BRITAIN'S first resident giant pandas for almost two decades make their public debut at Edinburgh Zoo this weekend.
More than 10,000 tickets have been sold for half-hourly viewings of Tian Tian and Yang Guang who arrived recently from Sichuan province in China and have been settling into their plush new home for a 10-year stay.
You can watch Tian Tian ("Sweetie") and Yang Guang ("Sunshine"), as I did this week, sheltered from the sleet in a light and airy tunnel fashioned from bamboo canes, reached through a pagoda and along a walkway of trees hung with red Chinese lanterns.
Click here for amazing Edinburgh deals
Not that these solitary creatures do a great deal in their green-painted, separate enclosures. They sleep on rocks or in their caves, eat bamboo, pad around a bit, scratch, climb a tree, then eat more bamboo. Even so, it's mesmerising.
Indira Kemp, of the Panda Patrol team, says the pair have been communicating in a birdsonglike squeak and have nuzzled and touched paws through their enclosures.
As we're listening, Yang Guang, the male, begins to ease himself into a strange, upside-down position.
"He's doing the handstand pee," says Indira excitedly. "The higher up the pee, the more attractive they are considered."
A half-hour's bus ride west of Edinburgh city centre, the zoo covers 82 acres of sloping parkland. Home to 1,000 rare and endangered animals, it boasts 200 gentoo, rockhopper and king penguins.
Since a zoo keeper accidentally left open a gate and some went for a stroll back in the Sixties, a daily Penguin Parade is held bang on 2.15pm.
The gate opens and we watch these curious creatures waddle among us.
My lunch of roast salmon in the Alpine-style zoo restaurant would certainly have been to their taste.
I forgo a blustery hilltop safari in favour of some seasonal reindeer spotting.
This is followed by watching sea eagles of the Western Isles spread their wings and then two rhinos heaving themselves around a warm bath.
Click here for great Edinburgh deals
Forget jostling with shoppers this Christmas.
Trust your animal instincts and pay Edinburgh a visit instead.
Edinburgh Zoo (0131 334 9171/www.edinburghzoo.org.uk), admission £15.50 per adult, £11 per child (3-15 years).
The 20-minute giant panda viewing experience is free but a pre-booked time slot ticket is required.
For visitors from outside Scotland, East Coast Trains (0845 722 5225/ www.eastcoast.co.uk) offers return fares from London from £29.
VisitScotland: 0845 859 1006/www.visitscotland.com