Best Things to Do in December in Edinburgh

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, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears" with 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, waltzers, maze, Reindeer Ride and Candy Cane Bungees. 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. 


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 Things to Do in December 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 1 December, but go along early for the warm up and to soak up the atmosphere

Read more about Edinburgh Santa Fun Run →

Every year, between November 22 and January 5, the center of Edinburgh plays host to a collection of wonderful Christmas markets. The European Market stretches from the National Gallery on the Mound all the way along Princes Street Gardens and right up to St Andrews Square and features a host of gorgeous wooden toys and ornaments, German artisan delicacies, including sausages and gingerbread, and a wide range of arts and crafts stalls. The Children's Market in St Andrews Square sells beautiful hand crafted toys and offers little ones a chance to express their artistic side with a craft workshop and a gingerbread decorating workshop. Finally, there is the Scottish Market also in St Andrews Square with a plethora of Scottish goodies, including craft beers, local delicacies, clothing and jewelry. Great for shopping and browsing these markets are a fine way to get into the festive spirit.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens has quickly become a favourite festive attraction.

Simon's expert tip: The markets are open between 10am and 10pm, but if you want the full experience head there in the evening as the lights twinkling in the trees are simply beautiful.

Read more about Christmas Market →

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 Things to Do in December because: The Cameo has a great program of festive movies from "Elf" to "The Muppet Christmas Carol" and "CBeebies Christmas Show".

Simon's expert tip: This Christmas the Cameo is hosting a dog-friendly showing of "It's a Wonderful Life" in aid of the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home

Read more about Cameo Cinema →


YouÂ'll find this elegant, nineteenth century building next door to the much larger Usher Hall. This theater has its own company that puts on high quality productions of modern plays, many by regional playwrights, as well as Shakespeare productions and plays by the likes of Miller and Chekhov. YouÂ'll also find that many ballet performances and children's shows are featured here. ItÂ's a three-tier auditorium with a stunning chandelier and lots of red velvet and ornate decorations. It seats up to 650 people and there are three bars to serve them drinks. There are also a couple of function rooms.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This years Christmas offering is the much loved A Christmas Carol (28th November - 4th January)

Simon's expert tip: The Lyceum version of A Christmas Carol features a guest appearance from an Edinburgh celebrity - Greyfriars Bobby!

Read more about Royal Lyceum Theatre →

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. The 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! You can also go along and spectate, as long as you contribute to the charity!

Recommended for Things to Do in December 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

Read more about Loony Dook →

Thanks to the huge number of festivals and performances that come to Edinburgh each summer, there are plenty of venues in the area. This is one of the largest, hosting performances such as opera, orchestra concerts, and theater. It wouldnÂ't be a surprise to see a concert performance of the works of Vivaldi, Mozart and Haydn, but the following week there might be a stand-up comedian, an illusionist, a play, or some contemporary pop music. The glass front makes the bar a good place to sit and people watch, and there are plenty of good restaurants and pubs nearby for before or after your show.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Scottish Ballet's production of the Snow Queen (7th December - 29th December) looks likely to be a feast for the eyes and ears.

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

Read more about Festival Square Theatre →

For musical performances of every description, the Usher Hall is one of Edinburgh's most popular venues. It is also one of the most dramatic structures in the city. It was funded by the son of a whisky distiller who donated £100,000 and, after a competition to choose a design, it was finally opened in 1911. Decorative plaster panels within depict famous Scots like Robert Burns alongside famous international musicians like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is owned by Edinburgh Council and has been refurbished a few times over the years at great expense. It can hold just shy of 3,000 people and it generally hosts music of all types, but it also serves as an Edinburgh International Festival venue.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This Christmas the Usher Hall is hosting The Nutcracker (narrated by Alan Cummings), and a host of other festive treats

Simon's expert tip: Choose your seat with care - they vary widely in price and in the view they afford.

Read more about Usher Hall →

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 Things to Do in December because: This Year's Pantomime offering from the King's is Goldilocks and the Three Bears with Grant Stott.

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 16 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, Candy Cane Bungees, Waltzers, Chair-o-plane, and Race-o-Rama. More than enough to keep little kids (and big kids) happy! 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 Things to Do in December 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!

Read more about Santa Land →

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 Marc Almond, Idlewild, The Snuts, and Arielle Free (and many more). In the shadow of Edinburgh Castle the Concert in the Gardens is hosted by DJ Mark Ronson. 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 Things to Do in December 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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