Family fun at Edinburgh's Hogmanay
In any other city, New Year is a time for the grown-ups. All that partying and staying up late is hardly ideal for children. There's plenty of carousing in the Scottish capital, of course, but Edinburgh's Hogmanay is also a special time for families. If you're in the city with the kids as December turns into January, you'll be delighted by the range of things you can enjoy together.
If you're new to Edinburgh, you can get your bearings by heading to Princes Street, the main shopping road. On one side of the street are some of the city's major department stores, on the other is Princes Street Gardens. Here, nestling alongside the imposing Scott Monument, is the Edinburgh Wheel, back for another winter season and giving exhilarating views from the top of its 33m span.
Just below this is the open-air ice rink, one of the largest in Europe and, with the fairy lights twinkling in the trees and the views up to the Old Town, one of the most spectacular. Look above you to the highest point of the Old Town where, perched on an ancient slab of volcanic rock, is Edinburgh Castle, a fascinating family day out in itself.
Edinburgh's Hogmanay kicks off in atmospheric style on 30 December with the torchlight procession. This people-powered event begins in Chambers Street by the National Museum of Scotland, where a crowd of 20,000 gathers, flaming torches in hand, and snakes through the city centre to Calton Hill. It's a tremendous sight.
Once at the top of the hill, the good-hearted event comes to a striking conclusion with a son et lumière, fireworks, massed pipes and drums, and Vikings from Shetland. It really feels as though the Hogmanay magic has begun.
Edinburgh is a year-round tourist destination, so you are spoilt for choice about what to do next. You could take a trip to Edinburgh Zoo (open daily) where there is much excitement about the recently arrived pandas. You have to book in advance to see them, but if you don't manage, there is no shortage of penguins, big cats and monkeys to keep you entertained. Just over the Firth of Forth at North Queensferry, Deep Sea World (closed 1 January) does the same for fans of all things aquatic.
Back in the town centre, you can journey through time at Our Dynamic Earth (closed 31 December and 1 January) and discover how the eye can be deceived at the Camera Obscura and World of Illusion (open daily). Other indoor diversions include the recently renovated National Museum of Scotland (open daily), loved by generations of Edinburgh children and, likewise, the Museum of Childhood (closed 1 January).
For those who love a good party, but also have wee ones to take care of, why not check out Baby Loves Hogmanay Disco, on 30 and 31 December at 12pm and 3pm on both days. With live DJs spinning current tunes and retro classics, a chill out room, kids drinks, facepainting, dress up boxes and a lot more, midday really is the new midnight!
But the real fun and games are on New Year's Day. Children between 8 and 15 can sign up to a duathlon involving running and cycling in Holyrood Park, or else they can watch the adults speed by in a triathlon. Meanwhile, the sled races are back for Edinburgh's Dogmanay, offering a display of canine athleticism.
That same afternoon, the festival has programmed Your Lucky Day, an afternoon of fortune-related games, performances and activities that all the family can join in. Things kick off at the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street where you'll pick up your lucky dice. The number you throw will determine which of the 13 venues in the Old Town you'll go to next.
You could find yourself salsa dancing to Brazilian rhythms at The Favela of Fate, experiencing an offbeat reinterpretation of afternoon tea in The Lucky Tearoom or enjoying a session with psychologist Richard Wiseman as he talks about The Luck Factor. Then, after an afternoon of adventure, everyone will gather together in Buccleuch Place for Big Bang, a spectacular street-theatre show by France's Plasticiens Volants about the creation of the universe.
Edinburgh's Hogmanay, 30 December 2012–1 January 2013.