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I visited the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens on my third trip to Scotland, checking it off my “must see” list. The sprawling gardens are wildly beautiful and my sister and I enjoyed wandering down the pathways, stopping to inspect new to us plant species.
When I returned to Edinburgh last December, I noted with excitement that a special event was going on in the gardens, coinciding with the holidays. I booked my entry immediately.
My first full day in the city concluded with the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail, an after dark spectacular featuring lights and music.
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens, founded in 1670, began as a space to grow medicinal plants. Today the garden occupies four sites across Scotland: Edinburgh, Dawyck, Logan and Benmore. Each offers its own special collection of plants. The Edinburgh site hosts the main garden. Its outdoor collection consists of more than 13,000 plant species and almost 300,000 individual plants.
Originally the gardens flourished near Holyrood Palace, at the foot of what’s referred to as the Royal Mile. It is the second oldest botanic garden in Great Britain, after Oxford’s. That first medicinal garden occupied a 40 foot by 40 foot plot, and housed almost 900 plants. When the site became too small, the garden relocated in 1676 to Loch Nor, not far from High Street. Today Waverly Railway Station occupies that space.
In 1763 the garden moved again to Leith Walk, away from the more populous part of Edinburgh. And in the early 1820s the garden moved to its current location adjacent to Inverleith Row. The garden occupies 70 acres and includes a variety of collections including Alpine Plants, Chinese Hillside, Rock Garden, Scottish Heath Garden and Woodland Garden. There’s also an Herbarium on site, that houses more than 3 million specimens.
During the rest of the year, entry into the botanical gardens is free. There is a small fee to enter the greenhouses.
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail
Also called Christmas at the Botanics, the event runs for five weeks, beginning the third week in November. Guests enter through the East or West Gate. Once inside, a clearly marked one mile path weaves through the garden displays.
The beautiful displays feature a variety of lights and light shows with accompanying music, making the walk through the gardens magical.
Look for light projections that tell a story, against Inverleith House, Father Christmas and decorated booths selling hot chocolate, mulled wine, spiced cider and snacks. The main building at the East Gate is open so that visitors can use the restrooms, check out the gift shop or warm up for a few minutes.
Last year marked the sixth time for this special night trail. The event has become an important fund raiser for the Gardens. The funds help support plant research and conservation work.
What You Need to Know
From Old or New Town, the gardens are certainly walkable. However, with the event taking place during the colder months and after the sun sets, many opt to take a city bus or an Uber or taxi.
Reserve entry time online HERE for 2023. Tickets specify whether you enter through the East or West Gates. Show up 15 minutes early so you are ready to have your online ticket scanned.
If arriving by car, taxi or group bus, select entry through the West Gate on Arboretum Place . Use the East Gate on Inverleith Row for public transportation or when walking to the gardens.
This is a ticketed evening event. You must purchase tickets online, reserving your time. Last year, advance tickets were 21.50 pounds.
Entry begins at 4:15 pm with the last admission at 8:00 pm. Timed entries are spaced 15 minutes apart per group.
Expect to spend at least an hour and a half wandering through the festive gardens.
My Experience at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail
I booked my ticket online and selected 4:15 pm as my entry time. Remember that in winter, it gets dark EARLY in Scotland. The sun is completely down by 3:30 in the afternoon.
Although the gardens are located a 20 minute walk from Princes Street, I decided to take an Uber since it was already dark and cold. I dressed in warm layers and a heavy coat, pulled on my red stocking cap and gloves and arrived 15 minutes early at the designated gate.
I spent a little more than an hour and a half walking through this enchanting garden. My group started out together and I made friends with a woman from London. However, we all quickly spread out over the grounds as some walked faster or slower and others lingered over displays. The paths are indeed well marked and security personnel stood in key locations to help, if needed.
I love botanical gardens anyway. This nighttime experience was unforgettable. The lights, from flickering candlelight to thousands of tiny white lights to brightly colored laser shows created such a fresh experience in the gardens. Most of the light displays had music as well. I felt like I’d wandered into a place where magic truly is possible.
Visit the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens Night Trail in 2023
For a beautiful night time experience in Edinburgh, check out the lights and music at the botanic gardens. Artist created displays change each year, or at least some of them do. Tickets go on sale in late fall.
And do stop by Edinburgh’s botanical gardens during the day if you are in the city during any season. It’s well worth the time spent walking among the trees, flowers and water features there.
Have you ever visited a botanical garden during the holidays? Which one?
Get a warm, lined red stocking cap like the one I wore HERE.
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