It’s wild, fierce and magical. Held on the 30th of April, Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Festival is an event like no other – it leaves you speechless. There’s fire, hypnotic drumming and semi-naked people covered in body paint, and it all takes place on one of the most picturesque spots in Edinburgh; Calton Hill. I still remember how awestruck I was by it all back in 2011. I spent the next morning thinking it had all been just one crazy dream. It may be just a modern reinterpretation of a pagan rite, but what happens in the Beltane Fire Festival is real – it’s very real.
Right, I hope I’ve made you curious. If you’re reading this, it probably means that you’re thinking of attending Edinburgh’s Beltane or you’ve bought the tickets and just want to make sure you’ve made the right decision. Well, I promise you won’t regret it, but I can’t guarantee that you will understand what is going on when you’re there. The festival is inspired by the ancient Gaelic festival of Beltane, which marked the beginning of summer and is still celebrated by the Pagan community.
You can read up on both the ancient festival and the modern festival here. Meanwhile, here are my top tips for attending the Beltane Fire Festival.
Buy your tickets in advance. The event is very popular and tickets sell out every year. You can buy your tickets here and collect them from Ticket Scotland’s office on Rose Street when you arrive in Edinburgh. Tickets cost more on the day.
The Beltane Fire Society is a charity and the event is organised by volunteers. The money made from ticket sales pays for the various things needed to make the festival happen. Here’s exactly what your ticket pays for.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Arrive there at least one hour before the event starts as there is normally a long queue to get in. The festival starts from the National Monument, so if you want to get a good spot you will need to get there early. From there, you can follow the procession, led by the May Queen and the Green Man, around the hill. However, there is plenty going on at different spots across the hill, so you don’t need to stick with the procession all the time. Just follow the sound of drums or the sight of flaming torches.
Well, I don’t want to go into the details of what takes place during the festival as I’ll ruin the surprise. The organisers tend to put together a family-friendly event on Calton Hill ahead of the festival, where you can learn more about the Beltane Fire Society and the ancient festival of Beltane. If you want to make sure you won’t miss anything during the festival, I suggest joining a walking tour led by the performers or organisers to learn more about the route and significance of the procession on the night. Follow the Beltane Fire Society on Facebook for more info about their events.
Meanwhile, here’s a wee video I took at the Beltane Fire Festival in 2017.
WHAT TO WEAR
Despite being surrounded by flaming torches and bonfires, it will be very, very cold on Calton Hill. Besides wearing warm clothes, you might also want to pack a fleecy blanket or an extra shawl in your bag just in case it gets too cold. Oh, and don’t forget to take a rain jacket, even if there’s no sign of rain during the day. Edinburgh gets four seasons in a day sometimes.
You should also wear your hiking shoes – you will be walking on uneven ground in the dark and most of the time you’ll have no idea what you’re stepping on.
A FEW SAFETY TIPS
As I said earlier, Calton Hill can get very crowded during the event, so keep your valuables safe. The festival finishes late (around 11.30pm) so walk carefully on your way down the hill and get a taxi back to your accommodation if you’re not staying somewhere close by.
Please avoid using the flash when taking photos as it can be very distracting for performers and it also ruins the experience. It might be a bit difficult to get good photos of the performances, especially with your phone, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Just enjoy the festival and dance the night away!
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Have you been to the Beltane Fire Festival, or a similar event?
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