Edinburgh's Christmas is a package of Yuletide themed events running from late November, around St Andrew's Day, to early January as the 4-day Edinburgh's Hogmanay festivities come to an end. Together with Burns Night at the end of January, they make up "Edinburgh's Winter Festivals".
Edinburgh's Christmas was first launched at the turn of the millennium Hogmanay celebrations. Since 1999, it expanded to include an ever-growing range of events, from Christmas Light Night to Edinburgh pantomimes and Christmas shows, a Big Wheel, an ice rink, fairground attractions, Christmas markets, and more.
Edinburgh Christmas organisers Underbelly reported that there were 943,000 unique visitors to Edinburgh’s Christmas in 2019. This huge expansion had led to criticisms that the event had become too big, and placed a heavy toll on public gardens.
Edinburgh's Christmas 2021
Many of the traditional events are back in 2021, although the pandemic means the festivities are more subdued this year.
Deck the streets
The crowds wont be out for the switch-on of the Christmas lights on Edinburgh Christmas Light Night (cancelled again this year), but in late November look up the Mound for artist Hannah Ayre's cascading geometric snowflakes and the brightly lit giant Christmas tree from Norway which is erected at the top of the Mound.
At 7.30pm on 24th November, following the lighting of the Christmas Tree, the annual Scottish Norwegian Advent Concert will take place in St Giles Cathedral. George Street and Princes Street will also be decked with faerie lights and yuletide decorations.
A focal point of Christmas 2021 activities is the ice rink in a new location on George Street, between Castle Street and Charlotte Square.
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. Rides here include the iconic Big Wheel that rises and falls beside the Scott Monument. The Starflyer, a ride which whirls vertically to around 60 metres above the ground in close proximity to the Scott Monument, is also due to make a return in 2021.
Meanwhile, Christmas-themed attractions for all the family can be found at "Santa Land" at West Princes Street Gardens, including Santa's Grotto (naughty and nice children should book ahead), bumper cars, Waltzers, and a Christmas Tree Maze.
Christmas staples from previous years in Princes Street gardens are the Santa Train, reindeer merry-go-round, and various other family attractions. Tickets for the rides range in price.
Organisers say there will be around 80 bars and stalls in the gardens, the Mound and George Street.
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 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 fairytales.
On 28 November 2021, there's a (free) traditional Nativity Carol Service at St Andrew Square at 3pm. Tom Chalk's nativity scene, a realistic interpretation of the biblical Christmas scene that the artist was commissioned to do in 2003, will be assembled at St Andrew Square as well.
Christmas Market: Smell the glühwein
The Christmas Market returns to East Princes Street Garden with crafty goods for sale and seasonal fare to nosh on daily from 10am – 10pm most days. It's free to enter.
Calculations for previous years are that over 200,000 individual bulbs light up Edinburgh’s Christmas, with over 10 kilometres of cabling.
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 the new home to Edinburgh’s Christmas' "alpine" 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 on-ice 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.
Previously on George Street
In 2016, organisers Underbelly introduced a tunnel of faerie lights installation called Street of Light at the George Street location. 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.