After attending Edinburgh’s Hogmanay several times, we’ve finally decided to write a guide to celebrating Hogmanay in Edinburgh! Hogmanay is the Scottish word for New Year’s Eve and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival has become one of the largest New Year’s celebrations in the world. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is a 3-day festival full of events that include a torchlight procession, live music concerts, family events, a massive street party, traditional dancing, fireworks, and even a costumed parade that ends with a cold dip in the river!
If you are interested in celebrating the New Year in Edinburgh, we’ll tell you all you need to know to help you decide if you want to go and what you can do at the festival. We provide advice on planning ahead and finding accommodation, break down the Hogmanay events day by day, and give plenty of tips for making the most of your trip to celebrate Hogmanay in Edinburgh.
Hogmanay in Edinburgh General Information
In this section, we cover all the things you should know before you go from what exactly is Hogmanay to what to wear to how to find family friendly events.
What exactly is Hogmanay?
Hogmanay is the Scottish word for the last day of the year or New Year’s Eve. Although Hogmanay is generally regarded as the most important Scottish holiday, the origins of both the word and the traditions are obscure. Many people think that the term comes from French but there are also theories that it may have Gaelic, Norse, or Anglo-Saxon origins.
The traditions, as with most modern holidays, likely grew from pagan ones and many were probably also adapted from Christmas. After the Scottish Reformation, the Church of Scotland stifled public Christmas celebrations in the 17th century, and Christmas has only been a public holiday in Scotland since 1958! So it is likely that the modern Hogmanay traditions have some origins back in the 17th century while others are much more recent.
Older Hogmanay traditions and customs that are still practiced include gift giving, house blessing (and sometime cleaning), and the custom of first-footing. First footing is tied to the belief that the first person to cross the threshold in the New Year will bring the fortune to that household, bad or good, for the coming year. The most desirable first-foot visitors (at least in Scotland) are tall, dark men who come bearing gifts. Good traditional gifts include whisky (obviously!), coal or peat (for heating), food (especially bread), and silver coins.
Most people in Scotland celebrate Hogmanay with meals, music, and dancing, and many towns have special customs or sporting events. Hogmanay gatherings are often ended with the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” which is a poem by Robert Burns that is set to folk music. The local customs and celebrations vary across regions in Scotland, and there are a lot of fire-related customs in villages in Scotland such as the Stonehaven Fireball festival and the Biggar Bonfire..
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival dates back to 1993. The festival has allowed more visitors to participate in the Scottish holiday which has been traditionally celebrated in small gatherings and in private homes. The festival has grown to be one of the largest outdoor celebrations of New Year’s Eve in the world. Those wanting to know more about this history of Hogmanay and even how to plan your own Hogmanay celebration at home, may want to check out this book.
When is Hogmanay?
Hogmanay is the last day of the year (Gregorian calendar) and when people celebrate New Year’s Eve and the coming of the New Year. So you will definitely want to be in Scotland on December 31st if you want to celebrate Hogmanay. New Year’s Eve is when the main Edinburgh celebration takes place, which includes the street party, large public ceilidh, concert, and fireworks. However, there are also celebratory events on the day before Hogmanay as well as the day or so following Hogmanay.
How Long does Hogmanay in Edinburgh Last?
As noted above, Hogmanay is technically just one day but the Hogmanay celebration in Edinburgh (as well as in other places in Scotland) last for about 3 days. The big events include a torchlight procession and other entertainment on December 30th, a massive outdoor street party, concerts, and fireworks on December 31st, and then the Loony Dook (a morning dunk in a river) and smaller public entertainment options on January 1st. Some events may also take place on January 2nd. We’ll cover each of these events in more detail in the next section of the post.
Do I need Tickets to Attend Edinburgh’s Hogmanay?
Yes, for most events you do need tickets. There are always some free and unticketed events, but the majority of the official events do require tickets. Tickets are required for participating in the Torchlight procession, most of the family and children events, the Candlelit Concert at St. Giles, the Ceilidh, the Street Party, the Concert in the Gardens, and Loony Dook.
But some Hogmanay events you can certainly do for free without a ticket. For instance, you can watch the torchlight procession and Loony Dook as a spectator for free without a ticket. You can also view the firework displays for free from a number of places within the city, although you will not have access without a ticket to the Street Party or concert event locations such as Princes Street Gardens and the Mound. Although not a part of Hogmanay, it is also free to enter Edinburgh’s Christmas market area (except during the evening of the 31st of December as it is within the Street Party area).
How Far Ahead Should I Plan for Hogmanay in Edinburgh?
I would book tickets to the events that you wish to attend as soon as you know for sure you’ll be attending as most Hogmanay events sell out in advance. Most events are limited in size due to capacity and safety concerns, and the smaller events like Loony Dook and the Candlelit Concert, sell out really fast. So definitely book ticketed events in advance if you can to avoid disappointment. But I’d also book your travel arrangements (e.g., flights, trains, hotels, car rentals) in advance as prices will be increased over the holidays and many hotels and trains will sell out. Booking early will give you more options within your price range. I would recommend booking things 3 months in advance or more if you can, but as far ahead as you can is advisable.
In 2018 for the 2018/2019 Hogmanay events tickets will go on sale on May 21st.
Where do the Hogmanay Events Take Place?
Hogmanay events take place all over the city (as well as all over the country) but the main Hogmanay celebration centers around Princes Street Gardens in central Edinburgh. Although the exact locations of the events and torchlight procession route change each year, most events will be in or around Princes Street Gardens, the Waverley train station, The Mound, the Royal Mile, and Calton Hill. There are usually also special events at some of the museums and attraction such as the National Museum of Scotland. All of these locations are within walking distance from one another and located in central Edinburgh.
The only annual major event that takes place outside central Edinburgh is the Loony Dook. The Loony Dook takes place outside of Edinburgh in the nearby town of South Queensferry. You can drive, take a public bus, book a taxi or Uber, or go by train (to Dalmeny) from Edinburgh. There are also usually special bus transfers arranged just for the Loony Dook that you can book.
Can I Attend Multiple Hogmanay Events on the Same Day?
The short answer is yes you can. On December 30th and New Year’s Day there are fewer events and they don’t tend to overlap, but on New Year’s Eve there are usually several overlapping evening events. You can choose to attend as many as you wish but since all the major events are ticketed separately, most people choose one of two evening events. For example you might go to the Candlelit Concert at St. Giles and then head to the Concert in the Gardens, or go to the Ceilidh and then to the Street Party.
Most events do not allow you to leave and re-enter and there’s normally a cut-off time for entry, so it is wise to think about how you want to spend your time. Many people just choose one evening event such as the Street Party, Ceilidh, or Concert in the Gardens to enjoy as these each run all evening until 1am.
Where Can I Eat for New Year’s Eve?
If you are planning to attend one of the evening festival events, each will have stands offering food and drinks within the ticketed area. So if you are OK with street food, that is one option. The other option is to go out for dinner prior to coming to the festival as most events will not allow you to exit and return. If you are hoping to go out for a nicer sit-down dinner (versus fast food, street food, or takeaway), I’d make reservations as it is a very busy night for local restaurants and pubs and many will have their tables fully reserved in advance. Many restaurants offer special Hogmanay holiday menus.
How to Avoid the Crowds at Hogmanay in Edinburgh?
Hogmanay is a busy time in Edinburgh, with tens of thousands of visitors coming to join in the celebration. In fact, in 1996 the Hogmanay celebration was recognized as the world’s largest New Year party by the Guinness Book of Records with approximately 400,000 people! However, the numbers are now restricted through ticketing due to safety concerns to about 100,000, but there are still a lot of people.
If you don’t care for a crowded street party environment, there are lots of events that will likely still appeal. Even the Street Party is not too crowded before 10pm so going early is a good way to enjoy the events in the early evening. You can also look out for VIP and Premium entry tickets (normally available for the Concert in the Gardens) that give you access to prime viewing areas for the fireworks and concerts in less crowded areas. The most crowded events are definitely the Street Party and the Concert in the Gardens (although a Premium ticket area is not that crowded), so you may want to avoid these and focus on other events such as the Ceilidh, the candlelit concert at St. Giles, the family and afternoon events, and the New Year’s Day events. The Torchlight Procession draws a lot of people but because the procession route is long, it is fairly easy to grab a good viewing spot.
This past year there was also the option of booking an indoor VIP spot to celebrate the New Year’s Eve as part of the official Edinburgh’s Hogmanay program called Hogmanay HQ. Located in Assembly Hall (just up the hill from the Concert and Street Party), ticketed guests were offered half a bottle of champagne, full buffet dinner, VIP party, live music, private bars, and tickets to access the Street Party. The was also a place to view the midnight fireworks from the building.
If you are looking for a more intimate setting in Edinburgh to ring in the New Year, I’d book a Hogmanay event at a local restaurant, pub, theater, hotel, or museum. Many venues hold a Hogmanay event that normally includes dinner, drinks, dancing, and live entertainment. Some packages also include Street Party passes. The Principal, The Caledonian, The Balmoral, Prestonfield House, and many other of Edinburgh’s larger hotels will be offering special Hogmanay events, dinners, and balls. You can also join in on events at other venues such as the Hogmanay Snow Ball, the Afore the Bells at The Queen’s Hall, or the Hogmanay Hoolie at Ghille Dhu. If you are not wanting to be on your feet all night, I’d look for an event where you’ll have a dedicated table so you always have a place to sit.
Is Edinburgh’s Hogmanay affected by Bad Weather?
Yes, it can be. The outdoor events at Hogmanay, including the torchlight procession, street party, and fireworks may be cancelled if the weather is particularly bad, especially if it is deemed that the weather makes for unsafe conditions. So far the main Hogmanay celebrations have only been canceled twice (2003 and 2006). But Edinburgh is used to bad weather so normal rain, cold weather, or a bit of wind won’t lead to cancellations so chances are that all (or most) events will take place each year.
Although it is unlikely that the Hogmanay celebrations will be canceled, it is always good to have a back-up plan for what you’ll do just in case. Note that tickets for most events will not be refunded for weather related cancellations. Indoor events will still be happening, and you can also always head to a pub or restaurant to celebrate as many will have special Hogmanay menus and entertainment.
What Should I Wear for Hogmanay?
Hogmanay events in Edinburgh are primarily outdoors so you’ll want to dress warmly and bring something to keep you dry in case it rains (e.g., waterproof jacket with hood, poncho). Check the weather before you leave to help with packing. Events run late into the evening so it may be colder than you might expect, especially if it is windy or if it rains. We recommend dressing in warm layers, bringing along a hat and gloves, wearing a waterproof outer layer, and choosing comfortable practical shoes.
Check out this Hogmanay packing list which gives you some more specific advice of what to pack, bring, and wear during the Hogmanay events and Loony Dook.
Is Hogmanay in Edinburgh a Family Friendly Event?
I would say yes, but I would choose the events best suited for families as some are more family friendly than others and some events do NOT allow children under a certain age. For instance this year children under age 12 were not permitted at the Street Party or the Concert in the Gardens. However, there are events each year that are specifically organized for families such as afternoon music events and early evening fireworks for families who want to avoid the biggest crowds and be home before midnight. In terms of the regular events, children are welcome (with an accompanying parent) to take part in the Torchlight Procession, afternoon concerts and events, candlelight concert at St. Giles, the ceilidh dancing, and Loony Dook. There are also the Edinburgh Christmas market, rides, and attractions which include a dedicated children’s area.
Outside of the main festival, you’ll find many other family-friendly Hogmanay events in Edinburgh that children are welcome to attend. For instance, both the National Museum of Scotland and The Queen’s Hall normally host family friendly Hogmanay events such as ceilidh dances, dinners, and entertainment. Also, many restaurants, pubs, and hotels will be hosting special dinners and entertainment so you should have no trouble finding a family friendly place to celebrate.
What are the Best Ways to Travel around Edinburgh?
Edinburgh has a fairly compact city center, with the majority of attractions being easily accessible by foot or public transit. For public transportation, we recommend local buses (find Lothian Buses fees and schedules here), Uber, or local taxi services. The Edinburgh trams have a more limited route (includes the train stations and airport) but are a good additional option if you are traveling to and from the airport. There are also a few different companies offering sightseeing hop-on hop-off bus services in Edinburgh that stop at many of the main tourist attractions in Edinburgh. We would not recommend a renting a car unless you are planning to leave the city.
How to Find Accommodation in Edinburgh during Hogmanay?
The holidays, especially the week around Hogmanay, is one of the busiest times of the year in Edinburgh and many accommodations book up in advance. Prices are also higher at most hotels at this time of year. So we’d recommend booking as soon as you know what dates you’ll be in the city.
In terms of accommodation options, Edinburgh has something to suit everyone, including hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, apartments, rooms, and hostels. Edinburgh is not a cheap destination, but it is not nearly as expensive as London and you can find everything from historical luxury hotels to budget chains to hostels. If you plan to book a hotel, hostel, motel, or guest house, we like to use HotelsCombined which compares prices across booking websites. For hostels, you can also check out the Hostelling Scotland website.
For those seeking self-catering options or shared accommodation, you might start by checking AirBnB as it has so many listings (receive up to $100 off your trip if you sign up for AirBnB with this link!). We’d also recommend checking out VRBO as well as EdLets which rents all kinds of spaces in Edinburgh. If you are still not finding what you are looking for, we recommend looking though this list of websites like Airbnb for more apartment and room booking options. RVers and campers can also find campgrounds and RV parks in and near Edinburgh (e.g., Edinburgh Caravan Club Site).
If you are booking fairly last minute and can’t find any availability or no availability within your budget, I’d start thinking about different types of location options (e.g., apartments, hostels, rooms, cabins) and looking outside central Edinburgh. There are a lot of smaller satellite towns and villages within a 30 minute to 60 minute car or bus ride from Edinburgh that may be able to offer cheaper accommodation. You may also want to think about Glasgow or Stirling if you can’t find anything in Edinburgh as both cities are only an hour drive or bus ride away with the Citylink bus.
What are Other things to do in Edinburgh during Hogmanay?
If you are staying for a couple of days before or after New Year’s Eve, I’d recommend checking out the Edinburgh’s Christmas events, many of which run through the first week of January. Because of the large influx of people into Edinburgh, there are often other special events held that week as well so check out local events schedules.
If this is your first time in Edinburgh, we’d recommend starting with this list of the top things to do in Edinburgh, which covers the top attractions, museums, hotspots, and green spaces in the city. If you have been to Edinburgh before, we’d also recommend exploring some of Edinburgh’s lesser known attractions. Potterheads may be interested in seeing the Harry Potter sites, shutterbugs may want to search for the city’s top photography locations, and fans of the Royal Family may want to invest in the Royal Edinburgh Ticket.
If you have more time in Edinburgh, you may also consider taking a day trip. Popular day trips from Edinburgh include castles, Rosslyn Chapel, whisky distilleries, Outlander sites, Loch Ness, or the Highlands. If you are interested in a day trip tour, we can recommend taking a look at the tours offered by local tour company Rabbies. We have always had a great experience on their tours. There is obviously lots to do in Edinburgh, and feel free to leave us a comment if you need any advice!
Where to Celebrate Hogmanay outside of Edinburgh?
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is Scotland’s largest New Year’s celebration; however, you’ll find Hogmanay celebrations throughout the country. If you are looking for a smaller but still festive public celebration check out larger cities like Glasgow (second largest Hogmanay celebrations), Inverness, and Aberdeen. The bigger cities will all have public festivals and smaller towns of any size will also have local festivities such as ceilidh dancing, live music, and dinners. Fire seems to also factor into a number of celebrations such as the Stonehaven Fireball festival and the Biggar Bonfire.
Best Places to Find Information about Hogmanay events?
In addition to this article, I’d check out the Edinburgh Hogmanay official website which is the best place for the latest news, event times, and where you can purchase tickets online. I’d also recommend visiting the Festivals Edinburgh website, which has information and resources for all the major Edinburgh festivals including Hogmanay.
Hogmanay in Edinburgh Guide: Day by Day Events
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is known for its massive street party, but the festival is much more than that and events take place over three days. We’ll cover all the major Hogmanay events to help you decide what you want to do and help you plan your trip to have the best possible New Year’s in Edinburgh!
December – All Month Long
If you are visiting Edinburgh for Hogmanay, consider coming early to also enjoy some Christmas festivities. Many of the Christmas events, including the Christmas Market, continue into January as well!
Christmas in Edinburgh
The entire month of December is a festive time to be in Edinburgh and the Edinburgh Christmas events have been growing in size and popularity, attracting lots of international tourists. Holiday related events normally begin at the end of November and most things are in full swing by the first week of December. Expect Christmas markets, outdoor skating rinks, amusement rides, holidays lights, a Santa’s grotto, concerts, holiday lights, and special events. Although some of these end at Christmas, many of these continue through the first week of January. So if you come for Hogmanay you can still visit the Christmas markets, ride the amusement rides, and go ice skating. Check out our guide to Christmas in Edinburgh to give you a full overview of all the things you can do during this time of year.
The two main events that take place on December 30th are the torchlight procession and a short fireworks show in the evening. The torchlight procession is generally seen as the official kickoff to the Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations. Check the official schedule to see if any other events may also be taking place on this day as there may also be music entertainment or other festivities.
The torchlight procession is the big kickoff event for the Hogmanay festival in Edinburgh! A group of 20,000 to 40,000 people normally take part in a walking parade carrying torches that creates a “river of fire”. Leading the procession are a group of 30 or 40 Up Helly Aa “Vikings” from the Shetland Islands who are also carrying torches and weapons. The procession is also accompanied by a series of drummers and pipers who play music throughout the walk. The procession usually lasts about 2 hours, beginning at dark around 7pm. The route varies each year but the procession has always taken place in the Old Town.
Visitors are welcome to participate in the procession. If you want to participate, you’ll need to register and purchase a ticket in advance. On the day of the event, you’ll need to then collect your torch as instructed, normally 1.5 to 2 hours before the event begins, at the designated collection point and then join the assigned procession starting point. The torches used to date have been long thick wax-based candles with a safety guard to collect the drippings as the wax melts so it doesn’t get on your hand. But be careful as the wind can blow the wax on you so don’t wear your best clothes and be prepared for possible rain. Children can participate in the procession but must be accompanied by an adult, and no baby strollers are allowed in the procession.
If you don’t want to walk in the procession, you can still watch it from the sides of the streets. The route will be roped off with space for people to stand alongside and watch. It is free to watch as a spectator and you don’t need a ticket. The beginning of the parade is the most dramatic as the Up Helly Aa Vikings make quite the impression! I’d recommend standing in an area where you will be able to see the parade but also at or near where you will also be able to see the evening fireworks.
Normally, there is a short fireworks show after the torchlight procession ends. The location of the fireworks may vary, with them normally being fired from Calton Hill. If you are not taking part or watching the torchlight procession, you may still be able to watch the fireworks as it can normally be seen from a number of spots in the city. As long as you can see over the area where the fireworks are being launched, you should be able to see them.
December 31st – New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve is the main day of the Edinburgh Hogmanay festival and the best day to come if you are only going to come for on;y one day to celebrate New Year’s in Edinburgh. This is the day of the street party, concerts, dances, and the largest firework display. There are also tons of other Hogmanay events taking place at private venues throughout the city.
On this day, you’ll want to take some time to plan ahead. Many of the ticketed events note a time when you must arrive by and most events do not allow you to leave and re-enter again. So for example if you want to go to both the Ceilidh and the Concert in the Gardens, you may want to go to the Ceilidh when it first opens for 2 or 3 hours, and then head to the Concert for the rest of the evening. Also note that the sidewalks and streets in central Edinburgh start to become very busy around 10pm and it takes a lot more time than usual to get from place to place, both due to the crowds and all the barriers. All the ticketed areas have public toilets as well as places to purchase drinks and street food.
Children and Family Events
Each year there are always family-oriented Hogmanay events in Edinburgh. These have changed each year since we’ve been here, but there are always fun events where families can celebrate New Year’s Eve earlier in the day. For example, in 2016, the National Museum of Scotland hosted a 3-day event called Sprogmanay where they had a series of arts and crafts events, live music, and special Up Helly Aa Viking processions using lanterns. In 2017, there were two main family events, Baby Loves Disco and Bairns Afore. Baby Loves Disco, designed for 0 to 6 year olds, was a 2-hour long indoor baby dance event with live music, facepainting, balloons, selfie booths, and play areas. Bairns Afore was a 1 hour long live music sing-along outdoor concert that mixed together Disney classics and pop music, and ended with a short fireworks display. It is likely that there will be similar offerings next year.
In addition to the special 6pm fireworks after Bairns Afore, there were short fireworks displays every hour on the hour starting at 9pm. These were held so that families could watch the fireworks with their children before going home, and to get revelers geared up for the midnight finale. So even if your little ones needs to be in bed early, you can still see one of the early fireworks.
Candlelit Concert at St. Giles
Each year there is a New Year’s Eve concert held in St. Giles, a beautiful 14th century cathedral that is the principal church of the Church of Scotland. It is a classic concert, and often features music from composers like Mozart, Bach, and Handel as well as local choirs. The candle light and historic cathedral add a nice dramatic atmosphere to this concert that normally lasts 1.5 to 2 hours in length. Tickets are needed to attend, and these normally sell out well in advance. Children are welcome, but the event is not appropriate for babies or young children.
A ceilidh, pronounced kay-lee, is a word used to describe a traditional social gathering that normally includes Gaelic music and dancing. The New Year’s Eve Ceilidh in Edinburgh is a dance event with Scottish bands playing live music and calling out traditional dances. Each new dance is first demonstrated and then called out so that those not familiar with the dance steps can still join in. Most dances are for pairs but there are also set dances that include two to four sets of couples. If you are looking for an outdoor dance venue on New Year’s Eve, this is probably it! This year the ceilidh was held just under the castle so it was a perfect spot to view the fireworks.
You do need to buy a ticket to join the Ceilidh. Children are welcome but this event is not recommended for really young children. There is no special dress code although some people do dress up, just be sure to wear something you can move in and comfortable shoes. There was a lady who showed up this year in a short dress and spike heels who didn’t look like she was having much fun after about 10 minutes of dancing! There is a food and drink stand within the Ceilidh area as well as toilets. The Ceilidh normally starts at 8pm and ends at 1am.
Edinburgh Street Party
The Street Party is a large area that you can walk around that contains a number of stages with live entertainment. For instance, this year there were three main stages which hosted various live music acts that were playing simultaneously and there were also a couple of smaller areas with street performers, acrobats, and a radio announcer. There were also a few street performers walking amongst the crowds. This is the place to be if you are looking for a large outdoor party environment to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh. You will be able to see the fireworks from the Street Party at midnight, and there are also screens set up within the Street Party area to give people better views of the midnight moments.
Admittance to the Street Party area requires a ticket, and children under age 12 are not permitted. There are a lot of tickets for the Street Party so they don’t sell out as fast as the other events, but they do often sell out so I’d still book in advance to avoid disappointment. There are several food and drinks stands within the Street Party area as well as toilets. The Street Party usually opens at 7pm and ends at 1am.
Concert in the Gardens
The Concert in the Gardens is a large outdoor concert held in Princes Street Gardens. If you are looking for live music on New Year’s Eve, but not the giant party atmosphere of the Street Party, this is probably the place for you. The music concert features a main headline act plus a couple of guest acts. Past headline acts have included Rag’N’Bone Man, Pet Shop Boys, Paolo Nutini, and Lily Allen. At midnight the concert pauses for the midnight fireworks and the singing of “Auld Lang Syne”. Those at the Concert have a great view of the fireworks which are set off from Edinburgh Castle.
Admittance to the Concert in the Gardens requires a ticket, and children under age 12 are not permitted. Concert tickets almost always sell out well in advance so book early. There are several food and drinks stands within the Concert area as well as toilets. The Concert usually starts at 9pm and ends at 1am.
Midnight Fireworks & “Auld Lang Syne”
A countdown to midnight begins about a minute before midnight and then the fireworks finale beings at midnight. The fireworks are set off from Edinburgh Castle, and the final fireworks finale lasts for several minutes and is set to music. The midnight fireworks displays on New Year’s Eve are the best fireworks we’ve seen in Edinburgh, and are worth watching if you are in the city. Those attending the Ceilidh, Concert, or Street Party will be able to just look up to see them. Even if you are not taking part in any of the ticketed events, you can see if from multiple locations in the city as long as you can see the castle area above the castle. For example you can head to Calton Hill or perhaps you can see it from your hotel window or balcony. This is also a great time for that champagne (or whisky) toast!
At the end of the fireworks, the crowds joins in the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” that is typically led by the headline music performer. “Auld Lang Syne” is a poem by Scottish writer Robert Burns (part he wrote, part he borrowed from other older Scottish poems) that has been set to traditional folk music. It is sung in many English-speaking countries although in my experience, few people actually know all the words! Only a shortened version of the song is sang at the Hogmanay festival as it is fairly long. I’d look up the lyrics beforehand to join in if you don’t know them.
As in most parts of the world, people join hands during the singing of “Auld Lang Syne”. However, there is a bit of a twist in Scotland that is often not done elsewhere as people in many countries cross arms during the entirety of the song. On Hogmanay, people often join hands with the people next to them, forming a circle. Then at the beginning of the last verse, everyone crosses their arms across their breast, so that the right hand reaches out to the person standing on their left and vice versa. Then when the music ends, everyone moves to the middle of the circle with their hands still joined. This is often not possible at the Concert of Street Party in a large crowd, but if you are at a smaller gathering in Scotland, they will likely do this.
January 1st – New Year’s Day
If you think you’ll be able to get up early the next morning and are up for a bit of zany fun, I’d consider joining in the Loony Dook. Loony Dook “dookers” participate in a fancy dress parade and then take a cold dip into the freezing River Forth in South Queensferry, just north of Edinburgh. The timing of the event changes each year as it is related to the tides and can be anytime in the morning or afternoon on New Year’s Day. You don’t have to dress up in a costume to participate, but it certainly adds to the fun if you make some effort as most people do. Some people get really creative! Check out our Loony Dook photos and advice to see if this is something you want to do!
If you want to participate, you need to register for Loony Dook well in advance as it always sells out early. Tickets are limited due to space and safety concerns. You’ll want to bring along footwear appropriate to walking into a river, a towel, and a warm change of clothes. You have to have a ticket or wristband to participate. If you want to watch but don’t want to go into the water, you can watch for free as a spectator from the sidelines but you won’t be able to be in the parade or join the Dookers in the water.
Loony Dook takes place outside of Edinburgh in the nearby town of South Queensferry, but there are a number of ways to easily get to the event. You can drive, take a public bus, book a taxi or Uber, or go by train (to Dalmeny) from Edinburgh. There are also usually special bus transfers arranged that morning from Edinburgh for Loony Dook that you can book as well. If you are visiting Hogmanay as part of a tour they will usually arrange transportation to and from the event.
Other New Year’s Day Hogmanay Events
In addition to Loony Dook, there is always some event or activity planned in Edinburgh on New Year’s Day as part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay. The events are normally family friendly and free; however, they change each year so you’ll want to check the schedule to find out. The events in the past have tended to be spread out across multiple location in the city that individuals can explore at their own pace.
One example was Scot:lands which ran for several years, and was free but required a ticket. Participants spun a compass to head to a series of secret venues around the city that were hosting music performances, poetry readings, book fairs, art displays, and more. This was a fun mystery tour with a sampling of local art pop-ups and a good way to see inside many buildings in Edinburgh we’d never visited.
In 2017 Scot:lands was dropped and Message from the Skies was introduced, which is a series of light projections on buildings throughout the city that are tied to a short story written by crime writer Val McDermid. Participants download an app that provides a guided walking tour to enable visitors to follow the story throughout the city at their own pace. This event is running every evening until January 25, 2018.
Our Top Edinburgh Hogmanay Tips
We’ve attended Hogmanay in Edinburgh several times now and here are our tips and advice for making the most of the event based on our experiences:
- The best place to find out more about the festival, the latest events schedule, and to book tickets to Hogmanay events, is the Edinburgh’s Hogmanay website. This is going to be your best source for the most up-to-date Hogmanay information as events change a bit each year.
- Book your tickets in advance. Most events sell out, and many sell out months in advance. Don’t be disappointed if you know you want to go!
- If you live in or near Edinburgh, keep an eye out for local discounts. In 2018, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is discounting 10,000 Street Party tickets for EH postcode holders. On some years, other special local discounts have been offered for those with an EH postcode, although these are usually limited in number. Local radio stations and businesses also sometimes have ticket giveaways.
- The lines for picking up tickets at the box office can be long, especially on the day or two before New Year’s Eve. If you have the option to print you ticket or have it delivered to your home, I’d do that to avoid standing in the line. If that is not an option, I’d collect your tickets or wristbands as soon as you arrive in the city.
- You must have your official ticket or wristband on you throughout the event, you won’t be allowed into the ticketed areas without it!
- Arrive early to events to avoid long lines and to get a good spot. The gates/doors open for all events about an hour before the event starts. Most seats at sit-down events and standing places next to stages are first-come, first-serve. Remember that most events have a time when they stop admitting people so be sure to arrive well before this so you get in before that time.
- Check the rules for each event as many will not allow large bags, luggage, baby strollers, coolers, or glassware. I’d leave bags at home if you can but if you have a bag with you, be prepared for it to be searched by security officers.
- Those with physical mobility issues should check out the Accessibility information for the events to help guide in their planning.
- Remember that not all Hogmanay events in Edinburgh are part of the official Edinburgh Hogmanay festival. Lots of other small events will also be taking place in the city, including special dinners, family events, concerts, and dances, so your Hogmanay in Edinburgh experience does not have to be limited to only the festival offerings. Some venues that normally offer Hogmanay shows or events include Usher Hall, The Assembly Rooms, the Queen’s Hall, the National Museum of Scotland, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Ghille Dhu, and several of the city’s hotels.
- If you are attending events with children, be sure to check the event rules beforehand and also think about whether the event is suitable for your child. Some events do not allow children under a certain age and all events require that children be accompanied by an adult at all times.
- Remember that most of the Hogmanay festivities in Edinburgh are busy, outdoor, and all-standing events so please dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes! Wrap up warmly and be prepared for rain.
- Note that in most of the event venues and concert arenas, outside alcohol is not permitted. However, alcohol is permitted (check latest guidelines) to be brought into the Street Party arena for those of legal drinking age (age 18+). But it can only be brought in plastic containers and cans not exceeding 500ml, the maximum number of containers or cans per ticket holder is four. No glass bottles of any kind (with or without alcohol) is allowed into any of the Hogmanay venues.
- Have fun but remember that if you appear to be too intoxicated, incapacitated, or unruly, you may be denied entry and/or removed from the event.
- For those wanting to purchase a glass of champagne or a dram of whisky at midnight, I’d get in line to purchase it well before midnight to avoid being in line and missing out on the midnight moment!
- Think about where you want to be standing at midnight (and with whom) so you can make your way there a little in advance as it can take longer than you think to walk from one place to another in a crowded space!
- Think about how you are going to get home or back to your lodging before you go out for the night. If you are out with friends or a group, have a place to meet in case you get separated in the crowds. Note that cell phones may not work or be very slow around midnight as so many people will be trying to use them at the same time.
- Special late night bus and tram services will be running in Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. If you live or are staying in Edinburgh or nearby, Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams services provide special free late night transportation after midnight on New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day. Special holiday CityLink services (tickets needed) can take you to other towns and cities throughout Scotland. Check the schedules online.
- Be sure to set an alarm if you plan to head to Loony Dook! Many people intend to go the day before and then get up too late to go. Also plan how you are going to get there and back in advance.
- Loony Dookers should also make sure they get their costume together in advance (whether you bring it with you or buy it in Edinburgh). Also don’t forget to bring proper footwear that you are OK getting wet (Laurence went barefoot one year and would never do that again!). A towel and change of warm clothing are also highly recommended.
- Enjoy Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, but also don’t forget to leave some time to see some of Edinburgh’s great attractions. If this is your first time in Edinburgh, we’d recommend starting with these Edinburgh highlights!
So that is our guide to Hogmanay in Edinburgh! Hopefully this guide answered all your questions about Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival, but if not, feel free to ask us any questions you have in the comments below!
Would you be interested in celebrating Hogmanay in Edinburgh? Have you celebrated the New Year’s in Edinburgh or elsewhere in Scotland? We’d love to hear any of your own tips or advice, or to hear about your past experience. If you have any questions about Hogmanay or traveling to Edinburgh, just ask us in the comments below!
**Disclosure: Just so you know, we received free press access for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay events on three different years as travel writers from Edinburgh’s Hogmanay (previously managed by Unique Events, now managed by Underbelly) as well as planning support from Festivals Edinburgh. However, as always, this article contains only our own honest thoughts and opinions. You can read more in our Ethics Code about how we work.**