Each winter thousands of people march through the streets of Edinburgh with flaming torches to celebrate the Hogmanay New Year. What could possibly go wrong?
Actually, nothing goes wrong. Complete strangers join together to walk side by side. Everyone is polite and courteous to each other. When we visited, 35,000 people from around the world showed up to enjoy the spectacle.
Hogmanay New Year Celebrations
The torchlight procession marks the start of celebrations for Hogmanay, Scotland’s traditional New Year festival. The word Hogmanay means “end of year”, but rather than just one day of merrymaking, this party lasts 3 days.
The roots of the holiday are not certain, but it likely has to do with the Norse winter solstice celebrations and the Gaelic festival Samhain that marked the end of the harvest season.
Held each year on December 30th, the torchlight procession begins in Edinburgh Old Town and makes its way through the heart of the city. The march is led by a burly squad of Shetland Up Helly Aa’ Vikings wielding flaming sticks.
Behind them, 8,500 others carry torches made from burlap & beeswax. Tens of thousands more spill out into the streets to watch. Armed with my own fiery torch, I joined in on the fun. It was windy & cold outside. But that didn’t stop anyone.
We all came together to celebrate this exceptional night, and you could feel an overwhelming sense of community spirit.
Everything you need to know before the Torchlight Procession
Once you have booked your tickets online, they will be held at the box office to collect. Make sure to get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds. You must collect your tickets and torch vouchers from the Edinburgh’s Christmas or Hogmanay box offices prior to joining the procession.
The procession has three starting points. You can check your tickets to find your starting point (Zone 1 = St Giles’ Street, Zone 2 = North Bridge, Zone 3 = South Bridge). Make sure you choose your starting point wisely when you are purchasing your ticket as you will not be able to change it later.
Once you have picked up your ticket, it’s time to head to your starting point. You will only be able to enter and collect your torch at your chosen starting point on the night of the event.
Torch collection times:
Zone 1 from 5.00pm
Zone 2 from 5.30pm
Zone 3 from 5.30pm
You MUST have a torch and/or ticket to take part, but you can buy one torch per group of 4. If there is more than one person in your group, you will need to purchase a ticket for each member of the group to take part in the Procession. 50p from every ticket bought goes to One City Trust, fighting inequality and exclusion in the City of Edinburgh so you are definitely doing your good deed for the day!
I hope this is quite obvious from my photos, but the Torchlight Procession is an outdoor event, so do yourself a favour and wrap up warm. If you’ve never been to Scotland before… you’ve been warned.
On the topic of clothes, don’t forget that the torches are essentially giant candles. Be aware that the wax may blow onto your clothes, so don’t wear your best gear!
If you are traveling with family, note that they do not allow children’s buggies on the route. If you would like to be a spectator instead, Holyrood Park is a great viewing spot.
The mob marched from Old Town down through Princes Street under Edinburgh’s ancient stone buildings with wax dripping and smoke billowing in the wind. Next we hiked up Calton Hill together, lighting the way with our torches.
Perched at the top and bathed in blue light is the Scottish National Monument.
With bonfires blazing, people tried to stay warm while moving into position for the big finale. A spectacular display of fireworks soon began exploding over the monument from the hillside. They could be seen from all over the city.
As the colors faded from the sky, crowds packed into restaurants and pubs to warm up with good food and strong whisky.
Just the Beginning
After the display, it was hard to believe it wasn’t even New Year’s Eve yet! Edinburgh’s torchlight procession is just the start of the celebration, there are more fireworks and parties on December 31st.
However we would hop a train North into the Highlands to ring in the New Year from the city of Inverness.
I couldn’t have asked for a better first time to visit Scotland.
The Hogmanay experience is a special one. It’s steeped in tradition, camaraderie, and a fiery determination to embrace the new year.