It was probably when I had been hugged by a stranger for around the 100th time, with my body warmed by whisky that made Edinburgh's remarkable castle manage to shine even brighter in its snow-kissed beauty, that I decided there was no better place in the world to be for Hogmanay.

As a native Scot, I have tried festive breaks in Australia, America and across on the continent, but nothing beats Scotland's cities for a break over the festive season and on into the New Year.

Hogmanay for many Scots is even more important than Christmas. This New Year's Eve fiesta swirls in pagan traditions. On the Isle of Skye the hide from a beast killed during the day used to be burned, with every guest having to sniff the smoke to ward off evil spirits.Young boys covered themselves with the hide of the bull, with the horns and hoofs still attached.

Less gruesome traditions continue to this day. It used to be considered good luck for the "first footer" of the year to step into your house to be a dark-haired male stranger carrying a lump of coal, symbolising warmth and fuel. The "first foot" spirit of friendliness is still alive in all of Scotland's cities with visitors from all over the world welcome to join the party, a party that these days often starts in early December and runs right into the New Year.

Plan early
You will need to plan early if you want to enjoy a festive break up north. Edinburgh gets totally booked, while Glasgow can follow suit and Stirling, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness all get busy. The national tourist office, Visit Scotland, has a website (www.visitscotland.com) that has links to all sorts of accommodation and a handy tip is to look at the suburbs too.

Edinburgh is at the heart of the festive action. One of Europe's most scenic cities, it is just made for strolling around. My favourite walk is starting at the landmark castle and then easing down the cobbles of the Royal Mile (which Daniel Defoe thought was the "finest street in the world"), taking in the swathes of history, not to mention bars, cafes and restaurants, en route to the Queen's base when she is in town, the grand Palace of Holyrood.


Edinburgh is a city that is constantly evolving and newer attractions include OurDynamic Earth, a hands-on multimedia trip through the earth's history that is ideal for families. For grown-ups, Edinburgh now boasts four Michelin star restaurants, with perhaps the finest The Kitchin (www.thekitchin.com), with award-winning TV chef Tom Kitchin at the helm. Anyone who harbours any anachronistic images of Scotland as all tartan and shortbread will enjoy the branch of Harvey Nichols and central Edinburgh's newest street, Multrees Walk, which is replete with Armani, Firetrap and Louis Vuitton.

 Aside from Hogmanay, Edinburgh's Christmas (www.edinburghschristmas.com) from November 28 to January 4 makes the capital surely the most festive city in the UK.A Ferris wheel burls visitors around the skyline, while below the bountiful stalls of a Christmas market and an ice rink in the shadowof the castle help add to the seasonal mood.

Street party
Less than an hour by train from Edinburgh is Glasgow, Scotland's largest city and currently one of Europe's hippest city-break destinations. Their Hogmanay street party is a rival for Edinburgh these days and the city's new image as "Scotland with Style" is not just a tourist slogan. Glasgow 2009-style has reinvented its lavish Georgian centre with myriad chic designer shops, slick bars and quality restaurants.

The Glaswegian action flows around central George Square, a plaza as impressive as any in the UK, which is the centrepiece in mid-November when the city's Christmas lights are switched on and Winterfest follows suit.

From here, a flurry of world-class galleries and museums are within easy reach, including the Kelvingrove, the most-visited museum in the UK outside London, and the locals' choice, the thrillingly-unique Burrell Collection - an eclectic art collection reclining in woodland in the city's leafy suburbs.

I reckon Glasgow also offers the best shopping in the UK outside London. The main thoroughfare of Buchanan Street is pedestrianised and there are covered malls for when the weather sweeps in, such as Buchanan Galleries, with all the usual high street stores, and Princes Square, an oasis of designer names that would not be out of place in Milan.

Scotland's newest city, Stirling, is as deeply historic as Edinburgh. The old town reminds me of Edinburgh's Royal Mile without the tourists, especially at this time of year, while most Scots prefer the castle here to Edinburgh's. The hallowed names of William "Braveheart" Wallace and Robert the Bruce echo around the ramparts, while the striking Wallace Monument strides out amongst a panorama of mighty mountains. Stirling also boasts a pedestrianised shopping district and easy access into the hilly Trossachs.

Underrated
Europe's oil capital, Aberdeen, is for me a criminally-underrated city, even amongst Scots. Its core is a riot of granite - hence its nickname, the "Granite City" - and the city has also won innumerable awards for its famous flower displays, which brighten up all that mighty grey granite. It boasts sweeping sandy beaches that are ideal for bracing winter strolls, a flurry of museums and chic restaurants that are geared up to all that oil wealth.

Scotland's other two cities also tempt at this time of year. Dundee has bracing beaches of its own, a pedestrianised shopping precinct, the striking RRS Discovery (the ship that once took Captain Scott to the Antarctic) and the scenic Angus Glens on its doorstep. Inverness, meanwhile, is the "Capital of the Highlands" with a good chance of snow. Its famous monster-haunted loch lies nearby and its namesake River Ness
also eases through the city, adding charm, with a fairytale castle nestling high above and some impressively-stylish restaurants on hand in Scotland's fastest growing city.


  As a native of Edinburgh I have to stand by my city as being number one for a festive break, home to the world's finest New Year party and the nation's number one city break. In Scotland these days, though, there are another five buzzing cities that all make serious efforts to conjure up the festive spirit, hold wildly-fun Hogmanay parties and make for an ideal city break over the festive periodand in to the cosy winter months beyond.

Getting there
Numerous airlines fly to Scottish cities including British Airways (www.ba.com), Flybe (www.flybe.com), Ryanair (www.Ryanair.com) and Easyjet (www.easyjet.com).
The fastest way of getting to the Scottish cities by train is usually with National Express East Coast (www.nationalexpresseastcoast.com).

Accommodation
Hotels span a wide range of price brackets. Here are some options, from luxury to more affordable:

Top attractions
Edinburgh: Edinburgh Castle (www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk)
National Museum (www.nms.ac.uk)

More information Visit Scotland: www.visitscotland.com/whiteinvite

All prices and details were correct when published, please check before visiting Scotland's Cities.