Some warm Scottish cheer for Yuletide
TO travellers yet to add a Scotland sticker to their suitcase, VisitScotland is promoting Edinburgh this season.
“In the winter, Edinburgh sparkles. At Christmas-time the city really does come alive with festive spirit, dazzling lights and something for everyone to take part in,” says a spokesperson for VisitScotland.
All over the city events and activities will take place with themes celebrating Christmas; from a Green Christmas at the Royal Botanic Gardens to a truly traditional Christmas at the Castle event held in the city’s most famous landmark and featuring an afternoon of storytelling, comedy and a visit from Santa himself. The Winter Wonderland features one of Britain’s largest outdoor ice rinks with nearby food stalls offering a wide range of treats including hot chocolate, gluhwein and baked potatoes. Princes Street Gardens also has the Edinburgh Wheel and Christmas Carousel along with the Kids’ Fun Fair featuring a selection of fairground rides guaranteed to keep the younger children amused for hours. Over two dozen venues will stage Christmas shows and pantomimes and nine exhibitions will feature as the highlights of the cultural calendar.
The events themselves begin as early as November 23, on Light Night, when everything is launched: the ice rink opens with a skating display, the Christmas lights are turned on, the famous Edinburgh Wheel starts turning, fireworks light up the sky, the Traditional German Christmas Market and Scottish Street Market open for business, gluhwein flows and the festivities begin. Later that evening, The Norwegian Carol Service, an Advent Carol concert for all the family, is staged in the picturesque setting of St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh’s historic city church. December 10, the city will be competing for an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest gathering of Santas at the Great Scottish Santa Run, held to raise funds for When You Wish Upon a Star, a charity for children with terminal illnesses. Residents and visitors alike can take part by dressing up in Santa costume and running, walking or stumbling around a 1.5 km circuit of Princes Street Gardens.
Equally enjoyable is Hogmanay – or New Year – which has its origins in the mid-winter festivals of the Vikings, the Romans and the Celts, who all celebrated the slow return of the springtime sun with fire, song and drinking.
So what else can you do in the city? Edinburgh is a shopper’s heaven, both for keen browsers or big spenders. Stylish department stores like Harvey Nichols and Jenners are offering Christmas personal shopping services and champagne receptions over the festive period, and Jenners celebrates Christmas with a 40ft high real Christmas tree which dominates its beautiful atrium. There’s also a wealth of small independent stores and boutiques, many of which sell goods produced in Scotland or designed by Scottish craftspeople. Victoria Street in the Old Town, or Broughton Street come well recommended.
Sports lovers will not be left out. Seasonal sporting events include: Jump race meetings at Musselburgh Race Course; Scotland vs Australia Rugby at Murrayfield; Hearts vs Hibernian Boxing Day Match at Murrayfield Stadium; Edinburgh International Curling Tournament at Murrayfield Ice Rink; and the Annual Gymnastics Christmas Display at Meadowbank Stadium.
There’s so much to do in Edinburgh that it’s easy to miss the amazing countryside and many attractions that lie around the city. In just half an hour, a visitor can be in the rolling hills of the Pentlands. Good transport links make the surrounding coast and countryside easily accessible.
For thrill seekers, there’s the Adventure Centre at Ratho which houses the world’s largest indoor climbing arena, or world-class tracks at Glentress for mountain biking. Fans of best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code should make the short trip from Edinburgh to Roslin village, the home of the 15th-century Rosslyn Chapel.
For a wintry walk in beautiful surroundings, one of the properties managed by Historic Scotland is ideal: for example, Dirleton Castle and Gardens, just west of North Berwick, has boasted a garden since Medieval times, and today has a colourful selection of formal gardens that are great for a crisp afternoon stroll. It’s open daily between 9.30am and 4.30pm. More options are available at historic-scotland.gov.uk.
The Fife coast is easily accessible from Edinburgh by train, and is well worth a visit for a spot of sailing, cliff top walks, wandering around the fishing villages, and sampling the legendary fish and chips at the Anstruther Fish Bar.
Within an hour Edinburgh, a travellers can be in Stirling, Glasgow or Dundee, all cities with distinctive characters of their own. Further afield, Scotland has a wealth of places to visit with Skye, Mull, the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland Isles offering great island getaways.