Edinburgh’s Christmas is a winter festival held in the centre of Scotland’s capital city from late November to early January each year.
The event features a German market, theatre shows, and a funfair that includes a variety of theme park rides. The main areas of the event are staged in Princes Street Gardens and George Street.
Edinburgh’s Christmas Festival is a vibrant seasonal celebration taking place in Scotland’s capital. It features a myriad of festivities including a Christmas market, ice-skating rinks, thrilling rides, and spectacular light displays. The city’s historical landmarks provide a picturesque backdrop, creating an unforgettable experience for all ages.
Edinburgh’s Christmas has grown from a small collection of German market stalls in Princes Street into one of the country’s biggest festival events, where Christmas is celebrated with a dizzying array of fun-filled activities and shows for all ages.
There’s certainly no shortage of things to do in Edinburgh at Christmas and the city’s annual winter wonderland spectacular firmly cements Edinburgh as one of the top destinations to visit in Europe from November to January (although the Hogmanay Festival takes centre stage at the end of December).
The event is located in several areas of the city centre so visitors can explore some of the best parts of Edinburgh during their visit, although to be honest even a full weekend isn’t going to be enough time to fit it all in.
The main area is in Princes Street Gardens where you’ll find the majority of the Christmas market stalls and fun rides, while another location is a short walk away in St. Andrew Square where you’ll find more food stalls and rides. In recent years, the event organisers have also included several Christmas-themed attractions in nearby George Street as well.
1: There’s a huge amount to see and do at Edinburgh’s Christmas and the event successfully manages to be enjoyable for families with young children as well as teenagers and adults.
2: There is so much more than market shopping at Edinburgh’s Christmas. You’ll also find funfair rides and theatre shows as well as pop-up bars and cafés.
3: The atmosphere is fantastic, although it’s a bit hectic once the bars open in the evening and even worse at the weekend. At least the event is spread out across the city so if it gets too busy in one area you can just move to the next one.
1: If you live in the Edinburgh area don’t forget to ask for a local’s discount which is around 20% off the standard ticket prices. You will need to provide proof of residence which is usually a driving licence, a utility bill, or a passport.
2: Food and drink are tourist-trap prices in the Christmas areas but there are loads of cheaper pubs and cafés along Princes Street, Rose Street and George Street.
3: Weekends are crazy busy and there are huge crowds everywhere. I recommend going mid-week instead.
Princes Street Gardens
Probably the biggest draw to Edinburgh’s Christmas for tourists is the German market which seems to be expanding in size with every passing year, and it now takes up the majority of the available space in East Princes Street Gardens.
The market is one of the best in the UK and unlike some others that sell overpriced tat, Edinburgh’s Christmas market offers a variety of quality art and crafts from decorations to home furnishings and clothes to food. The food, in particular, is excellent and there’s always a good selection on offer including piping-hot German sausages and mouth-watering pretzels.
Likewise, there’s a great selection of drinks to enjoy as well, with copious amounts of delicious hot chocolate and mulled wine to be found in people’s hands as they walk around the event.
Kids will enjoy the Santa Land area which features a variety of rides including a train ride through a forest of Christmas trees and an old-school helter-skelter, and there’s a kid’s Christmas market with enough sugary treats to keep them hyper till New Year’s Day.
There’s also an elves’ workshop hidden in a Christmas tree maze to explore and lucky visitors might even get a chance to meet the big man himself (as long as they’re not on his naughty list of course…).
The event organisers tend to move many of the bigger rides around the different locations in the city each year but generally, Princes Street is home to the big wheel that offers great views across the city, while the vertigo-inducing Star Flyer tends to move between Princes Street and St. Andrews Square.
The Star Flyer is a great ride which is basically a huge spinning tower with seats hanging off it that whizz around at its top, with you clinging on for dear life and crying into your partner’s shoulder that you want to get off. Ok, maybe that was me doing the crying, but my other half loved it, and I have to admit the views from the top across the city are spectacular.
St. Andrew Square
Moving on to St. Andrew Square Garden you’ll find the ice rink that circles the Melville Monument and several small food and drink shops selling (mostly) local Scottish delicacies.
If you’re a fan of Scottish cheese and gin then this is a great place to come and get some extra-special treats for Christmas.
In the corner of the square is an area where the Spiegeltent (a historic mobile theatre venue) is usually located, but check with the ticket office in Princes Street Gardens as they often move it around different locations in the city.
The Spiegeltent is well worth visiting as inside this huge circus-style show tent you’ll find lots of different events held throughout the year, especially during Edinburgh’s Fringe festival and during Edinburgh’s Christmas festival.
The Christmas shows are usually circus acts, but they’re not the circus shows you might remember from your childhood. No, these shows are modern, cool, acrobatic and exciting, and while there’s an occasional bit of comedy thrown in you’re not going to see a clown with big shoes honking his nose.
George Street is the last location for the festival and it’s becoming increasingly popular as a place to take a break from the hubbub of Princes Street and St. Andrew Square.
There are dazzling light shows staged all along the street and at night time, the atmosphere is electric (literally), with thousands upon thousands of lights dancing to music above your head. George Street also occasionally plays host to an amazing ice sculpture exhibition, and there’s usually another selection of market stalls to browse.
Edinburgh’s Christmas has to be (in my mind at least) the best Christmas festival in the UK, and possibly in Europe.
There’s so much to see and do that families will be kept busy throughout their visit and there are enough fun events that young singles and couples will be kept entertained as well.
For me, the only downside is that it’s a bit of a victim of its own success and at weekends the crowds are almost unbearable. Another negative is that the price of the rides and shows are way too high in my opinion, and even though Edinburgh locals can get a discount by showing proof of their address, visitors from further afield are going to need deep pockets.
Even so, if you want to get into the festive spirit I reckon a visit to Edinburgh’s Christmas is a must-do for every visitor to Scotland.
Discover more things to do in Edinburgh with: The Best Places to Visit in Edinburgh – Ultimate Visitor Guide.
Things to Do
Edinburgh’s Christmas Market: One of the highlights of Edinburgh’s Christmas festival is the traditional market in East Princes Street Gardens. Wander around the bustling German market and fill your senses with the festive aromas of mulled wine and freshly baked goodies before browsing an array of handmade crafts and gourmet food stalls.
Ice Skating: Experience the thrill of ice skating in St. Andrew Square or on the rink in Princes Street Gardens (the venue changes annually). This is an activity that all family members can enjoy regardless of their skating abilities thanks to the handy push-along stabilizers. It’s a magical experience that definitely shouldn’t be missed.
Light Night: Kickstart your festive season with Light Night, a free event held on the Royal Mile. Watch as Edinburgh’s Christmas lights are officially turned on, usually accompanied by a fireworks performance. The schedule changes slightly each year but the event often features live music, a choir, and hot food and drinks.
Christmas Tree Maze: Get lost in the Christmas Tree Maze in East Princes Street Gardens. This fun-filled activity is perfect for younger children who’ll have a blast navigating their way through the maze to reach the Elves’ workshop in the centre and win a prize.
Santa Land: Visit Santa Land, a magical place full of festive fun and activities for the kids. From the Santa Train to the Elves’ Toy Factory, there are plenty of things to do to keep the wee ones entertained. Don’t forget to meet Santa himself in his grotto and tell him your Christmas wish!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Edinburgh good for Christmas?
Edinburgh is a fantastic destination for Christmas. The city turns into a winter wonderland with a vibrant festive atmosphere that’s hard to match. Here’s why:
Edinburgh’s Christmas Market: The heart of Edinburgh’s festive season is the Christmas Market, which is typically held in East Princes Street Gardens. It’s one of the most popular in Europe, offering a variety of stalls selling everything from handmade crafts to mouth-watering foods and drinks.
Festive Decorations: The city is beautifully lit up with festive lights and decorations. The streets of Edinburgh are adorned with twinkling lights, giving the city a magical feel. The historic Royal Mile, in particular, looks enchanting.
Holiday Performances: Edinburgh’s theatres host a range of festive performances during the holiday season, including pantomimes and Christmas concerts.
Is the Edinburgh Christmas market good?
Edinburgh’s Christmas Festival has been running since 1999 and has grown into one of the most popular winter festivals in Britain. It has even been voted the best Christmas market in Europe by several travel websites.
What dates are the Edinburgh Christmas market?
Opening dates and times for Edinburgh’s Christmas venues are dependent on location and attraction. Visit the official website for the current times.
Do you need tickets to go to the Edinburgh Christmas market?
You do not need tickets to access Edinburgh’s Christmas Market. It’s held in the heart of the city and is open to all. However, some specific attractions or events within the market, like ice skating or rides, may require separate tickets. These are available for purchase at the venue.