IT is one of the jewels in the crown on Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town, and now St Andrew Square Gardens is home to a towering fairground ride which will offer the chance to see the Scottish capital as never before.
The Scotsman was given exclusive access to the first ride on The Star Flyer, a dizzying attraction offering dramatic 360 degrees of the capital in just eight seconds.
Spectacular views on offer when The Scotsman tried out the ride on a clear afternoon include the Fife coastline, Calton Hill, the Pentland Hills and Arthur’s Seat.
Although not for those of a nervous disposition, the Fringe impresario responsible for its arrival in Edinburgh insists The Star Flyer will be the hot ticket in the city over the festive season.
Charlie Wood, co-director of promoters Underbelly, believes it will be huge boom for the tourism industry because of the unprecedented “bird’s eye” views on offer.
At exactly 60 metres tall, the Dutch attraction is as high as the Scott Monument on Princes Street, and offers the chance to spend several minutes swinging way above nearby landmarks like the Balmoral Hotel, Jenners, Harvey Nichols and the Melville Monument in the centre of the square.
The attraction, outside the former offices of Scottish Provident, is the centrepiece of a new festive arena in St Andrew Square, the finishing touches of which are being added in advance of a public opening tomorrow night.
The historic pleasure gardens in the square, which date back to 1768, were only opened up to the public five years ago after the city council reached agreement with its various private owners around the square which saw it revamped and a cafe installed.
The gardens will become home to a Spiegeltent, which will host children’s shows and the international cabaret show, Limbo, while a huge bar has been constructed around the column which the statue of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, sits atop.
The Star Flyer has been brought to Edinburgh by London-based Underbelly, who say it has proved a huge draw to London’s Southbank over the last two summers.
The 32-capacity ride will be open for 12 hours a day throughout the capital’s festive season, which opens tomorrow and runs until 5 January.
It is one of several new features introduced by Underbelly, which has joined forces to produce the capital’s festive events with Edinburgh-based firm Unique Events, the long-time producers of the city’s Hogmanay celebrations. The two firms were awarded a £1.3 million annual contract for the next three years and will be liable for any cost over-runs.
There has been criticism about the cost of traditional attractions like the festive ice rink in Princes Street Gardens, as well as a new ferris wheel next to the Scott Monument, which will boast London Eye-style enclosed cabins. Some regular market traders who have operated on The Mound in previous years say they have also been forced out by the new consortium.
However major new features include a free street carnival on George Street which is being held before Sir Chris Hoy switches on the festive lights on Sunday, while the Grassmarket is hosting a free eight-hour party on St Andrew’s Day.
The Star Flyer, which offers a ride lasting up to five minutes, costs £6.75 if booked in advance online.
Full 360 view
Mr Wood said: “The Star Flyer was a key part of our plans to make the city feel a bit different over the festive season. We had it in London for eight weeks this year and last and around 60,000 people went on it each year.
“It’s definitely going to be the most exciting ride Edinburgh’s ever had. The big wheel is 45 metres high - this is 15 metres higher.
“We didn’t really have to do much to persuade the city to bring it here - it’s going to give everyone absolutely amazing views of Edinburgh at Christmas time.
“You literally get the whole 360 degree view of Edinburgh in around eight seconds. It will be great for the city. People visiting Edinburgh will find it exciting, thrilling and interesting. If you live in Edinburgh you will get to see your home city in a way that’s never been seen before.
“You suddenly see all of the beauty and majesty of Edinburgh, the buildings of the Old Town going back centuries and the whole of the New Town, all in one. It’s a whole world of history right in front of you.”