Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh

It’s Hogmanay time! Even though London was hailed the most popular city-break for New Year’s Eve, if you want a Scottish celebration – Edinburgh is the only place to be! Prepare for 3 days of music, fun, fire and lights – one of the biggest New Year parties in the world!

1280px-EdinburghNYEThe etymology of the word Hogmanay is obscure, although there are some hints on its origins. It may come from Norse, Goidelic (Insular Celtic) or French. In the Norse language, the haugmenn or hoghmenn mean the hill people – probably elves or trolls, and the celebrations were supposed to banish them back to the sea. The Goidelic version derives the word from Manx hog-un-naa or hob dy naa, which referred to Hallowe’en, and the French one – to the New Year gift or the celebration itself (aguillanneuf). Some other sources state that it might come from Gaelic og maidne (new morning), Flemish hoog min dag (day of great love) or the Anglo-Saxon haleg monath (holy month). Whatever the origins are, which we may never truly discover, Hogmanay in modern times is a massive celebration that gathers thousands of people and is an unforgettable experience!

The fun begins on December 30th with the Torchlight Procession, starting at George IV Bridge and heading to Waterloo Place and Calton Hill. Last year there were 35 000 participants! The procession ends with a stunning firework show that can be admired from every side of the city – a truly astonishing view (some even say that taking part in the Edinburgh Hogmanay Torchlight Procession is one of the 100 things you have to do before you die!).

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During those days, you may take part in many cultural and artistic events. Famous musicians, often Scots themselves, are often invited to give concerts – during previous celebrations you could listen to, among others, The Proclaimers, Biffy Clyro and Calvin Harris. This year you may dance with Lilly Allen, The Twilight Sad and Young Fathers. Remember that the concerts are not free, so get tickets in advance while they’re still available! If you prefer more contemplative ambiance, there is a Christmas carol concert held in the candlelit St Gile’s Cathedral – this will surely be an unforgettable and beautiful event, especially considering the setting and atmosphere!

When the clock strikes midnight, you’d better know the words of Auld Lang Syne! This has become a tradition not only in Edinburgh or in Scotland, but across the whole of Britain. There is a custom that the people singing form circles and start to dance, so don’t be surprised to see this on the Edinburgh streets this year! At the end, everyone usually cross their hands at the breast, then approach the middle, reestablish the circle and turn around to stand with the face outside the circle while still holding the hands of their neighbors. Auld Lang Syne is quite old, believed to be written (or, at least, written down) by Robert Burns, and the average English speaker probably will need a few of the older Scots words translated to understand what they are singing about! The song is a popular selection for the celebrations marking the ends and new beginnings, and is also popular during funerals, graduations, and of course, the celebrations to commemorate Robert Burns.

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The Scottish traditions are strong among the people of Edinburgh– and the best proof is an annual outdoor New Year ceilidh! If you want to welcome 2015 with traditional Scottish music, dancing and delicious Scottish food, this is the best choice – and as this is a total sell-out each year, again take care to purchase your tickets as soon as possible if you want to participate! This year’s attractions feature Jimi Shandrix Experience, Hugh MacDiarmid’s Haircut and The Smashers.

If you feel a little hungover after over-indulging during the festive period, the best remedy might be the Loony Dook! Dook is a Scottish word meaning to dip or bathe, and this fun event involves taking the plunge into the cold waters of the Firth of Forth. The Loony Dook took place for the first time just 29 years ago, yet it has grown into one of the most well-known and popular New Year celebrations in Scotland. The participants often jump into the cold waters while wearing funny costumes, or raise money for charity via sponsorship, so the Dook attracts many onlookers – if you’re not keen on the idea of taking the plunge yourself, watching others do so might also be fun (but will certainly be less cool, literally and figuratively).

If you don’t find the Loony Dook appealing, there is another great and free event for the New Year – Scot:Lands. This is a journey through Edinburgh’s Old Town, where you’ll find specially prepared concerts, activities and hidden attractions! Taking part is absolutely free, but due to the high number of attendants last year, registration is required so sign up quickly!

Edinburgh has a lot to offer during these special days – no matter if you want to have fun on the streets with loud music or you prefer more traditional and calm events. Whatever your preference, the city as a lot to offer – and a Hogmanay City Break might be your best New Year experience ever!

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Festival

Military TattooThe Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has been a regular part of the amazing Edinburgh Festival since 1950, and continues to draw huge crowds of proud Scots, and enthusiastic visitors every single August. From comedians to classical music, Shakespeare to street performers, Edinburgh really does have something for everyone during the summer! But the Tattoo remains the most spectacular of the traditional entertainments provided, and it is this awesome display of military and traditional music we shall focus on today.

Military tattoos are not a uniquely Scottish event, in fact the word “Tattoo” in this sense is derived from the Dutch phrase “doe den tap toe”, meaning “turn the taps off”, commonly heard in military bars and pubs at the end of trading. The British military based in Flanders in the 1840s soon adopted the phrase in their own fashion, and the Corps of Drum or Pipes and Drums would play the “taps to” signal each night, to let local pub landlords know it was time to send the soldiers back to their lodgings. By the late 18th century modern style barracks had been introduced, and full military bands were common, and the “taps to” signal finally evolved into the Tattoo as we know it today – a ceremonial form of entertainment performed to indicate the end of the day.

Learn About Tartan Colour Meanings

The main Edinburgh International Festival has taken place every year since 1947, though the Tattoo only became an official part of the ceremonies in 1950. This decision was precipitated by a small Tattoo played at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens, with a show titled “Something About a Soldier” during the 1949 Festival. It proved so popular that the following year saw the Tattoo go onto the official festival line-up, with a programme of eight items attracting an audience of around 6000 people seated on wooden benches in front of Edinburgh Castle. This humble beginning is of course a far cry from the amazing spectacle which takes place these days, with over a thousand performers from all corners of the globe, amazing fireworks displays, and a total audience of almost 220, 000!

Part of the charm and appeal of the Edinburgh Tattoo is of course the location; edinburgh military tattoo castleEdinburgh Castle has been a symbol of the city skyline for centuries and is part of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site, and the Tattoo takes place directly in front of its most striking aspect, on the Esplanade. The Castle is unusual among its peers as one of the only ancient castles to still have an active military garrison, albeit one used mostly for ceremonial and administrative purposes. In addition to supplying a useful and historically relevant staging area, Edinburgh Castle provides an amazing backdrop to this special event; one of the best loved traditions of the Edinburgh Tattoo features a flood lit lone piper playing a traditional Lament to the memory of fallen comrades from a spot high on the Castle battlements.

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The other most important aspect of the Tattoo is of course, the performers themselves! The Tattoo retains a strong martial aspect, attracting kilted Highland dancers and military bands from all over the UK and overseas eager to participate in the line-up. Bands from the Royal Air Force, British Army, Royal Marine and the Royal Navy make up the main service, interspersed with other performers such as Highland dancers and steel drum groups, and military bands are also present at the massing of the pipes and drums at the Tattoo’s climax, which is in itself a strongly military ritual which takes the same form every year. The end of each show will see the massed pipes and drums march back onto the Esplanade to join the military bands, at which point the National Fireworks Edinburgh Military Tattooplayed by a member of the Royal Marines or British Infantry. At this point, the aforementioned lone piper will play his poignant refrain, and the whole group of performers Anthem and Auld Lang Syne will be played. Then the flag will be lowered from the Castle as the “Sunset” or “Last Post” bugle call is will march off the esplanade and down the Royal Mile to a medley of popular Scottish songs.

This year’s performance is set to be one of the best ever – it is a Year of the Homecoming for Scotland, where we reflect on what our home means to us, and work to strengthen the bonds with the Scottish diaspora living globally, and the theme of the Tattoo this year is quite fittingly; Our “Home, Friends and Family”. Coming straight off the back of what looks to be a very successful showing for Scotland at the XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, during one of the best summer’s Scotland has seen for years, spirits are bound to be high for the whole of the festival period. So as we revel in these wonderful sights and sounds just a few short weeks from now, we encourage all of our friends and family across the world to set their eyes to Scotland once more and appreciate all the glory and talent on show at the 65th Edinburgh Military Tattoo! As always, we welcome your comments and input and look forward to hearing your tales of memorable Tattoo experiences gone by, or plans to visit this year!

The magic of Edinburgh City

Dugald Stewart Monument on Calton HillEdinburgh is possibly the most beautiful of all Scottish cities, and holds its own on the worldwide stage also! Each new visit will bring with it new discoveries and experiences…though part of Edinburgh’s charm is of course the traditional, the ancient, and the familiar. In this instalment of our blog, we look forward to sharing with you some of our favourite aspects and sometimes overlooked treasures of Scotland’s capital – the home of HeritageOfScotland!

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Edinburgh is very lucky in that it has several beautiful and easily accessed public parks. Among these, Arthur’s Seat is often feted as the best place for a bracing walk in the city, and of course Prince Street Gardens is also popular as a place to enjoy some downtime from shopping. However, our favourite place to rise above the hustle and bustle and provide a good walk combined with the chance to enjoy several historic monuments, is Calton Hill. With its challenging slopes and beautiful views, Calton Hill is very popular amongst locals, who have used this area as freely accessed public land since 1456! It is home to such striking buildings as Nelson’s Monument, and the unfinished National Monument, sometimes also known by nicknames such as Edinburgh’s Folly. For many years the City Observatory also operated here, though this is currently closed for redevelopment the beautiful building can still be seen, and of course the elevated location makes the Hill ideal for even amateur star-gazing.

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Arthur's Seat

Another wonderful place to visit and experience a calmer aspect to Edinburgh, is the cities Royal Botanical Gardens, established in 1670 and now offering one of the world’s largest collections of living plants. With scientific research being at the forefront of the developer’s minds, this can be a brilliant educational experience for the whole family, and a great place to let the kids run wild for a few hours chasing squirrels and climbing trees! For the interested but inexperienced botanists, you can even booked guided tours to fully appreciate the beauty contained. This type of event is always best to tackle when the temperamental Scottish weather is co-operating of course, but even if your picnic arrangements go south, there is also a beautiful restaurant offering stunning views, and the adjoining Inverleith House, considered part of the Gardens, offers year round exhibitions by invited artists.

Holyrood PalaceComing back into the city centre though, let’s now look at some of Edinburgh’s famed architecture. St. Gile’s Cathedral and Holyrood Palace are very different indeed, but both have a rich history and an imposing and impressive aspect on the Edinburgh sky line. St. Gile’s Cathedral is also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, and is the principal place of worship for the Church of Scotland in the city. However, no matter your beliefs, this is a truly awesome place to visit, to tour and observe the amazing Gothic architecture, with vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, and touching memorials. Special effort must be made also to view the Thistle Chapel, a small side chapel dedicated to the famed Order of the Thistle, a prestigious and historical chivalrous society. Further down the Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace is another wonderful example of an historic building still in use, this is the official residence of the Royal Family during their state visits to Scotland – though the Windsors are well known to love Scotland almost as if they were native, and to spend a great deal of time visiting other locations in Scotland also! Offering public tours of both the modern and historic apartments, the grounds including the ruined abbey, and even tales of its own resident ghost, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is second to none in showing how the historical and modern blend seamlessly in Edinburgh, we feel!

National Monument on Calton Hill

Finally today, we will look at one of Edinburgh’s many museums. There are of course literally dozens of public museums and art galleries in the city, small and large, and the ones most often visited are probably the wonderful National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, and Our Dynamic Earth near Arthur’s Seat. However, Scotland is famed not only for its kilts, bagpipes and scenery – Scots are also some of the world’s finest poets and writers, and The Writers Museum in Lady Stairs Close celebrates three of these; Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns, in their permanent collections – but also have frequent events and temporary exhibitions featuring other Scottish writers. This cosy little museum all fits neatly into an historic merchants house which was donated to the city so is also a wonderful trove of architectural features, and a lovely little sitting room upstairs has public access bookshelves so you can enjoy some fine Scottish literature during a break on your visit! This place really is a hidden treasure; even if you don’t have time for a full scale tour around the collections, you should definitely remember to at least search around the adjoining Makars’ Court, and find beautiful stones inscribed with quotes from Scottish writers throughout the ages.

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There is so much to see and do in Edinburgh it would be impossible to cover everything in one short article, or even to examine in depth the attractions we have chosen to highlight! From the world renowned Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, to the International Book Festival, even to the Beltane Fire Festival, Military Tattoo, and Hogmany street parties – Edinburgh is a vibrant and larger-than-life city and you will never be bored there! Let us know in the comments your favourite aspect to this beautiful city – or if you would like more information about one of the topics discussed here let us know and we will do our best to come up with a blog post about it very soon!