I certainly wasn't alone: thousands of Brits and tourists from further afield descend on Edinburgh every Hogmanay for some of the largest and most extravagant New Year celebrations in Europe. The attractions of the street party's famous bands, torchlight procession, fireworks and funfair aside, Edinburgh's an excellent place to visit at any time of year. Between the natural beauty of Arthur's Seat, the historical significance of sights such as Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the vast range of shops and restaurants to choose from, there's more than enough to keep a visitor occupied for a weekend.
But on this visit, we didn't come for the sights. Arriving at 4pm on Friday, we started as we meant to go on. Guided by Edinburgh resident A, the three of us kicked off the new year celebrations in style over pre-dinner drinks at swanky bar The Dome, a converted bank which serves up a slice of grandeur with your G&T. Proceedings took on a more, err, down-to-earth feel with dinner at La Lanterna, a cosy Italian place run by matriarch Toni, who A assured us would regale us with tales of restaurant-related woe and stories of how she was soldiering on single-handedly (before rewarding us with a gin for our troubles). No such luck: this time the neighbouring table had to lend their ears, but we did have the joy of the lights going down and the chef banging pan lids together to the tune of 'Happy Birthday ' while in the middle of our meal. One post-dinner drink to recover led to another, and before we knew it it was 4am and we were in a piano bar howling along to Frank Sinatra.
Needless to say, sightseeing wasn't high on our agenda for New Year's Eve. We did manage to squeeze in a visit to Edinburgh's newest attraction though: a visit to Edinburgh Zoo's latest acquisition, a pair of giant pandas. Named Tian Tian (Sweetie) and Yang Guang (Sunshine), these two cuties became the only pair of pandas on the British Isles when they arrived in December 2011.
|Sweetie tucks in|
Visitors have been flocking to see the pandas, much to the annoyance of the zoo's former star attraction, the penguins. The pandas' next-door neighbours have been experiencing 'monochrome envy' and hurling pieces of poo at waiting visitors, but thankfully for us their jealousy was under control while we queued. Hiding inside on this cold day, the pandas were happily chomping their way through piles of bamboo: it's a hard life, being famous.
|And there's even more out of shot|
Night two of our celebrations was a somewhat classier affair, beginning with a late dinner at tapas bar Cafe Andaluz. Much more authentic than many UK offerings, the menu was so tempting we may have over-ordered – with 16 tapas between 5, manouevring the plates around the table was an almost military operation. It was as tasty as it looked though, and at £30 a head (including plenty of drinks), it was also a bit of a bargain for New Year's Eve.
We may not have graced the street party with our presence (headline act Primal Scream aren't exactly our cup of tea), but our chosen venue of chic Scottish bar Ghillie Dhu was close enough for us to pop out after midnight to watch the spectacular firework display. The DJ may have needed a little guidance from yours truly ('can you play something a bit more upbeat, you've got us all borderline suicidal'), but plenty of fun was had and temporary friends were made (largely on the basis of their tartan). It was a great way to end to 2011 and begin 2012 – street party or not, I definitely understand the appeal of Hogmanay in Edinburgh.