Scotland: the land of kilts, haggis, highlands and fields of heather. It’s also home to a number of great annual festivals and events. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in a foreign culture is to join in on the celebrations, and that’s exactly what you should do on a trip to Scotland. Scotland has events for all interests; from showcasing international artists and productions to Viking festivals and ringing in the new year!
Many of the events are cancelled or postponed for 2020 due to Covid-19 and the resulting travel restrictions. However, you can experience it all in 2021! If you really want to see the Scots in all their revelrous glory, have your visit coincide with one of the exciting annual events below:
Every year on 25 January, Scots gather to celebrate the life and poetry of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard. Burns was the author of many famous Scottish poems and songs such as Auld Lang Syne, Tam o’ Shanter and A Red, Red Rose. On Burns Night, people gather to celebrate with a Burns Night supper shared with friends and family. Haggis will definitely be on the menu, served with neeps and tatties (mashed turnips and potatoes). Guests will don tartan, sip Scotch whisky and read excerpts from Burns’ poetry. Look forward to a night filled with great food and revelry!
You can find a number of Burns Night events around the country and many restaurants across Scotland will serve up Burns Night suppers.
January – March
Did you know that Vikings once called Scotland home? Far up in the north, on the Shetland Islands where Vikings ruled 1,000 years ago, the locals pay homage to the islands’ Viking heritage. Up Helly Aa (meaning Up Holy [Day] All) is a series of 12 fire festivals held each year between January and March and is said to be derived from the ancient Viking tradition of celebrating the rebirth of the sun at the end of winter.
The biggest festival on the Shetland Islands is held in Lerwick on the last Tuesday in January. During the day-long fire festival, there are a number of marches and parades made up of almost 1,000 warriors (also known as ‘guizers’), some dressed in full Viking gear! One of the local men is chosen as the ‘Guizer Jarl’ (the head of the festival) and dresses up as a character from Norse history. The day builds up to a huge torch-lit procession during which the guizers burn a specially crafted Viking longship.
April – May
The remote Shetland Islands play host to another prestigious event – the United Kingdom’s most northerly folk festival. Over four days, folk performers from Shetland and across the globe, gather at venues across Shetland to perform at the Shetland Folk Festival. It’s a chance to showcase Shetland’s music in a variety of destinations, big and small, alongside featured international musicians. You can expect popular folk bands, children’s concerts and great music workshops.
The festival has been going strong for 40 years and locals love to show off their hometowns to visitors. On the final night, you’ll have the chance to see most of the visiting acts in one evening! The acts perform across three venues for 15-minute sets and are bussed between spots – it’s a fast-paced, exciting evening that you won’t soon forget!
Travel Tip: the event is popular so be sure to book tickets early!
May is Scotland’s Whisky Month! It is the perfect time to “pour yourself a wee dram” and visit one of the country’s best whisky distilleries! It is also a great opportunity to attend a whisky festival.
The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival is an annual celebration of the Scottish national drink that has been taking place since 1999. It encompasses 500+ whisky-related events that appeal to everyone from the seasoned connoisseur to the curious novice. Aside from meeting the makers of some of Scotland’s finest whiskies and sampling the drams (drinks) themselves, visitors can look forward to five full days of distillery tours, guided walks, smuggling adventures, railway tours, canoeing excursions, art and craft exhibitions, tumbler carving workshops, music and live performances. There is also plenty of tasty festival food by some of Scotland’s most innovative chefs and eateries. Best of all – it takes place in village halls, local pubs, historic castles, distilleries and in the great outdoors along the entire length of the River Spey, which lends a wonderful sense of place to the entire celebration.
Did you know? Whisky is known as uisge beatha in Gaelic which translates to the “water of life”.
You can also take a look at the Inverness Whisky & Gin Festival which usually takes place in April. It promises to be one of the very best festivals to sample Scotland’s malt whisky and craft gin.
May – September
The Scottish Highland Games are a series of community events that take place in 80+ towns, villages, cities and even on certain beautiful castle grounds between May and September each year – therefore, no matter where your travels to Scotland take you during the summer, you should be able to join in on at least one of these exceptionally fun gatherings. Visitors can look forward to plenty of pomp and circumstance! Each region comes together to celebrate their heritage by competing in traditional sports (tug-o-war, caber toss, track and field events). Participants don kilts, play the pipes and drums and show off their nimble footwork in Scottish dances, including the sword dance and fascinating Highland Fling.
The world’s biggest highland games event is the Cowal Highland Gathering, held in Dunoon, Scotland. Attend and you can expect to see events like the caber toss and shot put. You’ll also be able to enjoy pipe band competitions and the finals of the World Highland Dance championship!
If you’re visiting Scotland in early September, head to the Braemar Gathering. You might have a chance to glimpse royalty! Since the late 1800s, the reigning monarch and members of the royal family have regularly attended the Braemar Gathering.
The Royal Highland Show first started in 1822 and has steadily grown in stature ever since. This is the pinnacle of the agricultural calendar in the Scottish Highlands as it provides farmers and livestock rearers with the opportunity to show off their finest produce and breeds. At the same time, the Highland Showground’s indoor exhibition halls become a bustling shopping arena and market, where visitors can taste wines, charcuterie, cheese and all sorts of other deliciousness from Scotland’s finest producers, and further afield. Entertainment is also provided in the form of bands and musical groups, including brass bands and school groups.
The illustrious Edinburgh International Festival is the country’s foremost visual arts event. It takes place throughout the Edinburgh’s galleries, museums and studios in August. The city bursts with colour, music and excitement when festival season comes around! With more than 250, 000 visitors each year, the festival has grown to include new public art commissions and an innovative programme of events that include exhibitions, performances, screenings, guided tours and artists talks. If you love arts & culture, you may also be interested in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival that features 2,000+ contemporary and classic stage shows and theatre events; as well as the Edinburgh International Film Festival (June – July) that showcases the most exciting and original new films from the year before.
One of the most dramatic and visually spectacular events on the Scottish calendar, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a spectacle like no other. The Military Tattoo is the largest outdoor event in Edinburgh, with a worldwide TV audience of over 100 million. More than 200, 000 visitors attend the show at the spellbinding Edinburgh Castle each year to witness massed pipe and drum displays and performances from groups that hail from over 30 countries. In addition to the piping, all kinds of music, ceremony, theatre and dance are on display. This is Scotland at its most epic!
The Royal National Mòd is Scotland’s foremost Gaelic festival. Each year, different destinations host the Mòd and 2020 would have been hosted in Inverness. It’s a nine-day festival featuring the Gaelic language, literature, poetry and music! During the festival, daily competitions take place are the winners are invited to perform at the festive cèilidh (a special type of party in Scotland and Ireland) each evening. It’s a real celebration of Scotland’s Gaelic roots!
St Andrew’s Day is Scotland’s official national day. On 30 November, Scots get together to celebrate the country’s patron saint. The day also marks the beginning of the winter season and the celebrations like Hogmanay and Burns Night that come along with it! On St Andrew’s Day, a number of events take place across Scotland. Visit the seaside town of St Andrews, Oban’s Winter Festival, and Edinburgh to experience the best festivities. St Andrew’s Day is a celebration of Scottish heritage so look forward to great Scottish music, dancing and food!
Hogmanay in Edinburgh is one of the greatest New Year’s Eve celebrations in the world! Hogmanay is what the Scots call New Year’s Eve and the Scottish celebrations are filled with fun, revelry and passion! Head to Edinburgh for the street party celebrations and ring in the new year beneath the impressive Edinburgh Castle! The night is complete with concerts, fireworks and warm Scottish hospitality. It is sure to be an evening you won’t forget!
Did you know? First footing is the Scottish tradition of visiting friends and family soon after midnight on New Year’s Day in order to be their first visitor or the “first foot through the door” in the new year!
Join in these festive celebrations to get a true feel for the country’s joyous sense of community and learn more about the Scottish culture. Just remember, when in Scotland, do as the Scottish do and “gie it laldy” (give it your all)!
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