To really experience life, everyone ought to spend at least one Hogmanay in Edinburgh. Nowadays, London and other British cities, as well as those in mainland Europe, make much more of an effort to ‘see in’ the New Year but, ask anyone who has been there, and they will tell you that there’s nowhere else to compare with Scotland. And there’s nowhere in Scotland to compare with Edinburgh.
Those of us who have seen Edinburgh celebrations on the BBC at New Year might dismissively think of them as kilted middle-aged men singing ‘Donald where’s your troosers’ and some school children doing country dancing before the piper at midnight triggers off fireworks over Edinburgh Castle but it’s much, much more than that. In a country famous for its parties, Hogmanay is just about the biggest of them all.
To begin with, Hogmanay is not just synonymous with New Year’s Eve – that’s only part of the celebrations. Although the origins of the Hogmanay Festival – even the word itself – have caused countless debates over the years, we can be sure that its roots go as far back as the Viking Yules Festival and the Gaelic celebration of Samhain. Although driven underground during the Protestant Reformation, Hogmanay began to re-emerge towards the end of the 17th Century and it has gradually evolved into the three, sometimes four, day event of modern times.
Hogmanay in Edinburgh begins with a torchlight procession a few days before New Year, which travels from the Royal Mile to Calton Hill. There will be massed pipes and drums, performers and fire sculptures and then a firework display – just to get people warmed up for the forthcoming festivities.
There will be other events organised in the run up to the last day of the year. These will include such happenings as the Family Hoog – an authentic traditional Scottish ceilidh, with a contemporary edge. This is usually held at the famous George Street Assembly Rooms. In recent times, there has also been a dance event at the Grassmarket in the Old Town, with three stages featuring both traditional and modern dance and attracting upwards of 10,000 visitors.
It is on December 31st, New Year’s Eve, that the Hogmanay festivities reach their peak, however. The main feature is Edinburgh’s iconic Street party – a 4 stage extravaganza of live music that always includes some well-known performers. The climax of this is the firework display over Edinburgh Castle – a truly spectacular backdrop.
Also taking place this evening will be a concert in Princes Street Gardens and the Waverley Stage, from about 9 pm until 1 in the morning, a ceilidh and, at the Assembly Rooms, from 7.30 pm all the way through until about 2.15 am 3 stages of live music in ‘The Hoog’.
Meanwhile, over at the impressive St Giles Cathedral in the High Street, there is always a delightful Candlelit Concert, with live music of a very different nature.
It is no wonder, with so much on offer, that people from all over descend on Edinburgh at Hogmanay. The really hardy will be up first thing the next morning – or perhaps not go to bed at all– and wander down to Queensferry to watch, or even perhaps participate in, the fancy dress event now known as The Loony Dook – which consists of the aforementioned ‘loonies’ throwing themselves in the presumably nearly freezing waters of the River Forth.
Edinburgh is, of course, easily accessible both from within Britain and outside. The International Airport offers direct flights to many UK, European and International destinations – places such as Amsterdam, Paris, Munich, Zurich and New York. Furthermore, Glasgow International is only an hour’s drive away from the city. Rail links through to the major cities of England are also fast and frequent.
Once you’re in Edinburgh, there are free buses provided for people going back to hotels or houses after the events have finished.
Scotland’s capital city is geared up for tourists at all times of the year with a wide range of hotels, at many different prices, as well as hostels, guest houses and self-catering accommodation. It is common for many of these establishments to offer special Hogmanay packages, which will include tickets for certain events, so these can represent very good value. Because so many people visit at this time of the year, however, it is advisable to reserve your accommodation as early as possible.
Hogmanay in Edinburgh has its own website which will give details of all the events and how to reserve tickets for them.