Let me start by saying Brooke, my Group Leader was excellent, I could not have asked for better. I especially liked how organised Brooke was. She was Australian, so more a guide to the Contiki experience and not the Edinburgh experience; but that was not a deficiency in the slightest. On our long drive from London to Edinburgh, Brooke coordinated some getting-to-know-you-games. So, on the whole, I’m very glad I took the Contiki coach to Edinburgh. I also appreciate that Brooke grouped all the Solo travellers together so we were sharing the same dorms.
With regard to the accommodation, we weren’t at Contiki’s regular choice of Backpacker Hostel, which seriously worked to my advantage. We were so much closer to the Hogmanay festivities when compared with the Contiki travellers who had the hard-luck of staying in Contiki’s preferred Hostel. I was able to look out my window and see the famous Royal Mile. Here everything I wanted to see and everywhere I wanted to visit was close by.
The first night, it was very thoughtful of Brooke to lead an orientation walk around the centre of the city to point out the meeting places for the optional extras Contiki offered. With regard to the Optional Extras, I would recommend the guided visit to Edinburgh Castle on the first morning. The only problem is, Contiki provided no concrete information about the Optional Extras until Brooke told us what was available during our coach ride. Therefore, I’d already made other reservations for the first morning and I had to visit the Castle separately and by myself.
With regard to the Hogmanay events, please be aware that Contiki only included a Street Party Ticket. I purchased Torchlight Procession, Concert and Loony Dook Tickets months in advance because these events sell out. Most members of my group wasted there trip to Hogmanay because they were not prepared in advance with pre-purchased tickets, which meant they missed out on Hogmanay events. And, that’s the whole point of making the effort to go to Hogmanay, to experience the Hogmanay events!
The Concert was Spectacular and the Fireworks at the end were UNMISSABLE; it was my favourite part of Hogmanay. The Concert and Fireworks are the one part of Hogmanay that I would go back and do again. One thing I wish I hadn’t pre-purchased was ride tickets at the Christmas Market. Take a look at the rides, before you buy the tickets. If I’d seen how disappointing the rides were first, I might not have purchased the tickets. But if you’re going to Hogmanay, you absolutely have to secure a ticket for the Loony Dook. 20 group members wanted to participate. But only three of us had made the effort to get the tickets. Organise a Fun Costume, buy your Ticket and take the Plunge; you won’t regret it. It was such an epic buzz, I stayed in the water for ages and I even made it into the newspaper with my Aussie Costume.
Beyond Hogmanay, I would not try to cram too much else in. Make a separate trip to Edinburgh to thoroughly visit the city. If, however, this is the only time you will ever see Edinburgh, I’d recommend making time for an Edinburgh Castle tour, a visit to the Cathedral and a Stuart Usher tour. There are also excellent Harry Potter tours (if that’s your thing), which focus on the original Literary-Potter not Hollywood (I’d check out Sam Stratford’s tour).
All that was worth the money I paid for the trip. I did leave early, after the Loony Dook in the afternoon; I took the train back to London. I didn’t want to do the overpriced, stereotypical Scottish dinner because I hadn’t heard great things about it and the 2nd was only a long long ride home on the coach. The train was cheap enough and quick enough that I was happy to pay the extra money and then I got a whole extra day in London, bonus.
But still, if I had my time over, I’d choose Contiki for my Hogmanay trip because I was a solo traveller, Brooke was an excellent Group Leader and the location of the accommodation was excellent too. However, if I was visiting Hogmanay a second time, I’d go with a friend and take the train up on the 31st of December. See the Concert and Fireworks. Spend the night in a local Premier Inn. Get another adrenaline kick at the Loony Dook, then take the train home on the afternoon of the 1st. BUT the only reason I’d have the confidence to do that, is because of the positive experience I’ve had visiting Edinburgh with Contiki!