When to go to Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle & The National Gallery below December 2010.

By Alison Craig, your Edinburgh expert

I write for BBC radio, The Scotsman, .... Read more

The best time to visit Edinburgh

Edinburgh is great no matter what time of year. Hotels, bars, restaurants, shops, attractions and parks are open all year as are the numerous theatres, music venues and art galleries.

It will be cold from October - March without doubt and possibly from March to October too. So as long as you are equipped for all four seasons, no matter when you get here, I promise you will not be disappointed. Honest.

There are quite a few specific events in the Edinburgh calendar which may help when deciding what time of year to visit.

The major price hike in the city is in August because of the vast numbers who travel to attend the various Edinburgh Festivals. If you are not into theatre and the arts then I would choose another time when it's cheaper and quieter. If you do love the arts then don't miss August, though you will have to plan well ahead. There are a lot of people who return every year and have an ongoing annual booking. In August every flat surface in the city is booked so be sure to get in early. Follow EdinburghLive on Twitter and I will keep you up-to-date with all last minute offers.

WINTER

The city looks beautiful when dusted with snow but whether or not the white stuff is upon us we are well geared up for winter with an overwhelming number of open fires, good whisky's, and off season pricing if you like things a bit quiet then head for Edinburgh now.

Christmas is magical in the city. Princes Street and gardens features a Winter Wonderland, a German market, funfair, big wheel, festive ice rink and myraid lights, santas and general revelry. The annual torchlight procession down the Mound through the historic street, and past the vast Norwegian Christmas tree which overlooks the city, is the stuff of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas fantasy: www.edinburghschristmas.com.

Between Christmas and New Year there is a constant program of things to do and see; there is no let up. New Year in Scotland - or as it's known locally Hogmanay - is party central and Edinburgh throws a massive party every year. Expect great gigs and a wild time. On the night itself Princes Street Gardens will be teeming with revellers watching live bands and witnessing one of Europe’s most impressive firework displays. Wrap up and expect it to be damn cold, because it will be: www.edinburghshogmanay.com.

But if the thought of being organised, having to get tickets and standing in a crowd of thousands isn't your thing, then come and just enjoy New Year with the locals. Hogmanay is a big night in Scotland and you will find it a far bigger party than Christmas. It’s celebrated by everyone, everywhere, in pubs and clubs, with ceildhs and house parties - the whole place goes wild.

If the head allows it you can always take part in the loony dook: this is the insane swim and the loony dook is an apt description of the hoards of people who run into the Firth of Forth, under the Forth Rail Bridge and go for a swim. Yup, whether snow, ice, rain or sun, in they go. Fancy it? Well check out the site and I’ll see you there. I'll be the one with the camera: www.theloonydook.co.uk.

Scotland does go to ground a bit after the madness of New Year. The combination of partying and cold weather causes an unofficial hibernation that lasts about a month. This is the ideal time to visit if you have a good line in warm clothes, a strong constitution, like a quieter scene and would like to take advantage of the lowest hotel rates of the year. But it's not quiet for long. The day that gets everyone back in the mood for a party is Burns Night, on the 25th January an annual celebration of the birth of our national poet Robert Burns. From schools to retirement homes people gather for Burn's Suppers recite Burn's poetry, eat haggis, wear kilts, drink whisky and most other things. A great party night.

Then before we know it the Rugby Internationals at Murrayfield kick off in February 12 & 27th in 2011 www.scottishrugby.org

As you will have gathered.....any excuse for a party!

Spring

The days get longer, the nights get shorter and the whole place bursts into life again in March. The one good thing about a wetter climate is the abundance of flowers and plants that suddenly appear and with them, the rugby fan. Rugby is huge in Edinburgh and when there is an international match on the city fills with both Scottish rugby fans and fans from whichever country they are playing. Dates for 2011 include: February 12 and 27 and March 19. The last big match is the Edinburgh 7's on May 28. Details and tickets at www.scottishrugby.org.

Science Festival April 9-12 - www.sciencefestival.co.uk

The Beltane Fire Festival on April 30 celebrates the fruition of spring and the coming of summer. Yup, any excuse for a party. About 12,000 people gather on the last day of April into the early morning of May 1 every year on Calton Hill overlooking the city.

The Children's International Festival in May is dedicated to the youngsters and involves all aspects of theatre, dance, drama for kids up to the age of 18. Children come from all over Europe to take part.

Summer

From May the light in Edinburgh is fabulous. By the end of June it is practically light all night, which transforms the city into a very outdoor cosmopolitan sort of place. Al fresco dining - wherever a chair and table can be wedged - is very popular. And festival season kicks off.

June 2011 will see the 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival. It’s the best time of year to find Hollywood stars sloping around as this is in the diary of all the A-listers: www.edfilmfest.org.uk.

July 29 - August 7 2011 - International Jazz Festival. World class artists come from all over the world to perform. It is at the same time as The Edinburgh Festival & Fringe so you really want to get accommodation sorted before you buy your tickets! www.edinburghjazzfestival.com.

August 12 - September 4 2011 - Edinburgh International Festival. Showcasing high-brow world class opera, theatre and art from around the globe: www.eif.co.uk.

August 5-27 2011 are the dates for The Military Tattoo.  This is a huge favourite. Running every night during the festival, it is an extravaganza of pomp and ceremony in which dozens of countries are represented in a vivid colourful and exciting display. Staged on Edinburgh Castle Esplanade it may well have the best backdrop of any show anywhere. Tickets for this sell out the moment they go on sale, which this year is on December 1. If you miss that date then keep an eye on the website as they do release batches of tickets on the run up to the event. Also follow edinburghstuff on twitter and I'll keep you posted: www.edintattoo.co.uk.

The Edinburgh Fringe August 5-29 2011 started as small sideline to the main festival but has grown to offer literally 1000's of shows. Expect household names cheek by jowl with the next big thing and the thing you will never want to see again, plus comedy, theatre, street theatre, buskers, jugglers, music, madness, clowns and poets: www.edinburghfestivalfringe.com.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival (August 13-29 2011) offers a bit of serenity within the mayhem; you’ll find authors from all genres and also excellent workshops for budding creatives: www.edbookfest.co.uk.

Edinburgh Comedy Festival - the world’s best and worst comedians. Some you'll know. Some you won't. Some you'll love, others you will beg not to give up their day jobs. There is an annual competition for those who think they are the next big comedy name - So You Think You're Funny - so why not change your life whilst you're here? Details of all comedy nonsense at  www.edcomfest.com.

If you get stuck for accommodation in Edinburgh itself, don't despair, there are alternatives such as North Berwick - only a 40 minute drive or train trip from the city. Glasgow is also a good choice as it is only 40 minutes by train.

Autumn

September is a lovely time of year in the city. The last night of the festival is marked by the festival fireworks which blast off from Edinburgh Castle into the ether and career spectacularly down the ramparts. You can see this amazing display from most places in the city but if you want a ringside seat organise yourself early and keep track at www.eiff.co.uk.

The party goes on though with the Edinburgh Mela. This three day event is a celebration of Asian culture and is a major party. Crowds of up to 60,000 dance to DJs merging Bhangra rhythms and west coast rap in Edinburgh’s Pilrig Park. Music, music, music, Bollywood glamour, acrobats, aerial performers and classical dancers perform in colourful national costumes: www.edinburgh-mela.co.uk.

After early September the crowds disperse and everything and everyone moves at a much calmer pace, prices drop and the leaves change. In many ways my favourite part of year. We get bright clear blue sky days in Edinburgh when it's cold but the air is so fresh it makes you feel vital and alive. Yes we get the odd wet day but to be honest not nearly as much as those who don't live here would have you believe. The one major change along with the weather is the light at this time of year. From being virtually light all night in June/July & August suddenly as they say locally ' the nights are  fair drawin' in'  and every day the sun goes down a few minutes early until by December is can be dark from about 4pm which lasts until February. Well best you know now. Still our pubs and hotels and restaurants are so well set up for winter with open fires, state of the art heating, twinkly lights and appropriately warming food that Winter is just as good a time to visit. It's really up to you.

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