How to Have the Perfect Holiday Vacation in Edinburgh

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It’s all about Scottish boutique shopping and visits to snow-covered Edinburgh Castle.

While skiers and snowboarders take to Europe in December, those who are less-than-partial to winter sports may write off Europe as a holiday destination in favor of a trip to Mexico or the Maldives. However, there is indeed more to a European winter than skiing in the Alps. Visiting a new city when it’s lit up by locals celebrating the holidays is extremely special, especially in popular European destinations. For travelers planning a tour of the UK this holiday season, here’s your guide to the perfect holiday vacation in Edinburgh:

Visit the Edinburgh Christmas Market

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Edinburgh’s German-style Christmas Market is held at East Princes Street Gardens from mid-November until early January. Entry to the market is free, and there’s plenty of mulled wine to be found. The market is lavishly decorated with Christmas accoutrements and features the city’s best local vendors. After strolling through the market, visit the lights on George Street—in the past, it's been home to incredible holiday light installations in December. Finish your holiday shopping in Edinburgh’s West End.

The shopping in Edinburgh is not touted nearly as often as it should be. It’s quite a luxury shopping destination for travelers scouting local wares or their favorite labels. The West End is a hidden shopping gem where shoppers will find chic brand names and independent stores. Beyond that, don’t miss some of Thistle Street’s best boutiques: Kakao By K, a Scandinavian-chic shop, and ALC, Edinburgh’s first store to specialize in women’s denim.

Head to Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to experience Christmas at the Botanics

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Each December, the Royal Botanic Garden hosts Christmas at the Botanics, with stunning illuminated trails visitors can stroll after dark. The lit-up walk through the Botanics will bring you by the Scented Fire Garden and the Tunnel of Light “twinkling with thousands of pea lights.” You can also visit the Laser Garden and stop by the fire pit, all while enjoying live holiday music, and of course, a piping hot cup of cider, hot chocolate, or mulled wine.

Enjoy afternoon Christmas tea at The Dome

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Afternoon tea is already a posh Edinburgh pastime, and in December, the high teas are often dolled up for the holidays. The Dome has a stunning array of Christmas decorations, and you’ll want to reserve your tea in the Georgian Tea Room in advance, as their holiday tea tends to book up early. The Dome transforms for the holidays on October 28 this year, and locals and tourists come to see their famed Christmas tree every year.

Visit Santa’s Grotto

Santa posts up in Edinburgh typically from the beginning of December until Christmas Eve. The location of Santa’s Grotto changes year by year—last year, it was found on Castle Street, not far from the Christmas market. This year, Santa’s Grotto will be in scenic Dalkeith Country Park and kicks off on November 30. Children can visit with Santa, meet his elves, and might even receive a gift from Mr. Claus himself.

Taste the spirits at Holyrood Distillery

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Holyrood Distillery, producing single-malt whisky and an array of gin and gin-based liqueurs, opened in Edinburgh in July 2019. Built in a former railway goods shed dating back to 1831, it sits on the edge of Holyrood Park. Dip into Holyrood Distillery when you need to warm up after the holiday market—it’s easily walkable from Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Browse for jewelry on George Street

George Street is where some of the most upscale shopping in the city happens. It’s perfect for fans of haute designers, or those who came to Scotland in pursuit of a luxury piece of jewelry. Whether you’re looking to purchase a gift to celebrate the holidays or an anniversary, or you simply have an eye for jewelry, Scotland’s premiere jewelers are worth a peek. Visit Hamilton and Inches, Scotland’s luxe jewel house, and Laings, a prestigious family-run jeweler.

Float on the sea at this luxury hotel

Fingal, by the Royal Yacht Britannia, is a floating hotel anchored at The Shore, Edinburgh. They have 23 luxuriously decorated cabins, each named after Stevenson lighthouses. Fingal’s maritime roots are subtly and authentically woven into the design, and guests can choose a cabin with a private balcony, a duplex cabin, or Fingal’s presidential suite.

See Edinburgh Castle in the snow

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Seeing Edinburgh Castle beneath a covering of snow is enchanting—and you'll understand why J.K. Rowling was inspired by this stunning structure. Come December and there is a distinctive air of holiday majesty surrounding the castle. Within the castle, be sure to visit the dazzling Scottish Crown Jewels and the Great Hall, a chapel dating back to the 1100s.