankly insane Stoats Loony Dook in my native South Queensferry on New Year’s Day, when hundreds of daft souls hurl themselves into the chilly waters of the Firth of Forth.
Image: Loony Dook, Lloyd Smith
3. Wintry Walks – Edinburgh is a glorious city for walking around. My favourite time of year for walking is winter with crisp days and big skies, when it’s not blowing a hoolie! My favourite walks are less crowded too. For an easy viewpoint follow Robert Louis Stevenson up Calton Hill. It was his preferred hill in the capital because he deduced that from Arthur’s Seat you cannot see Arthur’s Seat and from Castle Hill you cannot see Castle Hill. You can’t fault Rab’s logic! It is an easy option too, just a quick yomp up from Waterloo Place. My favourite walk, though, is up the big one, Arthur’s Seat. This glorious volcanic hulk soars 251m high, opening up staggering views out across wintry Edinburgh and over the Firth of Forth. Look out for the new Queensferry Crossing emerging in the distance.
Robin and family on a trip to Carlton Hill
4. Cosy Pubs – Who doesn’t love a cosy pub? Cosy pubs are the epitome of winter romance for me. Edinburgh is home to its fair share of hostelries. I like the more traditional pubs rather than slick, theme bars. If you do too escape the chill with a fortifying proper pint of heavy and a dram at the Bow Bar in the centre of the city, be warmed by some live free folk music at Sandy Bell’s, or head a little out of the centre to the slightly surreal charms of the ultra-cosy Sheep Heid Inn in Duddingston. You can walk there over Arthur’s Seat to earn your pint and a hearty lunch!
View from Arthur's seat
5. Award Winning Accommodation – I love hostels and they don’t come much better than Edinburgh Central Youth Hostel. I stayed here recently with my young family and we loved the big room, handy restaurant and ultra friendly staff. If you’ve not stayed at a youth hostel for a while you are in for a pleasant surprise as there are not just shared rooms here, but plenty of private rooms too. You can even book an en suite bedroom, which beats the socks off many hotels I’ve stayed at. Happily ensconced here you will be in prime central position from which to enjoy the myriad delights of winter in Edinburgh.
Biography for Robin McKelvie
Robin McKelvie (www.robinmckelvie.com) is a Scottish travel writer, broadcaster and blogger who has been covering his native land since the 1990s. A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, Robin is the author of a number of guidebooks, including National Geographic’s Scotland guide. He regularly contributes to a variety of newspapers and magazines across five continents, such as the Times and the Scotsman, as well as doing travel slots for BBC radio. Robin can be found on Twitter at www.twitter.com/robinmckelvie.