Get in the Festive Mood with Edinburgh's Holiday Attractions

Edinburgh transforms into a winter wonderland every year for the festive period. The city centre is swathed in lights, there are parties galore and some great shops and markets where you can buy presents and treats for your loved ones. There are also some wonderful annual attractions which are bound to put a smile on even the face of even most hardened Scrooge.

The pantomime is an annual tradition which is loved by children and adults alike. The jokes may be cheesy and the costumes outlandish but it is hard not to be swept up by the atmosphere and find yourself joining in ... “he’s behind you!” As ever, this year’s pantomime at the Kings Theatre, “Jack and the Beanstalk" starring Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott looks set to be a crowd pleaser. 

There are a number of other great attractions for the kids, possibly the most magical of which is a visit to Santa Land. This great city center attraction includes a Santa Train, rollercoaster, maze, Reindeer Rid and Balloon Ride. Of course you can also get to meet Santa himself and pick up an early present.

The ultimate festive attraction in Edinburgh is of course the Hogmanay (New Year’s) celebrations in the city center. In Scotland the celebration of New Year’s Eve comes close to eclipsing Christmas. The capital plays host to a massive street party with an open air concert, and a huge ceilidh culminating in a world class fireworks display. 


Between 1 November and 7 January you can indulge in a little open air ice skating in East Princes Street Gardens. Set against the stunning backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, the Scott Monument and the neo-classical forms of the art galleries on the mound, this has to be one of the most picturesque skating rinks in the world. Sessions are for either 30 minutes or 45 minutes and skate hire is included in the ticket price (although you are allowed to bring your own skates). The minimum size children's skates are UK size 9 and the maximum adult size is UK 13, and while they do not have skating aid for children they do have double bladed skates for wheelchair users.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: What could be more festive than skating under the twinkling lights of Princes Street Gardens

Simon's expert tip: You cannot take photos while in the rink, but spectators can get good shots from the viewing platform

Read more about Princes Street Ice Rink →

The Edinburgh Santa Fun Run is a great annual event which raises money for "When you wish upon a star" - a worthy charity which brings some joy to very ill children across the UK. Every year huge numbers of fundraisers dress up as Santa Claus and walk, jog or run the 2.5 km course around West Princes Street Gardens. Even if you do not feel like dressing up and joining in, it is still worth popping along to enjoy the sight of so many Santas and perhaps making a donation to this excellent charity. Your donation may help send a ill or disabled child on a thrilling trip of a lifetime to Lapland!

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: The Santa Fun Run is a great way to have fun and raise money for a very good charity

Simon's expert tip: The event starts at 11 am on 11 December, but go along early for the warm up and to soak up the atmosphere

Read more about Edinburgh Santa Fun Run →

Between 20 November and 24th December the Virgin Money Street of Light will be lighting up West George Street in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town. The light show is to include a massive 60,000 lights which will be draped over buildings and across the cobbled streets. In places the lights will rise an impressive 19 meters above the streets. It is sure to be an impressive display. A host of musicians and signers from local choirs and bands will accompany the light show; including the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, Royal Scottish National Orchestra Junior Chorus, and the wonderful Blazin' Fiddles, and Scotland's very own bhangra group Tigerstyle. Best of all, the light show is completely free!

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: The Street of Light should be a spectacular sound and light showsure to put you in a festive mood

Simon's expert tip: Although the event is free, you have to reserve a ticket from their website -

Read more about Ice Adventure →


The Cameo Cinema is one of Edinburgh's best-loved independent cinemas. It has a comfortable, cozy bar and shows an eclectic mix of interesting movies. It was originally the King's Cinema and it is a stone's throw away from the King's Theater. It opened in 1914, so it's one of the oldest cinemas in Scotland. It became the Cameo in 1949, and in 1992 it expanded to become a three screen cinema. It is one of the venues for the Edinburgh International Film Festival where famous directors and actors come to talk before the premiers of their movies. It is a comfortable, relaxed place to catch a film and provides a real antidote to the typical multiplex approach.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: The Cameo has a great program of festive movies from "Elf" to "The Muppet Christmas Carol" and "Scrooged"

Simon's expert tip: The Cameo Bar is a good place for a pre-movie drink and you can even take it into the auditorium with you!"

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Between 26th November and 31st December 2016 the Lyceum Theatre will be home to a new version of the much Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. With lavish Victorian scenery and costumes, this adaption looks set to be a great favorite with young and old theatre goers. Follow Alice down the rabbit hole as she explores explores this weird and wonderful place and meets the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the March Hare. Just be careful the Red Queen does not catch up with you or you may lose your head! There are a limited number of seats available for this highly popular show, so book early if you don't want to miss out.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: This show promises to be a wonderful adaption of a much loved tale, perfect for getting you into the festive spirit.

Simon's expert tip: Be sure to book early as there are limited tickets available.

Read more about Arabian Nights →

Outside the City

The "Loony Dook" is a completely crazy Scottish tradition. After staying up all night on Hogmanay (New Year's) and drinking copious quantities of alcohol, brave souls plunge into a freezing cold river, loch or even the North Sea! This annual insanity is also a fun way to raise money for charity. For three decades Edinburgh revelers have been diving into the Firth of Forth in fancy dress for a variety of good causes. Stoats Loony Dook at South Queensferry is a ticketed event which sees hundreds of people in fancy dress take the plunge. Last year it sold out - so buy your ticket early! Stoats will be on hand with warming porridge and the atmosphere is very lively. You can also go along and spectate, as long as you contribute to the charity!

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: The Loony Dook is great fun and raises loads of money for worthy causes

Simon's expert tip: Do not forget a change of clothes and take shoes you can wear into the water - the beach is rocky

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The Festival Square Theatre is a temporary pop up theatre situated in Festival Square, in front of the Usher Hall, just off Lothian Road. Over the festive period it will play host to two spectacular shows. The hit West End and Broadway musical, Five Guys Named Moe (18th November - 7th January 2017) is a cornucopia of music and dance to thrill the senses. The wonderful Morgan and West's A (Sort Of) Christmas Carol (1st December - 7th January 2017) is an irreverent magic and comedy show which will entertain the whole family. Both shows are likely to be very popular, so book early to avoid disappointment.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: Two great shows during the holiday period make this pop up theatre well worth a look.

Simon's expert tip: Check the website for details of the pre-dining packages on offer from One Square Restaurant.

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Kings Theatre first opened its doors in 1906, and has been a prominent venue for performing arts ever since. Although the original frontage has been maintained, it was comprehensively renovated by Edinburgh City Council in the 1980's and has recently seen further improvements to the auditorium and seating. It remains one of Scotland's most prestigious and luxurious theater buildings. The Kings is the venue of choice for touring West End productions, but also supports local amateur operatic and theater productions. As well as hosting a variety of live acts throughout the year it is one of the Edinburgh festival venues and is home to an extremely popular Christmas pantomime.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: The Festive Pantomime at the Kings Theatre is a treat too good to miss

Simon's expert tip: The venue does not have great wheelchair access, but there are a few dedicated seating areas and staff will bring drinks to wheelchair using patrons.

Read more about Kings Theatre →

Between 20 November and 4 January Princes Street Gardens is transformed into Santa Land. In the heart of the Christmas Tree maze you can find the Elves Workshop where young ones will receive a little treat from Santa's helpers. There is also a Reindeer Ride, Santa Train, and Balloon Ride, both of which are bound to be very popular with small people, and a Rollercoaster and Race-o-Rama for larger people! The traditional Carousel is a wonderfully nostalgic treat and the Helter Skelter offers great views of the city as well as a thrilling ride. Finally, who could resist a visit to Santa's grotto to meet St Nick himself!

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: Young and old alike will enjoy the winter wonderland that is Santa Land

Simon's expert tip: Santa will only be in his grotto from 20 - 24 December so be sure not to miss him!

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Hogmanay is Scotland's world famous New Year's celebration, and the three day party held in Edinburgh is one of the liveliest in the country. Festivities begin with the torchlight procession and fireworks display on 30 December. On the eve of 31 December there is a massive street party in Princes Street (last year over 160,000 people attended) which this year will be headlined by the Human League and Huey Morgan. In the shadow of Edinburgh Castle the Concert in the Gardens stars The Rag'n'bone Man. Alternatively, you could opt for the Ceilidh under the Castle, or the candlelight concert in St Giles Cathedral. At "the Bells" (Midnight 31 December) there will be one of the world's largest fireworks displays. Anyone still standing can take part in the "Final Fling" ceilidh at 5.30pm on New Years Day.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: Edinburgh's Hogmanay is one of the biggest and best New Year's celebrations in the world

Simon's expert tip: Many events are ticketed, and getting around the packed city center can be difficult, so decide where you want to celebrate New Years and go early!

Read more about Hogmanay Edinburgh →


Meet Simon Hill

Simon has lived in various corners of Edinburgh over the last 18 years. He fell in love with the city as a small child after visiting the castle and returned to study Scottish History.

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