Hogmanay – The Most Epic New Year’s Celebration You’ve Never Heard Of

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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.

There are even bloggers in kilts!

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.

Torchlight Procession
Vikings and fire!

Torchlight Procession

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!


The Keilidh
The Keilidh

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.

Midnight fireworks


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.

Loony Dook
Me and my fellow blogging loons, Nadine and Jane.
Loony Dook
The Loony Dook!

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.

Big Bang

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!

READ NEXT: The Perfect Itinerary for 3 Days in Edinburgh, Scotland

Is Hogmanay going on YOUR bucket list?


This campaign is brought to you by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and is supported by VisitScotlandETAGEdinburgh FestivalsHaggis Adventures and SkyscannerThe campaign bloggers were sourced and managed by iambassador. As always, though, all opinions are my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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53 Comments on “Hogmanay – The Most Epic New Year’s Celebration You’ve Never Heard Of

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  1. Reading your post motivates me further to visit Scotland…

      Great to hear! CNN agrees – they’ve named Scotland as the top travel destination for 2013!

    That seems epic! No kidding, screw Times Square (everyones must do as a child). This looks like tons of fun!!! Glad you took advantage of everything, though I might have skipped the freezing swim. And I love swimming!

      Honestly I”m not sure Times Square could live up to Hogmanay! There was just such a variety of things going on – no other celebration I know of is so diverse!

    This all looks amazing!

      It absolutely was! The biggest New Year’s party I’ve ever been to, for sure. I think I’ll have a hard time topping this one!

    It is now! I love Scotland and this looks amazing!! Happy New Year =)

      Happy New Year to you, too! You guys should consider going to Hogmanay next year – you’re not all that far away now that you’re based in Europe!

    Love how the men are the one’s moaning about the ice-cold plunge…. oh right. Shrinkage.

      Hahaha. There were plenty of men jumping into the river, too, though, don’t you worry!

    Looks like a blast and probably beats standing around in the freezing cold waiting for and then watching fireworks at the Space Needle. I was just thinking this year that I need something new for a New Year’s celebration plus I’ve always wanted to go to Scotland, so…okay, I’m sold.

      Perfect, I’m glad I’ve sold you on Hogmanay! To be fair, it COULD well have been cold and raining/snowing for the fireworks… but we lucked out! Even in bad weather, though, Hogmanay would be so much fun!

    Wow!!! That sounds like ridiculous amounts of fun. I definitely need to experience that awesomeness before I die – onto my bucket list it goes! Hahaha.

      It most certainly deserves a spot on any bucket list!

    This sounds like a pretty epic event. I had never even heard about it until all of the recent blogger chatter on social media.

      Good. Then we did our jobs. 😉 Really, though, it’s a very cool New Year’s celebration!

    I’m so jealous I wish I had done this for New Year X

    This is totally a gnarly way to celebrate the New Year. You are right, how can you beat fireworks over a castle?! And the way they dress up the city with all of the lights is so cool. We have a “polar plunge” we do here near DC that I’ve always thought about participating in, but in the icy Scottish waters — You’re crazy!

      It’s not the first time I’ve been called crazy. 😉

        We’ve also got a ‘polar plunge’ in Belgium, but I won’t even consider taking part 😀
        Besides jumping in the water, it sounds good:D

    That looks like it was a lot of fun!

    …except for the “jumping into the freezing river” part. Ice cold water’s where I draw the line.

    How large was the street carnival?

      Haha I suppose the Loony Dook isn’t for everyone. 😉

      And by the street carnival, do you mean the Street Party? This year they had like 80,000 people there!

        No, I mean the street carnival – the one you said was near the ice skating rink? Everyone agrees it was there, but absolutely nobody is talking about it… which is a shame.

        Carnivals (and street fairs/county fairs) are some of my favorite events. Maybe I’m weird that way.

          Ah, gotcha. Well it’s very very small. Less than a block, I’d say – which is perhaps why no one is saying much about it! They had a few rides and a few stands selling food, but not much else.

            Well, yes, that would be a good reason why nobody would be talking about it!

    Ahhh! This. Is. Awesome! I didnt expect so much fun! I will try to make it there this new year eve.
    The top photo of spinning ferris wheel is my favorite. A boob-shot is cute too 😉
    Enjoyed the story very much!
    Happy New Year, Amanda!

      Haha my costume for the Loony Dook was “a flasher with a cow hat on.” Hence the boob-shot. 😉

      But yes, this was SO MUCH FUN. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

    I am thinking of spending new year in Edinburgh this year. Beats staying at home watching the television. Looks like you had a great time.

      DO IT! It most definitely beats sitting at home and watching TV.

    Looks like so much fun! I think I would have skipped the Loony Dook though!!!! Can’t wait to read about your Latin American adventures!!!

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