Christmas in Edinburgh: 5 Architecturally Amazing Sights

It doesn’t quite seem possible, but it’s that time of year again: the countdown to Christmas has begun. Shortly the city will be transformed into a winter wonderland. Christmas lights on the Royal Mile will be switched on, and the infamous Market on Princes Street will open its gates to tourists and locals alike. To help you make the best of your festive visit, here are five architecturally amazing sights not to be missed during Christmas in Edinburgh.
Christmas decoration in the Dome restaurant Edinburgh
Christmas in the Dome

The Dome, George Street (David Rhind)

Featured in our Most beautiful interiors in Edinburgh blog entry, David Rhind’s former bank building on George Street is a sight to behold during the festive season in particular. From the illuminated garlands which wrap around the corinthian columns of the distinctive portico, to the enormous, lavishly decorated tree which adorns the bar in the Grill Room, the popular bar and restaurant destination is an all-out ode to Christmas during the winter months. Treat yourself to afternoon tea in the beautifully preserved Georgian Tea Room, a favourite amongst locals, here.

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (Image: RBGE)

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Temperate Palm House, Inverleith (Robert Matheson)

The crowds of shoppers and tourists are getting a bit too much: you’re looking to visit somewhere less central. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is located a mile north from the city centre, and features ten glasshouses situated around the beautifully landscaped gardens totalling 72 acres. The most notable among these is the Victorian Temperate Palm House. Built in 1858, this remains the tallest palm house in the UK. With its curved glass roofing, cast-iron columns and arched windows, Matheson’s design is a jewel in RBGE’s crown.

Christmas at the Botanics is a hugely popular event on the Christmas in Edinburgh calendar. This after-dark experience sees the gardens rendered in spectacular multicolour, with impressive light attractions illuminating the tree branches, glass roofs and glasshouse facades in ways which greatly enhance their already considerable beauty. Stepping among the warmly glowing and twinkling grounds in the cold, dark Edinburgh night is sure to inspire feelings of Christmas magic in even the chilliest of hearts. Take in the stunning vistas back to the city centre; views to the illuminated Edinburgh Castle are a highlight. 

You can book a spot here.

Candlelit Concert at St Giles' Cathedral (Image: Edinburgh Hogmanay)

St Giles Cathedral, High Street

St Giles’ Cathedral is at the heart of Edinburgh’s beautiful Old Town. The gothic church that stands today was erected in the 14th century. It boasts a wealth of breathtaking architectural details, and its crown steeple is a figure in the city’s skyline. Despite its exterior undergoing restoration in the 19th century, the cathedral’s stained glass windows, tracery, pointed arches and flying buttresses bring an unmistakable medieval charm that is irresistible to architecturally-minded visitors. 

Why not try something different this Christmas, and attend a classical candlelit concert in the cathedral’s gorgeous vaulted interior? This year the London Concertante are hosting their ‘Christmas Baroque by Candlelight’ concert on the 4th of December in the church. Furthermore, they promise a welcoming atmosphere for first-time or inexperienced classical concert attendees. With the gorgeous arrangements of Vivaldi and Handel filling the vaulted nave and the gentle warmth of candles lighting the space, you’re sure to feel soothed after a day of hectic Christmas shopping.

Book your tickets here.

Light Night (Image: Tim Edgeler | Edinburgh's Christmas)

Light Night at the Royal Mile

Fireworks, fairy lights and free choir performances. Christmas in Edinburgh just wouldn’t be the same without Light Night, the annual main event that sees the turning on of the Christmas lights and which attracts visitors in their thousands.

This year the location of the event moves to the Royal Mile from its previous home on George Street. This gives visitors the opportunity to see the main artery of the city’s old town illuminated and bursting with life. Find yourself steeped in medieval architecture as you enjoy the festivities with a warm drink, and if you need to slip away, why not explore some of the many famous closes that can be found along the Mile, such as the Anchor Close or the World’s End?

Edinburgh Christmas tree in Edinburgh Jenners department store
Jenners Department Store

Jenners Department Store, Princes Street (William Hamilton Beattie)

The Category A listed Jenners department store is an iconic landmark on Edinburgh’s Princes Street. It was designed by William Hamilton Beattie, and re-opened in 1895 following the fire-based destruction of the previous building. The Victorian ‘Harrods of the North’ is famous for being the oldest independent department store in the city.

The store is very popular ahead of Christmas, especially among parents looking for a wide selection in the famed toy department. However, far from being a mere destination for shoppers, the building is a must-see for architecture lovers. It boasts a wealth of exquisite, ornate architectural details. For example, the caryatid figures on the exterior, which founder Charles Jenner claimed were intended “to show symbolically that women are the support of the house.” Before Christmas, the signature atrium in the main hall can be found dripping in twinkling fairy lights, with a huge Christmas tree erected as the festive centrepiece in the middle.

Edinburgh Christmas Gift Card

If this year you are rather set on giving experiences to your loved ones, we offer Christmas themed gift cards of our architecture walking tours. Whether the lucky architecture and history enthusiasts live in Edinburgh or are just visiting, this gift will indulge their curiosity about the construction of Edinburgh. 

On a small group walk, led by architects, they will learn of Scots Baronial and Post Modern Old Town, Neoclassical Georgian New Town, or the secluded lush valley of Dean Village. The unique street layouts, building proportions, materials and tools used, details, patterns, and trade insignia will provide insights about historical events and local characters, as well as lifestyles, values, and ideas of different eras.