Edinburgh’s Christmas festival attracts 2.4m visitors after 11th-hour rescue

More than 2.4 million people flocked to Edinburgh's Christmas festival after its 11th-hour rescue, its new organisers have revealed.

Unique Events and Assembly, the companies brought in by the city council after the collapse of a contract it had agreed with a German operator, have revealed they sold more than 200,000 tickets for attractions across three city centre sites.

Local residents were said to have snapped up more than 82,000 discounted tickets for fairground rides, an open-air ice rink and a Santa Land attraction across East and West Princes Street Gardens, The Mound precinct and the west end of George Street.

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The two companies claimed the festival had been an “incredible success story” given they were brought in just over six weeks before it got underway.

Organisers say Edinburgh's revived Christmas festival attracted 2.4 million visitors. Picture: Robin Mair

A separate footfall figure of 1.7 million was recorded by business group Essential Edinburgh on Princes Street itself, outside the Marks and Spencer store, during the festive season, a drop of just 2.6 per cent on the equivalent period pre-Covid in 2019.

The overall footfall figure for this year’s Christmas festival was around 230,000 down on the tally notched up when the last full-scale Christmas festival was held in 2019, with the ice rink on George Street added since then.

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However, the Christmas market, controversially expanded to take over most of East Princes Street Gardens in 2019, featured around 168 stalls and bars that year, compared to 68 this year.

This year’s festival also started a week later than initially intended due to the withdrawal of Angels Event Experience less than eight weeks before the Edinburgh festival was due to start.

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Organisers say Edinburgh's revived Christmas festival attracted 2.4 million visitors. Picture: Robin Mair

The company, which had a contract meant to generate more than £1 million a year for the local authority, pulled the plug in late September in the wake of behind-the-scenes disputes with the council, with the firm claiming it was unable to deliver its plans.

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Unique and Assembly, who had formed a consortium that had successfully bid to run the city’s three-day Hogmanay festival, were asked to step in and were given the green light to produce the event on October 10.

A spokeswoman for the consortium said: “It has been an extraordinary challenge to take on this large-scale event at such short notice as production costs rocketed, and the cost-of-living crisis, train strikes and weather all contributed to decisions to visit the city centre.

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"Given this, we’re delighted Edinburgh was busy throughout the festive season and that its Christmas attractions proved so popular with residents and visitors.”

Organisers say Edinburgh's revived Christmas festival attracted 2.4 million visitors. Picture: Chris Scott
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Council leader Cammy Day said: “Edinburgh’s Christmas certainly remains one of the UK’s favourite winter destinations.

"There’s no questioning its popularity or the benefits it brings – the enjoyment and wellbeing of our residents, but also the economic impact for our businesses and the city as a whole.”

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Essential Edinburgh chief executive Roddy Smith said: “The Christmas period is so important to the city centre’s business community, and Edinburgh’s Christmas activities are vital to bringing residents and visitors into our fantastic and vibrant city centre.

“The success of this year’s celebrations was a real team effort and we were delighted to support the great work of Unique, Assembly and the council. With more time to plan, I’m sure we can look forward to an even bigger and better Edinburgh’s Christmas later this year.”