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Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh

Once a year on April 30, the Beltane festival celebrates the coming of summer in Celtic tradition with an all-day fire and dance extravaganza.

4 min
Woman Participating in a Ritual Around a Bonfire at the Beltane Fire Festival
Woman Participating in a Ritual Around a Bonfire at the Beltane Fire Festival

A woman walks around the fire pit dressed in a pale, embroidered cloak, her face  painted white, a flower bouquet sprouting from her head. Stems of white and red roses protrude from her back. In her right hand, she holds a stick upon which a fire mystically burns. She waves it around like a sorceress, all the while moving her left hand as if trying to summon ancient Gaelic spirits back to the here-and-now. Welcome to the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.

How did the Beltane Fire Festival originate?

In 1988, a small group of enthusiasts (among them the musical collective Test Dept) founded the Beltane Fire Festival. It takes place on Calton Hill each year on  April 30 at sunset and continues until sunset the next day, as one-of-a-kind way to welcome the coming of the summer season and to bid adieu to pesky winter. To keep the fire burning, the  organizers of the festival welcome donations on their website.

What is the festival about?

Beltane is a pagan event deeply linked to rich Celtic history with ancient Gaelic rituals on show. Beltane literally means ‘Bright Fire’, a fitting name as for ancient Celts, fire itself was a sacred element revered as a symbol of protection, healing, and purification. 

Throughout the entirety of the festival, Gaelic traditions come to life, from the dazzling pyrotechnics to the vibrant dresses and wild makeup. Fire acrobatics and drummers create an entirely new atmosphere on the otherwise serene Calton Hill. Rarely can you immerse yourself in the ancient mystic rituals that once dominated Scotland, so make sure to come if you are open to such a unique experience.

What happens there?

People dressed in costumes depicting fairies, spirits and mythical creatures dance with fire while performing acrobatics along the event’s central fire pit. It’s all rather full-on. Led by the Mary Queen, the procession works its way around Calton Hill while the drummers stand on the monument steps, stirring excitement amongst the crowd. Pro tip: Be sure to dress warmly so you can enjoy the entire show comfortably once the sun goes down.

How do I get to the Beltane Fire Festival?

Edinburgh Airport is a 30-minute ride away from Calton Hill. For those traveling by train, Edinburgh Waverley is the closest station. There is little need to rent a car in the city. 

Where should I stay?

Make Edinburgh your focal point and stay in and around the areas of the Royal Mile,  Princes Street, Stockbridge (a very nice neighborhood a short bus ride from Calton Hill).

Average nightly prices for Airbnbs for these dates in central Edinburgh are around $200 per night.

Beltane Fire Festival
Edinburgh, Scotland
30 April to May 1, 2023

Price: The minimum donation amount is £12.00

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