"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".
Details for Edinburgh's Christmas 2023 have not been released yet, but the festivities are likely to be similar to previous years, focused on a few key sites in Edinburgh's New Town:
- Christmas Market (East Princes Street Garden and the Mound Precinct)
- Santa Land (West Princes Street Garden)
- George Street Ice Rink (aka "Lidl on Ice")
- St Andrew Square (Social Bite Festival of Kindness)
Other Christmas events in the city include:
- Edinburgh Castle's Castle of Light
- Christmas at the Botanics (a Christmas lights promenade)
- Festive Days at Edinburgh Zoo (Santa's grotto)
Edinburgh's Christmas 2023 events - What's On?
Edinburgh's Christmas is likely to be similar to previous years (we'll update this as more programme information becomes available):
The festival gets under way with the 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.
Christmas Market: Smell the glühwein
A smaller Christmas Market returns to East Princes Street Gardens and on the Mound. The market doesn't include the huge deck on the lawn of East Princes Street Garden, which attracted so much controversy in previous years, but organiser UniqueAssembly say there will be around 70 stalls in the gardens and the Mound in 2022 featuring local and European merchants selling crafty and festive gifts, hot drinks, and food.
The Christmas Market returns to East Princes Street Garden from 10am to 10pm most days. It's free to enter.
Meanwhile, Christmas-themed attractions for all the family can be found at Santa Land in West Princes Street Gardens, including Santa's Stories (naughty and nice children should book ahead), a Christmas Tree Maze and rides like Waltzers and bumper cars.
Previous years have 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.
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, Lidl on Ice, 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 sponsored by German grocery giant Lidl in partnership with Edinburgh business association Essential Edinburgh.
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, with skating round 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.