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Edinburgh’s Christmas Visitor Guide

Edinburgh’s Christmas Festival is a magical, festive event that takes over the heart of the city during the winter season. Known for its enchanting atmosphere and lively celebrations, it attracts visitors from all over the world and typically runs from late November until early January.

One of the main highlights of the festival is the Christmas Market, situated in East Princes Street Gardens. This market is renowned for its array of unique and handmade gifts from artisans around the world, as well as a wide variety of culinary delights, from traditional German sausages to mulled wine and gingerbread.

Edinburgh Christmas


Craig Neil at Edinburgh Christmas Festival

Edinburgh’s Christmas Festival is a vibrant seasonal celebration taking place in Scotland’s capital. It features a range 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.

Edinburgh’s Christmas Festival has grown from a small collection of German market stalls in Princes Street into one of the country’s biggest 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 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 on nearby George Street.

Edinburgh Christmas

The Highlights

1: The Christmas Market in East Princes Street Gardens is a must-visit. It offers a unique and festive shopping experience with a range of products from across the globe.

2: Ice skating in St. Andrew Square is a popular highlight. With the beautiful backdrop of the square, it’s a magical experience that’s suitable for young and old alike. You’ll also find funfair rides and theatre shows, as well as pop-up bars and cafés.

3: One of the key features of Edinburgh’s Christmas Festival is the spectacular light shows. The Street of Light on the Royal Mile and the Light Night event are incredible spectacles and the atmosphere is fantastic, although it’s a bit hectic at the weekend.

Visiting Tips

1: If you live in the Edinburgh area, don’t forget to ask for a local’s discount which gives 20% off the standard ticket prices. You’ll need to provide proof of residence, which is usually a driving licence, a utility bill, or a passport.

2: Food and drink are at 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 ridiculously busy and there are huge crowds everywhere. I recommend going mid-week instead.

Christmas market

Princes Street Gardens

One of the biggest attractions of Edinburgh’s Christmas Festival is the German market which seems to be expanding in size with every passing year and 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, 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 Santa Land which features a variety of rides including a train ride through a forest of Christmas trees and a helter-skelter, and there’s a smaller children’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, 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 the top. It’s not for the faint hearted, but I have to admit the views from the top are spectacular.

Edinburgh Christmas

St. Andrew Square

Moving on to St. Andrew Square, you’ll find the ice rink that circles the Melville Monument along with several food and drink stalls 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 tent you’ll find lots of different shows from musicals to dramas.

Edinburgh Christmas

George Street

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, 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 more 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’s enough variety that couples and teenagers will be 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 is too high, in my opinion. Even though Edinburgh locals can get a discount by showing proof of their address, visitors from further afield are going to need deep pockets.

Edinburgh Christmas

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 the official turn-on of Edinburgh’s Christmas lights, which typically includes a fireworks display. 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. Even several travel websites have named it the best Christmas market in Europe.

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.

Craig Neil

Craig Neil is the author, photographer, admin, and pretty much everything else behind Out About Scotland. He lives near Edinburgh and spends his free time exploring Scotland and writing about his experiences. Follow him on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.