If you have ever dreaded the notion of celebrating New Year’s Eve surrounded by a crowd of complete strangers, standing outside in the freezing cold, waiting for the magical countdown to come and pass, so you can finally get to the most important point of the show – the fireworks – Welcome to the Club!

No other annual festivity attracts as much frenzy and dislike at the same time – how could you not be excited to begin a new year? But how on Earth will you make it through a night of compulsory merriness, where everybody seems to party – even if it’s just that one time a year – and everything has to be super special and absolutely perfect. A failed NYE would equal a failed first impression of the new year…

With so much pressure related to the turn of the year, I was keen to follow an invitation to Edinburgh this year last year in 2015 and celebrate Hogmanay, which is the Scottish version of New Year’s Eve. After all, the festivities in Edinburgh are supposed to be the greatest NYE celebrations in the world, beating the likes of New York or Sydney in terms of the number of visitors, the international composition of the crowds and the amount of events taking place not only on New Year’s Eve, but across three days from December 30th to January 1st. Hogmanay is simultaneously the last and first festival every year in a city with a claim to fame as ‘festival city’. I’ve written about the other festivals happening throughout the year before.

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So, from the critical standpoint of the NYE-sceptic that I am, I was quite excited to see whether Edinburgh could change my perspective on celebrating the new year. The short answer is, a little bit of no and a lot of yes. But let me explain a little more…

The Facts

To give you a quick overview of what Hogmanay in Edinburgh is all about, here are some facts:

140,000+ people from 70+ countries flood into Edinburgh’s Old Town and celebrate not just one night, but for three days – from December 30th to January 1st. The festival, simply called Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, puts on a series of events around town which combine some of Scotland’s oldest traditions with an urban party atmosphere – all that against the dramatic backdrop of the medieval castle high above. The rest of the city doesn’t stand still either, of course, but there are endless parties and Hogmanay specials happening in venues all over.

So basically, the entire city is on fire and celebrates all things culture and party for three days. And I was right in the middle of it, soaking up everything I could and getting the full experience of a NYE in the city. The only time I’ve felt Edinburgh buzz even more was during the festival high season in August, but doing this in winter was even better. It was cold, it was dark, and yet locals and visitors were happy despite of all that. But now, let’s get to the bottom of those three eventful days – what’s actually happening?

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Warming Up: The Torchlight Procession

The Torchlight Procession is the official opening of the Hogmanay Festival – and oh girl, I thought how could it get any better after this? There are vikings, and fire, and a lot of both. The 10,000 people lucky enough to get hold of a ticket – the procession was completely sold out this year – gather with their torches on Royal Mile and walk all the way up Calton Hill on the other side of Old Town. They are lead by the Up Helly Aa viking squad from Shetland, who carry even bigger torches, and a group of bagpipers in kilts – it’s Scotland after all. Up on Calton Hill, the vikings burn a big structure of wood and there is a triumphant firework before everybody hands back their torches and spread out across town again. The torch bearers are joined by thousand of spectators lining the streets – this year there were more than ever, 40,000 people in total!

This was by far my favourite experience of Hogmanay – also because it got me even more psyched about my upcoming trip to Shetland to take part in the actual Up Helly Aa fire festival. I can’t wait to see those vikings again!

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Switch to Party Mode: Street Party, Concert in the Gardens, Old Town Ceilidh & Fireworks

Now, even though Hogmanay is more than just one night of party, the actual night of party on New Year’s Eve is quite spectacular. And has a busy schedule. There is the Street Party with four stages around Waverley train station and the castle hill. Bands are on from 9pm, so there’s hardly any reason to leave the warm pub or bar before then. I spent most of my evening dancing away at the Guilty Pleasures stage, with an hourly jaunt to the firework photo spot, because Edinburgh doesn’t just do a firework at midnight – there’s a firework every full hour starting at 9pm(!) building up to the massive display of 5 tons of fireworks at midnight. I don’t even have to think twice – it was the greatest firework display of my life and just because of that I’d come back.

The main stage of the night is set up in the Princes Street Gardens, directly below the castle, and is therefore called Concert in the Garden. It is ticketed separately from the street party and has three big acts performing. This year all the stages were played by Scottish acts only, with Idlewild, Honeyblood and Biffy Clyro headlining the big stage. If you fancy yourself a bit of Scottish tradition, check out the Old Town Ceilidh on Royal Mile and shake your thing. A ceilidh is a traditional Scottish folk dance event, which is always great fun. This year the city even broke its own world record for the World’s Largest Scottish Country Dance with over 4,000 dancers. I was in firework mania, so didn’t manage to swing by the dance, but I’m sure it was awesome!

Once the fireworks are over, there’s a bit more live music and DJs at the smaller stages, but afterwards the party continues in the bars, clubs and pubs of the city. Unless you stay in a city centre hotel like I did (the Ibis Styles on St Andrew Square), you can use the free nightbus services provided by one of Hogmanay’s main sponsors.

By the way, if you wonder how to survive an evening out in the freezing cold, check Girl Tweets World‘s handy guide to Hogmanay from her first visit in 2013.

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The Aftermath: Scot:Lands, Looney Dook, Candlelit Concert & The Final Fling

New Year’s Day is best started with a massive hangover breakfast in town – maybe at the City Cafe (prepare to queue), Checkpoint or Ox184. Just one warning: some restaurants might be a little short-staffed for obvious reasons, so be patient with your waiter.

It’s the last day of Hogmanay, the first day of the year, and if you feel a bit crazy, you should definitely aim for the Stoats Looney Dook. Every year a bunch of mental Scots (and visitors) dress up in fancy dress and throw themselves into the freezing Firth of Forth. I had to give it a miss this year, because of tidal times several events clashed, but you can read all about Looney Dook right here.

Instead I went to Scot:Lands – a festival within the festival. There are nine pop-up venues – or lands – each curated by a different creative figure from Edinburgh and offering anything from film over readings to live music. You work yourself from stage to stage by spinning a wheel – so you never know what comes next. I only managed to get to three lands – mainly because I got held up at St Giles Cathedral with beautiful music from the Isle of Skye and a spontaneous fourth member of the act – a little boy dancing like a pro in the audience. The element of surprise, but also the variety of acts and experiences at Scot:Lands made this the perfect conclusion of my Hogmanay experience and will certainly make my highlights in 2016 list by the end of the year!

Two more events later on New Year’s Eve, which I missed because it was time for a well-deserved nap – are the Candlelit Concert at St Giles Cathedral and the Final Fling ceilidh for everyone at the National Museum of Scotland.

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The Bottom Line

I went to Edinburgh as a little bit of an NYE-sceptic, who would usually prefer spending the night with friends in a little cabin in the Highlands over crowds of people on the streets of a city – but I have to admit, that even I was blown away by how much fun a New Year’s festival could be. Hogmanay was the best way possible to end an eventful 2015 and fill the first blank page of 2016 with loads of fun. While street party might never be right up my alley, torchlight processions, fireworks and pop-up stages definitely are – two thumbs up for Edinburgh!

What do you think – will you add Hogmanay in Edinburgh to your bucket list?

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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.

Disclaimer: I visited Edinburgh as part of#blogmanay which is brought to you by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and is supported by ETAGThe Scottish GovernmentVisitScotlandEdinburgh FestivalsMarketing EdinburghRabbies Tours and co-creators Haggis Adventures. Created and produced by Unique Events. As always, all opinions are entirely my own.