A Two-Day Festive Itinerary to Edinburgh

For most of the year, Edinburgh leads a fairly laid-back existence with the exception of summer, when the city hosts the world’s largest cultural arts festival, and on the run-up to Christmas. Winter may bring shorter days and cooler temperatures but it’s a small price to pay for the magical experience of Edinburgh lit by the twinkling glow of fairy lights. The city centre’s historic buildings are donned in their best festive attire; the Edinburgh Christmas Markets bring a palpable buzz to the city and there’s a host of festive activities to keep you entertained. It’s a delightful time to be in the Capital!

We hope you enjoy our two-day festive itinerary to Edinburgh to help you make the most of your visit!

Day One

9am: Breakfast at the Edinburgh Larder

Before we begin our day of festivities, let’s start the day right with a spot of breakfast.  (15 Blackfriars Street) is a hugely popular spot for breakfast and brunch and is tucked away just off the Royal Mile in Old Town. The café is aptly named as since it opened in 2009, it’s made a name for itself by serving delicious and seasonal food using local ingredients sourced from Scotland’s best producers. Their most popular dishes include a traditional full breakfast, veggie breakfast, eggs benedict or smoked cod, chorizo and potato hash with a poached egg. If it’s a particularly wintry day, there’s also the option of a bowl of porridge with a selection of seasonal toppings and toasted nuts!

*Due to its popularity, it’s best to make a reservation online before your visit! If you forget, the Little Larder is directly next door and operates on a walk-in-only basis.

10am: Edinburgh Christmas Markets

It’s time to experience all that Edinburgh has to offer during the festive season and where better to begin than Edinburgh’s iconic Christmas Markets which attract visitors from across the globe. The market opens at 10am daily and gets gradually busier throughout the day so your best bet is to visit in the morning, so you don’t have to contend with battling through crowds.

The market first opened in 1999 and over the years, due to its tremendous popularity, has expanded from East Princes Street Gardens to several city-centre sites. Each year the markets are slightly different so be sure to check online for updated details. Saying that, generally, you can expect East Princes Street Gardens to host a European market that features various Bavarian-style stalls selling food and drinks plus a wide range of festive crafts. There are also various fun fair rides including a Ferris wheel and carousel. A few more staples of the Markets include an ice-skating rink which most recently has been located on George Street; Castle Street Christmas Fair, featuring artisan makers, designers and food and drink producers; and Santa Land which was recently located in West .

12pm: A Pause for Lunch

There are a host of places to grab lunch at the Markets but if it’s a dreich or a particularly chilly day, here are two options to keep in mind:

Arcade Bar Haggis & Whisky House (48 Cockburn Street)

If you’re looking for somewhere a bit different, the Arcade Bar is the only Haggis & Whisky Pub in Edinburgh. Whether you’re visiting Scotland for the first time and are keen to try our national dish and drink, the Arcade Bar stocks one hundred whiskies and offers various ways to try the legendary dish such as haggis bon bons; traditional haggis, neeps, and tatties (haggis, turnips and potatoes) and haggis stuffed chicken. They also offer gluten-free and vegan haggis options!

The Witchery (352 Castlehill)

There are a few businesses that go all out when it comes to their Christmas decorations and  is one of them. During the festive season, Boswell’s Court and Jollie’s Close look Christmas card worthy with beautifully decorated Christmas trees and festive ornaments. The restaurant is known for its decadent interior with the option to dine in the Original Dining Room or the Secret Garden, where you’ll enjoy your meal by the warm glow of candlelight in rich baroque surroundings and ancient oak panelling hung with tapestries. Its seasonal menu features Scottish lobster, langoustines, beef, lamb and game, as well as its legendary Angus beef steak tartare.

*Note: Don’t forget to book ahead of time and, unfortunately, children under the age of 10 are not allowed in their dining rooms

1pm: It’s Time to Admire Edinburgh’s Christmas Decorations

After lunch, we’re sure you’re ready for a little light exercise and we’re of the opinion that Edinburgh’s streets look their loveliest during the festive season. It’s completely up to you where your feet take you but here are a few suggestions:

Royal Mile

As you walk along the , look out for the Christmas tree which sits in Parliament Square beside St Giles Cathedral; pop into the year- round Christmas shops, The Nutcracker Christmas Shop (52 High Street) and Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe (145 Canongate); and walk up Castlehill to the Castle esplanade for views across Edinburgh.

Christmas Tree on The Mound

Every year, since 1949, Edinburgh has been gifted a Christmas tree by Hordaland County Council as a gesture of thanks to Scotland for aiding Norway during the Second World War. The tree was originally sent from Norway, however, in recent years has been sourced directly from Scotland. The tree on The Mound has always been the starting beacon for Christmas in the Capital.

George Street

You may have explored a little of George Street this morning but if you didn’t, the street always puts on a marvellous show at Christmas time. Starting at the east end, you can count on the Dome, an iconic Christmas location in Edinburgh, to be dressed to the nines with sparkling garlands wrapped around its giant Corinthian columns and festive wreaths adorning its exterior. Le Monde, which sits beside the Dome, and the George Hotel, opposite, are also known to join in on the fun with their impressive decorations! As you head west along George Street, you’ll spot various eye-catching shop window displays and, finally, Charlotte Square’s Christmas tree sits at the west end.

11am: A Spot of Christmas Shopping

Edinburgh’s Christmas Markets are a great place to pick up a fun, festive souvenir but if you’re looking for a unique and meaningful Christmas present for a loved one, look no further than Edinburgh’s brilliant independent shopping scene! Broughton Street is just a short walk from the and is among one of the best streets for independent shopping. As you walk down the street, here are a few stores to look out for:

3pm: A Walk Up Calton Hill for Sunset

During winter, sunset can be as early as 3.30pm so we recommend making the most of the last bit of light by walking up . Calton Hill may not be the most Christmassy of locations, but it is a wonderful vantage point to overlook the city centre festivities. Once you’ve soaked up the festive views, why not take a wander around the hill for panoramic views over the city and beyond. Look north for views over the Firth of Forth to the twinkling lights of Fife; you’ll spot another of Edinburgh’s hills to the south, Arthur’s Seat; and east offers views of Portobello, the Bass Rock and North Berwick Law. 

Tip: The only downside to visiting Calton Hill during winter is it can be pretty nippy. If that’s the case, you can head to The Kiosk (open till 5pm), a glass coffee kiosk that sits beside the Collective art gallery, for a warming to-go drink.

4pm: Drinks at the Dome

We’re sure by this point you’ll be ready to escape the cold and spend a wee while in the warmth. We briefly touched on being one of Edinburgh’s most iconic Christmas destinations and once you see the impressive building for yourself, we think you’ll agree it’s well deserving of the title. As you step foot inside the building, you’ll leave Edinburgh behind and enter a winter wonderland filled with tantalising smells of Christmas, glittering fairy lights as far as the eye can see and metres upon metres of festive garlands adorning doorways and staircase bannisters. Finally, as you move through to the Grill Room, a former banking hall turned brasserie, you’ll catch sight of the Dome’s spectacular Christmas tree. The Dome has several rooms where you can enjoy a tipple.

*Note: The Dome is extraordinarily busy during the festive period so be sure to book ahead of time. If you find the Grill Room and Georgian Tea Room fully booked and would still like to see the Dome’s spectacular interior, there is the Club Room which operates on a walk-in basis during November and December where you can enjoy various drinks and snacks. There is also a wide range of nearby bars if all else fails.

6pm: Head to Thistle Street for Dinner

Edinburgh is more than well catered for when it comes to places to eat so it was tricky narrowing it down to one restaurant, however, we think Thistle Street is a wonderful place to begin. The narrow, cobbled street is a hidden gem that is home to various places to dine including Dusit (49A Thistle Street), Cafe Marlayne (76 Thistle Street), Noto (47 Thistle Street), Fishers In The City (58 Thistle Street), and Cafe St Honorė (34 Thistle N W Lane) – all of which are wonderful options!

Due to its festive menu, we’ve settled on The Bon Vivant (55 Thistle Street) which was opened in 2008 and was inspired by the continental dining environment which is often more informal and casual yet of a very high standard. The cosy nook is known for its wide range of cocktails, beers and spirits as well as an award-winning wine/champagne list that is accompanied by tapas-style bites and more substantial meals. During the festive season, The Bon Vivant creates an indulgent three-course festive dinner where every dish has been inspired by their favourite flavours of Christmas and created using the very best in seasonal produce.

*Note: Don’t forget to book ahead of time.

7.30pm: A Christmas Concert for a Calming End to the Day

After a hearty dinner, let’s end your festive day with a typical Christmas tradition, attending a carol service or Christmas concert. Edinburgh is home to numerous beautiful churches that during the month of December host heart-warming candlelight carol services and festive concerts. A few options include:
  • St Giles Cathedral has a history that spans 900 years and is known for its fine late-Gothic architecture which looks spectacular lit by candlelight. The cathedral hosts a popular annual Christmas Evening Concert series which often features ‘Ronald McDonald House Charities Carol Concert’, ‘Viennese Christmas Spectacular’ and ‘Christmas Favourites and Carols for All’.
  • is another charming Edinburgh church that has a stellar festive line-up for December which can include ‘Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra Concert’ and ‘Scottish Ensemble: Concert by Candlelight’.
  • The Festival Theatre was designed as Scotland’s premier dance and opera house in 1994 and now offers a brilliant year-round programme. During Christmas, the theatre often hosts a popular pantomime, Scottish Ballet’s annual performance and more!
*Note: don’t forget to pre-book if you are interested in attending a carol service/concert.

Day Two

9am: Breakfast at Papii

It’s your second day in Edinburgh and let’s begin at Papii (101 Hanover Street), a well- loved neighbourhood café located in New Town. The cosy café offers a range of scrumptious breakfast and brunch options, one of its specialities being its homemade buttermilk waffles that come with a range of topping options such as fresh strawberries & maple syrup and crispy bacon with Maple syrup. There are various other breakfast options including eggs benedict, breakfast rolls, yoghurt with granola and plenty of home baking.

10am: Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Sitting at the east end of Queen Street, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is an imposing red sandstone neo-gothic building. The building was designed as a shrine for Scotland’s heroes and heroines so as you approach the building look out for the ornate figures from Scottish history that adorn the exterior. The Gallery opened to the public in 1889 and is the world’s first purpose-built portrait gallery. During the festive season, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery’s Great Hall looks even more delightful with garlands hung around the spectacular room and a Christmas tree sitting at its centre. The gallery is made up of three levels of gallery space so be sure to visit the first floor where you’ll get a different view of the Great Hall.
  • Rosevear Tea (72 Broughton Street) is a tea-lovers paradise. The store’s walls are lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves housing over 100 different teas including a “Broughton Brew”.
  • Narcissus Flowers (87 Broughton Street) is a popular flower shop which always impresses with a beautiful display of seasonal flowers and plants outside their store. If you haven’t travelled far, you may wish to take one of their luxurious festive wreaths home with you.
  • Curiouser & Curiouser (93 Broughton Street) is an independent art, framing and gift shop. It’s the perfect place to shop for gifts as there’s a wide range of products ranging from illustrative prints to jewellery and homewares made by local Edinburgh artists.
  • Kathy’s Knits (64a Broughton Street) has been a haven for knitters since 2012 and welcomes knitters of all ages and standards and has a range of high-quality British yarns, needles, crochet hooks, patterns, books and accessories!
  • (53 London Street) sits at the foot of Broughton Street and sells a beautifully curated range of stylish Scandi-inspired homewares, jewellery, accessories and stationery.

12pm: Lunch on Broughton Street

As well as being a great place to do some shopping, Broughton Street is also the ideal place to pause for lunch as there is a wonderful variety of cafes and restaurants to choose from. A few suggestions include Fhior (36 Broughton Street), known for its innovative seasonal tasting menus; Bakery Andante (49 Broughton Street), a popular local bakery which also serves light lunch; Harmonium, a well-loved vegan café; and the Educated Flea (38b Broughton Street) which uses an interesting blend of Scottish ingredients intertwined with pan-global dishes – they often offer a festive menu at this time of the year too!

1pm: A Hot Chocolate Break

Depending on where you stopped for lunch, you may be too full for this indulgent treat but it’s just too good not to mention. The Marshmallow Lady (14 Rodney Street) is a well-loved store that’s dedicated to the time-honoured craft of marshmallows. You can expect everything from adventurous flavours such as blood orange, toffee apple, and maple bacon to classic vanilla and mint. If you did think you could manage a hot chocolate, we’re sure you won’t be disappointed as the Marshmallow Lady uses local chocolatiers Edward and Irwyn’s hot chocolate and pairs it with cream and a toasted homemade marshmallow! As well as hot chocolate, they also offer marshmallow milkshakes, toasted giant marshmallows and beautifully packed bags of… you guessed it, marshmallows!

2pm: A Visit to Stockbridge

It’s just a short walk from the Marshmallow Lady to the quaint, village-like neighbourhood of  which is even more charming during the festive season. Before the sun sets, why not take a wander along Stockbridge’s quiet, picturesque streets to admire the elegant Georgian homes adorned with festive wreaths of all shapes and sizes. Stockbridge is filled with a charming array of businesses from local cheesemongers and independent bookstores. It’s a wonderful place to pick up a treat for yourself or a loved one. Here are two main streets to wander along:
  • Stockbridge’s main street runs through the heart of the neighbourhood and is home to various independent shops including Caoba (56 Raeburn Place), a quirky shop specialising in Mexican crafts and decorations; I.J. Mellis (6 Bakers Place) and George Mewes Cheese (3 Dean Park Street), two brilliant cheesemongers that sell a range of artisan produce as well as a plethora of cheese; Rare Birds Book Shop (13 Raeburn Place) which champions female writers and literature; and An Independent Zebra (88-92 Raeburn Place), a gift shop stocking unique products from 120 different local artists.
  • St Stephen Street is another haven for independent shops. Keep an eye out for  (68 St Stephen Street), a wonderful independent bookshop; The Method (9 St Stephen Street), a popular lifestyle store and treatment space; Ginger and Pickles (51 St Stephen Street), a charming children’s bookshop; Treen (2-4 St Stephen Place), a stylish vegan clothing store; Bon Tot (46 St Stephen Street), a modern children’s store; Space at Seventeen (17 St Stephen Street), a brilliant pop-up space with an ever-changing line-up; and many more!
Note: If you’re in the mood for a homemade mince pie, look no further than the Pastry Section (86 Raeburn Place) which also creates festive-themed chocolates during this time of the year.

11am: A Spot of Christmas Shopping

Edinburgh’s Christmas Markets are a great place to pick up a fun, festive souvenir but if you’re looking for a unique and meaningful Christmas present for a loved one, look no further than Edinburgh’s brilliant independent shopping scene! Broughton Street is just a short walk from the  and is among one of the best streets for independent shopping. As you walk down the street, here are a few stores to look out for:

5pm: A Cosy Dinner
Before you know it, it’ll be time for dinner again and thankfully, Stockbridge has a selection of wonderful places to dine. Here are two great options:

The Raeburn (112 Raeburn Place)

Sitting on Stockbridge’s main street, The Raeburn is a popular hotel and restaurant. The restaurant offers visitors a varied and contemporary menu featuring the finest, locally-sourced ingredients. You can expect dishes like ‘The Raeburn classic burger’, fish & chips, baked halloumi salad and smoked ham hok. Plus there’s the option to pair it with a wine tailored exclusively by The Raeburn’s wine merchant. They also offer gluten-free and vegan options!


Purslane Restaurant (33A St Stephen Street)

Dining at Purslane is a real treat. The restaurant is located in a basement on St Stephen Street and has become a well-loved Stockbridge institution. Run by head chef and owner Paul Gunning, the restaurant has a strong focus on creating a high-quality dining experience without the formality that normally comes with a fine dining experience. For dinner, Purslane offers either a five or seven-course seasonal tasting menu paired with matching wines.

7pm: Christmas at the Botanics or the Castle of Light

What better way to end your festive holiday than by attending one of the city’s mesmerising light shows?

Here are two options we think you’ll really enjoy:

Option One

Pay a visit to the for its annual ‘Christmas at the Botanics’. During the festive season, the Botanics is decked out with over a million sparkling lights which decorate trees, adorn tunnels of light, and bring to life glasshouses. As you pass under giant baubles, beneath glistening trees drenched in jewel-like colour, seasonal sounds fill the air and you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to a magical winter wonderland. 

Option Two

Over the past few winters, has flung its doors open in the evening to guests for its popular ‘Castle of Light’ display. Each year sees a slightly different theme, take for example this year’s theme of “Kingdom of Colours” which tells mesmerising stories of Scotland and the castle through captivating projections that dance on the ancient walls. The immersive illuminations will guide you through a magical night at the castle.

*Note: Be sure to book ahead of time!