What to do in Edinburgh During the Festive Season

Escape to the Scottish capital for a magical winter city break this Christmas

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  • 14 October 2019
  • • 7 min read

While many travellers seek out winter sun during the colder months and head to places like Koh Phangan or Bali, we personally love spending the festive period in Europe in magical cities like Bruges, London, Paris or our favourite city at the moment - Edinburgh. Christmas in Edinburgh really is something special and everyone should experience it once in their lifetime. Magical Christmas markets, cosy pubs, hearty comfort food, cobbled streets, Scottish whiskey, medieval architecture and mulled wine (to name just a few of the things we love). There’s something truly heartwarming about spending Christmas time in the Scottish capital. If you need some inspo on where to take your next winter city break, here are some of the awesome things to do in Edinburgh throughout December to February...

Eat winter warming Scottish dishes

Winter time in Edinburgh wouldn’t be the same without all of the delicious Scottish comfort food. Escape the cold and find sanctuary in one of the old Scottish pubs where you can order haggis served with neeps and tatties (mashed potato and swede and turnip). This is Edinbrugh’s staple dish and it’s a true winter warmer. So where can you devour this dish? You can get affordable haggis at The Halfway House, a traditional Scottish pub where food is served traditionally and authentically. Another winter dish you need to try is Bangers n’ mash, a favourite that we recommend ordering at ‘MUMS Great Comfort Food’ in Edinburgh Old Town. For quick cheap eat, we recommend ordering the hearty Hog roast sandwich from Oink! If you want to warm yourself up with a traditional Scottish beef pie, then make a trip to ‘The Piemaker’ in the Old Town where you can stick your teeth into piping hot homemade pies. 

Party hard at Edinburgh Hogmanay 

Do something epic for New Year’s Eve this year and travel to Scotland for one of the world’s best parties. Edinburgh Hogmanay is the city's most iconic winter event to celebrate the Scottish New Year. Taking place on New Year’s Eve, a massive celebration is held in the capital to see in the New Year with a bang involving street parties, rides, fireworks and amazing food and drink. Not to mention headline musicians perform each year. For the run up to 2020, Mark Ronson will be hitting the stage and getting the party started in Edinburgh for New Year’s Eve. You can get tickets for Edinburgh Hogmanay on the website.

Feel the magic at Christmas Markets 

One of our absolute favourite things about Edinburgh during the festive season is the opening up of magical Christmas markets. The main market will be located on East Princes Gardens in the heart of the city, the best place to soak up the magical atmosphere. Wrap up in big scarves, get your gloves on and explore the market shops, food stalls and fair. The whole area is lit up with fairy lights, chalet-style gift shops and festive music. The Christmas Market usually opens in mid-November and runs all the way up until early January so you have plenty of time to visit the city while the market is on.  

Hike up Arthur’s Seat 

While winter in Edinburgh may be cold, the city is often blessed with crisp blue skies, perfect for climbing up Arthur’s Seat where you’ll get the most of the incredible views over the city. Nature lovers should definitely do this walk; it will make you feel amazing once you reach the top! There are beginner trails or more advanced routes to take so there’s something for everyone. If you’re planning to climb Arthur’s Seat, layer up and be sure to pack a good pair or walking boots or comfortable trainers. 

Drink hot chocolate

A tasty hot chocolate is the perfect drink to warm you up in Edinburgh’s cold weather. Luckily, the city is home to some amazing hot chocolate shops. Mary’s Milk Bar near Edinburgh Castle is renowned for being Edinburgh’s best ice cream shop in the summer, but when it gets colder, the hot chocolate float here is a winner. The ice cream scoop floats on a delicious, smooth hot chocolate and it’s a real taste sensation. We particularly love the peppermint hot chocolate float. Another awesome place to get your hot chocolate fix in Edinburgh is Coro, a chocolate cafe where you can take hot chocolate shots made from melted Belgian chocolate!

Indulge in a delicious Sunday Roast

Is anything more dreamy than a Sunday Roast during the festive season? Tender beef, crispy roast potatoes, meaty gravy and airy Yorkshire puddings. You can’t come to Scotland without indulging in a delicious roast dinner. You can have an incredible Sunday Roast at several different pubs in Edinburgh including The Ox, The Scran and Scallie, The Queen’s Arms and The Cumberland Bar (in the New Town). If you’re staying at our St Christopher’s hostel in Edinburgh over Christmas Day, enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner with us with some other backpackers.

Get tipsy in an underground bar

The nightlife in Edinburgh is unlike anywhere else in Europe. Since it’s the season to be merry, hit up some of the coolest underground bars in the city. From speakeasy joints to themed bars, a night out on the town will get you into the true festive spirit. Our favourite underground bars are Hoot the Redeemer, Panda & Sons and Secret Arcade. Hoot the Redeemer is a carnival themed bar hidden away in the Old Town serving up boozy slushies and ice creams. Panda & Sons poses as a barber shop, but once you walk through the secret bookcase you’ll enter the coolest speakeasy in Edinburgh. And if you like vodka, then Secret Arcade is a great night out specialising in Polish vodkas. 

Take part in Burns Night

Going to Edinburgh on 25th January? If so, you’re in luck as that’s when Burns Night takes place, which is a massive Scottish celebration in honour of the famous Scot poet Robert Burns. On Burns Night, locals gather for a large supper where haggis is traditionally eaten, whisky is drunk and poetry is read out. A traditional Burns Night supper will start with someone saying a few words and by doing grace. Then at the end of the meal, everyone sings Robert Burns poem ‘Auld Lang Syne’ while linking arms. In Edinburgh there will be many restaurants and local bars celebrating Burns Night so that you can join in the fun. Belushi's, our hostel bar usually takes part!

Find warmth in a museum

When it’s chilly outside, get your culture fix in some of the city’s best museums. Perfect for art lovers, The Scottish National Galleries is made up of three different museums in Edinburgh. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is where you can come up, close and personal with portraits of significant Scottish leaders, past and present. Then there’s the Scottish National Gallery which houses artworks by some renowned painters from all over the world including Monet, Van Gogh, Titian and more. If you’re more into contemporary art then gaze over the innovation creations at the Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art.

Feel festive on the Harry Potter tour

Since we can’t spend Christmas at Hogwarts, the next best thing is visiting the city that inspired the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling lived in Edinburgh when she wrote some of the books and many characters, scenes and names were inspired by the Scottish capital. Want to know more? Check out

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