The 5 Best Events in Scotland

Scotland is a country both modern and traditional. Things like kilts, bagpipes and Celtic music are what Scots heritage is most famous for. There's no doubt in my mind that you just cannot visit Scotland without sampling some of the local culture and traditions.

One thing to remember is how widespread Scottish heritage is, not just in Scotland but abroad as well, with descendants of Scots immigrants to countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America keeping them alive.

There are many events taking place throughout the year in Scotland but most of the outdoor ones are scheduled in the summer. Here are my top 5 events in Scotland.

My Favorite Five Scottish Events

1. Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Undoubtedly, the event Scotland is most famous for is the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. But it's not the event itself that I find most fascinating. If the Edinburgh Tattoo were to run just once a year, then its huge popularity would not come as a surprise. But since the show runs on most evenings in August, you would think the demand would be lower.

With tickets being sold out up to 8-9 months in advance, the Tattoo taking place on the castle esplanade in Edinburgh attracts tens of thousands of tourists every year. And this is a growing trend. I believe that in a few years time, tickets for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo will run out within days of being put on sale.

There are two things I like most about the Edinburgh Military Tattoo: one is the setting. How many events take place in a venue as spectacular as Edinburgh Castle? I'm sure the show would not be as popular if it took place in a park, for example. The second thing I like is, of course, the performance itself, especially seeing tens of pipers and drummers gathered in one place, playing the tunes with military precision.

Edinburgh Tattoo also has an international flavor that comes from foreign military bands taking part in the show - another reason, no doubt, why it has become so popular.

More photos of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Scottish dance group from Canada
Military bands playing together
Swiss Drum Corps, a very popular act
Tattoo fireworks to mark Trafalgar victory
9,000 people attend each night

2. Highland Games

Highland Dancing competition

No tourist should visit Scotland in the summer without attending the traditional Highland Games. These uniquely Scottish events take place in many parts of Scotland during the summer weekends and involve a wide range of activities from bagpipe contests, to athletics (yes, the guys are dressed in kilts) and Scottish dancing.

The most famous Highland Games are The Cowal Highland Gathering and The Braemar Gathering. The Cowal Highland Gathering held in Dunoon is known as the largest in the world while The Braemar Gathering is the only Highland gathering attended regularly by at least one member of the British Royal Family.

I've personally attended quite a few Highland Games, including the ones in North Berwick and Peebles, both not far from Edinburgh. If you can fit the Cowal or Braemar gatherings in your itinerary, then you're in for a real treat but I believe the Highland Games in the smaller towns are just as enjoyable.

More photos of Highland Games events in Scotland
Massed pipe bands marching in Dunoon
Hammer toss
Tossing the Caber
Stonne is launched to land straight ahead
Tug-of-war competition

3. Up Helly Aa

Up-Helly-Aa Viking

Up Helly Aa stands out as the one event in this list that's more Norwegian than Scottish. Traditionally held in Shetland, the largest fire festival in Europe celebrates the enduring influence of the Vikings over the people of Shetland.

I've not attended the original Up Helly Aa in Shetland which takes place in January, but I have attended the Torchlight Procession in Edinburgh, part of the Hogmanay Celebrations, which is similar - the ceremonial burning of the ship, the Viking costumes, large crowds, etc. The original fire festival in Shetland is, no doubt, better.

More photos of Viking Fire Festivals
Burning torches, Lerwick Fire Festival
Guizers at Up Helly Aa
Jarl squad and galley
Torchlight Procession, Edinburgh
Burning of Viking ship, Edinburgh

4. World Pipe Band Championships

Practice at pipe band championships

If you can't fit the Highland Games in your itinerary or if you haven't seen enough bagpipes, then the World Pipe Band Championships traditionally held in Glasgow during August is more than enough to satisfy any tourist. Several hundred bands from all over the world (including Oman, if you can believe it) take part and the event lasts for a whole day.

Unless you've attended other large events like the Tartan Day Parade or Pipefest where up to ten thousand pipers take part, then the World Pipe Band Championships will be the biggest piping event you'll ever see.

Bagpipes can be incredibly loud instruments, especially when there's quite a few of them. Imagine tens of pipe bands rehearsing their programme at the same time, often playing the same songs, but never in sync with one another. Overall, it's an amazing event to attend, even if you come out of it temporarily deaf (joking).

More photos of the World Pipe Band Championships
Australia Highlanders Pipe Band
Massed pipes & drums marching in Glasgow Green
New Westminster Police Pipe Band, Canada
New generation

5. Ceilidh

Typical ceilidh dancing

Attending a ceilidh and sampling some of the fantastic Scottish music is a perfect end to a Scotland visit. A ceilidh is a party, a concert or an informal social event, typically with live Celtic music and often with dancing. Its main purpose is to have fun which is why the dancing is so exuberant and easy to learn.

The music is usually provided by live bands. The instruments they use are all typical to Celtic music (fiddle, flute, tin whistle, accordion, bodhrán and smaller types of bagpipes). Ceilidhs are regular events in Scotland with many clubs and hotels organizing them at weekends, but some are organized on special occasions as well (Hogmanay, Burns Night, etc).

More photos of Ceilidhs
Ceilidh band, Ullapool
Kilts are not mandatory
Ready to start
Tartan combination
Ceilidh music is cheerful and lively