Christmas festival to be spread across Edinburgh

Plans unveiled for a socially distanced celebration in the capital this winter.

Edinburgh’s winter festivals will see Christmas markets and attractions spread across the city centre

City council officers have reached an agreement with Underbelly, the production company behind the festivals, to stage a six-week programme of events.

Last year’s festival was marred by rows over safety and planning permission.

But this year, subject to planning approval, the Star Flyer and Big Wheel attractions will return to the city centre.

Though precise locations have not yet been determined, councillors are pressing for somewhere with a hard surface to prevent damage to city centre greenery.

There will be a ban on markets and bars in Princes Street Gardens this year.
Instead, a “city centre trail” of festive stalls will be spread around the Royal Mile, the Mound Precinct, Castle Street and George Street.

The latter has also been earmarked for a return for Edinburgh’s iconic Christmas ice rink, which was controversially ousted from St Andrew Square last year.

Access may be strictly controlled at key sites to ensure social distancing, while the annual fire parade, which traditionally starts the city’s Hogmanay festival, will become a static torchlight event honouring the city’s key workers for their efforts during the pandemic.

What would have been Edinburgh’s 28th Hogmanay street party, which has had a capacity of 75,000 in recent years, was called off last month.

However, the arrival of 2021 is set to be marked with what is described as “a series of visually spectacular moments across the city,” which Scottish artists will be working on.

Along with the council’s funding being kept in place this year, the Scottish Government has agreed to maintain more than £200,000 worth of support for the winter festivals to ensure they can go ahead.

There will be no additional financial input from the council above its existing budget if the plans in part or in full cannot go ahead.

The two festivals could be the first major events to be held in the city since the coronavirus outbreak, which led to all of the August festivals being called off.

The council said it would be working with other agencies to “discourage unofficial mass gatherings”, such as on Hogmanay, when no major public events are due to be held.

Story by local democracy reporter Noa Hoffman