New Year’s Eve, or Auld Year’s Night or Hogmanay is one of the biggest celebrations of the year in Edinburgh and the biggest deal for many people.
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!
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.
The route usually starts from the Royal Mile near St Giles Cathedral. 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!
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.
The biggest headliners play on the stage in Princes Street Gardens and 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. There is also ‘Ceilidh under the Castle’.
It’s estimated that around 60,000 people attend the Street Party every year, joined by a host of street performers including dancers, acrobats, fire eaters, and flash mobs, to create a carnival-like atmosphere.
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.
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?
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.
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!
Find many more curiosities and anecdotes about Edinburgh in our tours around the city.