A Short Guide To Hogmanay | Edinburgh’s New Year’s Eve

Feature image for A Short Guide To Hogmanay. Jeff holding Zuzi at the Princess Street party in Edinburgh

Hogmanay in Edinburgh is one of the biggest and best celebrations to bring in the New Year. It’s one of those bucket list items that everyone needs to experience at least once in their life (I’ve been lucky enough to do it twice!) That’s why I’ve put together this short guide to Hogmanay to help you plan your New Year’s Eve.

It seems like the same question gets asked every year – what are you doing for New Year’s Eve? There’s always that pressure to do something exciting or special. Well that’s exactly what the Hogmanay celebrations are!

New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. Not only are the fireworks incredible but so is the atmosphere and entertainment! If you’ve ever thought about it, now is the time to plan.

What Is Hogmanay?

Jeff and Zuzi celebrate Hogmanay with other revellers in Edinburgh

So what is the meaning of hogmanay? Well, Hogmanay is the Scottish word for the final day of the year, or New Years Eve. So instead of saying ‘Happy New Year’ in Scotland, you’d simply say ‘Happy Hogmanay!’

The origins of where Hogmanay came from is less clear. The most popular theory is that the traditions came from the Vikings but there are also Gaelic and even French roots dating back centuries.

Today, Hogmanay in Edinburgh is now one of the biggest New Year’s celebrations with an estimated 150,000 people visiting from all over the world.

Hogmanay Traditions

As well being one of the biggest parties in the world, there are also a few Hogmanay customs and traditions that have been passed down through generations.

First-Footing

One of the most practised Hogmanay traditions is the first-footing. As the clock strikes midnight, lads and lasses with gifts of food (and traditionally, coal) to their loved ones. They will be the first person to set foot in the house and sets the household’s fortunes for the coming year.

Auld Lang Syne

Another Hogmanay tradition, although now it’s more of a worldwide tradition, is the singing og Auld Lang Syne. Yes, the one where everybody holds hands in a big circle and sings “La laa la-la, la laa la-laa….

Traditionally, the last verse is sang with arms across your chest whilst still holding hands. If you want to really embrace want to embrace the Scottish tradition then why not learn the lyrics of this legendary Robert Burns folk song? Learn the lyrics here.

When Is Hogmanay?

Image of Edinburgh Christmas market with the stalls, ferris wheel and church in view

It may sound like a strange question, as New Year’s Eve is on New Year’s Eve (so wrap up warm as it’s bloody cold in Scotland)! But there are so many events leading up the big day that it’s worthing arriving in Edinburgh a few days early. Especially if you’ve never been to the Scottish capital before.

Edinburgh will still have a festive feel to it as the Christmas Market runs into the New Year. Meaning that you can fill up on German sausages and hot glühwein (German hot-spiced wine) to keep you warm. Trust me, you’ll need it on a freezing cold evening in Scotland!

The first day of the real Hogmanay celebrations begin on the 30th December with the Torchlight Procession. Then the main event on New Year’s Eve is the Hogmanay Street part on Princess Street. The celebrations then end on New Year’s Day with the colourful Loony Dock.

Hogmanay Tickets

To be involved in any of the events you must purchase hogmanay tickets from the official website. The earlier you book the better although there are usually a large amount of tickets available for the street party. Premium combined tickets normally sell out the fastest.

We bought our tickets in September (the same time we booked our accommodation) and paid a little extra to have them posted to our home address. We only had to wait a couple of weeks for our tickets to be delivered.

You can also collect them at one of the Box Offices in Edinburgh from late December.

Where To Stay For Hogmanay

Image of colourful buildings in one of Edinburgh's streets

This is probably the most difficult part to plan. Along with the Fringe Festival, Hogmanay is one of the biggest events to take place in the city. Prices for accommodation usually go through the roof and normally require a minimum number of nights.

The trick here is to book early. However, in my experience, anything booked more than six months in advance can result in some problems. For example, on AirBnb, the host might not have updated their prices for such a big event. The host may not have even thought about their own New Year’s eve plan yet!

If you decide to book super early, just make sure you contact the host/hotel to confirm.

Getting a room close to the city centre around this time for a reasonable price will be impossible. We booked our room on AirBnb in September for £60 per night. Bargain! It was a 10-min bus ride to Princess Street but we preferred the 30-min walk. In fact, walking is the best way to get in and out the city during Hogmanay.

Torchlight Procession

Jeff and Zuzi cross torchlights at the end of the procession in Edinburgh

Hogmanay officially kicks off on the 30th December with the Torchlight Procession. Each year thousands of torchbearers march through the streets of Edinburgh. The procession was led by Shetland Island Vikings in recent years and there are also performers from PyroCeltica members.

When purchasing tickets, you’ll have to decide on a starting point – North Bridge, South Bridge or St. Giles’ Street. It doesn’t really matter where you start as all three groups join up within minutes. We chose to start at St Giles’ Street as we knew we would be in the city centre when the procession started.

Torches can be collected from 5:30pm but the procession itself doesn’t begin until 7:00pm. We saw people queuing for their torches before 5:00pm! That’s a long time to stand and wait on a cold day in Scotland. We decided to keep warm in a pub and collect our torches after 6:00pm. It’s not like it’s a race!

Revellers wait to march through Edinburgh with their torchlights

An estimated 40,000, with around 8,000 torchbearers, from 50 countries attend the procession every year. Although we weren’t near the front to see the drummers and PyroCeltica members perform, we still really enjoyed being a part of the event.

The walk itself take around an hour, and all the torchbearers end up meeting at Holyrood Park where the torches light up to form symbols of friendship. There is small fireworks display set off from Carlton Hill to mark the end of the torchlight procession.

Tickets are £14 with a torch voucher or you can walk alongside the torchbearers for just £3 (but why would you want to do that?) You can, of course, just watch for free from the sides.

Tickets for the Torchlight Procession, usually become available from September/October time and can be purchased here.

Hogmanay Street Party

Jeff is on Princess street during New Year's Eve and waving a small Scotland flag with Edinburgh castle in the background

The Hogmanay Street Party on New Year’s Eve is the main event leading up to the midnight fireworks. It’s the main reason thousands of people come from all over the world to witness!

Zuzi with arms open at the entrance to the Hogmanay Princess Street Party

Located on Princess Street, the party welcomes around 70,000 visitors from over 80 countries. Revellers enjoy a range of entertainment from the live bands, DJ’s and street performers that line the streets.

Then, at midnight, one of the most spectacular fireworks displays welcomes everybody into the new year as people join to together to mumble sing Auld Lang Syne.

The party starts at 7:30pm and ends at after the fireworks but you are more than welcome to take the festivities into the many pub and bars that are open late. Access the party can be found at either end of Princess Street or Bank Street.

Early Bird tickets can be bought for just £21.50 (inc. booking fee) while the regular priced tickets are usually £31.50. Just visit the Hogmanay website.

Other Hogmanay Events

While the Torchlight Procession and Street Party are seen as the main events during the Hogmanay celebrations, there are some other events taking place place that you can join, or even be a part of.

Concert In The Gardens

This is one of the more exclusive events to take place during New Year’s Eve. The event is literally a concert in the gardens but it takes place directly under Edinburgh Castle rock meaning you’ll have front row seats to the midnight fireworks.

The Concert in the Gardens is have a world class band/artist on every year. Recent headliners include Franz Ferdinand, the Pet Shop Boys, Lily Allen and Biffy Clyro.

Tickets cost £80-£90 and also include access to the Hogmanay Street Party although access to either arena closes at 10:30pm so get there early!

Loony Dook

This recent addition to the festival is just another reason why Hogmanay is such an amazing, fun and crazy event.

Taking place at the town of South Queensferry, people in fancy dress (not mandatory) launch themselves into the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth.

The event was first conceived in 1986 by a group of locals looking to cure their Hogmanay hangover. The Loony Dook (roughly translated as the crazy dip) was born and around a thousand people participate in this loony tradition.

To join in the Loony Dook you will need to purchase tickets which cost £12. If you want to witness this event, you can turn up and just watch for free whilst staying warm!

My Hogmanay Tips

So you’ve sorted your accommodation and purchased your Hogmanay tickets. All that’s left to now is wait for the big day(s). In the meantime, I’ve made this list of tips that I hope you will find useful for the main event:

  • Dress warm – I’ve been to Hogmanay twice and, even though I grew up in sunny England, the December weather still surprised me up in Scotland!
  • Torchlight Procession – there are 3 starting points for the procession. They all join up later so just choose the most easily accessible to you.
  • Fire – be weary of your clothing during the procession. Although the wax from the torch is easily removal (an iron and brown paper), it’s just better not wear delicate fabrics.
  • Bags – if you must bring a bag, only take a small bag that you would consider as a carry on piece on a budget airline. Be prepared to have them searched for your own safety.
  • Alcohol – alcohol can be taken into the street party in a plastic or metal container 500ml or less. Maximum 4 per person. Not allowed in the Concert In The Gardens
  • Wristband – this is basically your ticket to the biggest event of the year. Make sure you look after it with your life as no wristband means no entry!
  • Toilets – be prepared for a typical festival style toilet situation. Men, be a gentleman and use the urinals behind the cubicles so the ladies don’t have to queue as long!
  • Fireworks – the midnight fireworks display can be seen all along Princess Street so there no need to panic that you’ll miss them.
  • Concert In The Gardens – if you want to experience the Street Party do it before entering the gardens as you cannot re-enter once you leave.

Best New Year’s Eve Ever?

Images of Jeff and Zuzi's hands wearing their Hogmanay wristbands and carrying a mini Scotland flag

Hogmanay isn’t just one of the best New Year’s Eve celebrations I’ve been to. It’s also one of the best events in the world, full stop!

The New Year’s Eve celebrations in Edinburgh was of the best events I have ever been to in the world. It’s right up there with New Year’s Eve in Sydney, Holi festival in India, hot air ballooning in Bagan & Cappadocia and spending Christmas Day with Komodo Dragons.

The fact that I’ve been twice and Zuzi and I still talk about visiting again just shows the impression that Hogmanay has left on us. If you’re thinking about planning your own Hogmanay celebrations then I suggest you start planning as soon as you can. Maybe we’ll even see you guys there?!

Did you find this guide to Hogmanay useful? Maybe you’re making plans for your own New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh? Or have you been and want to share something I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

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