Edinburgh's Instagram-worthy Christmas market is not for me but a mix of old and new is what makes the city magical – Susan Dalgety

My last visit to Edinburgh’s Christmas market was seven years ago, when I was forced to turn back after only a few minutes because I could not manoeuvre our grandchildren’s twin buggy through the crowds.

Monday, 15th November 2021, 4:55 am
Edinburgh's Christmas Market is returning this year, albeit in a different format (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Frustrated by people’s inability to give way, and mindful of two toddlers who looked more fearful than excited by the noisy crowds, I escaped back to the relative quiet of Princes Street, promising never to return.

And not even the prospect of a crowd limit this year will tempt me back. The organisers, Underbelly, have said that they want to restrict numbers to 4,000 people even though the limit is now 5,000, thanks to Covid guidelines.

But while I sit at home nursing my gluhwein, there will be thousands of people queuing up for the European market in Princes Street Gardens or the Lidl ice-rink on George Street, and most of them will come armed with their smartphone.

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A survey last week revealed that Edinburgh has one of the most Insta-worthy Christmas markets in the UK, beaten only by Manchester. A quick trawl through the #edinburghchristmas Instagram feed for 2019 shows thousands of glorious shots of the city, lit up like a proverbial Christmas tree.

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Experience matters less now than how something looks on an iPhone. Who cares if the mulled wine tastes like reindeer’s urine, or that the queue for the Big Wheel takes 30 minutes (and counting), it’s the Insta appeal that matters.

Edinburgh is the perfect Insta-city. Its centuries-old built heritage, from the castle to the New Town, offers a stunning backdrop for selfies. Even in the winter dreich, the city looks amazing, if slightly spooky. And therein lies the perennial tension at the heart of the city’s development.

Is it a heritage theme park for tourists, keen to snap the perfect Insta shot in Victoria Street? Is it the business hub of Scotland, the place that drives the country’s economy? Or is it an ancient capital, whose cityscape must be preserved at all cost? The answer is, of course, all three.

The guardians of Edinburgh’s heritage, the Cockburn Association, have just complained about the growth of the “continental-style structures” that are now commonplace in the city centre.

First built as an answer to Covid restrictions, they are now very popular with customers who want to enjoy their flat white while watching the world go by.

But the Cockburn Association does not approve, as they told council planners last week. “…None of the alfresco drinking and dining installations, which have come forward in recent months and which continue to proliferate across the city centre, can be said to maintain and enhance its character,” they stated, rather pompously.

I hope the council grant the “alfresco drinking and dining installations” leave to remain on our city’s historic streets, just as I hope that Edinburgh wins the Christmas market Insta face-off with Manchester this year.

I may not understand the appeal of wading through Christmas crowds to grab a piece of over-priced gingerbread, or want to drink a double espresso on Cockburn Street while dressed for Antarctica, but I love that our city is a magical mix of ancient and modern. And long may that continue.

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