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Celebrating Hogmanay in Edinburgh

by Charlotte Ballantyne - December 29th, 2017

New Year’s Eve, or Auld Year’s Night as you may hear locals call it, is one of the biggest celebrations of the year in Scotland, a bigger deal for many people than even Christmas! Christmas was actually banned in Scotland for about 400 years, because of the Protestant Reformation, so people would get their holiday at winter solstice, or New Year, instead, leading to its increase in popularity. In Scotland, New Year’s Eve is also known as Hogmanay, and it’s thought that the holiday originated with the Viking celebrations of winter solstice, and the Gaelic festival of Samhain. The Scots party so hard that we need both the 1st and 2nd of January as public holidays, either to party a second time on the 1st, or just to recover from the scale of the celebrations on the 31st of December. Edinburgh is one of the best cities in the world to ring in the New Year, as the whole city pours into the streets to celebrate - literally! - and over 150,000 people visit the capital to join in the festivities. There are events taking place over several days around New Year, so here’s what the city has to offer!

Torchlight Procession - 30th December, 7pm

Edinburgh’s festivities actually kick off a day before New Year’s Eve, with the Torchlight Procession, led by the Up Helly Aa Vikings, who travel down from Shetland for the event, bringing their traditional costumes, and accompanied by pipes and drums. Scotland was populated by Viking settlers many hundreds of years ago, and the distant islands of Orkney and Shetland still maintain the strongest Scandinavian links. The fiery torches symbolise rebirth and warding away of evil spirits, and fire is also used at Samhain, and the Up Helly Aa Fire Festival. Anyone can sign up to take part in the procession, where you’ll be given a huge, burning wax torch to bear, as you make your way around the city. This year’s route will start from the Royal Mile near St Giles Cathedral, North Bridge, and South Bridge, and finish in Holyrood Park, where the torches will spell out the #ScotWord, which will be chosen by young people in answer to the question ‘What makes you proud to be Scottish?’. There’s plenty opportunities to spectate too, particularly in Holyrood Park, if you aren’t one of the lucky 8,000 to get a ticket for a torch, or the 40,000 others with a wristband to walk alongside them (a portion of ticket sales goes to charity). The procession finishes with a fireworks display, bursting with colour over Calton Hill; that’s just a precursor to the main fireworks the following night though!

New Years Eve Warm Up Party - 30th December, 8pm

Hogmanay may not be until the 31st, but you can start your celebrations early on Saturday night and party through the whole weekend - remember, the 2nd is a public holiday so many locals have a 4 day weekend! Join the biggest event of the year at The Edinburgh Pub Crawl's NYE warm up party.

The Pub Crawl starts at The Tron Bar (9 Hunter Square) with check-in from 8 pm to 9.30 pm on December 30th, and parties through the night at 6 of the best venues in Edinburgh's Old Town.

Tickets are just £7 and includes:

  • 1 Jagerbomb
  • 4 shots
  • 1 Cocktail
  • 2 Free VIP club entry
  • Amazing drink deals

Street Party - 31st December, 7pm

The Hogmanay Street Party is the centre of Edinburgh’s celebrations, quite literally taking over the city centre, as the whole of Princes Street, and several of the surrounding streets, are closed to traffic, and fill up with revellers. And yes, we are brave enough to spend the whole evening outdoors, in Scotland, in the middle of winter! The street party has several stages set up in different locations, each playing host to different line-ups of bands and DJs. This year’s line-up includes Human League, Treacherous Orchestra, and Huey Morgan. The biggest headliner - this year it’s Rag’n’Bone Man - plays on the stage in Princes Street Gardens at 9pm, but this requires a separate ticket for the ‘Concert in the Gardens’ event, so make sure you decide which you actually want to go to in advance. In previous years, the Street Party has had a ceilidh stage, but it’s also a separate option this year, billed as the ‘Ceilidh under the Castle’, starting from 8.30pm. It’s estimated that around 60,000 people attend the Street Party every year, and this year they’ll be joined by a host of street performers including dancers, acrobats, fire eaters, and flash mobs, to create a carnival-like atmosphere. And when the bells ring for midnight, every single person comes together for a rendition of the traditional song, ’Auld Lang Syne’, which is sung around the world, but originates in Scotland, written by Ayrshire-born poet Robert Burns.

Fireworks - 1st January, 12am

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay fireworks are near-legendary throughout the country, as they light up the sky above the Castle - yes, if a medieval castle on top of an extinct volcano isn’t a sufficiently grand backdrop for a fireworks display, what is? This year’s fireworks are also a first for the city, in that they will be choreographed to an original music score, composed by the band Niteworks, who hail from the Isle of Skye, and sound designer Dan Jones, while the fireworks themselves are choreographed by Titanium. Niteworks are known for their fusion of traditional Gaelic music, with modern electronic sounds, and have continued this theme with their 9 minute composition, creating a sound that aims to capture Scotland’s past and future. The crowds down at the Street Party will have some of the best views, but they can still be seen from locations across the city, so hundreds of thousands of people will be watching them, making them an event in their own right.

Loony Dook - 1st January, 11am

The festivities aren’t over yet! Wash away your hangover quite literally, with a dip in the ocean. Just remember though, this is Scotland in the middle of winter - it won’t be warm! On New Year’s Morning, around 1,000 people don their finest fancy dress costumes and travel to South Queensferry, a small town on the shores of the Forth of Firth, just north of Edinburgh. There, they make their way to the beach, as part of a procession led by the Town Crier and the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and then, accompanied by the sound of bagpipes, go sprinting into the freezing cold sea waters! It originated in the 1980s, when a local man suggested a dip in the ocean on New Year’s Day, to clear their hangovers. They gathered a few more participants over the following years, until it gathered enough interest to become a ticketed, official event (a portion of every ticket sale goes to charity). It’s utter lunacy, in the best possible way; hilarious and entertaining to watch if you’d rather stay dry and somewhat warm on the shore, or a fantastic experience to have, and story to tell, if you’re brave enough to take the plunge yourself!

And if none of these events float your boat, then there are plenty of other options available! Almost every pub, bar, and club will be open later than usual, hosting special parties for the evening - though you may need to purchase tickets in advance for some of the most popular venues. Restaurants and hotels often have special banquet dinners available too, with entertainment to follow. Many locals host house parties, venturing in to gardens, balconies, or the street, to watch the midnight fireworks. There’s no shortage of ways to celebrate Hogmanay in Edinburgh!