This post comes with a health warning – if you don’t like crowds it’s probably best to steer clear of Edinburgh on New Year’ Eve. But if that doesn’t put you off, the bonus is that the atmosphere is amazing, the fireworks spectacular and the party goes on all night long.
Here’s a few thoughts and tips on what you need to know if you want to experience what must be one of the biggest New Year’s celebrations in the world.
It’s best to plan ahead. Edinburgh is very busy so good hotels book up early – I stayed in the West End area, which although a short walk is a nice retreat from the packed centre. You can read more about where I stayed, as well as places to eat and drink and sights to see, in my separate post about the city.
It’s also a good idea to buy tickets in advance for the events, which you can easily do online. On NYE there’s the Hogmanay Street Party which is essentially a cordoned off area along Princes Street and a loop up the Mound and down Waverley Bridge. There are numerous bars (all drinks were selling for £5), stages with live music or DJs and massive screens.
There’s also the Concert in the Gardens and the traditional Keilidh. Tickets for those cost more and they are also outdoors, so probably only worth buying tickets if it’s a band you really want to see. I personally found walking around in the cold to be more than enough to chill me to the bone, so standing still the whole time would have been even colder.
Saying that the concerts may have been less packed than the Street Party. It was probably around 11pm when we noticed that Princes Street had suddenly filled up, which coincided with the cut off time for coming in. The party started at 9pm and we’d booked to have dinner in a restaurant first as didn’t want to eat while walking around (though there are lots of stalls to buy food from). We arrived about 10.15pm and at first it was easy to move through, but then the crush started and for a short while it got a little scary as people tried to push through in opposite directions. I escaped without injury, but a friend who’s taller than me suffered a bruised stomach that was quite painful for the rest of the trip.
It seemed everyone wanted a spot on Princes Street opposite the castle where the midnight fireworks were being set off. Our escape was to head up the Mound where we found a great position just where it bends to the left, which offered a great view of the fireworks and was a less frenetic crowd.
The countdown came and the fireworks display was excellent. Singing of Auld Lang Syne was a bit patchy and would have benefited from a bit of direction. In fact for all the slick organisation of the street cordons and infrastructure for the event it did feel a bit lacking in anyone being in charge. Possibly a symptom of it being so large, but a decent PA system could have enabled someone to lead the rendition of Robbie Burns’ famous poem. We heard plenty of foreign visitors sounding disappointed that it didn’t really take off.
Once the fireworks are over the Street Party continues until 1am, but lots of people leave the crowd quickly and head for a nearby bar or club. Again it’s a good idea to book in somewhere and avoid the queues. On the recommendation of a friend I went to the Jazz Bar on Chambers Street which is a small basement club with live music and a mixed crowd. I think the ticket was £19 but it was open until 5am and included a glass of bubbly and a very welcome and surprisingly good sandwich.
Apart from the NYE celebration, there’s also the Torchlight Procession on the evening before. You can just watch, but its a lovely event to take part in. Torches can be bought in advance online for £8 and some are available for sale from the pick up point. We’d been warned about long queues just before the event, so went to pick up our torches in the afternoon.
Later we pitched up just after the procession was due to start at 7pm and found there was a throng of torch bearers pushing their way down George IV Bridge trying to get into the queue of people waiting for their torches to be lit. I’d say it was the best part of an hour before we actually were lit and walking, but I’m sure the people at the front who got going first had probably been there at least that long too. You just have to accept that with so many people things are bound to move slowly.
The other key thing that a friend had warned me about was the wax. It’s pretty much impossible to avoid getting some on your coat and probably boots too, so best advice is don’t wear your best ones! The procession finishes at Calton Hill with, yes you’ve guess it, a fireworks display.
Other New Year events include a Candlelit Concert at St Giles’ Cathedral on NYE which we were lucky enough to catch a rehearsal for when we popped in earlier that day. And on New Year’s Day there’s the Loony Dook which involves a parade and then lots of people splashing about in the freezing River Forth. Undoubtedly fun to watch but I preferred a lie in and a substantial breakfast.
So all in all Hogmanay in Edinburgh is lots of fun and a great experience but it does have its downsides and I for one will almost certainly be reverting to going somewhere warmer and less crowded for NYE in 2014.
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