Motorhome holidays aren’t just for summer: there’s plenty to do in Scotland in winter. Edinburgh and Glasgow are great places to visit on a Scottish motorhome tour, and both take Christmas very seriously. Edinburgh’s Christmas markets are deservedly popular with adults and children alike – and they’re not just about shopping.
Edinburgh’s Christmas markets run from 17th November 2017 to 6th January 2018, so you can enjoy them right through Hogmanay and into the New Year. And there’s so much more to see than just one market. Best of all, entry is free for the whole family!
Edinburgh’s official Christmas markets
The Christmas market itself takes up the area of East Princes Street Gardens that lies between the National Gallery, the Mound and the Scott Monument, with Edinburgh Castle towering above you. Here you’ll find food and drink, jewellery, candles, toys for grown-ups and children, art, hand-crafts and – of course – Christmas decorations.
For the perfect Edinburgh Christmas photo, climb up the Scott Monument and focus down into Princes Street Gardens and the market laid out below you. It’s a great viewpoint for photos of the Castle, too.
Cross Princes Street to the New Town and climb the gentle rise to St Andrew’s Square. Here you’ll find the Scottish Market, with traditional food, drink, crafts and plenty more ideas for present-buying.
St Andrews Square also has the Children’s Market, full of colourful toys. Not just the plastic tat that you could get on any High Street but high-quality toys of all sorts, from traditional to modern, that will make the adults’ mouths water as well as the children’s.
All three markets are worth lingering over, taking your time as you wander from stall to stall, admiring the offerings and chatting to the stall-holders, many of whom will have made the goods they’re selling.
Other markets in Edinburgh
Every Saturday you can buy local produce straight from over 40 producers at the Edinburgh Farmers’ Market on Castle Terrace in the Old Town. There’s also a weekly Saturday market, with more fresh produce, artisan bread, smoked fish, sweets, street food and crafts, in nearby Grassmarket, below the Castle. On the other side of town, Leith (on Dock Place) and Stockbridge (Saunders Street) both have weekend markets of food and crafts – great for stocking up your motorhome larder as well as buying presents and souvenirs.
But Edinburgh’s run-up to Christmas isn’t just about the shopping and the mouth-watering food. Head back to East Princes Street Gardens to discover Edinburgh’s very own Winter Wonderland. Take a ride on Santa’s train and meet his elves in the grotto at the centre f the Christmas Tree Maze.
You can build up an appetite for more food on the ice rink and liberate your inner child with rides on the helter-skelter, big wheel, roller-coaster and any of several merry-go-rounds and carousels. If that’s a bit tame for you, try the chair-o-planes, star-flyer or the drop tower, or give yourself a work-out on the Ice Wall.
Shows and performances
If the weather’s bad and you’d rather spend some time indoors, you’ll find theatrical performances for all tastes: Shark in the Park (in the Festival Square Spiegeltent), the Arabian Nights (Lyceum Theatre), A Bottle of Wine and Patsy Cline (Gilded Balloon) or the Christmas MagicFest (Traverse Theatre).
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a pantomime: Edinburgh has Cinderella at the Kings Theatre from 2nd December to 21st January. Equally Christmassy is Scottish Ballet’s The Nutcracker, on at the Festival Theatre 9th-30th December. If your young kids love dancing, Baby Loves Disco offers “dayclubbing” , 2 hours of bopping for parents and children in the Festival Spiegeltent.
For adults only, La Clique Noel, a cross between circus, comedy and burlesque, shares the Festival Square Spiegeltent with the Shark and the Baby Disco (though obviously not at the same time). Fans of Ice Age will love The Ice Adventure: A Journey Through Frozen Scotland in West George Street – but wrap up warm. To keep the ice sculptures intact from 17th November to 24th December the temperature in the exhibition is kept at -10°C.
Edinburgh after dark
For a somewhat warmer winter experience, try the Royal Botanic Gardens after-dark trail. The trees and glasshouses are spectacularly lit, there’s a Fire Garden, and you finish your tour with a warming cup of hot chocolate, mulled wine or spiced cider and roasted chestnuts.
Another after-dark attraction is the Edinburgh Giant Advent Calendar. This isn’t a paper-and-cardboard calendar. It’s a projection onto the General Register House building, with images from bygone winters back to the 1700s, showcasing a different year each day. It will be projected at different times each evening, between 5.30 and 10 pm, so keep your eyes and ears open to find out when it’s on.
For a light-show with a difference, head to Edinburgh Zoo’s Giant Lanterns of China show. They’re obviously expecting it to be a popular event: you have to book your time-slot between 4.30 and 7.30 pm, and the it finishes at 9 pm. As well as the lanterns there are Chinese performers – and another Christmas market, this one with a Chinese theme.
What else is on in Edinburgh in the run-up to Christmas? Something for pretty much any taste! There are lunches with Santa, free film showings, tours of the Castle, art exhibitions, Santa-costumed charity fun runs … you name it. It’s definitely not a dull time to visit Scotland’s capital city.
One piece of advice: like many cities, navigating Edinburgh’s streets in a large vehicle and finding parking for it are not easy. They’re not made any easier when some streets are closed and thousands of extra visitors can be expected in town. So park up your motorhome and let someone else do the driving. [Doing so has the added advantage that you can enjoy a “wee bevvy” (alcoholic drink) if you’re tempted to.]
Several of the local campsites are on bus routes. Alternatively, you can take advantage of the city’s park and ride facilities. One of the best is out by the airport, from where a tram whisks you right into the centre of the city and drops you in Princes Street, perfectly placed to make the most of Edinburgh’s Christmas markets.