At home in New Zealand, new year is always celebrated the same way, at the beach with a BBQ and a lot of beer. Groups of friends and family flock to beaches all over the country, to either their own bach or one they’ve hired for a week or two (bach is a kiwi word for a holiday house at the beach). It’s also common to go to music festivals and camp out for a few nights over new year, most of these are on or near the beach too. It’s summertime, so the days are long, the sun is hot, and the drinks are ice cold. It’s pretty fantastic and I never imagined new year could be anywhere near as enjoyable in the winter time – those poor sods on the other side of the world. Well we’ve been poor sods on the other side of the world for two years now, and most recently, we celebrated Hogmanay new year festival in Edinburgh. It is hands down the best new year we’ve ever had, and there wasn’t a glimpse of a beach or BBQ in site!
It all kicked off in the early evening of December 30th with the torch light procession from old town centre to the top of Calton Hill. This is where they do the traditional lighting of the bonfire and a magnificent fireworks display to mark the official opening of Hogmanay celebrations. Our biggest tip for this event is to pick up your torch early, and arrive at the starting point for the procession as soon as possible. We managed to get in the first wave of walkers, you want to do this to make sure you get yourself a good spot on Calton Hill and ensure you don’t miss the fire lighting. It might seem crazy, but somehow, a crowd of 40,000 people marching through the streets of Edinburgh, all holding flaming torches, managed to be perfectly safe – even with overly excited lunatics like us in there! The torches were made like giant candles, so when the wind picked you get the odd sting of hot wax on your skin (and be warned, it drips all over your shoes and clothes), but that is as bad as it got. There were plenty of disposal stations along the way too, so when it burned down closer to your hand or the novelty wore off, you could ditch it and carry on up the hill. It costs around £10 to buy a torch and participate in the procession, and with proceeds going directly to charity (this year it was Unicef), it’s totally worth it.
When we finally got the top, music was in the air everywhere we went, spirits were up and the new year celebrations had well and truly begun. Calton Hill itself has plenty of monuments to see and there are amazing views back over the old town from up there. It was only a short walk back down to Princess street where the winter festival was in full swing, we headed to the west end of the street where we were lucky enough to be attending a traditional Scottish ceilidh with a bunch of great people from Haggis Adventures. We had a blast trying our hand at the fast-footed dance routines, spinning, clapping and toe-tapping around the room, all the while trying not to fall on the floor laughing at how bad we all were – the Scots made it look so easy! If I remember correctly, we were all sweaty as hell after that, but still went on a mission to paint Edinburgh red with our new found dance moves until the early hours.
If you’re Kiwi, Aussie, or just anyone who wants an excuse to get up and start drinking sooner than usual, then you’ve got to do exactly as we did; Against all odds, make yourself get up early on December 31st, nab yourself a massive (and gloriously cheap) brekky from one of the many Wetherspoon pubs around the city, and make your way to Three Sisters by 10:00am. New Zealand is the first country in the world to welcome in the new year, midnight there is 11:00am local time in Scotland, and we were already a few beers deep by then. Three Sisters went all out with big screens set up and live feeds from the Sky Tower in New Zealand at 11:00am and the Sydney Opera House in Australia at 1:00pm so we could see the national fireworks displays go off in both countries and celebrate new year at the same time as everyone back home. And you know what, every hour after that was new year somewhere else too, so we just kept the celebrations going and going.
That night, there was so much on, we were spoiled for choice. We had tickets to attend Hogmanay’s main event, the open air party on Princess Street, where we were to be among thousands of people from all over the world coming together to ring in the new year. The event organisers allowed everyone to bring in their own drinks as long as they weren’t in glass bottles – we recommend doing this as the food/drink vans inside the event are horrendously expensive. So after some pre-drinking at the hostel (wait, can you even call it pre-drinking if you’ve been on the beers since 10?), we mixed gin and tonic into plastic water bottles and made our way to the closest entry point, buzzing with excitement.
Once inside the barriers, there were multiple stages featuring music from local and international artists, all included in the standard street party ticket. If there is someone in particular you want to see in another area, you can buy upgrades on your ticket – the headliners are usually included in the Garden Party concert. The area was packed, the music was loud, and the atmosphere was simply amazing! We would sing and dance with total strangers in one place and then move on to do the same in the next. From Princess Street, everyone had the best view up to Edinburgh Castle where fireworks went off every hour from 9:00pm counting down until the grand finale. A group of us began sharing our greatest achievements from 2016 and goals for 2017, we all congratulated and supported each other, sharing a toast to the year that had been and to the new one just on the other side of midnight. The big bang came around all too quickly, but was just as spectacular as you would expect at such an awesome event, the sky was lit up with colour, sparkle and smoke and it was officially 2017!
Our plan was to get ourselves up at 6:30am on January 1st and hike up Arthur’s seat to watch the first beautiful sunrise of the year together. We did get up there… eventually… a few hours late for sunrise, but we got there nonetheless. The fresh air did wonders for our hazy heads and luckily there were so many other people who had the same idea, because there were 5 or 6 different trails leading up the cliff, and we surely would have taken the wrong one if left to decide for ourselves! It was a bit of a scramble upwards in places and it rained briefly a couple of times, but when we got to the top and hustled our way into a good spot, the view took our breath away – not because we are unfit and were hungover – but because it was beautiful.
After partaking in a lengthy celebrations of the year just gone, we started the new one off the best way we could have imagined, standing together, looking out over Edinburgh and beyond with a whole lot more adventure ahead of us.
♦ Where to stay – St. Christopher’s Inn, a party hostel right in the city centre with a great bar attached. For bigger groups, check out some of the wicked Air B&B options in town
♦ Other stuff in Edinburgh – The Scottish National Gallery (free entry), Edinburgh Castle, whiskey tasting, cathedrals, palaces, gardens… the list goes on
♦ Extend your stay – If you have a little longer, we recommend heading up to the highlands for some of the most stunning scenery you’ve ever seen. We saw Glen Coe, Loch Ness, Inverness and the Isle of Skye on our 7 day Haggis Adventure tour
Have you got any new year traditions or rituals? Where is the best place in the world to spend new year?