There’s a reason Scotland’s New Year celebrations are famed all over the globe. While all countries have their own ways of saying goodbye to the old year and ushering in a new beginning, none have quite the same level of enthusiasm powering these rituals as Scotland.
Here, the celebrations on December 31st are known as Hogmanay. As you might expect given Scotland’s reputation for producing (and consuming) excellent whisky, the night really sees the population let its collective hair down. From a sprawling, joyous gathering in the shadow of a castle to al fresco shortbread at midnight in a little town square, there’s a tremendous range of different styles of merriment on offer.
You have to experience it to appreciate the scale and variety; but in the meantime, here’s a look at three of our favourite Hogmanay celebrations from different parts of Scotland.
Hogmanay in Edinburgh
Let’s kick off with the most, well, celebrated of Scottish New Year celebrations: Hogmanay in the historic capital city, Edinburgh. Between the labyrinthine medieval streets of the Old Town and the stately Georgian residences of the New Town, Edinburgh will take your breath away at any time of the year. But at the end of December, it really comes into its own.
The fun begins on the 30th, the day before Hogmanay, with a torchlit procession down the Royal Mile, probably the most famous street in the city. Then, on the evening of the 31st itself, there’s the legendary Street Party – one of the biggest New Year’s events anywhere on the planet. It takes place on the street and park in front of Edinburgh Castle – so you’ll have a perfect view of the spectacular fireworks that illuminate this ancient edifice at midnight. And of course, the fun doesn’t end there. Joining complete strangers in a rip-roaring rendition of Auld Lang Syne makes for an unforgettable way to draw the festivities to a close.
On January 1st, the Loony Dook sees masses of locals and visitors alike start the year with a dip in the ice-cold waters of the River Forth. But if you’d prefer to stay dry, just go along as a spectator. Don’t miss the fancy dress parade beforehand.
One of the best ways to discover all that Edinburgh has to offer is by joining an expert-led tour. Take a look at our Two Cities (Edinburgh and Glasgow) and Outlander Tour, or our Essential Scotland Tour.
Hogmanay on the Whisky Trail
The Speyside town of Dufftown is one of the highlights of Scotland’s Whisky Trail – so where better to go for a good time at New Year? This place is tiny, meaning there’s an authentic warm and welcoming vibe at the Hogmanay Ceilidh, held on the 31st December at a small hotel. Don’t know what a ceilidh is? You’re in for a treat. This traditional Scottish country dance features a band equipped with, at a bare minimum, a violin and accordion, with bagpipes, hurdy-gurdies, guitars, recorders and tin whistles also often featuring. Many of the dances are fast and furious – and all are a lot of fun.
So far, so typical for a small-town New Year’s party in Scotland. But it’s just before midnight when things take a turn, as the entire body of guests exits onto the town square to see in the new year with whisky and shortbread provided by Glenfiddich distillers and Walkers biscuit-makers, both of which have premises in the town. Slàinte!
To travel in style throughout your whisky trail adventure, you can’t do better than our Scotland Whisky Trail by Luxury Train & Taste of Edinburgh Tour.
New Year’s Day in Orkney
The archipelago of Orkney, off the northeast coast of Scotland, has so many historic and natural wonders scattered across its islands that it’s the perfect fit for a variety-packed customised tour. A fascinating thread of Viking influence runs through the culture here – and that’s never clearer than during the New Year’s celebrations.
In Orkney, you can have a great night in a pub on Hogmanay itself; but the main event comes on January 1st. This is when the New Year’s Day Ba’ turns the archipelago’s major town, Kirkwall, into a mass of brawling men, fighting for an old-fashioned leather medicine ball in a ruthless ancient ball game. The competition gets so intense that residents put boards across their doors and windows to protect them from being damaged in the battle.
You can watch from the street, or from the safety of a hotel window. But however you choose to see it, you’ll never forget the jubilation as the winner of the match is crowned. His prize? The ball, of course. And glory.
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