During the bleak midwinter, Edinburgh bursts into spectacular life - especially in the last week of December, when thousands of people arrive in the city for the annual Hogmanay festival, to mark the turning of the old year into the new.
This winter may be a little different for the Scottish capital, but if you plan to visit Edinburgh this Christmas, two of our local tour guide partners have some top tips for things to see and do in the city...
Check out these recommendations from Wee Walking Tours and Edinburgh Expert - and be sure to wrap up warm!
Wee Walking Tours says...
Edinburgh is beautiful in all seasons and that includes winter! All that is required are a comfortable pair of shoes and appropriate outwear (we recommend layers as the temperatures can be cooler in the mornings/evenings but often moderate during the day).
With all this in mind, we want to share a few fun spots to check out when visiting Edinburgh in the winter.
Winter may be dark, but the city of Edinburgh comes alive with lights each holiday season. For example, for the past few years, the Royal Botanic Garden has offered the spectacular event, ‘Christmas at the Botanics’.
Various creative light displays are set up along an illuminated trail, including spectacular light projections set to holiday music. It is a magical occasion that must be experienced in person.
Keeping with the festive theme, our next recommendation is ‘Christmas Nights’ at Edinburgh Zoo. Combining animals and exquisite light displays is a definite recipe for fun!
Whether you are exploring the famous Penguin Rocks at night or enjoying a cup of hot cocoa while strolling through the twinkling fairy lights of the Christmas tree trail, this is an event we highly recommend.
One of our favourite locations that we visit on our afternoon tours is Calton Hill. This picturesque hilltop location offers stunning 360-degree views of the city with amazing wintertime sunsets. Once the sun sets, the city comes alive with lights and is an incredible way to experience Edinburgh.
Of course, we may be biased, but one of the best ways we recommend that you experience Calton Hill is alongside our Golden Retriever tour guide, Sawyer. He is accompanied by our human tour guide, Sami, who loves to share stories, fun facts, and touring recommendations while taking in views of Edinburgh- the ‘Athens of the North’.
Edinburgh Expert says...
Edinburgh's Old Town can be especially beautiful in the winter months, when the sun sets around 3.30pm. With the lights coming on across the city, and the Christmas decorations in many of the streets lighting up the darkness, there can be a really special atmosphere in the air!
But even during the days, when we can be lucky enough to get crisp blue skies, the winter can be a great time for exploring the city. Take a wander down the Royal Mile, checking out the lanes and alleys - 'closes' and 'wynds' as they're known - to discover the Canongate area.
In keeping with the seasonal spirit you'll find a Christmas shop selling festive decorations all year round, and the Canongate Kirk even has a connection to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol...
At the other side of the city, another former outlying village is worth exploring - just a short walk from Princes Street (and featuring on my New Town tour) is the Dean Village, an old industrial village which is now a sleepy suburb.
The Water of Leith runs through this valley, and you can follow the adjacent path inland to the hills, or out to the coast, where the river joins the Firth of Forth.
Down here it's hard to remember you're in the middle of the city, and during the winter you'll can get photographs unspoiled by other tourists (which can be tricky in the summer!).
Best of all, in the winter you have the perfect excuse to end your day at a traditional pub or a bar with a roaring open fire, creating the perfect mid-winter atmosphere as you relax from your day exploring.
The Sheep Heid in Duddingston village claims to be the oldest pub in Scotland, with a historic skittles alley where both Mary Queen of Scots and President Jimmy Carter have played skittles (though not at the same time...!).