A December 2005 trip
to Edinburgh by Red Mezz
Quote: It would be hard to find more Christmas magic than Edinburgh makes in December. The town's Winter Wonderland makes the city practically ring with carols.
Edinburgh's Gothic skyline is something that is enchanting at any time of year--even in the pouring rain and the intense spring, summer, fall, and winter showers. But toss in a bit of December frost in the air, the bustle of Christmas shoppers on Princes Street, and the astounding lights and brilliance of the Christmas decorations and it becomes the stuff of fairy tales.
There is a sparkle and a life to Edinburgh in the Christmas season that I've not seen matched anywhere. People in scarves hurrying about, and buskers up and down the shopping streets of Rose Street, the Royal Mile and Princes Street playing an array of music and instruments with everything from pipers and guitarists on Rose Street, to brass bands and carolers singing yule tide songs outside of Marks and Spencers. It's a delightful atmosphere to do your Christmas shopping, or even just wander around and enjoy the Christmas cheer.
For a little while no one minds the cold in Scotland, and well bundled up we all head out to enjoy the sights and sounds the season brings. The town fills with an array of seasonal delights, not least of all the German market that sets up near Princes Street Gardens. A veritable town of small German buildings arrive and set up, and the smells of roasting nuts and mulled wine waft up the streets for miles.
A huge, lighted ferris wheel comes up right next to the Scott Monument, changing the already brilliant skyline to something a bit more jolly. The lights from the castle down to the gardens only enhance the beauty of the city, and if you're not careful, you'll spend all your time staring in wonder and taking photos and forget to do the shopping all together!
The Winter Wonderland that goes up in Princes Street Gardens is stunning, with an almost Norman Rockwell feel to the ice skaters gliding over the lit arena while people nearby sip coffees and teas and watch. And if you get there early enough, you might even catch a glimpse of the Santa Claus run as the streets of Edinburgh fill to bursting with marathon running Santa Clauses.
And when it's all said and done, and all the shopping is over, you still have the fun and beauty of Hogmanay to enjoy, with fireworks from the 7 hills surrounding Edinburgh, and a number of festivities and parties to enjoy!
The shopping in Edinburgh has always been a bit poor, but has improved greatly in the past year or so and seemed significantly better this year. There are still quite a lot of pricey shops on Princes Street--though the variety there seems to be better. But for better deals, turn the corner at the bottom end of Princes Street for the Saint James Shopping Centre, which has an array of very good shops. Also try the Princes Street Mall, near the train station for some interesting shopping.
I highly recommend you walk the German market, as they sell all sorts of things, and the atmosphere (even if your not looking to buy) could not be more Christmasy. Try to catch the lighting of the city, which this year happened on November 26; check on the dates for each year. And The Santa Claus Run which happened on December 7th.
Get a good look at the city lit up from the ferris wheel--the price per person is £2.50. Stand on the bridges, or go up the crags (quite a long walk but well worth it for the view) in front of Arthur's Seat to see the fireworks on Hogmanay.
As nice as a bit of bustle is, it does get a bit crazy on the last week before Christmas, particularly on Christmas Eve, so if you are planning to do shopping, you might want to go a little bit early.If your in the mood for some carols, you might want to try visiting the school Loretto outside of Edinburgh for a beautiful choir singing of carols. This is quite early in the season, so check for dates.
But even so (as I noticed so distinctly this evening on visiting one of my favourite on Princes Street), these visits take on a whole new level of enjoyment when the weather is crisp and cold and everyone enters the shops in sweaters and scarves and quickly discards them to sit comfortably in the big loungey chairs that these places are so well known for. While I was sitting in the Starbucks at the west end of Princes Street this afternoon waiting for my hot chocolate to arrive, it really struck me (as it often does still even after having lived in this city for nearly 5 years) what an amazing place it is, and how wonderful a place it is to soak in and simply see. I know of few cities that do Christmastime quite as well as Edinburgh, and this was amplified today as I sat with hot chocolate on a second-floor coffee shop, complete with a sweater and book, looking out over the amazing view of the castle with all the leaves outside changing in the clear fall weather.
I've rambled on a little bit with my enjoyment of these moments that Edinburgh has to offer, but to get more to the point, this is a wonderful part of the city to experience, especially at this time of year. The upstairs Starbucks at the west end of Princes Street as well as the one inside the West End Waterstone’s bookstore are wonderfully laid out and have a magnificent view of the castle in the afternoon sun.
The Costa Coffee, on the second floor on the corner of Hanover Street, is a great one to go to at night with a fantastic view of the Winter Wonderland in Princes Street Garden. There is very little better to do on a day out Christmas shopping or wandering in the German market than stepping into one of these places and relaxing away from the bustle of the streets, enjoying the magnificent view that is Edinburgh.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 9, 2006
For a brief half of a week near the end of November and the culmination of the winter season and the beginning of the cities time to really shine in for the holidays the locals and visitors get to enjoy the vast array of treats in the French Market. Located on Frederick Street near the west end, the market packs into the little side street and fills with vendors come from France bringing a bit of foreign and exotic tastes to Edinburgh for the holidays. This is a great end of town to be in any way at this time of year, for shopping and sight seeing a like. The bustle of Princes Street doesn't lessen as you reach the west end, but the number and variety of shops and stalls, all decked out for the holidays increases, and the pleasant feel of shopping in a city that loves Christmas is only amplified.
Passing the cart selling the wonderfully warm and aromatic roasted chestnuts, you'll come to Frederick Street, and find all your heart desires in the way of French specialities. It is very easy to get caught up in the festive atmosphere of the place, and the beautiful array of choices... last year I ended up buying an obscene amount of olives that I have to admit were fantastic. Even if you’re not in the market to buy (and you might change your mind once you've seen it) it's great to wander down and see, not least of all for all of the free samples the vendors happily offer passers by. But if you are looking, there is a fantastic array of selections of olives, cheeses, breads and nuts and dried fruits and crepes... as well as other things like hand bags and home made candles and other gifts you may not be able to find in the shops.
It's a great experience to partake on a cold winter day in Edinburgh. You're right in view of the castle and being just off Princes Street there is often the sound of a festive piper or a local brass band playing Christmas tunes floating up the street. The market begins on November 23rd (which coincides with the Lighting up Festival in Edinburgh where all the cities decorations are lit and the official beginning of the season) and runs through until Sunday the 26th. Don't get this confused with the German market in Princes Street Gardens, which runs through until Christmas and has a wider variety of things. The French market is largely foods and things of that sort, and though is in town for a much shorter time, is great for picking up those little treats at Christmas.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 13, 2006
Attraction | "Traditional German Christmas Market"
One of my favourite parts of the city during the holidays, and the thing that I think lends it the most holiday cheer is the Traditional German Christmas Market. Set up every year and officially opened on the day of the lighting of the city ceremony (which happens on November 23rd in 2006...check local listings for dates and times each year) and which I feel officially kicks off the Christmas season. Very easy to find (and in fact hard to miss) the German market is set up on the Mound Precinct, just off of Princes Street to your left and just down the hill from the Royal Mile. At night the view of the market along side the Winter Wonderland in Princes Street Gardens and the giant Edinburgh Wheel near the Scott Monument is impossible to miss, and even harder to resist.
From far up Princes Street you can hear the carols that ring out and smell the glorious smells that come from the market itself. Decked out in traditional German attire, the small collection of wooden buildings that spring up on the mound are as festive and pleasant as they could possibly be. The stalls have everything from woollen goods, local products, toys, and homemade candles. There are carved wooden things from Germany and jewellery and mittens and an eclectic array of goods that range all the way to the wheel. There is even a palm reader set up for those interested.
And because you are in Edinburgh in the middle of winter, there is no shortage of warm refreshments. Stands offer big steaming mugs of hot chocolate and mulled wine which sell pretty much as fast as they are made. There are stands selling freshly cooked Aberdeen Angus burgers whose smell will draw you clear across the gardens. There is also no small selection of nuts and cheeses and other specialty items that you can only find in the German market. Opening on the 23rd of November, the market stays open clear through until Christmas Eve.
The market is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 8pm, and Sunday from 12am to 8pm. This is just one of the most perfect bits of Edinburgh in Christmas time and if you are planning on visiting the city at this time of year it is absolutely not to be missed. The pipers, carollers, and brass bands play down the road and can be heard while browsing the market. At night the lights from the wonder land and the Edinburgh wheel make for a really magical environment. Really, this is great for everyone. Families or just tourists...if you are in the area when the market is in town you should certainly pay it a visit.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 14, 2006
Edinburgh German Christmas Market
Mound Precinct City Centre
Attraction | "Cockburn Street"
Edinburgh has not been traditionally renowned for its shopping. In fact, when it comes to doing any actual shopping here, (aside from the standard Scottish souvenirs) most people in the area plan trips to Glasgow. This has improved in recent years, though, and the selection in the city has improved. However, some of its best and most interesting little shops have been vanishing and being all too happily replaces with trendy clothing stores. So for out-of-towners hoping to do some serious Christmas shopping, it can be a bit harder than one might at first suspect of the capitol city of Scotland. But, don't despair yet because there are yet a few places in the city that has retained at least most of its intrigue and there are places to buy things 'from Scotland' that aren't just trinkets from the numerous 'Scotland shops' that dot the city. One of these places is Cockburn Street.
If your Christmas shopping is happily done at Jenners or Marks and Spencers then you don't need to leave Princes Street. There is shopping to be done there with these bigger chains and other such as Gap as well as few more boutique stores such as Lush and Whittards. But if you’re looking for something a little bit different, or more interesting then I send you up over the bridges towards Cockburn Street.
Cockburn street is a little windy road the forks off of the Royal Mile heading towards the castle. (It's right across from the Starbucks so it's easy to find.) It is true that this street used to boast more interesting shops than it does today...many of them having been taken over by trendy clothing shops, but there are still shops worthy of a visit (and the street alone is visually pleasing enough to have a look at). There is also one of the best Edinburgh hostels on Cockburn Street, which makes it doubly easy for those of you visiting the city on a budget. It is really an extension of The Royal Mile when it comes to interesting shopping, and I mention it over the Royal Mile namely because it is so often mentioned when Cockburn street isn't.
So once you've had a bit of a look around the Royal Mile I highly suggest you veer off onto Cockburn Street (pronounced Co-bern, if you're asking for directions) and have a look around. I particularly like the little crystal and trinket shop just around the corner on the left (whose sister shop is Golden near the bottom of the Royal Mile) as well as Beyond Words book and photography shop. Eden, on the right hand side near the bottom is also a great place to pick up reasonably priced imported trinkets. There's also a wide range of little pubs and cafes to pop in and have a bite. The street then heads conveniently down hill towards Waverly train station. Even if you are only browsing, Cockburn Street is one of my favourite bits of Edinburgh.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 14, 2006
Shopping on Cockburn Street
For some reason, Edinburgh isn't generally regarded as one of the great places to visit on a budget. And that probably has to do with the fact that for one thing it is on the British pound, which does immediately put budget travellers at a disadvantage. But also the accommodation here is not cheap, so without a friend to crash with it could indeed be a pricey trip. However, once here there is so very much to do in all seasons that costs nothing or next to nothing that I'm of the opinion that it all evens out very nicely. And the Christmas and New Years celebrations are no exception. Most of the Christmas fun is free of charge for entry, or at least very reasonable. And even though there is admission and some costs for the Royal Bank Hogmanay Street Party, one of the best things Edinburgh offers over the holidays is free, in the 7 Hills Fireworks.
There aren't many places in the city where you can't see them... so no matter what you were doing or where you are at midnight on New Years Eve, just pop outside and watch them. They are a truly spectacular sight, being fired off from the seven hills surrounding the city of Edinburgh and around eight tonnes of fireworks being used each year. Though this is a wonderful (and free) thing to do and see from anywhere in the city... there are a few prime places that I will recommend. For the best and most amazing view of the fireworks spectacle as a whole there is little better vantage point than from the top of Arthur's Seat or the crags. If you want a memorable New Year's Eve that doesn't involve evening wear, then this is a great way to see in the New Year.
But keep in mind it will be dark and it's quite a hike to make in the day time, as well as the fact that it will be extremely cold and windy up at the top in January. Drinking before hand is definitely not a good idea. But if you are up for that adventurousness of it, I highly recommend it. But if you want something a little less work but with almost as good a view, the view from Calton Hill of the city is hard to beat, and the fireworks seen from here make an amazing sight. But if these two are still a bit too high, or too much work there is always Inverleith park, which has a wonderful view of the castle, or simply on the Bridges between Princes Street and the Royal mile. There is no traffic because of the street party so you can stand shoulder to shoulder with other locals and visitors (mostly inebriated) and sing in the New Year to the display of fireworks over the castle. But no matter where you decide to watch it from it's a wonderful way to spend the evening.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 16, 2006
Attraction | "Stockbridge"
One great place for Christmas and shopping that isn't as well known to tourists, but is a favourite of locals is the area of Stockbridge. A little out of the city centre (about 15-20 minutes walk down hill from Princes Street) but easy to get to either on foot or by bus, this is a wonderful little local area for shopping and sampling other things for the holiday season. Once known for being a rather snobbish area, now it is much more open and with a lot to offer of local Edinburgh without the touristy flourishes. Walking down hill pass Queen Street Gardens on Hanover Street you inevitably run into the area known as Stockbridge, and the one long road that makes up the bulk of its shops and cafes.
Stockbridge feels like the little community that it is, and is wonderful in summer as well as winter. Around the holidays it is full of red cheeked folk bundled in sweaters and scarves out and about, stopping in for warm coffees and hot chocolates in the abundance of little local and chain cafes in the area, as well as doing lots of shopping that you can't find on Princes Street or the Royal Mile. It is one of the few places left in Edinburgh that can still boast independent little knick-knack shops that sell things that aren't on every single other shelf in town. Try 'Gifted' near the Stockbridge post office for wonderful trinkets and local Scottish made soaps and oils. And 'Hectors' is one of the most beautifully classic pubs and is stunningly decked out at Christmas. Also there is a wealth of what are arguably the best charity shops in Edinburgh.
The Oxfam Bookshop in Stockbridge sells a wonderful selection of new or nearly new books at very reduced prices. Local produce and meats from area farmers are easy to find here... and at Christmas not only does the whole place fill with festive cheer, but it's easy to find those interesting little stocking stuffers to send back home. There's nothing touristy about Stockbridge, and so if that is what you're looking for, it makes a wonderful day out exploring it. (It's also very near Inverleith Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens if you are headed in that direction any way.)
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 6, 2006
Short walk from City Centre
Inverness, United Kingdom