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.
Review of Edinburgh’s Christmas
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 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, and in recent years the event organisers have included several Christmas-themed attractions in nearby George Street as well.
Things to do at Edinburgh’s Christmas
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 the eastern section of Princes Street Gardens.
The market is one of the best in the UK and unlike some others that sell overpriced tat, Edinburgh’s German market offers a variety of quality art and crafts, from Christmas 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 and 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 kids Christmas market with enough sugary treats to keep them hyper till New Years 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…).
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The event organisers tend to move many of the bigger rides around the different locations in the city each year but for the last few years Princes Street has been home to an enormous big wheel that offers great views across the city, while the vertigo-inducing Star Flyer ride 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 pretty 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 the Edinburgh’s Christmas official website for details as they often move it around.
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 downsides are 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 really get into the festive spirit I think a visit to Edinburgh’s Christmas is a must for every visitor to Scotland.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- If you live in the area don’t forget to ask for a locals discount which is around 20% off ticket prices. You will need to provide proof of residence in the Edinburgh area which is usually a driving licence or passport.
- 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.
- Weekends are crazy busy and there are huge crowds everywhere. I recommend going mid-week instead.
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More places to visit in Edinburgh
- Cramond Island – Edinburgh: Complete Visitor GuideSituated just over 3/4 of a mile into the Firth of Forth, Cramond Island is a tidal landmass located close the village of Cramond near Edinburgh.
- Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect World: Complete Visitor GuideEdinburgh Butterfly World is a fascinating tourist attraction on the southern outskirts of Edinburgh that showcases some rather incredible, beautiful, and very creepy-crawly insects and reptiles from across the globe.
- The Scotch Whisky Experience – Edinburgh: Complete Visitor GuideIf you’re embarking on a visit to Edinburgh then your trip won’t be complete without a visit to The Scotch Whisky Experience, located just a short walk from Edinburgh Castle Esplanade on the Royal Mile.
- The Royal Yacht Britannia – Edinburgh: Complete Visitor GuideThe Royal Yacht Britannia is the former royal yacht of HM Queen Elizabeth II which now takes pride of place at the Ocean Terminal shopping centre at Leith in Edinburgh. Over the course of her working life Britannia was the official residence of the Royal Family and sailed over one million miles around the world.