We can’t think of too many times the weather has played havoc with our travel plans, but when Scotland and the east coast of England experienced its worst storms in 30 years the day before a train trip to see the Christmas markets in Edinburgh, things weren’t so looking good.
The strong winds and storm surge had already disrupted hundreds of journeys but thankfully the weather calmed and we managed to get away unscathed and with our East Coast Trains first-class seat reservations still intact. As we rattled through the rain-battered countryside (being served complimentary drinks, sandwiches and cakes by friendly staff along the way) we couldn’t help but feel more than a little lucky. In less than five hours we were whisked in comfort and some style from London to Edinburgh, with only a few short stops between.
Edinburgh is famous for its world-renowned Hogmanay celebrations, but it also does Christmas pretty well too. The city has been hosting Christmas markets for a few years and during the winter months (from November to 5th January) locals and visitors can peruse stalls for unique crafts, gifts and hearty German fare with the obligatory mug of gluhwein in hand. This year the organisers have extended the fun into St Andrew square and it now includes a children’s market.
The Princes Street market runs parallel with the main shopping thoroughfare, in the East Princes Street Gardens and is home to hundreds of craft stalls, food and drink stands, a gigantic ferris wheel, an outdoor ice rink and even a cute Christmas tree maze (although this is probably best left to the kids). We wandered through the busy network of stalls, breathing in the market’s seriously tempting smells of mulled wine and candy floss and stopping a couple of times to try out a free cheese sample or two.
Next stop was St Andrew Square which featured a Scottish Market with more free cheese samples, gorgeous gifts and those tantalizing food aromas again. It was also home to the Star Flyer – a popular fairground ride that takes you 60 metres up into the air for a 360 degree spin, and affording pretty spectacular views of the city. Other great features included the Children’s Market (complete with pretty carousel) and the carnival-esque Paradiso Spiegeltent, where illusionists, dancers and musicians bring a circus-cabaret to life in the show Limbo.
The sight of snow falling on George Street was enough to fool a few shoppers (including us) into thinking winter had well and truly arrived, but it was fake snow, being delicately blown from the roof of The Dome; Edinburgh’s famous exceptionally decorated bar and restaurant. The Dome’s Christmas decorations are now legendary – the giant tree fills the main room as it looms over the central bar, and visitors are greeted with the heady seasonal aroma of cinnamon and spices as they gaze up at the columns and archways wrapped with lights and garlands.
Heading away from the modern side of Edinburgh, we took a stroll up to the Royal Mile and further on to the darkly beautiful Edinburgh Castle, perched atop Castle Rock and shrouded in the ubiquitous city mist. We stopped in the Esplanade to look out over the granite grey city. With its grand architecture and elegant streets, Edinburgh is a beautiful city all year round but during the winter and in the run-up to Christmas, the Scottish capital radiates a special kind of atmosphere.
After stopping for a coffee and a shortbread at a cute tea shop housed in a 15th century (and apparently haunted) building we strolled towards Cowgate, and over the George IV bridge to see the statue of Greyfriars Bobby – the little Terrier who supposedly guarded the grave of his master for 14 years – now immortalised in bronze. Nearby Victoria Street is home to a few pretty boutiques and design shops and Grassmarket is where the weekly Saturday market might just tempt you into buying a bag of salted caramel marshmallows or two.
Walking back to Princes Street, we looked down at the Scott Monument in the distance and it bought back happy memories of a chilly Hogmanay many years before. This trip was the second time we’d fallen in love with Edinburgh but it definitely won’t be the last.