Hogmanay in Edinburgh
New Year’s Eve is marked by special events in all the world’s major capitals. However, few take it so seriously as the people of Edinburgh. Hogmanay, as the festivity is known in Scotland, dates from the 16th century. Pagan in origin, it was brought to Scotland by early Gaelic and Viking settlers. The liturgy for Hogmanay was simple – it was customary to visit the homes of friends and neighbours just before midnight in order to be the first to cross the threshold carrying small gifts like fruit cake, whisky, biscuits or salt to celebrate the occasion. With a tradition of nearly six hundred years to back it, Hogmanay has become one of the most important festivities in Scotland and a tourist magnet for anyone wishing to experience a different New Year’s Eve. The celebrations are long drawn out, crammed with activities marrying culture and entertainment and featuring an extensive review of Scottish history. One interesting statistic – in the mid-nineties, the Guinness Book of Records rated Hogmanay the biggest New Year’s Eve celebration in the world, with over 400,000 celebrators each year.
The upcoming Hogmanay, which will mark the passage from 2016 to 2017, will be held from 30 December to 1 January, a very full weekend during which numerous special events will be hosted at various venues in Edinburgh. In effect, the celebration provides visitors with a unique opportunity to discover the city’s most emblematic landmarks in just three days. Two tips about coming well prepared – be sure to bring both sturdy trainers and thick coats, as the temperatures in Scotland at this time of year are icy cold. Having said that, let’s go over the highlights of the festival.
The standout event is without doubt the Street Party, held in an area sectioned off in the city centre, and set against the backdrop of famous Edinburgh Castle. Various shows are staged from 7 o’clock in the evening of 31 December until 1 in the morning. One of the highlights is the musical fireworks display, held to see out 2016 and bring in 2017. A varied programme of top-notch musical performances will be hosted before and after that event at various venues. From the independent pop of The Charlatans – one of the most acclaimed British groups, with a track record of four decades – to the traditional Celtic sound of Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton, to jazz gigs by James Brown is Annie and Brass Gumbo. There is even a slot for DJs to plug their hits.
Another show you simply cannot miss is the Torchlight Procession. Scheduled for 30 December, the parade files through Edinburgh’s Old Town and is a charity event long associated with Hogmanay. The dynamics of the procession are simple – you can attend as a spectator or purchase a torch for twelve pounds and join the mass march past, which ends with the lighting of a huge bonfire, a sound and light show and a fireworks display which will be visible from various parts of the city.
We wind up this review of the highlights of Hogmanay (there are many events, which you can check out here) with the grand finale, the Final Fling, featuring Gaelic folk dances. The Final Fling will be held in the Grand Hall of the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street, with Heeliegoleerie as the guest stars. Heeliegoleerie are one of Scotland’s most well-established bands who perform at the Ceilidh, an ancestral Scottish festival which acts as a social gathering and also hosts music and dances.
Come and experience Hogmanay for yourself – book your Vueling to Edinburgh here.
Text by Xavi Sánchez for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUISmore info
Edinburgh Capital of the Scenic Arts
Edinburgh, one of the most charming cities in Europe, the cradle of literary scholars and the setting for many novels, has been hosting the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), one of the most celebrated in the scenic arts, since 1947. During the festival, dance, opera, music and theatre don their finest raiment and reveal their myriad facets, from classical to innovative, turning the Scottish capital into a veritable crucible of inspiration and creativity that acts as a magnet, drawing huge audiences eager to try out new sensations and get carried away by the sheer size and variety of events on offer.
Like some “high feast of culture”, in addition to filling the major theatres and concert halls, the festival programme encompasses the whole city, so that even bars, shops, streets and any venue worth its salt is turned into yet another stage. A stroll along the Royal Mile, for instance, can end up becoming an adventure in itself, buzzing as it is with performances, concerts and shows of all kinds.
This year, the Edinburgh Festival runs from 5 to 29 August. On account of the large number of visitors concentrated in the city during that period, it is advisable to book accommodation some months in advance, to avoid having nowhere to sleep or ending up forking out a fortune for it. As for getting tickets for the host of different events – which first went on sale in January – you can buy them online on the festival website.
And There’s More Too!
While it might seem incredible, Edinburgh’s festival offerings go far beyond the big event itself. Indeed, it extends through the whole summer. So, for those of you who haven’t had enough with the Edinburgh Festival proper, here are some of the other festivals where you can quench your thirst for more culture and more events:
- Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival. The ideal run-up to the Edinburgh Festival is a jazz festival! Make sure you don’t miss the street performances and celebrations which take place at the start of the festival and which, for one day, turn the Grassmarket area into a sort of New Orleans at the height of the Mardi Gras. From 15 to 24 July 2016.
- Edinburgh Art Festival. Local emerging art and new international art trends are the major draws at this event which is held in museums, art galleries and art studios around the city. From 28 July to 28 August 2016.
- Edinburgh Festival Fringe. An alternative version of the Edinburgh Festival which showcases new talent in the scenic arts. From 5 to 29 August 2016.
- Edinburgh International Book Festival. In a city of literary figures like Edinburgh – it was the first to be designated City of Literature by UNESCO – a festival dedicated to books would not be out of place. Charlotte Square is the main meeting point, the spot where exhibitors gather and numerous activities are held (talks, public lectures, book signings, etc.) From 13 to 29 August 2016.
- Edinburgh Mela Festival. All kinds of music and dance are hosted at this festival, organised by Edinburgh’s ethnic minorities. Held in Leith Links park, it is full of colour and good vibes. From 27 to 28 August 2016.
- Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Parades by military bands, bagpipe concerts and spectacular firework displays, held against the scenic backdrop of Edinburgh Castle. What more could you ask for? From 5 to 27 August 2016.
Come and discover Edinburgh and revel in its magnificent festivals – book your Vueling here!
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUISmore info
Eight Places Not to Miss in Edinburgh
To start, let’s recall that Edinburgh is both a World Heritage Site and also the first place to be designated by UNESCO as a “City of Literature”, because of its numerous well-preserved buildings and monuments and its age-old literary traditions.
The city is best seen at a walking pace, and as a pedestrian you’ll find its hidden nooks and crannies and perchance the spirits of the city’s famed authors and even more famous creations, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his shrewd detective Sherlock Holmes, Robert Louis Stevenson and the two-faced Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, or Sir Walter Scott and his heroic Ivanhoe and Rob Roy characters. And there’s even a chance you’ll see some of the city’s literary figures in the flesh, for we shall start our tour in the café with the red façade where the contemporary author J. K. Rowling penned many of her early stories and planned her books about the boy wizard Harry Potter.
1. Few people noticed the young Rowling scribbling in her notebooks at a table in the unprepossessing Elephant House café. The establishment, which opened in 1995, remains a favourite of literary types, thanks to its selection of the city’s best coffees and teas, which continue to stain many pages of manuscript. Huge breakfasts are also served, as well as hot midday and evening meals, plus the usual sandwiches and cakes, etc. And there’s an excellent wine list, too. No excuse for not sitting down and writing your book!
2. Or you might prefer to take a stroll down Edinburgh’s legendary Royal Mile, linking the city’s two most popular monumental sites, Edinburgh Castle, standing above the city atop the towering volcanic basalt plug known as Castle Rock, and, at the other extreme, Holyrood Palace, the official Scottish residence of the British monarch. A slow and attentive walk down the four stretches of the Royal Mile, called Castlehill, Lawn Market, High Street, and Canongate, will infuse you with the unique, friendly atmosphere and stony charm of this historical city.
3. If you appreciate the macabre, on your walk down the Royal Mile you must stop at Mary King’s Close, a warren of gloomy underground streets and enclosures widely believed to be haunted by the ghosts of the past. Once a thriving market, the close was named for a woman who lived there and traded in cloth in the early 1600s. According to urban legend, when the plague struck the area in 1645, the authorities walled it off, leaving scores of people inside to die. Since, then reports of strange lights and noises have fuelled beliefs that the zone remains haunted. Visitors often brings dolls to calm the ghost of the legendary Annie, a child plague victim thought to have been left by her parents to die in the Close, and whose heart-rending cries can still be heard. Perhaps.
4. For a Facebook-worthy selfie showing Edinburgh Castle in the background, the place to go is Princess Street, Edinburgh’s main shopping street, which featured in the 1996 film Trainspotting. Apart from the shopping opportunities there, the street happens to be the best place from which to capture a panoramic view of the castle, since there are no buildings on the castle side of the street, but only gardens and monuments.
5. If you’re looking for quirkier and more out-of-the-way shops, head for the wildly picturesque Victoria Street, a curving slope just off the Royal Mile that is a favourite of photographers because of its colourful specialised shops selling liquors, cheeses, handicrafts, and all sorts of treasures. You’re sure to find bargains in the several charity shops selling used clothing and other items, the proceeds from which are donated to worthy causes. Harry Potter’s creator J.K. Rowling acknowledged that this street was her inspiration for Diagon Alley, where her wizards bought their magical gear.
6. Edinburgh is not made entirely of stone, despite initial impressions. It also features expansive green zones, such as the parks of Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat, where the city’s joggers, cyclists, and dog-walkers go. Both offer fantastic views of the city from on high. The 251-metre Arthur’s Seat is the peak to which, according to legend, King Arthur used to repair when he needed time alone to think. Atop Calton Hill are two monuments to British victories over the French, Nelson’s Tower, commemorating the battle of Trafalgar, and Scotland’s National Monument, an unfinished construction modelled on the Parthenon in Athens, built in the 1820s to honour Scotland’s dead in the Napoleonic wars.
7. At Ocean Terminalin the Port of Leith, Edinburgh’s harbour, stands the Royal Yacht Britannia, used by the British royal family from 1954 until 1997 when it was converted into a floating museum that is well worth a visit –don’t miss the little bedroom where Queen Elizabeth II slept during her nearly 1,000 state voyages.
8. To finish up, you might visit Greyfriars Cemetery and have your picture taken next to the statue of one of Edinburgh’s heroes, Bobby, a Skye terrier traditionally believed to have stood watch by his master’s grave for no less than14 years, until his own death in 1873, after which he was buried next to his master.
Text and Photos: Nani Arenasmore info
A Trainspotting Route Through Edinburgh
Trainspotting, a movie that became a totem for a whole generation, is the screen adaptation of the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh, one of the writers who most accurately portrayed the darker side of Edinburgh. To mark the twentieth anniversary of its release and on the verge of a rendezvous between Mark Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Frank Begbie,we take you on a tour of some of the most significant spots in Edinburgh where the film was set.
Princes Street provides the setting for the opening scene in the movie, one of the most iconic sequences in 90s cinema. The heroin addicts yet well-educated Mark Renton and Spud, who have just been shoplifting in a bookstore, are chased along Princes Street by security to the pulsating rhythm of Lust for Life by Iggy Pop. Princes Street, which was laid at the end of the 18th century, is the main thoroughfare and shopping precinct in the Scottish capital. It runs for one and a half kilometres and joins Lothian Road in the west to Leith Street in the east.
Mark Renton’s flight from the security guards of the shop where he has just pinched a few books ends when he is hit by a car in the Cowgate. A historic street in Edinburgh’s Old Town, as may be inferred from its name, it was once the route taken by cattle on their way to market. Sited alongside the ever ebullient Grassmarket Square, it is now one of the busiest areas in the city and home to some of the best pubs in Edinburgh, namely The Three Sisters, The Last Drop and the Beehive Inn.
The psychopath Frank Begbie spends much of Trainspotting’s footage clouting whoever gets in his way. One of these drubbings is set in a popular pub and billiards saloon in the city called The Volunteer Arms, although known to everyone as “The Volley”. The bar still stands on Leith Walk, an avenue running from the city centre to the harbour area. Now, however, it has been revamped as the Cask & Still, an upmarket whisky bar which serves the finest gin and whisky distilled in Scotland.
The Worst Toilet in Scotland
Mark Renton is in the grips of cold turkey and the only thing he can score in the “market” are some opium suppositories. To compound his woes, there is nowhere to hide and he is forced to take them in what he appropriately describes as “the worst toilet in Scotland”, a foul bog located at the back of a bookies in the Muirhouse shopping mall. Twenty years on, this shopping centre is in a spooky-looking area with most of the businesses boarded up.
With the city in full Edinburgh Festival swing and all the pubs full of festival-goers, Renton, Spud and Sick Boy find nothing better to do than to take some ecstasy and wander through The Meadows. They chat up two girls from a nearby private school but end up messing about with some squirrels. Located south of the city centre, The Meadows is one of the largest parks in Edinburgh, one of those endless green commons so typical of British cities, with recreational areas for children, croquet clubs, tennis courts and football and rugby fields.
Leith Central Station
After a sojourn in London, Renton returns to Leith for Christmas and meets up with his old pals. He visits Leith Central Station with one of them, Begbie and describes the station as “a barren, desolate hangar, which is soon to be demolished and replaced by a supermarket and swimming centre.” Leith Central Station was closed to passengers in the 50s and finally made redundant in 1972, after which the building became a haven for the city’s drug addicts. Years later, the area where the platforms once stood was turned into a Tesco superstore, while the terminal building was refurbished as a waterworld complex known as Leith Waterworld.
Although not physically present, theHibernian FC and its grounds, Easter Road, are referred to constantly in the novel and film. Founded in 1875 by Irish immigrants, the Hibernian is Leith’s harbour district club and the team supported by all the main characters in Trainspotting. Easter Road is the headquarters of the “Hibs”, as they call it, the stadium having being unveiled in 1893. That shoebox with its endearing musty smell characteristic of British football stadiums is known as The Holy Ground or the Leith San Siro by the club’s fans. While the Hibs of Irish extraction is the Catholic team, its opposite number in Edinburgh football is Heart of Midlothian Football Club or “Hearts”, most of whose supporters are Protestant, a situation which mirrors the rivalry between the two greats of Glasgow – Celtic and Rangers.
While Irvine Welsh’s novel is set entirely in Edinburgh, most of the screen adaptation was shot in… Glasgow! White lies of the seventh art. Two of the most significant settings in Trainspotting actually located in Glasgow include Volcano, the disco where Renton meets his very own Lolita, Diane. Located at 15 Benalder Street, near Kelvinhall Station, don’t bother to search for it as it was demolished some years ago. The other location, which you will still come across, is Rouken Glen Park, where Renton and Sick Boy discuss Sean Connery’s film career and shoot a Rottweiler in the behind with pellets.
Those of you interested in touring the settings where Trainspotting was filmed can either choose to do so on your own or else sign up for the laid-on Trainspotting Walking Tour hosted by Leith Walks. From Leith Central Station to the “worst toilet in Scotland”, a tour guide will reveal the main locations in Irvine Welsh’s novel as it was ported to the big screen by Danny Boyle.
If you happen to be in Edinburgh, be sure to wander around the haunts where that iconic movie was set. Check out your Vueling flight here.
Text by Oriol Rodríguez for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
Images by Naureen-s, Babatuel, Denna Jones, Joe Price, LHOON, GDU photographymore info