Magnificent architecture, scenery and culture make Edinburgh a top destination for tourists the whole year round, but when is the best time to plan a trip to the ‘Athens of the North’?
With its gothic buildings and dramatic, mountainous surroundings, Edinburgh in the winter months is a beautiful city to behold. Exploring the cobbled streets and Georgian surroundings in the colder weather is a charming experience, and there is still plenty to see and do throughout the city.
Of course, the highlight of Edinburgh’s winter months are the Christmas and New Year celebrations. The centre of the city is dominated by a Christmas Market and Fair for the entirety of December, and a number of events at the Castle and dotted throughout the Old town are great for a romantic or family break.
But it’s Hogmanay that draws the tourists in – and celebrating the New Year in Edinburgh is an experience that should be on any bucket list. The street party encompasses the city’s New Town and Princes Street Gardens, turning Edinburgh into one huge festival for the night. It’s recommended that you sort your ticket to the party early though, and somewhere to stay even earlier – because accommodation of all shapes and sizes books out fast. As an alternative, there are several smaller events and parties dotted throughout the city, and many locals turn to the Grassmarket as a free area to take in the atmosphere and fireworks display away from the crowds.
Edinburgh is stunningly pretty during the winter; but Scotland’s winters are harsh and those unused to cold wind and rain may find the weather uninviting. As the city thaws through the spring though, some of the more dramatic scenery (like Arthur’s Seat) becomes much more accessible to all. That said, those visiting in the spring should still prepare for a fair amount of wet weather.
As a green city, Edinburgh comes to life with colour in the spring and areas like the Botanical Gardens and expansive Meadows are a joy to behold. It also tends to be a much more relaxing time for a visit, perfect for those who wish to experience more of a ‘real’ Edinburgh.
The famous Beltane Fire Festival awaits those who visit the city at the end of April, as the city’s inhabitants revive an ancient Gaelic tradition marking the beginning of summer. Taking place on the top of Calton Hill, hundreds of participants perform celebrations and rituals before a bonfire is lit to welcome the Beltane morning. A true taste of ancient Scotland, this event is highly recommended but is now ticketed, so make sure you don’t miss out by booking late.
The views from atop Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat or the Scott Monument on a clear summer’s morning are spectacular, across the Firth of Forth to Fife in the North and down to the beautiful Scottish Borders in the South. Several of the attractions that surround the city, like Portobello beach or the Pentland Hills, are also best appreciated in the warmest months of the year.
The real draw of a summer in Edinburgh, though, are the festivals that take place over the city: kicking off with the Jazz and Blues festival in mid-July. That is followed by the Edinburgh International Festival, Fringe Festival and the International Book Festival, which together dominate the city throughout August.
Every bar, café or even living room in the city becomes home to some sort of performance, ranging from folk music to dance to comedy. The festival spirit even overflows into the streets of the city, and the council allows bars and venues to stay open through the night to add to the party atmosphere. If you’d like to experience the Festival (and as the biggest arts festival in the world, it deserves a visit), getting in early and finding a place to stay is an absolute necessity, as accommodation for the festival tends to get booked out months before it begins.
Just as the green spaces in Edinburgh explode into life in the spring months, they give once last fantastic flourish in autumn. Misty evenings and warm nights spent in one of Edinburgh’s many fine pubs are a particular highlight, with live music in the Sandy Bells or the hope of meeting Ian Rankin in the Oxford Bar.
The city is at its quietest as it recovers from the hedonistic summer, so those looking for a relaxing city break apart from the hustle and bustle you’d usually expect from a nation’s capital city would be best suited to an autumn visit.
And so, Edinburgh has something for any visitor throughout the year, and with a little planning can be the destination for the ultimate city getaway.