August 31, 2015 3 min read
While Europe is home to some of the greatest festivals in the world, you couldn’t be blamed if you spent all of your festivals in Scotland. This country may be small in population, but it’s very big with the cultural factor, and there’s no better way to jump into the Scottish way of life than to hit up its biggest festivals!
Here are three of the most memorable festivals in Scotland.
Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year’s celebration, takes place throughout the country with great fanfare and much tartan.
Edinburgh has the biggest and most famous celebration, with concerts and a massive street party, though you’ll find celebrations all over the country with their own unique traditions. In Stonehaven, it’s “fireball swinging,” while in Glasgow, house parties go all night long. In all destinations, Auld Lang Syne is sung—the popular New Year’s song is actually a Scottish poem.
While Edinburgh’s street party attracts a rollicking, rowdy crowd, you’ll have a different experience during the torchlight procession the night before—a peaceful walk through the streets, everyone with their own burning torch as they climb the hill, finishing with fireworks.
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Of all the arts festivals across the world, none bring a greater mix of comedy and good cheer than the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For a few weeks in August, it seems like every venue in town, plus a handful of pubs, has shows running constantly from mid-afternoon until late at night. Best of all, they’re priced low, with most shows under 12 GBP.
If you get lucky, you might end up with a surprise celebrity performer! Many actors and comedians perform at the Fringe Festival, some of them using it as a chance to try out material for a bigger tour later in the year.
Best of all, the Fringe coincides with some smaller festivals in town, like the Book Festival, International Festival, Art Festival, and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Come for one and get several bonuses!
Up Helly Aa
Looking for something really different? Up Helly Aa, a Viking festival of fire, takes place in the remote Shetland Islands northwest of the mainland on the last Tuesday in January. The festival culminates with a group of Vikings setting a boat on fire by throwing their torches into it.
Up Helly Aa takes place throughout Shetland, but the biggest celebration is in the main city of Lerwick. The day begins with parades and songs, and once the sun goes down, both Vikings and wildly costumed squads burn the boat down before heading to parties to dance to traditional music and watch skits performed until roughly 8:00 in the morning.
For the dancing, the performances, and the Viking frenzy, you’ve never seen a festival quite like this.
Tips for Scottish Festivals
Book accommodation as soon as possible. Festival time is a very popular time to visit Scotland, and accommodation rates are raised through the roof. Your best bet at securing the best accommodation for your price range is to start looking several months in advance.
Protect your belongings. Like many other places in the world, festivals attract criminals who prey on travelers. This is the time to be extra cognizant of your belongings, especially when in a crowd. Use a day bag that zips and locks; in your hotel, use a Pacsafe TravelSafe to store valuables like your passport.
Put on your Scottish finery. Kilts are formalwear in Scotland, and a festival is the perfect occasion to wear your finest tartan! Feel free to rent or even buy an ensemble.
Prepare for crazy weather. Scotland is one of those places where you could have all four seasons at once, and precipitation will likely fall at least once each day. Dress in layers and don’t forget your umbrella.
Join in the dancing. The ceilidh (kay-lee), or traditional Scottish dance celebration, may look intimidating to a foreigner, but the Scots are nothing if not kind and generous and will be happy to teach the moves to a newcomer. You’ll be whirling with them in not time.
At age 26, I quit my job to travel the world alone. I spent six fantastic months in Southeast Asia and turned my travel blog into a full-time business. Today, I travel full-time, going anywhere that sounds wacky or beautiful or interesting. My goal is to show YOU how you can travel the world on your own—easily, safely, and adventurously.
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