Edinburgh Christmas Festival

Submitted by edg on Mon, 30 Oct '17 9.27pm
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Edinburgh's Christmas market
Lloyd Smith
Tickets and info
Telephone (box office)
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"Edinburgh's Christmas" is a package of Yuletide themed events, run on behalf of Edinburgh City Council. They run from the third week in November, through St Andrew's Day, to early January as the 3-day Edinburgh's Hogmanay festivities come to an end. Together with Burns Night at the end of January, these festivities are also known collectively as "Edinburgh's Winter Festivals".

Edinburgh's Christmas 2024 festivities are similar to previous years, focused on a few key sites in Edinburgh's New Town

Other Christmas events in the city include:

Edinburgh's Christmas 2024 events - What's On?

Edinburgh's Christmas this year is likely to be similar to previous years (we'll update this as more programme information becomes available).

The festival gets under way with a big public event such as the Edinburgh's Christmas Opening Concert or switch-on of the Christmas lights on Edinburgh Christmas Light Night through the Old Town and New Town. 

Near the top of the Mound, big, bright, glittery letters spell out the word EDINBURGH, alongside the brightly lit Christmas tree. The 60 foot Norwegian spruce is gifted each year by the citizens of Hordaland and Vestland County Council in Norway, in recognition of the support of Scots in the Second World War, and erected beneath Assembly Hall.

Following the turning of the Christmas Tree lights, the annual Scottish Norwegian Advent Concert will take place in St Giles Cathedral. George Street, Rose Street, and Princes Street will also be decked with faerie lights and yuletide decorations.

A focal point of Edinburgh's Christmas activities is a pop-up ice rink (read review) in George Street, between Castle Street and Charlotte Square.

Christmas Market: Smell the glühwein

A Christmas Market returns to East Princes Street Gardens and on the Mound, with stalls also on George street. The Princes Street market no longer includes the huge deck on the lawn of East Princes Street Garden, which attracted so much controversy in previous years, but current Edinburgh's Christmas organiser UniqueAssembly say that around 80 stalls can be found in the gardens and George Street featuring local and European merchants selling crafty and festive gifts, hot drinks, and festive food.

Rides include the iconic Forth 1 Big Wheel that rises and falls beside the Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens, vintage carousels, and adrenalin fairground rides like the starflyer.

The Christmas Market returns to East Princes Street Garden from 10am to 10pm most days. It's free to enter.

There's also Motive’s Christmas Market on Castle Street (between George St and Princes St), featuring twenty or so stalls selling local and fair trade gifts, as well as food and drinks.

Meet Santa

Christmas-themed attractions for all the family - such as the Christmas Tree Maze, rides like Waltzers, bumper cars, and sticky, sweet food - can be found in West Princes Street Gardens. This location was known in the past as Santa Land, but was redubbed the Festive Family Funfair in 2023 after Santa moved to St Andrew Square for storytelling (naughty and nice children should book ahead). St Andrew Square also has Christmas letter-writing with Santa's elves.

In previous years, the West Princes Street Garden location has included a Santa Train, reindeer merry-go-round, and various other family attractions. Tickets for the rides range in price.

How many Santas make Christmas? Well, there's no lack of portly, white-bearded chaps and, for that matter, ladies hitting the ground for the charity fund-raiser Edinburgh Santa Run

Pantos and Christmas Shows

Pantomime at the theatre is as traditional as mince pies around the tree at this time of year. Levity and fantasy are the order of the day, often with cross-dressing and updated, comical versions of traditional fairy tales.

Live theatre is back after going dark during Covid. Read EdinburghGuide.com's current Edinburgh pantomime and Christmas reviews (and earlier round-ups here from 2012201120102009).

Christmas services

There's, of course, many Christmas carol services at Edinburgh churches, with the Christmas Eve carol services at St Giles on the Royal Mile among the most popular - the pews are packed.


To some extent Edinburgh's weather dictates the success of these Christmas events. If we're lucky the city is crispy chilled and dry. But it can be dreich, windy and wet.

Discount on tickets

Ticket prices vary for different attractions. Some are free, but for those that are paid, EH residents can claim a 20% reduction.

Ice Rink on George Street

George Street is home to Edinburgh’s Christmas ice rink situated in the block between Castle Street and Charlotte Square. Skaters can also break from their skate for mulled wine, hot chocolate and food at rink-side seating areas. The rink is a partnership between Edinburgh business association Essential Edinburgh and a corporate sponsor. German grocery giant Lidl was the first sponsor and Jet2 the latest sponsor.

This is the third location for Edinburgh's Christmas ice rinks. The first ice rink was the Winter Wonderland ice-rink in East Princes Street Gardens. It was a small circuit rink, prone to get wet from melt-water during mild winters, but still fun.

St Andrew Square hosted a mini "elliptical" ice rink allowing you to skate around the Melville monument. Business group Essential Edinburgh, who manage the Square, said it could no longer accommodate the ice rink due to the size and scale of the rink in 2019.

The Lidl on Ice rink on George Square initially took the form of a narrow, curved track, with a viewing bridge, and bars at the side. It was open air and skaters moved from one end to the other. That format was replaced, the following year, by more of a classic, circular rink that was covered from the elements. Skaters moved around in one direction.

For more energetic skaters, it's worth noting that the larger Murrayfield Ice Rink has 2 hour public skate sessions (compared to 40 minutes on George St) throughout the week.

Previously on George Street

In 2016, organisers Underbelly introduced a tunnel of faerie lights installation called Street of Light at the George Street location. A similar installation can be found still at Christmas at the Botanics

In 2018, it returned with the addition of a silent street party called Silent Light, where participants could choose from three separate playlists and, listening on headphones, dance under the archways.

Background: Edinburgh's "Capital" Christmas

Edinburgh's Christmas was first launched at the turn of the millennium as "Edinburgh's Capital Christmas" (it dropped the "capital" in 2005 to become just Edinburgh's Christmas). Between 1999 and the pandemic, the festival encompassed a growing number of events, from Christmas Light Night to Edinburgh pantomimes and Christmas shows, fairground rides like the Big Wheel and Star Flyer, skating in the New Town, Santa's grotto, ever-expanding Christmas markets, and more.

Underbelly, who organised Edinburgh's Christmas from 2014 to 2021, reported that there were 943,000 unique visitors to Edinburgh’s Christmas by 2019. In that year, 12,000 people jammed onto the Royal Mile to see Santa riding a sleigh down a zipline to accompanying pyrotechnics and fake snow.

The flipside of this growth has been criticisms that the event had become too big, and placed a heavy toll on public gardens (causing long-lasting damage to trees and the lawn), and that it has stretched local services, and exacerbated the shortage of affordable housing. After Edinburgh's Christmas events were cancelled in 2020, the festival returned in 2021 in a similar form to previous years, but Underbelly's contract was not renewed in 2022.

Edinburgh's Christmas 2022 Rescued

Edinburgh's Christmas was due to be organised by a new event management company Angel's Event Experience in 2022, but Edinburgh City Council announced that the contractor was unable to fulfill its three-year contract weeks before the festival was due to start. Partnership UniqueAssembly took over.  See story: Edinburgh’s Official Christmas Festival 2022 Rescued.

In 2023, Edinburgh's Christmas was moved to a new domain (edinburgh-christmas.com) after the original Council-owned domain lapsed and was taken over by an Indonesian gambling site.