Wondering what to do in Edinburgh in January? If you are heading to Scotland’s capital in the winter, there are a few things to remember in the new year season. Though the average temperature is quite cool, Edinburgh is always a great place to visit with plenty of beautiful places to explore! Among the best things about visiting Edinburgh during the coldest month of the year is fewer crowds.
Unlike the big crowds in August for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Edinburgh International Festival, or the high season of those visiting Edinburgh’s Christmas markets, the capital of Scotland is rather quiet during the month of January and still worth visiting. The benefits of visiting at a less popular time mean better rates at the Edinburgh airport or train station, cheaper rental car costs for a road trip around Edinburgh, and more reasonable hotel rates as well. Post public holidays, the Edinburgh Christmas market, and the 4th of January or so, crowds die down and you can anticipate a chilly average low temperature throughout the city ready to explore.
Is January a good time to visit Edinburgh?
In terms of weather, January’s weather forecast is one of the coldest months of the year in Edinburgh, Scotland. The average high temperatures are around 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees F). The winter months can have cold temperatures that dip below 0 degrees Celsius, around 16-17 degrees Fahrenheit. Average lows generally fall around 1 degree Celsius or 34 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is a good idea to plan to bring your rain gear to Edinburgh in January. Though we have experienced a rather dry January during our time here, it typically receives a fair amount of rainy days. If you are here during the month of January, be sure to pack plenty of warm clothes with layers including a waterproof jacket, umbrella, and comfortable rain boots for wet days.
Does it snow in Edinburgh in January?
Though it is quite chilly in Edinburgh during the winter months, winter weather does not usually include a large snowfall. In general, it may snow for 2-3 days during January with less than an inch of total snowfall. However, if it does snow in January, Edinburgh takes on an even more magical appearance! It is a good time to cuddle up with a mug of hot chocolate and settle in with a good book.
What is the water temperature in Edinburgh in January?
On average, the water temperature in Edinburgh in January is COLD! The average sea temperatures fall around 7 degrees Celsius, so do not plan on dipping into the ocean while you are here during the winter. (Unless you are planning to participate in the Loony Dook – more on that later…)
When does the sun rise and set in January in Edinburgh?
The short hours of daylight have been the biggest adjustment for us from the U.S. to Edinburgh. The sun rises late in January and sets so early in the evening, well, really afternoon! During the shortest day of the year on December 21, the sun comes up around 8:40 AM and sets by 3:40 PM. Daylight hours gradually expand, but January can still be pretty dark. Just remember, the longest day will come soon in June. Every day later in January will bring more light, and by mid-March, spring will begin to come. If you traveling to Edinburgh in January, be sure to anticipate shorter days with colder weather. Plan on some great indoor activities to keep you entertained!
Where can we go in Edinburgh in January?
Edinburgh Castle – Be sure to add Edinburgh Castle to your list of places to explore in January. It is one of the best places to take in great views of the city while learning about the history of Edinburgh. We loved seeing the Crown Jewels of Scotland and my son enjoyed reading all about the swords and shields in the castle.
Be prepared that the castle can get quite chilly with high wind speed, so be prepared for cold temperatures while you are visiting in January. Also, if you are traveling with little ones in a stroller, be aware that you may encounter steep hills or stairs. If you prefer to use a carrier, it may make your visit to the Castle a bit easier. Be sure to take time to stroll down the Royal Mile outside of the castle. There are plenty of fun tourist shops, lively pubs, live music, and entertaining street performers to have a great time all day long.
Holyrood Palace – Another great place to visit in January is Holyrood Palace. The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh and the home of Scottish royal history. It stands at the end of the Royal Mile. The Palace is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The palace is open from 9:30 AM-4:30 PM from November 1 to March 31. From April 1 to October 31, the palace’s hours are from 9:30 AM-6:00 PM. It is closed to the public when the queen is in residence at the palace.
Our children loved the drawing activities and the trails around the palace. If it’s a day with nice weather and warm temperatures, be sure to walk around the family garden trail to find the moon dial and fancy fiddler. Our kids also loved drawing their own miniature portraits, as portrayed in the palace.
National Galleries of Scotland – If your children are up to it, make sure to take in the National Galleries of Scotland with your family. It’s the perfect place to visit during bad weather when you need a warm, inspiring place to explore! The galleries include the Scottish National Gallery, Modern One, Modern Two, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. They are all open from 10 AM – 5 PM daily, with advanced booking recommended.
The Scottish National Gallery includes art from Botticelli, El Greco, Rembrandt, Vermeer and more. The Modern galleries include modern and contemporary art. The Portrait Gallery is our favorite in a beautiful neo-gothic palace. The Gallery includes portraits of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Prince Charles Edward Stuart. The National Gallery is located right in the City Centre on Queen Street.
The galleries are open to children as well as the family-friendly trails in and outside of the galleries. Our children love the outdoor sculpture garden at the gallery. Also, be sure to try out the menu in Cafe Portrait in the Portrait Gallery. It was one of our favorite family lunches out!
Princes Street Gardens – Princes Street Gardens separate Old Town from New Town and the gardens encompass over 37 acres. While you are visiting the national galleries, be sure to pop by the garden to explore. The gardens were formed by draining the Nor Loch back in 1820. The Ross Fountain is a fantastic place to meet up and the playground cannot be missed.
The playground is a play castle right in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. Our kids loved the slides and monkey bridges. The climbing wall was a huge hit with our children too!
Camera Obscura – This quirky little museum is on the Royal Mile, near the base of Edinburgh Castle. Camera Obscura has five floors of 100 different illusions for kids and adults to explore. Our kids loved the interactive displays, especially the mirrored exhibit and the Vortex tunnel! It also offers amazing 360 degree views of the city from the top level.
There are displays of electricity, lights, holograms, eye spy and mirrors, and all kinds of illusions. This was definitely a favorite for our kids, particularly ones ages 6-12. Our toddler felt a bit overwhelmed at times, so check out the website to see if your little one might enjoy the experience. Pre-booking is recommended. Be sure to check and see if any discounts might be available before you place your ticket order.
Afternoon Tea – Any trip to the United Kingdom has to include an afternoon tea! I took my older girls out for a fantastic afternoon tea at a local hotel after making it through their first week at a brand new school. The Cafe at the Palace at Holyrood also serves fantastic tea, complete with beautiful china and local ingredients. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery additionally has a beautiful tea venue at Cafe Portrait on the ground level of the museum. If you want a unique experience, consider having tea on a double-decker bus! The Red Bus Bistro takes you around town to popular spots like Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and the Scottish Parliament while you enjoy a delicious afternoon tea on the bus.
Are there any great tours to take while in Edinburgh?
Though the summer months may be the best time to take several outdoor tours, January still offers some options for tourists. One of the best ways to get a general lay of the land is to take an easy hop-on-hop-off tour. You can pick these up on the north side of St Andrews Square, just off Princes Street. Be sure to check the ticket prices online and find coupon codes for discounts. If it’s not the warmest temperatures, you can opt to sit at the bottom of the bus to stay toasty. But, if you have some good weather, sit on the top level and enjoy taking in the sites of the various locations.
In general, public transport is pretty easy to navigate in Scotland’s capital. Download the bus and tram app to get from site to site. You can also buy a family pass to ride all day long at one flat rate. If you are staying in Edinburgh for over six months, you can see if your children are eligible for free bus passes.
Of course, Edinburgh is well known from J. K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series. There are multiple tours throughout the city, giving great insight and inspiration from the books. Our favorite free tour option is with The Potter Trail. These tours start at the Greyfriars Bobby statue, at the intersection of George IV Bridge and Candlemaker Row. The tour lasts between 75-90 minutes and tour guides will accept donations at the end. Be sure to prebook your spot. In general, tours take place at 2 PM from September to March. From late spring in April to August, tours will take place at noon, with more tours offered at 4 PM during busy seasons.
What celebrations take place in Edinburgh in January?
The last day of the year is celebrated with Edinburgh’s Hogmanay on the 31st of December and carries into early January. This celebration is believed to have its roots in Mary Queen of Scot’s return from France in 1561. Usually, gifts are given to friends and family, and visits throughout the day and night to celebrate the new year. The idea of “first-footing” or being the first guest in the house for the new year is celebrated with gifts. Traditional gifts may include salt, coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (fruitcake) to bring good luck to the household. Hopefully, this good luck will carry into the new year.
A torchlight procession begins the famous Hogmanay street party followed by pipe bands, steel drums, and fireworks. The tradition of singing Auld Lang Syne by Scotland’s famous poet, Robert Burns began with the Scottish tradition during Hogmanay.
A relatively new celebration called the Loony Dook takes place on New’s Year Day after the Hogmanay celebrations of New Year’s Eve. Many people, often in costume or elaborate dress, walk down to the Firth of Forth at South Queensferry and plunge into the cold waters! Drummers and bagpipers lead the brave souls down to the freezing waters, as they take the plunge. Happy New Year to those crazy revelers!
Another of the great Scottish public holidays includes the celebration of Robert Burns. The national poet of Scotland, Burns wrote in the Scots language, putting Scotland on the map in literacy circles across the world. Burn’s night is celebrated on his birthday, the 25th of January. His folk songs and poems are now known around the world. Scots celebrate his birth by eating the Burns supper. The supper includes haggis, mashed turnips and potatoes, and a Clootie dumpling. Malt whiskey is the beverage of choice. Dress in tartan and read some of Burn’s poetry or sing some songs to celebrate his life!
What clothing should I pack for a January trip to Edinburgh?
If you are heading to Edinburgh in January, be sure to pack waterproof layers. Once you are indoors, you may want to remove some, but outside, the wind and rain can be quite chilly. Our family has found the following invaluable:
- waterproof boots or galoshes
- warm, waterproof coats
- waterproof gloves and hats
- warm scarves
- turtlenecks or layering tops
- tank tops or camisoles
- wool, fast-drying socks
- sunglasses (the sun can be quite bright in the early afternoon)
- thick pants, like joggers, corduroy, etc.
I hope this post helps you know what to expect in Edinburgh in January. Be sure to join my email list to receive my free packing list for families. If you are traveling with kids, check out these posts of helpful ideas for your travels.