Edinburgh celebrates the start of summer like nowhere else
On the evening before May 1, you might see fires burning atop Calton Hill. Don’t be alarmed, this is just how the start of summer is celebrated in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Festival is like nothing you’ve seen before!
This is the Beltane Fire Festival, but what else would you expect from Edinburgh – we celebrate everything and with real style!
This festival has its roots in the Gaelic May Day celebration Beltane. It marked the beginning of summer and was when cattle were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and people while also to encourage growth. Special bonfires were kindled, and their flames, smoke and ashes were deemed to have protective powers.
The modern Beltane Fire Festival was started in 1988 by a small group of enthusiasts in Edinburgh. Since then the festival has grown, and now involves over 300 volunteers and performers with tickets often selling out.
The festival draws on a variety of historical, mythological and literary influences to perform a story like no other.
It is a procession, which starts at the National Monument and moves around the Calton Hill path meeting various groups along the way. The procession is driven by the beat of drums which move us towards summer. At the head is the May Queen and the Green Man, followed by a cavalcade of characters who are intrinsically linked to them and their journey.
The Green Man ushers in the beginnings of warmer, greener weather. Acting as consort to the May Queen, he leads a procession around the hill to visit the camps of Air, Water, Fire and Earth.
Meanwhile, the Red Men dance with the May Queen’s White Women accompanied by the primal rhythm of steady drums. After a dramatic stage performance, the May Queen and Green Man spark the birth of summer by lighting a huge bonfire.
Words cannot do justice to the spectacle of this event. It really is a sensory experience with dancing, music and the smell of fires cindering from the top of Calton Hill. For many reasons, this festival in particular, embodies Edinburgh. It is eclectic, artistic, and bit off-the-wall – just like the city itself.
This is not like any traditional theatre event you’ve been to before, there is no central point where everything is performed, but lots of things to see all at once spread around the marvellous Calton Hill. Beltane Fire Festival is a continuous performance – lasting around three hours. Attendance is as fluid as the show so you can take a break if you get a bit of sensory overload and then return to the action.
There are a few things that you’ll really need to know when you come along to Beltane. As you might imagine from a Festival with ancient Celtic roots, there is some partial nudity in the performances, but it isn’t gratuitous. Also, you aren’t allowed to bring your own fire, I’m afraid. So please leave your sky lanterns and fireworks at home because you won’t be able to use them. Finally, a top tip from experience, it can be quite dark, so bring a torch. Otherwise you can find yourself tripping up and landing some of Calton Hill’s fine shrubbery.
Tickets can be bought on the night but whatever you do – buy them beforehand. The queues can be absolutely massive – but what else would you expect from the hottest ticket in town! An added bonus is that advance tickets are cheaper, so it will save you a few pounds for a post-Beltane tipple.
Don’t worry if you’ve missed this year’s Beltane Fire Festival as it will be back next year. The Beltane Society also run Samhuinn Fire Festival in the when summer turns to winter! Subscribe to our newsletter and you’ll receive all our latest news! !
Adults – £8 + booking fee
Children 0-11 – free
Cash only sales at the gate on the night
Pick the perfect home from home when you come to Beltane!
Dickins has accommodation all over Edinburgh and we’ve pulled out some perfect spots for you to call home when you usher in summer with a visit to the Beltane Fire Festival.
This one-bedroom pied-a-terre right in the heart of Edinburgh is uber-modern and trendy. Newly refurbished to a high standard it is clear a lot of care and attention has been put into making this apartment comfortable and relaxing for any guests.
This is a serene gem of an apartment and yet its location on Broughton Street means that there’s so much fun to be had on the doorstep. Hints of the buildings Georgian history are highlighted in the fabulous sitting room, which enjoys high ceilings, wooden panelling, shutters and pretty cornices.
Over the Festival a whole month booking is preferred in this property. This self catering apartment is available for holiday lets, short term and corporate lets, city and weekend breaks and as Edinburgh Festival accommodation.