EDINBURGH and Lothian residents are to be given a 20 per cent discount on the city’s Christmas events in a bid to avoid a repeat of last year’s complaints that the festive attractions were too pricey.
Unveiling this year’s Edinburgh’s Christmas programme today, organisers said everyone with an EH postcode would qualify for the one-fifth reduction on almost all shows, rides and events.
Prices for many attractions will be cheaper than last year.
And special cut-price family tickets are being offered on top of the 20 per cent discount, meaning total reductions of up to 33 per cent in some cases.
But Underbelly, in charge of the Capital’s festive fun for the second year, insisted the price cuts did not mean any reduction in the quality of the entertainment.
It promised an exciting range of new attractions, including a series of affordable children’s rides priced between £1 and £4, and a second ice rink in St Andrew Square in addition to the one in Princes Street Gardens.
Underbelly was credited with moving the Christmas and Hogmanay festival upmarket when it took over.
Favourite attractions return, such as the Star Flyer – although it has been relocated from St Andrew Square to East Princes Street Gardens because of nearby demolition work.
The European Christmas Market with 106 stalls will be back near The Mound, while the Scottish Market will be in St Andrew Square.
And Santa’s Grotto, in Princes Street Gardens, has been enlarged.
The discount for local residents and the cut-price children’s rides have been introduced following widespread criticism that last year’s attractions were too dear.
A breakdown of costs showed a typical family of four could expect to spend about £100 to cover ice skating, a trip on the Big Wheel and a few other activities on offer in the city centre.
Food prices were also criticised, with a burger and a pint of beer each costing £6.
But organisers say they have learned lessons and are setting this year’s prices with local families particularly in mind.
The cost of an off-peak skate on the ice rink, before any discount, has been cut from £10 to £9 for adults and from £8.50 to £5 for a child. A carousel ride is down from £4 to £3.50 and a visit to the maze is now £3 instead of £4.
But a ticket for the Big Wheel rises from £8 to £9 and a ride on the Star Flyer is up from £7.50 to £8.
Under the discount arrangements, any family of two adults and two children or one adult and three children can get a cut-price family ticket – and EH residents can apply their 20 per cent reduction on top.
For example, the Big Wheel family ticket will cost £25, but for EH residents the price will be £20.
The Star Flyer family ticket will be £25 and the EH price £22.40.
And the Princes Street Gardens ice rink peak-time family ticket will be £35 with an EH price of £28.
Santa Land in East Princes Street Gardens will include the Christmas Tree Maze, Santa Train and Santa’s Grotto, alongside a series of new rides – Swan Lake, North Pole, Reindeer Ride, Helterskelter and Race-a-Rama – priced between £1 and £4. The EH discount will apply to these rides as well.
Also in East Princes Street Gardens will be the Star Flyer, positioned next to the Scott Monument, the Big Wheel, the ice rink and a double-decker carousel.
Meanwhile, in St Andrew Square, a bar will be constructed at the foot of the Melville Monument in the centre of the garden and the ice rink – expected to attract mainly adults – will take the form of a circuit around it, with bridges over the rink to reach the bar.
The Paradiso Spiegeltent returns to the square with a programme of world-class entertainment including the acclaimed circus show Scotch and Soda, coming to Edinburgh following sell-out runs at the Sydney and Brisbane festivals, comedian Al Murray for three nights and all-male burlesque troupe Briefs.
Last year – the first with Underbelly in charge – saw 387,000 tickets sold for Edinburgh’s Christmas. There was a 7.6 per cent increase in city-centre footfall and a 16.8 per cent increase in Princes Street footfall in December at a time when the UK as a whole was experiencing a 2.9 per cent decline.
Charlie Wood and Ed Bartlam of Underbelly said they were delighted to be presenting Edinburgh’s Christmas for the second year. They said last year’s programme had “reimagined” the event and brought record-breaking numbers of people to the Capital.
They added: “We’re very excited about this year’s innovations, including the new ice rink in St Andrew Square around the Melville Monument, the expanded Santa Land in Princes Street Gardens with affordable attractions, and the new family prices and the 20 per cent EH residents’ discount across the board.
“We want this to be a Christmas for all of Edinburgh and we think there’s something for everyone. Our ambition is to make Edinburgh the best place to spend Christmas, whether you’re a resident or a visitor.”
City council festival and events champion Steve Cardownie said Edinburgh’s festive programmes were the envy of the world.
“The line-up this winter will bring back some of the city’s classic attractions,” he said.
“I am especially pleased that after feedback from Edinburgh residents and a concerted decision to tailor the programme to suit even more local people, this year’s programme offers a big range of free events and a selection of great value attractions from as little as £1.
“Our Christmas events provide a great boost to the Edinburgh economy and this year’s offering is set to draw residents and visitors of all ages into the city centre.”
Among other events in the programme are charity project Decorate Edinburgh, staged in conjunction with St Andrew’s and St George’s West Christmas Tree Festival, giving businesses the chance to design a tree which will be seen in and around Edinburgh.
And the Stained Glass Window Project will see 24 city primary schools designing a festive-themed window, the best of which will be displayed in East Princes Street Gardens.
SHINING A LIGHT ON A WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS TIME
EDINBURGH’S Christmas kicks off on November 23 with Light Night on George Street.
From 2pm to 5pm, more than 600 local people, including pupils from Leith Academy, Wester Hailes Education Centre and 22 primary schools, as well as 25 community groups, will perform their favourite Christmas songs from a number of stages along the street.
Hosted by Arlene Stuart of Forth One, the event will include the official switch-on of the lights on the Christmas tree on The Mound, a gift from Hordaland County Council in Norway. And musicians from Hordaland will lead George Street in celebration and song.
Other key events include:
• Nativity Carol Concert, November 30, 5pm. On the first day of advent, in conjunction with St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church in George Street and Edinburgh Churches Together, a carol concert around the nativity scene donated to the city by Sir Tom Farmer.
• St Andrew’s Day, November 30, 10am to 10pm. Activities for all the family in St Andrew Square. Music, storytelling and more to celebrate Scotland’s national day.
• 24 Doors of Advent, December 1-24. Working in conjunction with the Cockburn Association, a different door, normally locked, will be opened each day to members of the public.
BELLYFUL OF TROUBLES
LAST year’s Edinburgh’s Christmas was the first run by Underbelly and it saw record numbers drawn to the city centre to enjoy what was recognised as better quality entertainment than in previous years.
But there were also problems. In addition to complaints about the high prices, one of the big attractions – the 200ft Star Flyer – was forced to close for a couple of days after part of a seat broke off and plunged towards crowds. Santa quit the grotto days before Christmas, slamming the attraction for herding as many children through the door as possible.
And organisers admitted censoring comments on the event’s official Facebook page. Negative remarks about costs were hidden to quell criticism but reinstated after users complained to the Evening News.
A feast of fun for the family
1: The Star Flyer. Last year, more than 62,000 people took to the sky in the Star Flyer, which this year is relocated to East Princes Street Gardens.
2: Santa Land. Joining the Santa Train and the Christmas Tree Maze are several affordable children’s rides priced between £1 and £4, including the Swan Ride, the Reindeer Ride, a mini roller coaster, the Race-a-rama, a North Pole slide and, for slightly older children, the Ice Wall. Santa himself will be installed in an enlarged grotto and around Santa Land will be a number of other stalls, including face-painting.
3: The Big Wheel. The Christmas Wheel returns to Princes Street Gardens with its covered pods. The wheel is as high as eight buses and bejewelled with 20,000 lights. In 2013, 120,000 people enjoyed the new Big Wheel – more than twice the number of previous years.
4: Ice rink. The great Edinburgh tradition returns, overlooked by the Scott Monument. As many as 33,000 people took to the ice at Christmas 2013.
5: The European Christmas Market. A total of 106 stalls return to Princes Street Gardens and The Mound precinct from across northern Europe with a selection of foods, drinks and crafts to form the magical Christmas Market.
6: St Andrew Square. A new ice rink will circumnavigate the Melville Monument and the circular bar at its foot. The 635-seat Spiegeltent returns to play host to the likes of circus act Scotch and Soda, comedian Al Murray and Baby Disco. A Scottish market, carousel and helter skelter also feature in the square