Date of stay: New Years 2011/2012
Where you stayed: Tour Accommodation (Judy’s Guest House)
Tour or pre planned: Hogmanay Tour with Euro Encounters, train option
This was my second visit to Edinburgh but first time for Hogmanay. Edinburgh is a bit of home away from home because everywhere there is Australian/Kiwi, American and South African accents. Due to the small size it might be more touristy than central London.
Fortunately Hogmanay this year wasn’t cancelled and there was decent weather. Few tips:
1. Try to get allocated seating on the train otherwise arrive early to make sure you can get a seat, you don’t want to stand the distance.
2. Check the National rail website for train times as the fastest trains are 4 hours and 30 minutes, there are also trains which take up to an hour longer.
3. Bring some warm clothes (even thermals if you have exceptionally cold winters, fortunately it was mild this year.
4. Get off at Edinburgh Waverley as it is the most central station, Haymarket is East and fringe of the city.
5. If you find yourself without an umbrella or rain coat try Sports Direct or Poundland in St Jame’s shopping centre
6. Do take advantage of the extensive bus network which is only £3.40 for a daily ticket or £1.20 a ride.
I arrived to a wet and windy Edinburgh on the 30th December, many of the areas around Princess St (where the street party is happening) was already sealed off to traffic for preparations.
I prebooked a walking tour called Sin in the City run by Mercat Tours which was quite interesting as it talks about a side of history which you don’t get, the guides do dress up for the tour.
For all you vegetarians out there, two of the best establishments in Edinburgh are Hendersons who also do a vegetarian haggis, they are located in new town. In the old town there is David Bann located in old town just off the Royal Mile. Unfortunately they were closed on New Years day but I have been told they are very good.
I found the Edinburgh Pass before heading to Edinburgh. They do 1, 2 and 3 day passes (£29, £39 and £49 respectively) which is based on calendar days (not hours). Best is to buy a 3 day pass if you can get enough value from it. I got a 2 day pass and hit the streets on the 31st. Be aware over the New Years period certain walking tours can become fully booked early, times will change, closing times will be altered etc. So do your research. Order online to pick up or buy at locations listed, tourist information office is also happy to help you pre-book tours etc. What I took advantage of on 2 day pass:
· Camera Obscura (£10)
· The Edinburgh Dungeon (£16)
· Edinburgh Zoo (£15.50)
· Mercat Tours – Historic Vaults (£9)
· Mercat Tours – Secret of the Royal Mile (£10)
· Nelson Monument (£3)
· The Cadies & Witchery Tours – The Murder & Mystery Tour (£8.50)
Total value £72 which is not a bad return on £39 outlay, that is including missing out on Dynamic Earth (early close) and John Knox house being closed!
Descriptions of all the above are available on the Edinburgh Pass website. The question is did I need to do so many tours? Well the rhetorical question for you is “do you want to use it or lose it!?” I still had plenty of time to hang out at Starbucks if you were wondering!
There is also the option of free walking tours around Edinburgh which I decided to go on to contrast with the paid tours. At the end you are expected to give a tip but it is a bit light on detail. Considering if you pay £9 for a proper tour with Mercat (which you will get a discount with additional tours) and tipping a £5 for a free tour it is your choice! But I’d get the Edinburgh Pass and hit the streets hard!
The tours seems to repeat the content a little: Burke & Hare, Robert Knox, Maggie Dixon, Mary Queen of Scots and the Vaults but every tour guide has a slightly different take on it. If you like some light entertainment but light on content then The Cadies & Witchery Tours and Edinburgh Dungeons are good choices. Edinburgh Dungeons also have a ride inside and it is good value on the Edinburgh Pass, not sure if you have to pay full price! A tip is you can get entry to Edinburgh Dungeons for £9 if you book online!
Some history on The Vaults. Edinburgh is built on the volcanic plug of an extinct volcano, the Royal Mile gently slopes downwards and it is surrounded on three sides by valleys. When the city got extended they built bridges to bridge the valleys as a result few main streets are level while streets next to them are very steep. These main streets are actually bridges, to recoup the cost of building the bridges they converted the arches into The Vaults which were used for legitimate business and then fell into disuse and illegitimate business moved in. Interesting piece of history which I shall leave you to find out!
As you would note I have left out Edinburgh Castle which I have been to on a previous trip but not included in the pass. It is a must go for the history tour and also to see the Jewels of Scotland. Another place which is a freebie is Arthur’s Seat, definitely a place to climb.
For an alternative view of the city other than Arthur’s Seat which is a bit far or Edinburgh Castle there is also Nelson Monument
Edinburgh Zoo was right across the road from my guest house and opens the earliest on New Years day therefore a bit of shame to not go since they have more Penguins than London Zoo and they have King Penguins also! The Pandas are there at the moment and the Edinburgh Pass includes entry to see the Pandas unfortunately I didn’t have the time to see them.
Another interesting place is The Elephant House which is the birthplace of Harry Potter, the first Harry Potter book was conceived there. The coffee isn’t the best I ever had and I’m not a Harry Potter fan but going in and sitting down for a coffee and just try to see where the inspiration comes from might be an interesting experience.
Hogmanay Street Party
The Street party is ticket holders only and the zone is just North of the Royal Mile to Princess Street. This year there is 2 additional exclusive areas which you need premium priced tickets to go into “The Keilidh” and “Concert in the Gardens” these tickets will sell out faster and they include entry into The Street Party but piece of advice is if you are going for these tickets you really would be wasting your money going into the Street Party as these zones are significantly better and include better live acts.
The Street party does have 4 stages for various live performances and two big screens for broadcasts of performances but essentially the price is paying a cover charge into one big open air pub. The party starts at 7 but I didn’t bother to enter until 10pm due to the fact entry stops (even if you have a ticket) at 11pm and Starbucks closed at 10pm! Type of music include country (Scottish fusion), dance/trance/techno so there is something for everybody I suppose. Some parts of the street can get awfully congested. Also note going to the gentlemen’s lavatory to relieve yourself can be a long drawn out process as the facilities are more crowded than a peak hour train in India so make your way to relieve yourself early rather than putting it off.
Fireworks promptly at mid night as expected! The display is to a great back drop but maybe not as great as London but still an experience. Unfortunately if you stand closer in like I did (intersection of Hanover & Princes Street) then your camera won’t be able to fit everything into your frame, to do that you may need to be further down the street such as Waverley Station. Post the fireworks there is free night buses if you choose to stay outside of the city but be warned the buses are not waiting ready to go, it will take a bit of time to clear out the crowd. I left straight after the fireworks and the usual bus trip of 20 minutes ended up about 1:30am before I got back into the Guest House.
Places to stay. There are many guest houses in Edinburgh especially closer to the city centre but you will need to be quick if you are going to make your own bookings as Hogmanay is usually busy and good places book out quickly.
Judy Guest House where I stay had a good homely atmosphere. It was warm, decent amount of space especially with some of the shoe boxes size accommodation you find in the UK. Breakfast which is usually scrambled eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes and bacon is a little bit bland but then it might just be good for your health! You also got an exceptional large amount of toast which I think is a good thing, the host is generous with the breakfast (lets say I didn’t push my luck and had to politely refuse seconds).
What did not go as expected which dragged down the rating:
Tour accommodation was a bit further out of town than ideal (somewhere within 30 min walking distance is acceptable but I believe google maps noted the guest house at 1hr walk) given there are buses but due to Hogmanay you will find night buses crowded.
The tickets I received for the train was super off peak saver (which was fine) but no allocated seating so you need to be smart to get a seat (watch windows as you walk up the train to spot empty seats and would be painful to find a pair of seats if you were travelling as a couple, or arrive just as the train pulls in which could be 30 minutes before departure to bag a seat).
Although the tourism office tried their best to give an up to date list of places which were open/closed and hours some places closed earlier than usual or weren’t open at all.
Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Would you recommend your tour: Yes - Euro encounters
Would you recommend your hotel: Yes (Tour accommodation – Judy Guest House)
Overall rating destination: 3.5 out of 5