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t was probably when I had been hugged by a stranger for around the 100th time, with my body warmed by whisky that made Edinburgh’s remarkable castle manage to shine even brighter in its snow-kissed beauty, that I decided there was no better place in the world to be for Hogmanay. As a native Scot, I have tried festive breaks in Australia, America and across on the continent, but nothing beats Scotland’s cities for a break over the festive season and on into the New Year. Hogmanay for many Scots is even more important than Christmas. This New Year’s Eve fiesta swirls in pagan traditions. On the Isle of Skye the hide from a beast killed during the day used to be burned, with every guest having to sniff the smoke to ward off evil spirits. Young boys covered themselves with the hide of the bull, with the horns and hoofs still attached. Less gruesome traditions continue to this day. It used to be considered good luck for the “first footer” of the year to step into your house to be a dark-haired male stranger carrying a lump of coal, symbolising warmth and fuel. The


For Scotsman Robin McKelvie, there’s no place like back home in Scotland to celebrate Hogmanay, but he says its welcoming cities make a great escape any time in winter

P.Tomkins/VisitScotland/Scottish Viewpoint

■ Main pic: Glasgow on Ice – St George Square. Inset: Ceilidh revellers

November/December 2009

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Glasgow City Marketing Bureau


“first foot” spirit of friendliness is still alive in all of Scotland’s cities with visitors from all over the world welcome to join the party, a party that these days often starts in early December and runs right into the New Year.

Plan early
You will need to plan early if you want to enjoy a festive break up north. Edinburgh gets totally booked, while Glasgow can follow suit and Stirling, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness all get busy. The national tourist office, Visit Scotland, has a website ( that has links to all sorts of accommodation and a handy tip is to look at the suburbs too. Edinburgh is at the heart of the festive action. One of Europe’s most scenic cities, it is just made for strolling around. My favourite walk is starting at the landmark castle and then easing down the cobbles of the Royal Mile (which Daniel Defoe thought was the “finest street in the world”), taking in the swathes of history, not to mention bars, cafes and restaurants, en route to the Queen’s base when she is in town, the grand Palace of Holyrood. Edinburgh is a city that is constantly evolving and newer attractions include Our Dynamic Earth, a hands-on multimedia trip through the earth’s history that is ideal for families. For grown-ups, Edinburgh now boasts four Michelin star restaurants, with perhaps the finest The Kitchin (, with award-winning TV chef Tom Kitchin at the helm. Anyone who harbours any anachronistic images of Scotland as all tartan and shortbread will enjoy the branch of Harvey Nichols and central Edinburgh’s newest street, Multrees Walk, which is replete with Armani, Firetrap and Louis Vuitton. Aside from Hogmanay, Edinburgh’s Christmas ( from November 28 to January 4 makes the capital surely the most festive city in the UK. A Ferris wheel burls visitors around the skyline, while below the bountiful stalls of a Christmas market and an ice rink in the shadow of the castle help add to the seasonal mood.

■ Dalhousie Castle

Beyond Scotland’s cities
The countryside surrounding Scotland’s cities offers plenty to see and do off-season. An easy trip from Glasgow and Stirling lies The Trossachs, an area of gentle rolling hills, lofty mountains, forests, lochs and rivers I first discovered on a camping trip nearly 35 years ago. In 2002, the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park became Scotland’s first national park, encompassing 720 square miles. There are many inns and guesthouses to escape the cities for a night or two, and when I returned in late March this year I chose the friendly Inn & Bistro at Strathyre (, owned and run by Jill and Stephen Nixon. A tasty drop of one of the local brews washed down my favourite Scottish fare – haggis, neeps and tatties – left me refreshed after the long drive north from Essex and ready to explore. Year-round activities include hill walking, horse riding, cycling (the Sustrans National Cycle Route Seven is on its doorstep) and golf, with great-value green fees at five nearby courses through the National Park Golf Pass. The venerable Sir Walter Scott steam ship, which cruises Loch Katrine from early spring, is named after the author who popularised the region with his poems and novel Rob Roy 200 years ago.That romanticised the exploits of a local outlaw now celebrated as a Scottish folk hero.The Rob Roy & Trossachs Visitor Centre in Callander showcases his life and the region. Among endearing local sights are shaggy-coated and long-horned Highland cattle, and one has become a star.You can see Hamish in his pen at the Trossachs Woollen Mill in Kilmahog. Wildlife abounds here and in other areas near the cities.The Trossachs Bird of Prey Trail ( takes in buzzards, ospreys and Scotland’s only red kite feeding station, at Argaty, which is open throughout the winter. I watched nesting ospreys from a hide at the beautiful Loch of the Lowes reserve in Perthshire, where they visit from March or April until August. Cute red squirrels gallivanted just yards away. Pine martens and even otters can also be seen here. At the historic Dalhousie Castle hotel near Edinburgh, the Dalhousie Castle Falconry ( offers first-hand experience of birds of prey with a five-day falconry course as well as displaying hawks, falcons, eagles and owls. Peter Ellegard

von Essen Hotels Peter Ellegard

Street party
Less than an hour by train from Edinburgh is Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city and currently one of Europe’s hippest city-break destinations. Their Hogmanay street party is a rival for Edinburgh these days and the city’s new image as “Scotland with Style” is not just a tourist slogan. Glasgow 2009-style has reinvented its lavish Georgian centre with myriad chic designer shops, slick bars and quality restaurants. The Glaswegian action flows around cen-

■ The Inn & Bistro at Strathyre

■ A red squirrel at the Loch of the Lowes

46 The Travel & Leisure Magazine

Peter Ellegard

November/December 2009

■ Stirling Castle after a snowfall
P.Tomkins/VisitScotland/Scottish Viewpoint

■ The Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow

■ The Glasgow School of Art
VisitScotland/Scottish Viewpoint

tral George Square, a plaza as impressive as any in the UK, which is the centrepiece in mid-November when the city’s Christmas lights are switched on and Winterfest follows suit. From here, a flurry of world-class galleries and museums are within easy reach, including the Kelvingrove, the most-visited museum in the UK outside London, and the locals’ choice, the thrillingly-unique Burrell Collection – an eclectic art collection reclining in woodland in the city’s leafy suburbs. I reckon Glasgow also offers the best shopping in the UK outside London. The main thoroughfare of Buchanan Street is pedestrianised and there are covered malls for when the weather sweeps in, such as Buchanan Galleries, with all the usual high street stores, and Princes Square, an oasis of designer names that would not be out of place in Milan. Scotland’s newest city, Stirling, is as deeply historic as Edinburgh. The old town reminds me of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile with-

out the tourists, especially at this time of year, while most Scots prefer the castle here to Edinburgh’s. The hallowed names of William “Braveheart” Wallace and Robert the Bruce echo around the ramparts, while the striking Wallace Monument strides out amongst a panorama of mighty mountains. Stirling also boasts a pedestrianised shopping district and easy access into the hilly Trossachs.

Europe’s oil capital, Aberdeen, is for me a criminally-underrated city, even amongst Scots. Its core is a riot of granite – hence its nickname, the “Granite City” – and the city has also won innumerable awards for its famous flower displays, which brighten up all that mighty grey granite. It boasts sweeping sandy beaches that are ideal for bracing winter strolls, a flurry of museums and chic restaurants that are geared up to all that oil wealth. Scotland’s other two cities also tempt at

■ Traditional Music in the Royal Mile Tavern, Edinburgh
P.Tomkins/VisitScotland/Scottish Viewpoint

VisitScotland/Scottish Viewpoint

November/December 2009

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this time of year. Dundee has bracing beaches of its own, a pedestrianised shopping precinct, the striking RRS Discovery (the ship that once took Captain Scott to the Antarctic) and the scenic Angus Glens on its doorstep. Inverness, meanwhile, is the “Capital of the Highlands” with a good chance of snow. Its famous monster-haunted loch lies nearby and its namesake River Ness also eases through the city, adding charm, with a fairytale castle nestling high above and some impressively-stylish restaurants on hand in Scotland’s fastest growing city. As a native of Edinburgh I have to stand by my city as being number one for a festive break, home to the world’s finest New Year party and the nation’s number one city break.

■ View of Edinburgh from Carlton Hill
P.Tomkins/VisitScotland/Scottish Viewpoint

In Scotland these days, though, there are another five buzzing cities that all make serious efforts to conjure up the festive spirit, hold wildly-fun Hogmanay parties and make for an ideal city break over the festive period and in to the cosy winter months beyond. TL

Robin McKelvie is a travel writer based in his native Scotland who has had his fair share of rather merry whisky-fuelled New Year parties around the world, but who knows that there is only one Hogmanay.

Hogmanay events
Edinburgh: Edinburgh’s Hogmanay 2010 Action-packed 5 day programme with Madness and the Noisettes performing at the Concert in the Gardens on Hogmanay. Glasgow: Glasgow Hogmanay Celebrations Enjoy Scotland’s hottest acts, including Tommy Reilly, on the Big Stage and then marvel at the impressive fireworks display on George Square. Stirling: Stirling’s Hogmanay: Party at the Castle Massed pipes and drums, Sandi Thom, X Factor stars the Macdonald Brothers, and Stars in their Eyes winner for his Freddie Mercury impersonation, Gary Mullen, plus fireworks. Aberdeen: Aberdeen’s Winter Festival Hogmanay Final details still to be announced. Inverness: Inverness Hogmanay – Red Hot Highland Fling Bringing the Inverness Winter Festival to a close in Northern Meeting Park Arena with the effervescent Red Hot Chilli Pipers, the Blazin’ Fiddles and the Peatbog Faeries. Dundee: No official events yet announced, but always a party night in a city dense with bars and clubs.

Scotland’s cities facts
Getting there Numerous airlines fly to Scottish cities including British Airways (, Flybe (, Ryanair ( and Easyjet ( fastest way of getting to the Scottish cities by train is usually with National ■ Edinburgh Express East Coast ( Accommodation Hotels span a wide range of price brackets. Here are some options, from luxury to more affordable: Edinburgh:The Howard (, Mercure Point Hotel ( Glasgow: The newly-opened, luxury Blythswood Square (, Malmaison ( Stirling: Adamo Hotel (, Park Lodge Hotel ( Aberdeen: Marcliffe (, Simpson’s ( Dundee: Apex Hotel (, Queen’s Hotel ( Inverness: Rocpool (, Heath Mountain Hotel ( Top attractions Edinburgh: Edinburgh Castle (, National Museum ( Glasgow: Kelvingrove Gallery (, Burrell Collection ( Stirling: Stirling Castle (, Old Town Jail ( Aberdeen: Aberdeen Art Gallery (, Aberdeen Maritime Museum ( Dundee: Discovery Point (, Dundee Contemporary Arts ( Inverness: Inverness Castle (, Culloden Battlefield ( More information Visit Scotland:

48 The Travel & Leisure Magazine

November/December 2009

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