I wrote earlier this year that August is the best time to be in Edinburgh, Scotland, thanks to all the festivals taking place during that time of year.
Well, I may have to amend that statement to read “August is one of the best times to be in Edinburgh.”
Why? Because I've just experienced the Scottish capital during the New Year's festival of Hogmanay, and It. Was. Awesome.
What is Hogmanay?
For hundreds of years, the Scots have been ringing in the New Year by celebrating “Hogmanay,” or the last day of the year. The name, in fact, can be traced all the way back to the year 1604, with some of the accompanying traditions going back much further. Traditions having to do with Vikings and fire and friendship and food.
The modern-day Hogmanay celebrations (which just celebrated their 20-year mark) actually aren't a whole lot different. There's still fire and food and Vikings – along with much, much more.
Unlike other well-known New Years celebrations around the world, Hogmanay doesn't last just one night. Yes, New York might have a giant party in Times Square and Sydney might have spectacular fireworks. But does either one of those have Vikings? Or ceilidh dancing? Or fireworks above a castle?
I think not.
Edinburgh does, though. Read on to learn about some of the highlights of my Hogmanay experience.
Highlights from Edinburgh's Hogmanay
1. Edinburgh dressed up for the holidays
Edinburgh around the holidays is just plain fun. There's a German market on The Mound where you can ride a Ferris wheel or sip some mulled wine. There's an ice skating rink that's fun for all ages. And there's a street carnival nearby that adds some additional color to the city.
2. The Torchlight Procession
Each year on Dec. 30, thousands gather in Edinburgh for the Torchlight Procession. This isn't an event people generally know about unless they've been to Hogmanay, but it's 100% worth knowing about.
Thousands of people march from the city center to Calton Hill with flaming torches of burlap and wax, led by pipes and drums and the Up Helly Aa' Vikings from the Shetland islands. Yes — fire AND Vikings!
The year I participated, over 40,000 people either took part or watched the procession, which ended with the Son et Lumiere finale atop Calton Hill.
3. Street Party, the Keilidh, and Concert in the Gardens
On New Year's Eve is when it all happens. And when I say all, I mean ALL. The Hogmanay events on NYE are ridiculous.
First there's the Street Party, with music and food and drinking (I mean, it's not Scotland without the drinking!), turning Princes Street into the place to be for more than 80,000 people. There are also concerts going on on multiple stages throughout the city, as well as a massive ceilidh dance.
The headliners the year I went were Simple Minds (made famous by their “Breakfast Club” theme, “Don't You (Forget About Me)”). They played on a giant stage in the gardens below Edinburgh Castle — you certainly couldn't beat the location!
4. The Bells
And of course there are the fireworks at midnight. With sneak previews every hour between 8 p.m. and midnight, the display to ring in 2013 did not disappoint — the ground was literally shaking underfoot at one point as thousands of colorful fireworks burst above Edinburgh Castle.
Kudos to the guys who spent 6 days setting the show up — it was fantastic.
The fireworks were followed by everyone linking arms and singing “Auld Lang Syne” — a tradition that began right here in Scotland.
5. The Loony Dook
I can't think of a better way to ring in a new year than throwing myself into a freezing cold river — can you?
This year, I took part in the Loony Dook on New Year's Day, which consists of about a thousand people in silly costumes parading through the town of South Queensferry and then plunging into the River Forth. Yes it was cold, and yes it was crazy. But it was also SO MUCH FUN.
6. Art on New Years Day
On New Year's Day, there were all sorts of things going on around Edinburgh, from a triathlon, to “Dogmanay,” to various performances all around the city.
The day came to a close with The Big Bang, a trippy visual art performance that was supposed to portray the history of the universe.
Considering how little I had known about Hogmanay before agreeing to take part in #Blogmanay, it's safe to say that the event took me by surprise time and time again.
Each day of the celebrations was memorable in its own way, and this is definitely an event I'd recommend if you want to have an epic New Years abroad!
Is Hogmanay going on YOUR bucket list?
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