On the last night of April and first day of May up to 12,000 people take to Calton Hill for a ritualised and pantheistic celebration to mark the arrival of Summer. The event, Beltane Fire Festival, combines a mix of fire, drumming, and pagan performance.
This revival of the ancient Celtic fertility festival of Beltane started as a free event in 1988 and continues to be very popular, in spite of increasing crowd-control measures and a rising ticket price. The event, which features hordes of otherworldly creatures such as Beastie Drummers and Red Men, includes some nudity and "uninhibited behaviour".
Traditionally, Beltane was the start of the pastoral summer where animals were taken from their winter shelter to the fields. Not a great deal is known about the original seasonal ritual. We know two fires were lit and animals led through the smoke during the fertility season to cleanse them of fleas and bad spirits.
In Edinburgh's revivalist celebration of Beltane, three hundred or so voluntary performers from the Beltane Fire Society celebrate the ending of the dreich Scottish winter and the (hoped-for) season of warmth and new growth with drumming, fire performance, dancing, revelry, and a ritualised procession around Calton hill.
Behind the fiery displays, acrobatics, pulsating drums, and body-painted theatrics, the Beltane Fire Festival Society retell an immersive story for the assembled throng.
In the Autumn, the Beltane Fire Society holds the Samhuinn Fire Festival, a similarly modern interpretation of an ancient Celtic tradition marking the onset of the colder, darker months.
Beltane Tickets for 2023
This is a popular event - organisers recommend buying tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
Beltane tickets can be bought online at Citizen Tickets.
- Adults £15: (+ £1.38 booking fee)
- Children (under 16): £7 (+ £0.80 booking fee)
- Low income £10 (+ £1.02 booking fee) Note: there are limited low-income tickets. Operated on an honour system.
Entrance to Calton Hill by Waterloo Place and Carriage Drive. Gates open at 7.30pm (last entry at 11pm). Show starts at sundown.
* Families with children are welcome at parents’ discretion. Many of the spectacles are performed with little clothing, and a great deal of enthusiasm: it's up to you to decide what's appropriate for the younger members of your family. All children under 16 years must be accompanied by an adult and have their own separate ticket.