Guide to New Year's Eve in Scotland: Festivals, Events, Things to Do

Swimmers Brave The Loony Dook New Years Day Swim
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In Scotland, New Year's Eve is its own special celebration called Hogmanay. It is Scotland's biggest winter holiday—far bigger than Christmas in terms of holiday festivities. This three- to four-day New Year's party kicks off with a dramatic torchlight procession and fire festival. In some cases there's even a special dog celebration called Dogmanay. Every year, Hogmanay is held from December 30 through January 1 in Edinburgh and across the country.

Here are some of the best annual parties and festivals.

The Torchlight Procession

Choose your starting point and buy a ticket online to join the river of fire that kicks off Hogmanay on December 30 at 7 p.m. Thousands of people carry flaming, wax based torches in a procession that winds its way through the city of Edinburgh. In previous years, as many as 50,000 people took part. And, despite all that fire, the event is safe and child friendly.

The Ceilidh Under the Castle

The Ceilidh is a giant, open-air Edinburgh New Year's Eve celebration of traditional Scottish music and dance. The entertainment is different every year, and tickets cost about £60. The settling is a great place from which to watch the fireworks at midnight.

The Street Party

One of the biggest Hogmanay events is the street party, which includes a pop concert on three stages around the city center. Many consider the Edinburgh Street Party the biggest and best outdoor party in the world with live music, DJs, street entertainment and, of course, the amazing fireworks display from Edinburgh Castle.

 Tickets cost £31.

Concert in the Gardens

Concert in the Gardens is major ticketed event held in a specially constructed enclosure at Princes Street Gardens. For the 2018/2019 celebrations, Franz Ferdinand will be the headliner. Tickets cost £75.

The Loony Dook

Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., on January 1, New Year's Day, anyone daft enough to dress up in a funny costume and jump into the icy waters of the Firth of Fourth can have a splash off the Moorings, in South Queensferry, near the famous Forth Bridge.

Loony Dook is no longer free but ticket proceeds usually go to a local charity.

Bairns Afore

In 2018, a special New Year's Eve program called Bairns Afore has been added for kids to bring even the youngest family members into the festivities. From 5 p.m., the west end of Princes Street Gardens, below the Castle is turned over to family entertainment and spectacular early fireworks "all afore bedtime." Tickets start at £10. And even younger children can celebrate midnight at midday with a special edition of Edinburgh Festival's popular Baby Loves Disco Hogmanay, with two hours of Hogmanay "dayclubbing" for babies and toddlers from 1 p.m.

Other Scottish Cities to Celebrate Hogmanay

  • Oban HogmanayScotland's West Highland's seaside resort holds public events every other year and New Year's is always a big one. Expect concerts, fireworks, and other celebrations. The atmosphere in the town is very lively with most pubs and bars having extended hours to 3 a.m. or later. Many operate a "lock-in" with no one admitted after midnight. The ferries and boats in the harbor add to the din and there's plenty of well lubricated Scottish jollity in the streets. Don't expect an early night.
  • Stirling HogmanayStirling plans its biggest ever midnight fireworks display above the walls of Stirling Castle (grounds open from 10:45 p.m. to 12:15 a.m.) and an earlier show at 9 p.m for families (grounds from 7:45 to 9 p.m.). Drummers and pipers will keep everyone entertained while waiting for the fireworks and there will be hot food and drinks and a bar on offer. Tickets are available on the Stirling Winter Festival website.
  • Biggar Bonfire: An enormous bonfire in the center of this small town starts about 9:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve. This bonfire is so big that they actually start building up the pile of fuel for Hogmanay ignition on December 1. If you have a streak of pyromania in you, you'll love it.
  • Stonehaven Fireball Festival: 60 marchers whirl 16 pound balls of fire around their heads in a dramatic and terrifying spectacle on New Year's Eve. At one time, only men born in the borough of Stonehaven could take part. Today, people who have lived there for a number of years and have served as parade marshals can apply to take part. And quite a few women can whirl the huge and heavy ball of flame around their heads too.
  • Burghead Hogmanay - The Burning of the Clavie: Celebrated on January 11 (otherwise known as the The Old New Year), this is a ritual fire ceremony that involves burning barrels and spectacles to chill the heart of anyone who saw the cult horror film The Wicker Man.
  • Comrie Flambeau Procession: A torchlight procession that involves thousands of people, many in costumes. The Comrie Flambeau torches are usually at least 10 feet tall and are made from saplings wrapped in hessian—or hopsacking fabric—soaked in tar. No one really knows how far back this event goes, but some people claim it is of pagan origin. 
  • DufftownIf you're doing a bit of whisky touring and find yourself in the Speyside whisky region on New Year's Eve, head for the Dufftown, the capital of Speyside, to see in the New Year. Just before the stroke of midnight, the local distillery and shortbread manufacturer give out free drams and shortbread to "wet the baby's head" as they say.