The Best Things to do in Edinburgh in Winter

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Are you visiting Edinburgh in winter? Edinburgh is one of the liveliest cities in Europe, attracting almost 150,000 people to its Hogmanay celebrations every year. There are plenty more things to do in Edinburgh in winter however- read on for my favourites!

There are two sayings in Scotland: ”There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing” and ”If you don’t like Scottish weather, wait 30 minutes.”

Experiencing winter in Edinburgh can be cold- but it’s also magical. It’s true it can be blue skies one minute, and pouring down with rain the next. As long as you pack the right clothing, you’ll have a great time in Edinburgh during winter.

Keeping the dodgy weather in mind, I’ve compiled this list of best things to do in Edinburgh in winter.

>> Read more: The ultimate guide to planning a trip to Scotland

The Best Things to do in Edinburgh in Winter

‘Courie in’ at a cosy pub

‘Courie in’ is a Scots phrase meaning “to stoop, bend, cringe, crouch for protection” and “to snuggle, nestle”.

One of my favourite things to do in Edinburgh during winter is find a cosy pub and warm myself up with a dram of whisky!

Some of my personal favourite cosy pubs include The Black Cat, Brewhemia, The World’s End and Deacon Brodies Tavern.

dram of whisky

Whisky- perfect for warming you up on the inside!

Edinburgh’s Christmas Markets

The Edinburgh Christmas Markets at Princes Street Gardens is one of my highlights in Edinburgh in December.

Sip on mulled wine [my favourite] at one of the pop-up bars, explore the stalls selling all kinds of Scottish Christmas gifts, and go on a ride such as the Star Flyer!

best things to do in edinburgh in winter

The Edinburgh Christmas Markets- one of the best things to do in Edinburgh in winter

Christmas Lights at Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens

Each year the Royal Botanic Gardens put on a magical light display.

The Laser Garden and the Cathedral of Light are especially impressive! This is a ticketed event, so make sure you buy your tickets in advance.

Read more: The perfect 2 day Edinburgh itinerary

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle usually tops the list of things to do in Edinburgh and it is worth a visit during any season, but I think it looks especially bonnie with a coating of snow! For the past couple of years it has snowed in Edinburgh during February, so if you’re visiting then you might be in luck.

Grab your skip the line tickets here [it’s cheaper to buy online rather than at the gate!]

National Museum of Scotland

Is the weather cold and miserable outside? Why not discover the history of Scotland and the rest of the world at the National Museum of Scotland. It’s free and has some fascinating displays including the Lewis Chessmen [one of the best archaeological discoveries in Scotland], the Cramond Lioness [a rare Roman sculpture that was found in Edinburgh], and ancient Pictish carvings.

You’ll also get to see Dolly the Sheep, a [noe deceased] stuffed sheep on display that was the first mammal to be cloned!

Read more: My guide to moving to Edinburgh

Go for afternoon tea in a cute cafe

Bad weather is an excellent excuse to indulge in this favourite Scottish pastime! Cuddle up with a warm cup of tea, a scone and a book in one of Edinburgh’s many cosy cafes. Black Medicine, the cafe at Waterstones and Lovecrumbs are some of my favourites!

If you want to splurge I also recommend having Afternoon Tea at The Witchery by the Castle. It is totally worth the £30!

cosy up in a cute cafe in edinburgh in winter

Afternoon Tea at The Witchery by the Castle

Hogmanay

Edinburgh’s biggest party of the year, Hogmanay, is one of the world’s biggest New Year celebrations!

Whether you attend the Ceilidh Under the Castle or attend the infamous street party, you’re guaranteed to have one of your most memorable New Year experiences ever!

Find tickets here.

hogmanay in edinburgh

Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh

Camera Obscura And World Of Illusions

This is actually really fun for all ages! Venture through five floors jam-packed with over 100 illusions and discover the best rooftop views of Edinburgh.

The Camera Obscura is located on the top floor, and only accessible by tour [this is included in your ticket]. A Camera Obscura is ‘a darkened box with a convex lens or aperture that projects the image of an external object onto a screen inside’.

Basically, the streets of Edinburgh outside are projected onto a screen in a darkened room. It’s truly fascinating!

You can buy your tickets here.

Indulge In Retail Therapy

Wander down Princes Street in New Town or get your Scotland fix at the touristy shops that line the Royal Mile.

Edinburgh has some great shopping options, especially during December in the lead up to Christmas.

Cocktails at the Dome

The Dome in Edinburgh really knows how to celebrate winter in style! The bar and restaurant transforms into a winter wonderland with thousands of fairy lights from late October until early January.

Make sure you stop by to try their delicious cocktails.

the dome in edinburgh during winter

The Dome with its sparkly winter coat

Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse (also known as Holyrood Palace) is the official Scottish residence of the Queen. She stays here for a week each June, but whenever she isn’t visiting the palace is open to the public!

It was once the primary residence of Mary Queen of Scots. It was also the site where her private secretary, David Rizzio, was murdered by her husband, Lord Darnley (which ultimately led to his undoing). You can even view the room where he was stabbed to death 57 times [eerie, yet interesting].

Grab your ticket here.

Holyrood Palace is one of my favourite Edinburgh Activities

PLANNING A TRIP TO SCOTLAND?

Hostelworld is the best place to book hostels

Airbnb is another affordable alternative to accommodation in Scotland (psst- get $33USD credit for your first booking here)

For booking a variety of tours and attractions I recommend Get Your Guide

Visiting lots of attractions in Scotland? I recommend purchasing the Explorer Pass

For booking hotels, I recommend comparing prices with Booking.com, Expedia & direct

Going on a road trip? I recommend booking car hire with Auto Europe

Check the Scotrail website for train times and to buy tickets in advance

I recommend buying these Scotland maps: Northern Scotland, Western Scotland + Southern Scotland.

Shop my favourite travel guides on Scotland 

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ABOUT YVETTE

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Hello, I’m Yvette! I’m originally from New Zealand, I now call Scotland home. I left New Zealand three years ago to go on an adventure around the world. I help people to go on their own adventures, whether it’s travelling to a new country, hiking or outdoor activities.

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