Travel inspiration and insider tips

6 years, 3 months ago

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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, 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!

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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, they’ve got a downloadable events programme and that’s where you’ll find the Auld Lang Syne lyrics.

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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.

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