Dig to the back of the drinks cupboard for the egg nog – Christmas is almost upon us. Most of us will be in Scotland and not warmer climes to celebrate so here is our rundown on the best things to bring Yuletide cheer in our two largest cities.
Pantos, Christmas markets, seasonal dishes in restaurants, ceilidhs in hotels, skating, street parties, ballet, concerts featuring everything from bagpiping to Abba….this year the stops are out to make up for the damp squib that Christmas 2020 turned into, gratis to that ultimate party pooper – Covid 19.
EDINBURGH DAYS OUT
Edinburgh has events right through to the 12th Day in January. This year saw the return of the city’s much-loved Christmas ice rink in its new home on George Street. Skate up to one of their bars and warm up with a mulled wine or hot chocolate.
Once again East Princes Street Gardens plays host to one the UK’s best Christmas markets. There are offerings of European and local food, drink and cutesy crafts and the pieces de resistance are the Forth 1 Big Wheel alongside the Star Flyer, all this set against the dramatic backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.
Pre-book tickets for Ice Skating, Santa’s Grotto, The Forth 1 Big Wheel (£7.50) and Star Flyer through https://www.edinburghschristmas.com/
Holyrood House has an event next Thursday (December 16th) entitled Christmas at the Court of Mary, Queen of Scots – a lecture and then a tour the palace. A must for historians and well worth the £16.50. See www.rct.event/christmas
Of the evening light extravaganzas in the capital my vote goes to the Botanics. Their piece de resistance is Aquastell – a huge installation of several dynamic lighting arches which change as people move around it, making it appear as if they are walking among shooting stars. Along the trail you also encounter Digital Rain, Fireflies in the Woods, and the Sea of Light is the festive finale. And, of course, Santa makes an appearance as well. It’s a great visit for all ages. Pre-book for £20.
The castle light show – for all the TV ad hype – was decidedly underwhelming and I don’t think justifies the £20 entry fee. The zoo festive light trail is good if you have kids, featuring copious projections and twinkling fairy lights. Entry slots every 15 minutes from 4.45pm.
EDINBURGH EATING OUT
In terms of truly special festive meals out as a treat for loved ones the following are the pick of the bunch: Seafood heaven at the stylish, newly-revamped restaurant Ondine is a year-round treat but this year they also have a special Christmas £45 menu until Christmas Eve (book ahead). Among the choices are chicken liver parfait with truffle and fig jam on brioche, pumpkin gnocchi, sage butter and pecorino and their own delicious sherry trifle. Their £100 New Year Banquet kicks off with oysters and champers and goes on to course after course of delights like scallops, salmon and turbot topped off with a choice of desserts. See ondinerestaurant.co.uk
‘Dine’ (www.dineedinburgh.co.uk) is an award-winning restaurant beside the Usher Hall with a superb festive programme this year. The relaxed atmosphere is complemented by the super-friendly staff. In addition to great festive meals they have come up with the good idea of weekend afternoons with a 3-course gourmet menu and a bottle of wine included for £49.50 per couple. Stuff the Christmas shopping crowds!
GLASGOW DAYS OUT
In Glasgow the Christmas market this year is at St Enoch Square. Among this year’s exotica are wild boar, ostrich and crocodile burgers ( I’d stick to the gluhwein and crepes if I were you.)
Now, it may not scream Christmas but the zesty musical Les Miserables is a great treat for a loved one. The production runs in the Theatre Royal, Glasgow until the end of the year and is a rollicking good show, with top notch artists and plenty of singalong moments. Worth special mention are the singers portraying Jean Valjean, Javert, Fantine and Enjolras – super performances and the staging is the best I’ve ever seen for a production of Les Mis. Runs until 31 Dec. See atgtickets.com
Super-Christmassy is Scottish Ballet’s wonderful production of The Nutcracker (showing in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen). The calibre of dancing makes you proud of our national ballet company. It includes magical scenes such as on-stage snow, a spectacular Victorian Christmas party, and a deliciously romantic duet in front of a wall of 4,500 gleaming baubles – a feast for the senses and perfect for a family outing. Runs until 31 Dec. Tickets from £19.50 See www.capitaltheatres.com
Glasgow has the Elfin Trail and Ice Experience, an immersive 60-minute journey of sound, lighting, as well as food, drink and ice skating. Essentially it is a walk down by the River Elfin through Kelvingrove Park to see seven creatures brought to life by sound, lighting and set designers before reaching the Kingdom of Elfingrove. See www.itison.com/elfingrove.
GLASGOW EATING OUT
The Ivy restaurants in Glasgow and Edinburgh look festive year-long but this Christmas they have excelled themselves. The Ivy on Glasgow’s Buchanan Street has its themed Carousel Christmas, inspired by German Christmas markets and the Victorian carousel. They have a great range of festive cocktails like the Pear Noel and Carousel Coffee – a decadent take on Irish coffee with Grey Goose Vodka, coffee, sugar and white chocolate cream. Food-wise there’s seasonal desserts like the snowball fight with brandy ice cream, white chocolate, gingerbread complete with cream sauce – to hang with the diet after the year we’ve just had.
Edinburgh’s Ivy is inspired by William Morris’ famous 1883 print The Strawberry Thief and they’ve used that to inspire their festive cocktails. Check out their Red Robin – a blend of Maker’s Mark bourbon, lemon, pomegranate, and honey, finished with apple cider, and Hold-Up Ginger, complete with Haku Vodka, Aperol, pineapple, lime, and gingerbread.
For a belting Christmas night out for those of a certain age my vote goes to The Tropicana on Argyle Strett in Glasgow. Boogie to 80s and 90s music and have a few sherbets as you dance the night away. A great Club for all ages. See www.topicanaglasgow.co.uk
Festive meals and sumptuous decorations can be found at Arta – always a lively Glaswegian venue. With a festive menu from just £19.95 (try the golden treacle and clove baked ham) and Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations, book early. See arta.co.uk
Who needs the inconvenience of multiple-covid tests and crowded airports? This year sport that awful Christmas jumper in Princes Street or Buchanan Street instead – you’ll have every bit as good a time and save a lot of money and hassle.