Travel: Edinburgh’s Christmas Markets. The largest outside Europe

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Edinburgh’s Christmas markets are extensive and need more than a day to get around.

The festive street markets which form ‘Edinburgh’s Christmas’ open on November 18, 2018, until January 5,  2019. I’ve been to visit for the last three years and it’s simply growing in size year-on-year with new attractions being added annually.

I’d go so far as to stick my neck out and say that outside Europe, this is one of the largest Christmas markets in the UK, if not the largest.

In recent years it’s been located in several locations, however, the main stalls with the usual mix of goodies, gifts and grub are located at Princes Street Gardens, in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle looming high above.

  • Light Night marks the opening of Edinburgh’s Christmas on 18 November with local Edinburgher and The Voice’s contestant Saskia Eng switching the Christmas lights on!

This year the market will be split over two areas, East Princes Street Gardens and George Street. The George Street market is mainly restricted to crafters, artists, unique gifts and various food offerings, some typically European along with a selection of other fast food style outlets some of which are certainly not what you’d expect at a festive market. The George Street market closes on Christmas Eve whereas the main market runs until January 5.

Virgin Money Light Show on The Royal MileStreet of light, christmas lights.
Street of light, Christmas lights.

The Princes Street market is what I’d term the typical traditional wooden hut type of market, with more than 100 stalls over two levels. It’s at this market where you’ll find the fairground attractions including a Ferris wheel, roundabouts, a smaller ice rink, and a host of food and drink stalls.

The separate children’s section with a selection of rides, a magic forest maze and the main man, Saint Nicolas, or as we Scots prefer, Santa Claus.

The markets are open from 10am to 10pm. Most transactions are conducted in pounds sterling, although I have noted, particularly last year (2017) that a number of traders will accept euros and even credit cards.

There are several shows and entertainment venues which operate throughout the market dates. Further details of these can be found at: Edinburgh’s Christmas

Brand-new spectacular Silent Light is bound to brighten up even the Grinch’s day! In a global first, Underbelly has invited the team behind the Fringe 2018 hit, Silent Adventures, to collaborate with Edinburgh’s Christmas on a unique outdoor event for people of all ages to enjoy. Fusing the stunning hit of Edinburgh’s Christmas 2016, Street of Light with a silent street party, Silent Light was born: a festivity like no other, with people dancing and singing underneath a spectacular architectural installation of archways festooned with thousands of lightbulbs synchronised to music!

Saint Andrew Square features are stunning circular ice rink sponsored by cider manufacturer Rekorderlig which allows you to skate  360° around a central log cabin/bar. And after you’re finished, why not warm up inside with a mulled wine or even a wee Scottish hot toddy. The square is fully accessible to the disabled wheelchairs are welcomed on the rink. If you are driving to the markets some limited parking is available, see website at:  Edinburgh parking or telephone +44 (0) 131 469 3891. There are pods on the Ferris wheel which will accommodate wheelchairs.

As I touched on earlier, I’ve been travelling to Edinburgh for the last three years simply because the festive market scene in Edinburgh is, in my opinion,  far better than that in Glasgow. If you happen to be staying on holiday somewhere other than Edinburgh and using a train to reach the Christmas markets, make sure you get off at Waverly station which is the closest one for Princes Street Gardens. If you are in Edinburgh itself the new tram system runs along Princes Street as do many of Lothian buses see website for details.

Travel Links:

Lothian Buses: Lothian buses transport

Scotrail: Train travel

Edinburgh trams: Tram timetables

Edinburgh Airport: Edinburgh airport routes and carriers

Now, I am a lover of wandering through the stalls, gluhwein in hand, a crepe in the other and chilling out taking in the holiday atmosphere. There is a huge range of stalls in Princes Street. To get around them all you really need more than one evening particularly if you are visiting on a Friday or Saturday night. These evenings are, quite frankly, the busiest and the market can be jam-packed with thousands of visitors.

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Nutcrackers are just one of the traditional stalls available.

So if you want a bit more space to look at the stalls close-up try visiting on a midweek evening, which is much quieter.

  • Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a visit to Santa! This year Castle Street becomes the new home to Santa’s Grotto during Santa’s winter residence in Scotland. The street will also host traditional children’s rides as well as food and drinks stalls offering tasty treats.

I’m also a foodie and love to munch my way through the night so much so, I will forego my dinner before visiting and make up for it in the evening. So, the food. In the last few years, there’s been a good choice of traditional snacks, including Bratwurst, Currywurst,  Knoblauchbrot (German garlic bread), Stollen, Schnitzels, Berliners (big doughnuts to you and me), Spaetzle (egg noodle dumplings) Bratkartoffeln (pan-fried potato dish) and raclette (grilled cheese), to name but a few.

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To me, there’s nothing better than a cold dry night, a mug of something to warm you up, good friends and family and the joy of aimlessly wandering savouring the sights, sounds and smells of a Christmas market.

Each year I’ve visited there have been different stalls present, and I try to buy whenever I can because I feel that if we don’t make it a worthwhile trip for those who are travelling from across Europe to take a stall, they will simply stop coming.  And remember they are here over Christmas as the market runs until January 5, so miss out on their own family festivities.

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My favourite – candied nuts!

So, if you’re looking to get in the festive spirit, there’s no better way than visiting a Christmas market, and Edinburgh offers one of the very best there is.

The wooden chalet-style huts offer everything from glass ornaments for the tree, to wooden advent calendars and nativity scenes, traditional toys, and light-up ornaments to specialised stalls offering marzipan delights, chocolate tools (very realistic), and my favourite, sugared cashews.

If you’ve any questions about the festive markets in Edinburgh, feel free to email me and I’ll do my best to help.

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