United Kingdom

The Best Festivals & Fairs in Scotland

by Paul Joseph  |  Published October 25, 2017

A land of mountain wildernesses interspersed with glacial glens and lochs, Scotland is one of the jewels in Britain’s crown – irrespective of many of its countryfolk’s on-going fight for independence from that very coronet. For now, at least, the country remains united with its southern neighbours, with whom it shares a fierce but (usually) good natured rivalry.

A street performer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Photo: Simon Clare via Flickr)

Indeed, visit one of the myriad festivals and fairs that take place in towns and cities across Scotland each year, and you’ll be struck by the number of English voices you’ll hear. Vast numbers head north for many of these events, along with visitors from far beyond the British Isles. Below is our pick of the very best scheduled between November 2017 and April 2018.

October 2017

Paisley Halloween Festival

Halloween is one of the most atmospheric times of the year – especially for children – and the town of Paisley, which is bidding for UK City of Culture 2021, makes the most of the occasion by hosting a fun-filled Halloween festival. Held over two days, the festival includes a spooky parade through the town centre, a cinema yurt, a fire garden and fire stage, arts and crafts, free face painting, a Halloween market, funfair, zombie apocalypse workshops and plenty more besides. There’s loads to keep the grown-ups happy too, including a Murder Mystery night with a three-course meal in a local Italian restaurant, and a chance to explore Paisley’s museum and art gallery after dark. If that’s not enough, there’ll also be live entertainment from local dance and theatre groups and a great selection of local street food vendors. WHERE Venues across Paisley WHEN 27-28 October

Paisley Halloween Festival

A street parade is illuminated by red neon lights at Paisley Halloween Festival (Photo: Paisley Halloween Festival)

November 2017

Glasgow Festival of Burlesque

What better way to warm up on a cold November weekend than by kicking back and enjoying a series of flamboyant, moody burlesque shows? The Glasgow Festival of Burlesque was founded in 2014 by Glasgow’s own “GlasVegas Showgirl” Roxy Stardust, and took to the stages of the Riding Room and The Polo Lounge a year later. Now into its third year, the ostentatious event showcases some of the finest burlesque talent from Glasgow and beyond, with performers coming from all corners of the globe to demonstrate their take on the bawdy comedy and striptease genre that that has been captivating audiences since the mid-19th century. WHERE Riding Room & Wild Cabaret & Wicked Lounge, Glasgow WHEN 9-12 November

Glasgow Festival of Burlesque

A peacock-like performer at the Glasgow Festival of Burlesque (Photo: Glasgow Festival of Burlesque)

Dundee Jazz Festival

It’s a special year in the history of jazz. A century has passed since the first jazz recording was made in New Orleans and across the world there are events taking place to celebrate the landmark occasion. Dundee’s own contribution will come at its annual jazz festival, which is held over five days and sees the city’s already-vibrant music scene transformed by a host of top Scottish and International Jazz acts. A varied programme of concerts takes place at the city’s best events and music venues, including the Gardyne Theatre, Dundee Rep and The Reading Rooms, spanning the full gamut of jazz history, as well as related music genres such as blues, soul, funk and hip-hop. One of the highlights is the Sunday afternoon Jazz in the Ferry show, which sees performers take their talents to Broughty Ferry on the bank of the Firth of Ta, with three hours of music across five intimate venues. WHERE Venues across Dundee WHEN 15-19 November

Dundee Jazz Festival

Seonaid Aitken performing a cover song by Ella Fitzgerland at the Dundee Jazz Festival (Photo: Iain McLean)

Scots Fiddle Festival

There’s little that evokes Gaelic culture quite like the distinctive timbre of fiddle music (or violin music, for the unacquainted). Each year Edinburgh stages its own Scots Fiddle Festival, aimed at promoting and sustaining traditional fiddle music through a whole host of concerts, sessions, recitals, stalls, festival clubs and talks. Now over a decade old, the event also features food and a chill out/ meeting space, while recent editions have also seen the introduction of a party gig on the Sunday night, a standing concert featuring younger bands in an informal space to bring the weekend to a fitting finale. Whether you’re a player, learner, listener or dancer, there’s something here for everyone. WHERE Summerhall, Edinburgh WHEN 17-19 November

Scots Fiddle Festival

The Strathspey and Surreal Society in full-flow during the Scots Fiddle Festival (Photo: Ludovic Farine Photography)

Dundee Mountain Film Festival

The UK’s longest continuous running mountain film festival, the event showcases an international programme of speakers, award winning films and exhibitions. The 2017 edition will present two evening programmes on the 23rd and 24th, and a full day programme on the 25th, all featuring film screenings and personal appearances. The opening two evenings will have a full supporting exhibition of art and photography, plus trade and voluntary organisations stands and displays. Speakers will include remote filmmaker, Richard Else; the ultimate all-round adventure couple, Luke & Hazel Robertson; all-round evangelist for the Great Outdoors, Ben Dolphin; elite climber, route setter and traveller, Phillips Elite; and the youngest lady to summit Everest from both sides, Mollie Hughes. WHERE Dalhousie Theatre & Bonar Hall, Dundee WHEN 23 – 25 November

Dundee Mountain Film Festival

Mollie Hughes, a main speaker at the 2017 Dundee Mountain Film Festival, on the summit of Mount-Everest (Photo: Dundee Mountain Film Festival)

Take One Action Film Festival

While most movie festivals are in essence about celebrating our passion for the silver screen, the Take One Action Film Festival has a grander purpose. Comprising a 10-day festival in Edinburgh in September& Glasgow, plus follow-on weekend regional festivals in Aberdeen and Inverness in November, the specially curated events are designed to inspire and empower people to change the world by showcasing movies that touch on matters of global concern. A range of screenings and other events bring together communities, filmmakers, politicians, journalists, campaigners, businesses, academics and artists, all united by the desire to connect around common stories. Highlights for 2017 will include Short Films for Primary Schools at the Aberdeen festival, with children aged 9 and above invited to view a selection of short films and then discuss the issues they explore, such as power, conflict, gender equality, and access to education. WHERE Belmont Filmhouse, Aberdeen / Eden Court, Inverness WHEN 17-19 November / 24-26 November

Take One Action Film Festival

A panel discussion at the Take One Action Film Festival (Photo: Take One Action Film Festival)

Oban Winter Festival

The port town of Oban in western Scotland has a buzzing cultural and community scene that is at its most vibrant during the annual Oban Winter Festival. Taking place across the town centre, the 10-day event features street parades, international and local performers, fire artists, crafts, piper, music workshops, roller discos, comedy nights, cocktails for the grown-ups and not forgetting the obligatory ceilidh or two. The town is positively transformed for the event, with shops, bars and restaurants joining in the festive celebrations and local distilleries – famous for their Scottish whisky malts – opening their doors for special tours. Highlights for 2017 will include a Reindeer Parade, a clootie dumpling competition and a new shortbread competition. For an eye-catching finale, the closing parade theme will be hats, with everyone bringing their favorite head-wear to join in the fun. Food, music hot pimms and fire art will all be on offer before the spectacular fireworks from the iconic Mccaig’s tower provides a dramatic perfect send-off. WHERE Venues across Oban WHEN 17-26 November

Oban Winter Festival

A reindeer pulls along a sleigh loaded with children and Santa Claus himself during a street parade at the Oban Winter Festival (Photo: David Macmillan)

Foodies Festival Christmas

Foodies Festival returns to kick off the festive season on in late November, featuring top Scottish chefs and MasterChef Winners, a brand new Gin Alley, an artisan Christmas market, a live music stage, cakes & desserts, and theatre performances. The International Conference Centre will once again be transformed into a spectacular culinary winter wonderland for a fun-packed three-day festive feast for the whole family to enjoy. Showcasing the best of Scottish restaurants, chefs, street food and leading food and drink producers, let Scotland’s top chefs inspire you with the best recipes to cook up for the family this Christmas. Can’t get the turkey quite right? Fear not, Scotland’s finest will be answering all your questions on how to be the host(ess) with the mostess this Christmas. WHERE Edinburgh International Conference Centre WHEN 25-26 November

Foodies Festival Christmas

A cooking demonstration at Foodies Festival Christmas (Photo: Foodies Festival Christmas)

Previously … Scotland’s History Festival

Anyone with an interest in Scottish history may consider heading to Edinburgh this November when the city stages its annual festival taking a potted journey through the country’s rich cultural, social and political heritage. With events ranging from Vikings, to Greedy Queens, Computer Games to Castles, Tartan to The Templars and more, it certainly makes for an action-packed visit. You’ll need to be discerning about the ones you choose to attend! Even the local retailers get involved, with bars, cafes and bookshops all entering into the spirit of the occasion with their own history-themed contributions. WHERE Venues across Edinburgh WHEN 17 – 26 November.

Previously … Scotland's History Festival

A speaker at Previously … Scotland’s History Festival (Photo: Previously … Scotland’s History Festival)

December 2017

Cromarty Film Festival
If you’re a movie buff, why not make the trip to Cromarty during the first weekend in December to enjoy one of Scotland’s finest film festivals? One of the highlight of the event is the projection of a movie off of the town’s lighthouse, with audiences gathered near the shoreline with a glass of whisky or mulled wine to keep them cosy during the screening. In fact, unusual film locations are a common theme throughout the festival, with anything from people’s houses to a twenty seater coffee shack on the beach rendered in celluloid in previous years. The movie genres are pretty electric too, and include special interest films for children, Scottish-content and historical flicks. Audiences also have the chance to get up close and personal with major names from the worlds of movies, music, politics, culture and entertainment – both local and international – thanks to guest talks and panel discussions followed by Q&As. WHERE Venues across Cromarty WHEN 1-3 December

Cromarty Film Festival

Actor Ford Kiernan laughing with costumed zombies at the Cromarty Film Festival (Photo: Cromarty Film Festival)

Greek Film Festival

The Edinburgh Greek Film Festival began life as a window onto a distant culture for film lovers of every nationality. Eventually, unrestrained Greekness took over. Waves of new Greeks arrived in Edinburgh, a Greek school was born and the festival multiplied in size. A diverse mix of prominent Greek movie directors now visit and encounter a vociferous community of committed speakers, each waxing lyrical about all things Greek cinema. You can watch Greek film screenings here, spanning a wide number of genres. In a nutshell, at this festival you encounter Greek movies in the kind of atmosphere that made them. It is, as the great Greek movie director Yorgos Tsemperopoulos once described it “the friendly festival”. WHERE Filmhouse, Edinburgh WHEN 1-6 December

Greek Film Festival

All smiles at a previous edition of the Greek Film Festivl (Photo: Greek Film Festival)

February 2018

SPECTRA: Aberdeen’s Festival of Light

The 2018 SPECTRA Festival theme ‘Play the Night’, explores innovation, creativity and the benefits of play to kick-off the national Year of Young People. Held over four nights, the award-winning festival’s primary purpose is to inspire young people through highly creative and original light displays – all curated by leading Scottish and international artists – transforming a number of Aberdeen city centre’s public spaces and galleries into spectacular works of art. Throughout the event, audiences are invited to engage with the myriad of performances and displays to create a truly interactive experience. WHERE Aberdeen City Centre WHEN 8-11 February

SPECTRA: Aberdeen's Festival of Light

Performers gather around an eye-catching tree-like prop at SPECTRA Aberdeen’s Festival of Light (Photo: SPECTRA Aberdeen’s Festival of Light)

Fort William Mountain Festival

For five days the town of Fort William in the western Scottish Highlands is transformed into a family-friendly, action-packed celebration of mountains and the spirit of adventure, brimming with inspirational films, lectures, guest speakers, guided walks, workshops, demonstrations and exhibitions. Hosted by volunteers and mountain enthusiasts, visitors are invited to come and learn how to climb, play musical instruments, ski, snowboard and generally make the most of the Great Outdoors and all that it has to offer. The festival has previously been a recipient of The Scottish Award For Excellence in Mountain Culture. WHERE Venues across Fort William WHEN 21-25 February

Fort William Mountain Festival

Intrepid climbers during the Fort William Mountain Festival (Photo: Fort William Mountain Festival)

Inverness Music Festival

Held over 12 days, this festival is widely considered one of Scotland’s most important events for promoting young people to learn and engage with music. Organised and run by the Inverness Festival Association, it welcomes performers of all ages and abilities to compete in a wide variety of musical disciplines, with over 75 award up for grabs. The main discipline groups are vocal, instrumental, speech, Gaelic and Scottish, with performers showing off their skills in front of select judges and audiences comprising friends and family members. WHERE Eden Court Theatre, Inverness WHEN 24 February–7 March

Inverness Music Festival

A student plays a trumpet during the Inverness Music Festival (Photo: Inverness Music Festival)

March 2018

Ullapool Dance Festival

Set in wild and beautiful Highland scenery, the remote fishing village of Ullapool is famous for great festivals. Among them, the Ullapool Dance Festival is one of the most popular, bringing together beginners, experienced dancers and professionals in an all-embracing immersion of dance. Styles include anything from hip hop, musical theatre and contemporary to Latin, Indian and traditional Scottish. The intimate Highland location allows performers, tutors and participants to mix in an informal, relaxed, friendly and inclusive atmosphere. There are taster classes that suit beginners of all ages and abilities, and if you’re a total newbie, fear not as no previous dance experience is needed. Classes are also accessible to those with limited mobility or lower energy levels. WHERE The Macphail Centre, Ullapool WHEN 1-4 March

Ullapool Dance Festival

Traditional Scottish dancing at the Ullapool Dance Festival (Photo: Ullapool Dance Festival)

Glasgow Live International Comedy Festival

Since it was founded more than a decade ago, the Glasgow International Comedy Festival has grown to become Europe’s largest comedy festival. The event attracts top mirth-making performers from across the country and beyond, including a liberal sprinkling of home-grown Scottish talent. There’s stand up, sketches, improv, theatre, film and family fun, with acts riffing about such diverse and esoteric subjects as Donald Trump to Donald Duck. Additionally, there’s podcast recordings, science and magic, a pub crawl and a quiz. Shows are staged at some of the city’s biggest venues as well as intimate pubs and bars. WHERE Venues across Glasgow WHEN 18 March

Glasgow Live International Comedy Festival

A musical comedy act at the Glasgow Live International Comedy Festival (Photo: Glasgow Live International Comedy Festival)

StAnza: Scotland’s Poetry Festival

It’s fitting that a festival that celebrates the inventive use of words has opted for a suitably clever title – one that combines the location (St Andrews) with the technical term for a grouped set of lines within a poem (stanza). But that’s just the start of the ingenuity that imbues this hugely popular event, which hosts more than 100 readings, performances, slams , open mics, discussions, films, workshops, and poetry-inspired installations and exhibitions in and around the town’s historic centre. Contemporary poets, artists, filmmakers, actors and musicians from Scotland, the UK and beyond are welcomed here, with readings in foreign or minority languages and dialects also a regular feature. Notable names lined up for 21st annual edition in 2018 include Forward Prize for Poetry winner Sinéad Morrissey, former Scots makar Liz Lochhead and jazz musician Don Paterson. WHERE Venues across St Andrews, Fife WHEN 7-11 March

StAnza: Scotland's Poetry Festival

Performers enthusiastically lead the crowd in a recital at StAnza: Scotland’s Poetry Festival (Photo: Alistair Kerr Photography)

Glasgow Short Film Festival

This festival focuses on giving a platform to emerging filmmakers from Scotland and beyond, through a diverse programme of learning and networking events, panel discussions, workshops and one-to-one sessions. Taking place at a variety of venues across the city of Glasgow, the emphasis is very much on breaking the mould by showcasing works that transgress the boundaries of conventional narrative film. The event also features awards and prize-givings, including an International Short Film award for fiction, documentary, animation and experimental/artists’ moving image, and a Scottish Short Film Award, which honours inspiration and innovation in new Scottish cinema. Away from the screen, there’s also parties and live performances throughout the festival week. WHERE Venues across Glasgow WHEN 14-18 March

Glasgow Short Film Festival

An audience gathered for a unique screening at the Glasgow Short Film Festival (Photo: GSFF/Eoin Carey)

Aberdeen Jazz Festival

The Aberdeen Jazz Festival presents a world-class line-up featuring unique artistic collaborations, cutting edge performers, funk and dance-fused sounds, timeless jazz favourites, intense art, total relaxation and a good time for all! From international stars to local youth bands, the festival presents something for everyone. The event also takes the music to the streets of Aberdeen with a blaze of colour and beats. Jazz On The Green is a hugely popular, free, all-day jazz event which features three large outdoor stages in the city centre, alongside indoor venues in The Tunnels, Carmelite, Belmont, Cafe Drummond and Union Square that will be jam packed with live music from the city’s best jazz, blues, swing and big bands. WHERE Venues across Aberdeen WHEN 14-18 March

Aberdeen Jazz Festival

A trombone-heavy concert at the Aberdeen Jazz Festival (Photo: Stewart Mitchell)

Edinburgh International Harp Festival

Run by volunteers, this festival was established in 1982 but has grown in size and scale since its comparatively modest beginnings. Today members of the international harp community join musicians from all the Celtic nations as well as Scotland’s own expanding group of fine performers in a wide range of concerts, workshops and classes. A mix of established harpists and up-and-coming local talents play a range of musical styles from folk to jazz, and old school traditional music to experimental sounds, all set against the beautiful grounds of Merchiston Castle School. The festival also features the UK’s largest harpmakers’ exhibition and late night music sessions.
WHERE Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh WHEN 30 March-4 April

Edinburgh International Harp Festival

A stage performance at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival (Photo: Gordon Thomson)

April 2018

Walk Islay

With their peaty malts, miles of sandy beaches and wildlife galore, the Atlantic islands of Islay, Jura and Colonsay are a walker’s paradise. Each April, ‘Explore Islay and Jura’ organise a week-long walking festival that invites lovers of the great outdoors to come and explore some of Britain’s most spectacular scenery – while getting some serious exercise too. Highlights include spotting golden eagles, nesting ravens and feral goats in The Oa nature reserve and visiting some of Scotland’s best whisky distilleries, while in previous years participants have even trekked across the famous Paps of Jura mountains with a trained guide. Walkers of every age and ability are welcome, with a range of routes available, from the easy to the extreme. The full programme for the 2018 festival will be released in the New Year. WHERE Various routes across Islay WHEN 13-18 April

On October 9, 2017 at 5:07 PM Bonnie Wood wrote:

Walk Islay

Walkers enjoy the views on a cloudless day during Walk Islay (Photo: Walk Islay)

May2018

Perth Festival of the Arts

This is one of Scotland’s oldest continuously running arts Festivals in Scotland, showcasing top quality artistic endeavours from both well-established and up-and-coming names from the worlds of art and culture. It actually began life as an opera and classical music festival but has now spread its wings and features every art form one can imagine. Notable figures to have appeared in recent years include Jools Holland, Nigel Kennedy. Nicola Benedetti, Van Morrison, The John Wilson Orchestra, The Proclaimers, KT Tunstall and Marcus Brigstock. An officially registered charity, the event also places a strong emphasis on inclusivity, with ticket prices kept low and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. WHERE Perth Concert Hall, Perth Theatre and St John’s Kirk WHEN 17-26 May

Perth Festival of the Arts

Visitors enter the Perth Museum & Art Gallery during the Perth Festival of the Arts (Photo: Perth Festival of the Arts)

Spring Fling

Held across the length and breadth of Dumfries and Galloway over the late May bank holiday weekend, this vibrant visual art and craft open studios event offers visitors the chance to go behind the scenes and see how art is made. Helping to foster appreciation and understanding of the working life of a professional artist, up to 100 artists throw open their studio doors, demonstrating and explaining their processes and inspirations for those keen to learn more about this fascinating – though often rarefied – world. You can even purchase art direct from the studios in which they were created. In addition to the core event, there are also a number of other activities during the weekend, including local, national and international exhibitions, evening music performances, walking tours, bus tours and bike rides. WHERE Studios across Dumfries and Galloway WHEN 26-28 May

Spring Fling

A stall-holder poses in front of her colourful wares at Spring Fling (Photo: Spring Fling)