Legend has it, Scotland got Hogmanay as compensation for bagpipes. The Great God of National Identity looked down, realised the Scots were condemned to an eternity of mournful dirges and said, ‘Here, have an insane party once a year to make up for it …. I am not without mercy.’ And Hogmanay was born.
credit: capn madd matt
Admittedly my details are a bit vague. But the bit about the bagpipes does have a certain ring of truth. And there’s no doubt that the Scots do have a tradition of seeing in the New Year like they don’t intend to live much past the 1st of January anyway.
credit: Ben Cooper
A bit of a ‘do’ for the bells is compulsory from Orkney to Stranraer. There are a few isolated spots where ‘insane party’ translates as ‘a wee sherry and a slice of fruit cake’. Certain restrained types even make do with some light ‘first footing’ (365 days of good luck befalls you if a tall, dark stranger pitches up at the door on the stroke of midnight, but it’s Scotland, so no guarantees). And then there are the Letter-Of-The-Legend-Die-Hards who don’t recognise the start of anything, let alone a New Year, unless the music’s loud, the partying fierce and you can’t move for fireworks, food, drink and much, much, much reeling and birling – Welcome to Edinburgh!
Scotland’s capital starts celebrating Hogmanay as soon as it can on New Year’s Eve with the annual Carnival on Market Street kicking off at 11am to let little Hogmanayers have all the fun of the fair before the festivities get too grown-up. This year there’s a giant Ferris wheel, all the usual ‘win an unfeasibly large furry creature’ type stalls and a seemingly endless supply of sugary snacks. After dark the Carnival lights up the Old Town’s tenements and towers spectacularly and rides with height restrictions and death-based names come into their own. This is probably the time to start thinking about alternative events if your Hogmanay companions are small enough to look genuinely cute in a onesie.
credit: Sarah Ross photography
My money’s on the Torchlight Procession this year. Reinventing the idea of ‘spectacle’ completely, upwards of 35,000 people gather at 7pm on the city’s George V Bridge and walk en-masse with flaming torches to Calton Hill for the annual Son et Lumière Finale. And all you have to do is buy a voucher (£8 in advance at www.edinburghshogmanay.com) pick up your torch on the day and be there. Calton Hill’s closed to all but Torch Carriers, so the walk and the £8 also entitles you to arguably the city’s best view – if getting to carry a big, lit torch through Edinburgh at night wasn’t quite exciting enough.
If you don’t make it to the Torchlight Procession, you could always head to Edinburgh’s venerable St. Gile’s Cathedral on the Royal Mile for the Hogmanay Candlelit Concert. Haydn tops the bill this year, along with Baroque classics and some essential Bach. You’ll find St. Gile’s Cathedral Choir in good voice as ever and they’re joined in force by several celebrated, young, international soloists. Tickets are £16 and bookable online at www.edinburghshogmanay.com.
credit: Lee Carson
Sounds a bit sedate? You’ll be wanting the Street Party then. This is one of the original and best in the UK, so it’s understandably very popular and tickets only – really, no ticket, no party, it’s the rule. But for your ticket price (£20) you get DJ’s, bands and non-stop party right through midnight and on into the wee small hours (as they possibly don’t say in Edinburgh). There’s also food, drink and thousands and thousands of people – if you were ever anxious about having no one to kiss at Midnight your worries end here.
Traditionalists might want to get in the party mood with a few reels and jigs courtesy of the UK’s biggest outdoor ceilidh, The Keilidh. Part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party the all singing, all dancing, ceilidh calling, strip the willowing Keilidh is a perfect warm-up or an event unto itself, depending on how you like your dancing. Tickets for The Keilidh are £37 and give you access to the Street Party too – and it’s on the Mound Precinct so pole position for the city’s incredible midnight Firework Display.
Speaking of midnight. This year Edinburgh has taken ownership of the whole kissing, teary-eyed, sentimental, over-emotional shooting match and even given it a name: Midnight Moment (it doesn’t sound so bad if you think of it in context, sort of). Calton Hill and the Castle will be setting off a ferocious amount of fireworks as usual and, as I said before, no shortage of people to celebrate with at the Street Party. But Midnight Moment’s real hook is Edinburgh’s ambition to achieve the world’s biggest rendition of Auld Lang Syne – you’ll find the lyrics online at www.edinburghshogmanay.com, so no excuses I’m afraid.
The Street Party isn’t everyone’s dram at Hogmanay, but don’t be despondent. Pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants all over the city are heralding in 2014 in their own way. And there’s no shortage of things happening that don’t involve being outdoors – Edinburgh is not warm on January 1st!
If you are outdoors, wear warm clothes – the Torchlight Procession’ torches are wax, so you might want to dress down for that event. Tickets for everything should be bought or booked in advance (things do sell out). And if you’re in doubt about anything at all, visit www.edinburghshogmanay.com, they’ve got a downloadable events programme and that’s where you’ll find the Auld Lang Syne lyrics.
credit: The Queen’s Hall
What else can I say? Clearly Edinburgh’s got Hogmanay organised so in Woody Allen’s words, ‘All you have to do is turn up’, or something like that. Have a wonderful Hogmanay (even if you’re somewhere that doesn’t call it that) and here’s to a great 2014!
Featured image by Chris Watt.
In countries that worship at the altar of jingling bells, holly wreaths, and mobs of aging, scarlet gentlemen with cornucopian facial hair; there are, unsurprisingly, many who do not feel the urge to partake in the lamentably common commercialism and faux.
Yes, absolutely, me too. I think deep down under our novelty Christmas jumpers we can all sympathise with those who feel the need to escape Christmas, especially now we are stuck in the middle of the long festive run up surrounded by too many adverts, too many mince pies and too much Slade.
So, what are your options should you choose to escape Christmas this year? Where can you go and say “Bah! Humbug!” without being labelled a Scrooge? Well, here are my suggestions.
The red city is traditionally Muslim so Christmas is not the everything-grinds-to-a-halt occasion that it is in other parts of the world. But perhaps this isn’t the best reason to visit Marrakech at this time of year; it’s the weather. With temperatures often staying in the low 20s (Celsius) and more sunny days than not, you can say “Humbug!” in your cool cotton T-shirt while getting lost in a maze-like Medina or haggling your way through the famous Jemaa El-Fna market. Alternatively, to escape Christmas, the city and almost everything else, I recommend a trip to the nearby Atlas Mountains for stunning, floral landscapes and star-filled skies that will make you feel far from everything.
While many parts of Bangkok and Thailand will be adorned with Christmas decorations and fairy lights – it’s peak tourist season after all, and they know us “Farangs” love a bit of festal bobbledness – the Buddhist majority of Thai residents of course don’t approach the festive holidays with the same gusto they do their own spiritual festivals and celebrations. Moreover, I can absolutely guarantee a 0% chance of snow. Therefore, it’s easy to avoid Christmas in the Thai capital while also topping up your tan and satisfying your Tom Yum cravings. Immerse yourself in culture by visiting one of the city’s elaborate temples or rummage for vintage bargains at Rod Fai market. Alternatively do little more than relax by the pool of your luxurious high-rise apartment before heading out at night for arguably the best street food in the world.
St. Petersburg, Russia
If you’re keen to avoid Christmas but not the pretty winter scenes that a snowy landscape brings, then head to Saint Petersburg. With the Russian Orthodox Church celebrating Christmas on 7th January you can time your visit to escape the chaos at home, while also soaking up a little seasonal spirit if you’re not 100% Scrooge. Often hailed as the Russian Federation’s most “European” city, St Petersburg’s picturesque canals, architecture and growing “foodie” scene are reason enough to visit. Unsurprisingly the beautifully intricate WinterPalace is at its most impressive when surrounded by pure white snow and you can seek warmth and culture in the city’s many museums including the world-famous Hermitage art gallery.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
You may think this an unusual choice because it’s in the thick of Christmas-celebrating Western Europe, but hear me out. By the time Christmas Eve arrives in Amsterdam, children have already had their presents and they’re a little bit over Christmas. This is because the more commercial celebration of Sinterklaas comes much earlier on the evening of the 5th December and Christmas Day itself is a celebration mostly reserved for religious Christian families, though everyone enjoys a day or two off work. With the Dutch state and church being long separated, this means that Christmas in Amsterdam is festive, but it’s far from an overwhelming seasonal assault on your good will, so head to Amsterdam to admire a beautiful city lit up at night (Amsterdam Light Festival runs from 6th December until 19th January) and enjoy all the usual heart-warming Dutch treats like stroopwaffel, poffertjes and piping hot bitterballen washed down with a local beer in one of the city’s many “gezellig” brown bars.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
While Kuala Lumpur won’t be outdone when it comes to Christmas shopping and January sales opportunities – head to the upmarket area of Bukit Bintang for this – the traditional and older areas of Malaysia’s capital will offer you little clue that Christmas is upon us. That’s not to say the city is without sparkle, but it’s a sparkle that you can find there every day of the year. In the heart of Chinatown, along Petaling Street, lanterns and lights glow above the famous market stalls and in Brickfields, also known as Little India, lights left over from Diwali lead you to delicious street stalls where you can eat curry off a banana leaf for less than $4.00. And if you’d like to leave the city behind for a day or two head up to the tropical rainforest of FRIM – close to the famous BatuCaves or to the CameronHighlands, famous for its rolling hills of tea leaf fields.
So are you planning on escaping Christmas this year? If so, I’d love to know about any other tinsel-free towns you think are worth visiting for your ‘anti-Christmas’.
Featured image by Stu-bear
London is a huge city. Very few Londoners can claim to have explored every quirky village, secluded park and peaceful waterway that makes up their home. This is largely because, given the choice between spending an hour travelling across the city to a part of the city they perceive similar to their own or spending an hour travelling outside of the city to the countryside or beach, they will normally choose the latter.
A pity, when the scene changes are so varied and the shops, markets and foodie places really are different and there are activities that you can do with your children in one part of town that they wouldn’t be able to experience anywhere else on earth.
credit: Tom Ward
Guide books, tour operators and travel articles also often steer tourists to stay in and concentrate their exploring around the centre of the city. But central London is not always the best place to base yourself, especially if you are travelling with children.
So why not venture out of zone 1 on the London underground and spend some mean time in Greenwich, reinvent yourself with the upcycling artists of Stoke Newington or get down on the farm in Islington?
Each piece of London needs to be lingered over, drunk tea and eaten cake in and wandered aimlessly around before you can truly say you know it. And to become a Londoner even for a holiday, you need to live like a Londoner, in a home that is, not a hotel.
To find a rental property that feels like a home, search HouseTrip.com. When you stay in a HouseTrip property the owners are never far away. In many instances they will greet you with the keys and after telling you the ins and outs of their home they will tell you about their neighbourhood.
Staying near Goodge Street, for example? Well just behind you off the beautiful little pedestrianised street of Colville Place is the sweetest little park, complete with a children’s play area that at most times of the day your kids will have to themselves.
Or perhaps you’re in the yummy mummy territory of Queens Park? You simply have to stock up on freshly prepared Italian meals to take away from the Salusbury Food Store.
If you’re staying near the Tower of London, then you need to try and get tickets for the Order of the Key, the traditional locking up of the Tower ceremony that has been carried out every night for at least 700 years.
Just across the river in Blackheath you must head to the heath itself to watch the seriously good kite flyers in action every weekend.
Lovely London neighbourhood accommodation
If you are staying a little further outside of the centre, it’s nice to be able to hire a car so that you can spend some time going even further outside the capital, perhaps to spend a day at Windsor Castle or to do the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio tour or to visit Whipsnade Zoo. There aren’t many properties in London with free on site parking, which is why I like this super stylish three-bedroom, two bathroom apartment close to Queens Park. It has a parking space right out front. There are quite a lot of stairs involved so it’s not ideal for young children, but perfect for school age and above. It’s within walking distance of Queens Park with its buzzy pavement café scene, cool boutiques and beautiful park, which has a great playground, pitch and putt course and even a little zoo.
This two bedroom ground floor flat right in the heart of Notting Hill is more suited to young children as it’s step free inside. It has a lovely open plan living area and two nice airy bedrooms. Plus it is just steps from the boutiques, restaurants and bars of Notting Hill and Portobello Market. There is a garden square with a playground up the road too and you can hop on a bus or the tube to be in central London within minutes.
Browse the range of holiday apartments in London by visiting: www.housetrip.com/en/london
Featured image of Richmond Park by Kofi Opoku-Ansah.
A new year is just around the corner so obviously it’s time for me to ask; have you started stretching yet? Have you bought that brand new pair of running shoes you promised yourself? I hope you’ve also invested in some elbow pads and a helmet.
Am I talking about preparations for a new year’s fitness challenge? Nope. I’m wondering how ready you are for the January Sales.
With words like “scrum”, “horde” and “mob” often being used to describe the crowds that descend on some of the world’s biggest and best sales, the winter sales are not for the faint-hearted, but done right they are a great way to enjoy a new city. I did a little research and here are ten of the best January Sales around the world I recommend. On your marks, get set, go!
Visitors fly in to London from all over the world for the UK capital’s January Sales, which strictly speaking start on 26th December. The day after Christmas is also called Boxing Day locally, though I assure you this does not relate to the tactics you need to employ to beat your way through the crowds in Harrods in Knightsbridge or Selfridges on Oxford Street. My best advice for avoiding the crowds is to head to high streets in the suburbs and be sure to check how late the shops stay open.
New York City, USA
The January Sales begin a little later in The Big Apple with famous department stores like Bloomingdales and Macy’s chopping prices from early January onwards. However, for the best bargains follow those in the know upstate to Woodbury Commons a huge outlet mall that sells designer and luxury brands at eye-poppingly low prices.
Despite having enough museums and art galleries to keep any visitor happy for a year or two, Paris is as much a shopping destination as a sight-seeing city-break. With historic department stores like Galleries Lafayette and Le Printemps and smaller shopping enclaves like Les Halles, Passage de Grand Cerf and Viaduc des Arts, come 8th January 2014, Paris will have reduced shopping for everyone.
credit: *Crazy Diamond*
Never outside the top five shopping cities in the world, Dubai may not celebrate Christmas, but it’s happy to indulge in the seasonal sales. Considering the city’s airport has more shops than the average shopping centre, the one month-long Dubai Shopping Festival – which starts on January 2nd – is only for the fittest and most experienced shopping pro.
In addition to the usual reductions across all goods, Rome is a haven for accessories shopping with more than its fair share of boutiques selling beautiful shoes and designer handbags – a good or bad thing depending on your budget and luggage restrictions! The other upside of shopping in Rome is that the main shopping district is littered with many of the city’s most famous sights including the Spanish Steps and Campo de’ Fiori. January Sales begin on 5th January 2014.
If you’re a little slow to get pennies saved in time for the January Sales, Hong Kong may be the shopping Mecca you should head thanks to the biggest reductions coinciding with Chinese New Year at the end of the month. With a 10% increase in retail sales for the last few years and up to 50% off prices in Hong Kong’s huge malls, expect a shopping experience on a grand scale.
Singapore’s biggest sales actually take place in the summer, thanks to a city wide event called the “Great Singapore Sale”, but that doesn’t mean January doesn’t see some worthy reductions in the city’s many designer and department stores along Orchard Road, which also have special sales to celebrate Chinese New Year. For more independent boutiques head to Haji Lane, and Bugis Lane is your best bet for a bargain.
The UK’s second most visited city, Edinburgh is another great shopping destination disguised as a historical hub of culture. The main shopping area is around Princes Street and you should definitely pop your head in Jenners just to admire the 19th century interior of the grand hall. Sales start at the end of December and reductions will continue throughout January.
credit: Bert Kaufmann
Not known for its shopping as such, Lisbon is one of the most beautiful cities to go shopping in thanks to the sunlight bouncing off the marble mosaic floors and white stone buildings found along the pedestrianised Rua Augusta, the city’s main shopping district. Alternatively, head to the upmarket Príncipe Real, where you can find more independent stores and a picturesque park and gardens to grab a coffee in. January Sales begin in late December and will carry on into February.
Last but not least is Tokyo, not just home to the world’s best electronics shopping in Akihabara, but also a pioneer of winter sales thanks to Japan’s new year’s tradition of “Fukubukuro” a unique concept of giving out “goody” or “happy” bags which are filled with a mystery collection of the shop’s produce, bought at considerable discount. As popular as the sales themselves, many shops will see people queuing up for hours on New Year’s Day to carry away a Fukubukuro from their favourite store.
Are you feeling strong enough to face the January Sales of 2014? If so, where will you be heading? I’d love to hear your tips for surviving the retail madness and still walking away with some bargains.
Featured image by World of Good
If you have a penchant for rocking around the Christmas tree in a beautiful city lit up with festive glow and Christmas lights, this is the post for you. We’ve gathered ten of the best urban Christmas trees already shining brightly as this festive season begins. Which one would you like to go to first?
Rockerfeller Center, New York City, USA
Let’s kick off with a king of Christmas trees. Already up before Thanksgiving turkeys were on the table, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is almost as much of an institution as Christmas itself. With an ice skating rink at its foot and accompanying decorations as far as the eye can see, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller is a must see if you find yourself in New York at this time of year.
Trafalgar Square, London, UK
Creeping up behind NYC with its Christmas tree traditions, is London, a city full of beautiful trees. However, the Norwegian spruce that is donated to London by Norway in a tradition that began in 1947 is considered the city’s centrepiece. It will be revealed on 5th December and you can head there to enjoy carols being sung under the tree every evening from 9th – 22nd December 2013.
Galleries Lafayette, Paris, France
Arguably Paris‘s most famous Christmas tree is housed in the centre of the glamorous Galleries Lafayette department store. It has already been on show since early November and this year’s tree was a collaboration with watch brand Swatch, with time being the main theme. Suspended from the store’s famous art deco dome, the animated tree is decorated with pink flowers and a fairy tale village scene at its base. Stay for long enough to see the characters and tree come alive on the hour, every hour.
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany
Stood in front of the symbolic Brandenburg Gate, Berlin’s Christmas tree is uncomplicatedly decorated but still beautifully drenched in light. While the city is flooded with Christmas trees standing along the many miles of the city’s Christmas markets, the Christmas tree at Brandenburg Gate is where most people gather for quiet reflection during the holiday season, oh and for the not so quiet fireworks on New Year’s Eve.
Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic
One of Europe’s most popular spots for gothic winter wonderland scenes, the Christmas tree that stands in Prague‘s Old Town Square comes from the Krkonose Mountains in the north of the country and can be admired every night while you eat and drink treats from the Christmas market also held here.
Terreiro do Paço, Lisbon, Portugal
There’s not a pine needle in sight with Lisbon’s giant Christmas tree, a structure made out of metal and lights. Fireworks were set off as the tree was lit for the first time last weekend, but with giant red baubles and the sparkle of hundreds of fairy lights bouncing off the marble mosaic floor, Lisbon’s main town square will be lit up for the remainder of the festive season.
Floating Christmas Tree, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro got into the Guinness Book of Records with their giant floating Christmas tree, and every year in Brazil Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without it. Currently found floating on Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the huge tree is lit up with over 3 million light bulbs and this year will also be moved to different locations in the city so as many people as possible can gawk at it.
Vatican City, Rome, Italy
Thousands of Catholics descend on the Vatican City in Rome for Christmas and the tree that stands in the centre of St Peter’s Square is considered one of the most beautiful in Italy. Traditionally the Vatican’s Christmas tree is donated by a region or city in Europe and this year, it’s – delightfully drolly – the turn of Bavaria, homeland of ex-Pope Benedict XVI. Decorations will feature both a Bavarian and a Neapolitan theme, as Naples has donated the Vatican’s nativity scene this year.
Martin Place, Sydney, Australia
Image from kidsizeliving
Despite soaring temperatures and bright blue skies, Australia doesn’t hold back with the Christmas decorations and Christmas has already arrived in the Central Business District in Sydney. This year’s tree in Martin Place is already shining brightly surrounded by Christmas lights and decorations. Just don’t expect anyone to be standing underneath it on Christmas Day, they’re all at the beach, including Santa.
West Palm Beach, Florida
Made with more than 650 tons of sand and standing at over 36 feet, in Florida, West Palm Beach’s sand Christmas tree is one of the area’s most popular attractions and while it may not see any snow it isn’t without lights or sparkle. A lighting ceremony will take place on the beach this evening, the 5th of December 2013. Click here to learn more.
Prince Bishop’s Shopping Centre, Durham, UK
credit: The Crystal Gazer
Every year Christmas prompts people to discuss how commercial and consumer-focused the festive season has become. Durham – an historic north English city – has erected a tree designed to highlight this issue as part of its recent Lumiere Festival. This 9 metre tall tree is made of discarded plastic shopping bags donated by members of the public and is the work of Spanish art collective Lutzinterruptus.
Which other cities have great Christmas trees or decorations? Feel free to share your recommendations and maybe your photos in the comments.