Edinburgh Hogmanay: Fire, Culture and Community Usher in the New Year

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Last Updated on April 29, 2018 by

Edinburgh Castle blogmanay
Mystical and shrouded, Edinburgh Castle in winter afternoon light

Celebrations in the shadow of the Winter Solstice. They help us abide darkness and emerge from the shortest day of the year so that we may carry ourselves through deepening cold and, oddly enough, lengthening days until spring returns a few months later.

In this context, the measure of a place coming forth from this seasonal inflection might in fact be its celebration of the new year, and not only the energy with which it tackles this task, but also the tools it packs to do so. Edinburgh, and its new year's celebration, Hogmanay? No different.

We’d never previously visited Edinburgh, so Hogmanay, its three-day version of approaching and ringing in the new year, provided us with the backdrop to learn about the city. In the midst of the new year run-up, we got a wee taste of the Scottish sense of tradition and legend dosed with Edinburgh's creative spirit and a dash of optimism that better weather is only just over the horizon.

Join us on a visual tour of our three days of Edinburgh's Hogmanay.

Torchlight Procession

Beeswax and burlap torch lighting Hogmanay
Beeswax and burlap torch lighting to kick off Hogmanay

Fire. Warmth. Light. Connection. While fire has the power to destroy, it also warms us and often brings us together, binding us in mysterious ways. The first day of Edinburgh Hogmanay begins with an evening fire procession, led by Shetland's Up Helly Aa' Vikings and carried forward by 40,000 locals and visitors holding flaming torches of burlap and beeswax. It's a hearkening to Scotland’s Viking heritage and pagan celebrations of the thankful passing of the Winter Solstice.

Hogmanay torchlight procession
A sea of lights — the torchlight procession winds its way through Edinburgh's old town

Music, Fireworks and Community

Edinburgh Celebrates Hogmanay
Edinburgh all lit up for New Year's Eve celebrations

One way to guide through darkness: music.

In Céilidh, Edinburgh's Hogmanay pulls a page out of its go-to social book of Scottish Gaelic gatherings and tradition. And while we had joyful trouble with the Céilidh dance steps called out from stage, others in the crowd clearly knew what they were doing. From there, the music torch was passed to the big stage with the indie band The View and something from the recent past in Simple Minds. All energy, all different. All locally grown.

Concert house at Edinburg
Simple Minds rock the house at the Concert in the Gardens

Fire and lights finish off the year with a fireworks display that was so powerful that its final seconds literally shook those of us in the crowd from the inside. That this all took place in the shadow of Edinburgh's medieval castle almost made it too much.

Hogmanay Fireworks - Edinburgh
Hogmanay fireworks over the castle light up the sky and welcome in the new year

The best moment of all, bar none: the real welcoming of the year as the crowd locks arms and sings Auld Lang Syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

Unforgettable. Like that song always does, it makes me choke up, especially when the home crowd happens to be singing it. Ah Edinburgh, Robert Burns would be proud. As the last bar echoed, we were greeted with random, heartfelt hugs.

There's a reason traditions like this take hold and never let go.

Culture, Fun and a Little Luck on New Year's Day

Our final day of Hogmanay kicked off with dogs of all sizes and stripes gathered together for games and competitions at the aptly named event referred to as Dogmanay. Bushy-haired huskies dragged their masters on race sleds. One race featured owners leashed to their pets, literally trying to keep up with their hard-charging canine friends. St. Bernards, French Mastiffs, all manner of Terriers, Huskies and Arctic pups were around for some free (two-way) attention.

Audrey and St. Bernard Dog at Dogmanay
Audrey in dog heaven at Dogmanay on New Year's Day

As the day continued, venues all over Edinburgh were taken over by performances, art installations and lectures. We listened to a presentation from Richard Wiseman of TED talk fame about the science of luck. He offered, often humorously, some level-headed methods to make 2013 a more “lucky” year. Hint: take stock in something good that happens each and every day and you'll be more aware of your good fortune.

The close of Hogmanay events featured a ponderous installment of performance art that echoed Pink Floyd and Cirque de Soleil in turns. In “Big Bang”, colorful, inflatable objects (a lobster, a snail and Saturn to name a few) floated overhead as moody, ambient music (think Enigma) peppered the crowd with meta-bits like “Life eats life” as it traced 13 billion years of evolution.

Life Eats Life from Big Bang
“Life Eats Life” from Big Bang, the final installment of Hogmanay

Our heads were full: full of the past in Edinburgh's history, full of the future in framing thoughts of good “luck.” So we carried ourselves off to a pub with a few old friends. There we met a few new ones, locals in kilts, and shared a couple of pints.

An auspicious beginning to 2013 indeed.


Edinburgh Hogmanay Practical Details

Torchlight Procession: To walk in the torchlight procession is free, but if you want to carry your own torch, you can buy a voucher for about £7. The money goes to a local charity. The starting point for the procession is at the National Museum (Chambers Street) on 30 December and it ends with fireworks up at Calton Hill. This is the official start to Hogmanay. Expect to get wax all over you, so be sure you wear something that cleans easily.

The Keilidh: If you're interested in Scottish music and dancing, this is the place for you as the fun goes all night from 9PM to 1AM on New Year's Eve. Be sure to buy tickets in advance as this year the festival sold out early. Tickets run around £37; this ticket will also let you into the Street Party so you can go back and forth. Location: Mound Precinct (next to the Gardens)

Concert in the Gardens: This is where the headliners play in a smaller concert venue just below the castle. The music kicks off at 9PM and goes to 1AM with a break for fireworks at midnight. Tickets cost £37.50-£42.50 and will also give you access to the Street Party. Location: West Princes Street Gardens

Hogmanay Street Party: Join 80,000 people to dance the night away and welcome in the new year at one of the Hogmanay Street Party's many music stages. There are food carts all along the way, but beware that they all close at 1 AM. Tickets: £15.

Dogmanay: Edinburgh's new year dog festival is located at Holyrood Park from 12:30 to 3PM on January 1. With dog sled races, dog competitions and dogs of all sizes running around, it's a great time for dog lovers.

Note: The information above pertains to the Hogmanay 2013. Be sure to check out the official Edinburgh Hogmanay website for new information each year.

Disclosure: This campaign is brought to you by Edinburgh's Hogmanay and is sponsored by VisitScotland, ETAG, Edinburgh Festivals, Haggis Adventures and Skyscanner. The campaign bloggers were sourced and managed by iambassador. As always, all opinions expressed here are entirely our own.
About Daniel Noll
Travel and life evangelist. Writer, speaker, storyteller and consultant. Connecting people to experiences that will change their lives. Originally from the U.S. Daniel has lived abroad since 2001 and most recently has been on the road since 2006. When he's not writing for the blog you can keep up with his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about him on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

22 thoughts on “Edinburgh Hogmanay: Fire, Culture and Community Usher in the New Year”

  1. We visited Scotland for NYE and were staying close to Glasgow, we were all utterly confused as to why absolutely nothing was going on in town and we felt we’d made a mistake coming to Scotland for new years’ – luckely someone tippe us off about Edinburgh’s Hogmanay – we arrived just in time for dinner and it was the most amazing night of our lives, Edinburgh has the best people in the world!

  2. That looks, and sounds, like such a great new years eve!
    Very different indeed. I have personally only been in Edinburgh once, but this makes me miss the city so much!

    Happy new year!

  3. Wow! I’ve been working on my application to the University of Edinburgh lately, and this just makes me want to get in even more!

  4. a great account of a great celebration! can’t wait to see what else scotland has to offer , but am sure the adventure will be fab!

  5. That was a beautiful introduction to one of Scotland’s greatest traditions. Missing Edinburgh something fierce now.

    Best of luck with your application Sarah; I spent 2 years studying in Edinburgh and loved it.

  6. I lived in Edinburgh and miss the city so much. Thanks for sharing your wonderful New Years Eve experiences and fantastic pictures they bring back great memories.

  7. @Caroline: Hogmanay was a great backdrop to explore Edinburgh and get a feel for the hospitality of the people. Maybe you’ll have a chance to return for New Year’s to experience it for yourself! Happy New Year!

    @Pascal: That’s a great story!! I imagine that most of Glasgow is in Edinburgh for Hogmanay as well 🙂 And you’re right, people in Edinburgh are so friendly and warm.

    @Lane: Thanks! Hope you had a wonderful New Year’s as well!

    @Sarah: Good luck with your application to the University of Edinburgh! This would be a fabulous place to study.

    @ciki: And the adventure around Scotland was fabulous! Glad we had a chance to ring in the new year together!

    @Rachel: Thank you. So glad you enjoyed this and that we were able to capture some of the spirit of the Hogmanay festivities.

    @Erica: I can understand missing Edinburgh after living there. Glad this post and these pictures brought back good memories.

  8. I’ve heard so much about this celebration this year on your blog and Amanda’s A Dangerous Business, but too be honest, I’d never heard of it before. It looks like a much better option than NYC! 🙂

  9. @Erik: Like all New Year’s Eve celebrations, Edinburgh and NYC are different. Different scale, different level of interaction. In any event, Edinburgh is a beautiful city and Hogmanay provides a fun lens through which to experience it.

  10. Ha, so funny you did Dogmanay & the Lucky Day thing, so good that! Bit gutted to miss Richard Wiseman though. Nice account all round folks, haste ye back! 🙂

  11. Wow, what an exciting way to ring in the New Year! Edinburgh, from what I’ve seen both here and elsewhere, is a city steeped in mysterious history and intrigue.

    While we’re extremely excited about TBEX ’13 in Dublin and exploring Ireland, I can’t wait to check out Scotland as well. Even though I’ve never been there, I just feel like I’m going to love it 🙂

  12. @Jools: Dogmanay was a highlight 🙂 Everyone should start their new year surrounded by friendly, slobbering dogs! We were rather lucky to catch Wiseman’s talk as we entered the National Museum just as his last talk of the day was beginning.

    Dan and I really enjoyed meeting you during Hogmanay. And you may see us again in Edinburgh soon….we hope, at least.

    @Andy: It seems like every nook and cranny of Edinburgh’s old town has a legend or story attached to it. A beautiful place that draws you in.

    Although I’ve never been to Ireland (so I can’t compare), I would recommend making a side trip over to Scotland after TBEX. That time of year should be nice as well – the autumn colors are supposed to be fabulous then.

  13. Looks like it was fun. I wish I could have made it to Hogmanay. I’m in love with Endinburgh, and would have loved to spend the new year there.

  14. @Stephen: Was fun. Like I said before, Edinburgh offers a great setting for a party. Maybe Hogmanay 2013 to ring in 2014?

  15. @Tammy: The Scots and partying do go hand in hand. They do know how to show everyone a good time and make them feel welcome. You did have to keep an eye out at the torchlight procession to make sure there were no flames close to your head. But, as far as I know no one was hurt and it was a beautiful sight with all those flames…

  16. Wow that looks amazing. I went to Edinburgh a few years ago for the ‘make poverty history’march and loved it. Never been to Hogmanay, but I know the Scots know how to party, so bet it was a blast. Can’t believe all those people are walking around with fire torches though.

  17. Looks magical, Audrey. Btw, Edinburgh castle, is it huge. I visited Windsor castle, and it was beautiful but not as big as I had in my imagination. Edinburgh also looks cozy but not grand. Love Dogmanay. I love dogs of all stripes (except those that come at me in a snarly way)..

  18. @Sutapa: Edinburgh castle isn’t that big, which still makes it feel accessible. It’s now full of museums and memorials so it takes some time to walk through. The views of the city from there are also wonderful, whether sunny or cloudy.

    Dogmanay was a lot of fun. The owners of the dog pictured above just wrote me saying how excited to see their dog on our blog. Good dogs, great owners.

    @Mona: You’re welcome. Edinburgh also surprised us with its charm and beauty.

  19. @Nida: Unfortunately, the St. Bernard was not our dog, but someone else’s in the show. I’m certain they got endless comments about it — it was beautiful. I think the something about the tongue is that it’s so enormous!


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