I decided to spend New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh, Scotland before I knew it was the site of one of the biggest New Year celebrations in the world—and learning that it was made me more excited, and nervous, than ever.
Hogmanay is the Scottish equivalent of Christmas anywhere else—it’s the holiday where they go all out. The event has historical roots, but what it means today, if you find yourself in Scotland for the New Year, is street parties, drinking, dancing, and enthusiastically ringing in the New Year in camaraderie with the rest of the country. While there are events and parties in other Scottish towns, Edinburgh is the place to be when the new year rolls in.
Making Hogmanay bookings
I booked what I felt was rather late, probably early December, and I didn’t run into tickets being sold out or anything like that. I purchased tickets to the Street Party and the Ceilidh under the Castle from the Hogmanay website and opted to pick up my tickets in Edinburgh rather than having them mailed to me.
What really got me was the accommodation. Since Hogmanay is such a big event, every hotel and hostel jacks their prices WAY up. I spent around $260 to stay in, honestly, a really crappy hostel for three nights (I arrived December 29th and stayed at a different hostel that night, since they had places available that one night for much cheaper).
Accommodation also books up quickly. Most of the hostels I looked at were already full, and the ones that weren’t, were insanely expensive.
My advice is to book as early as possible to get the most reasonable prices and certainty of a spot.
Collecting your Hogmanay tickets
When you buy tickets online, you will receive an email that tells you where you can pick them up. After December 27th, there is a single dedicated booking office where you can pick up your tickets. You can find the address on the Hogmanay website ticket info page.
I expected a will-call situation, but there are so many people coming in to pick up their tickets that in actuality it is very impersonal. There are a bunch of different stations; you insert your credit card and it prints out your ticket(s). Then you have to hold onto them until the event.
The Street Party ticket is a wristband. All tickets will have information printed on them about the start time of the event and the final entry time. These are things to pay attention to, as you have to enter the event by a certain time or they will close the doors.
When I arrived in Edinburgh on the 29th, the city was not really that crowded. Arthur’s Seat was pretty busy (and very slippery), and the bustling Christmas market was on in the East Prince’s Street Gardens, but other than that, it was easy to get around town and into museums.
Edinburgh puts on several “pre-events” in the days prior to Hogmanay; the most major one is the Torchlight Procession on December 30th. That’s when things start getting busier around the city.
You can buy tickets to participate in the Torchlight Procession, which means you get a torch of your own and can march with the procession from the Royal Mile to Holyrood Park. I didn’t want to pay for the torch, so I just wandered down to Holyrood Park around 7:30pm to watch from the hillside.
I had a little trouble getting from Old Town to Holyrood Park since the main road is blocked off for the procession. I had to take some roundabout, dark side roads and enter the park from the back.
If you have a torch, you will probably stand in line waiting for it to be lit for a very long time, maybe an hour or two. Then comes the long walk to the park. I estimate the torches began to arrive at the park and file into the pattern marked on the grass, where they eventually form a word, around 8pm.
The procession was beautiful to watch, but it took so long. Some announcers began to speak about 2018 being the Scottish Year of Young People and the significance of the mystery word the procession was going to form. There was a promise of fireworks around 9 or 9:30, but I was so tired (and a little bored) that I headed home early. There were a lot of families with kids there; if I were a little kid, I’m not sure I would have the patience to sit through the whole event, since there really isn’t anything to do besides watch the slow procession.
The procession really is impressive and beautiful, so I recommend going for a little while to see it. If you decide to participate, know you are in for a long evening and lots of standing around.
The Ceilidh under the Castle
On December 31st, barriers are set up all along Prince’s Street. Almost all the shops close early, around 5 or 6, and the Street Party begins at 7. I went to Old Town for dinner and then walked around the castle to get to the Ceilidh, which had a few designated entrance locations.
I tried to read about the Ceilidh beforehand, but I was not able to find that much information on it. I’ve been to really small ceilidhs before in Minneapolis with friends, so I had an idea of what it would be like. Most of the people in my hostel that I talked to had no idea that the Ceilidh was even going on.
A ceilidh is a traditional dance where you are taught the steps of a group dance, and then you practice it a few times to music. I love dancing, so I was looking forward to the event.
It was kind of fun. Most of the people there had come as couples, and there were a lot of kids as well since it was a more low-key and family friendly event than the Street Party. It’s a group dance, so another female solo traveler asked if I wanted to be her partner. We followed the people on the stage with questionable accuracy and made friends with the other pairs around us as we followed the directions to form circles, skip back and forth, and dash between parallel lines of other dancers.
As an early twenty-something, I felt a little out of place. The other people at the Ceilidh weren’t part of my age group, and though there were breaks here and there, the dancing and constant interaction wore me out.
I asked a staff person at the Ceilidh if I should stay there or go to the Street Party for midnight, and he said definitely the Street Party. The Street Party had a final entry time of 10:30, so I left the Ceilidh around 10pm. My ticket was good for one entry only, so I couldn’t go back after I left.
I would recommend the Ceilidh for families or people who like calmer celebrations. If you love big parties, this is probably not the place for you to greet the new year.
The Street Party
The Street Party was insane. There were so many people. It took me maybe 45 minutes to get all the way down Prince’s Street because there was such a crush of people. I was thankful I’m not claustrophobic, as there was a section of the street where people were trying to get through the crowd in the same place that a massive line was forming for a bar, and I nearly got squashed. I stood still with all the people around me for probably 10 minutes. You just couldn’t move; there were too many people. Finally, everyone surged forward at the same time, and I escaped that section of the street.
If you wanted to brave the crowds, you can go down some of the side streets, where there are stages and performers set up. Along the main road, giant screens display some of the performances, such as fire jugglers and dancers. Here and there, performers in costumes parade through the crowds and confetti cannons explode.
Another one of the main events is the Concert in the Gardens. You have to buy a separate ticket, and I believe that you enter through the Street Party. Some of the people in my hostel room attended the concert and said they enjoyed it. I didn’t want to pay the extra money for it, and it ended up being fine, since they play the audio from the concert over the speakers at the Street Party. The concert features a lot of Scottish artists, which I enjoyed.
You can bring in your own alcohol or visit one of the bar stands, where you can buy, mainly, bottles of beer. Other than that and the concert, there isn’t actually much to do at the Street Party. As a solo traveler, I felt a little lonely. Pretty much everyone seemed to be there with friends or as a couple.
I found my way to the road called The Mound and walked up it towards Old Town. The crowd thinned out drastically, and by the time I reached the top of the road, there were minimal lines for any of the bars or food stands there. I encountered a small tiki-style bar with friendly servers; I bought a mai tai for £9, and, not feeling appropriately buzzed, followed it with a hastily downed gin and tonic for around £6 from the beer bar across the street. I also bought a few whipped-cream-and-Nutella-covered mini donuts from a food stand for £7 or £8.
I sat on the curb near a family and ate my donuts, waiting for midnight. Around 11:45, the street had begun to fill up a little more, and I made my way back down the hill. I positioned myself near a few groups of people who seemed around my age in hopes of making friends.
Everyone counted down to midnight together, and that’s when the real party began. As soon as the year switched over, the boundaries of friend groups disappeared and people hugged and kissed strangers and sang Auld Lang Syne under a shower of fireworks.
From midnight to 1am, there was a dance party with a mashup of (mostly British, but some American) pop and rock songs. People danced, formed conga lines, and linked arms and swayed. It felt like a family, and I was so happy. All the craziness of the Street Party becomes worth it at midnight.
New Year’s Day
January 1st is a quiet day in Edinburgh. Many of the shops are closed. I spent the day drinking coffee in cafes and wandering around Calton Hill. By January 2nd, shops have reopened and the tourists are beginning to depart, leaving behind the celebratory high and returning to real life.
While I had my doubts about Hogmanay in the beginning, I would absolutely repeat the experience. As a solo traveler, people were kind and friendly, though if I went again, I think it would be more fun with friends. Attending Hogmanay in my favorite city was totally different from New Year’s at home; it was an unforgettable adventure that I’m grateful to have had.
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