Between 1982 and 2019, the Edinburgh Festival went out each year with literally many, very large bangs, with the annual Festival Fireworks Concert. You would get your radio, a rug, find a good viewing spot, and crane your neck skyward. The concert started at 9pm and the Fireworks started at around 9.30pm.
About the Edinburgh Festival Fireworks (info from the last event)
- Buying Edinburgh Festival Fireworks tickets
- 2019 music programme
- Video: Flight of the Valkyries at EIF Fireworks Concert
Beneath Edinburgh Castle, the world-renowned Scottish Chamber Orchestra will play while a fireworks team based in the castle provides synchronised visual accompaniment. Four tonnes of explosives and around 400,000 fireworks will be set off during the 45-minute show.
You need a ticket to hear the SCO playing at the Ross Band Stand in Princes Street Gardens, but the majority of spectators tune into the local radio station Forth 1 (over the air on FM 97.3/97.6 in West Lothian and 102.2 MHz in Penicuik, or DAB: 12D from 9pm), to hear the live broadcast and watch the pyrotechnians paint the sky in explosive colour.
The prime spot for viewing the SCO Fireworks Concert is in the Ross Theatre in West Princes Street Garden, or the path above the Ross auditorium. Some groups get the cheaper tickets to the surrounding gardens, and take a picnic (food and alcohol is allowed but not in glass containers).
Each year brings a different display, but certain highlights always return like the booming climax of high-sky rockets and a cascade of shimmering white fire down the castle rock known as "the waterfall".
Vantage points and views
The best spots near the castle draw big crowds but vantage points for the fireworks display can be found around the city, from up close on Princes Street, Waverley Bridge, or Castle Street to Calton Hill, from residential New Town roof-tops to further afield from the slopes of Holyrood Park.
Inverleith Park's free Family Viewing Area (if open) is also popular. It has good views of the castle and you can listen on Forth Radio to the Concert in the Gardens that accompanies the fireworks display (the video link and speakers were dropped due to budget cuts). It's not as exciting as being up close, under the castle, but you can avoid the uptown crush of Princes Street. Get there earlyish - proceedings start at 7pm - to bag a good spot. (This closed in 2012 due to heavy rain).
Holyrood Park is also closed to traffic to allow people to watch the fireworks. Being further away from the castle this may not have the same intensity as being under the castle, but if you are sufficiently high up the grassy slopes you should get a good view of the bigger fireworks explosions.
Naturally, the weather is also expected to play its part. Ideal weather conditions are clear skies and a slight breeze to blow aside the billowing clouds of smoke from the masses of exploded fireworks away. Check the weather forecast.
Future of the Festival Fireworks Finale
With around 400,000 fireworks synchronised to the programme of music played by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra below the castle, the event has a hefty price tag (believed to be more than £0.25m) and so it has always relied on a sponsor.
The first Edinburgh Festival Fireworks concert was introduced in 1982, with Glenlivet as the event sponsor. The Bank of Scotland was subsequently sponsor of the event til 2011, when Virgin Money took over.
The last festival fireworks event took place in 2019, sponsored by Virgin Money (see details below).
When Covid-19 struck in late 2020 the event was cancelled. The year 2020 would have been the final year of Virgin Money's 10-year sponsorship partnership. The Fireworks were not scheduled in 2021 due to ongoing restrictions around the pandemic.
In 2022, the EIF returned to in-person events, but the Festival Fireworks Concert was cancelled again. A Festival spokesperson said: "The planning time for an event with hundreds of thousands of attendees is extensive and at the time we were required to make the decision we were not confident that we could deliver it within the guidance at the time."
In 2023, amidst a climate of tight funding conditions, the Festival Fireworks Concert was again absent from the Edinburgh International Festival programme announced on 24 April.
Festival director Nicola Benedetti, who took the reins at the EIF in the previous October, said that the decision was both a financial and environmental consideration.
Director of the Benedetti has said that while she recognises the popularity of the event, her team is looking at how it sits within the financial constraints and the environmental goals of the Festival.
"We are looking at a contemporary iteration of what that moment meant to people," said Benedetti.
In 2019, the concert starts without fireworks at 9pm when Edinburgh-born mezzo soprano Catriona Morison joins the SCO for a selection of vocal and orchestral music from Bizet’s Carmen. The second part of the festival fireworks programme starts with Glinka's magical and mysterious Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila, followed by Dukas' The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, made world famous in Disney’s Fantasia. Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique closes the fireworks concert with a fiery finale.
- Bizet's Carmen
- Glinka's Ruslan and Ludmila
- Dukas' The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
- Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique: A Ball
- Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique: March to the Scaffold
- Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique: Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath
In 2018, the concert began at 9pm with no fireworks and a Bernstein selection from Concert Suite No. 1 from West Side Story. Tenor Nicky Spence and soprano Lucy Crowe played the parts of the doomed lovers Tony and Maria. Around about 9.30 pm, the Second half of concert continued with fireworks. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra played Holst The Planets: Mars, Saturn, Uranus, Venus, Jupiter.
Conductor Clark Rundell led the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with a selection of Tchaikovsky’s ballet music, flanked by two Scottish masterpieces, Sir James MacMillan’s ceilidh-inspired Stomp and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise.
The 2016 Festival Fireworks Concert marked Shakespearean 400th anniversary with music from two interpretations of his best known love story: Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and the Symphonic Dances from Leonard Bernstein’s classic West Side Story. The concert concluded with the pomp and exuberance of Shostakovich's Festive Overture.
- Dance of the Knights (Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet
- Morning Dance (Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet)
- The Fight (Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet)
- The Symphonic Dances (West Side Story)
- Shostakovich's Festive Overture
The conductor of the 2016 Fireworks Concert was 37-year old Estonian Kristiina Poska, leading, as always, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
The 2015 Festival Fireworks programme had a dance theme:
- E Strauss Steam Powered polka (fast, op. 70)
- Brahms Hungarian Dances nos. 1,3 & 5
- Mozart Contradances from K603 and K609
- Lumbye Copenhagen Steam Railway Galop
- Dvorak Slavonic Dances from op. 46
- J Strauss II Emperor Waltz, op. 437
- J Strauss II Thunder and Lightning Polka
The concert continued the festival's "war" theme with Wagner's 'Ride of the Valkyries' from Die Walküre, used so evocatively in the movie Apocalypse Now, as well as Debussy's rousing March Écossaise, the stormy passions of Beethoven's Egmont Overture and the memorable 'War March of the Priests' from Mendelssohn's Athalie. The fireworks display over the castle ramparts by Pyrovision reached a crescendo for Tchaikovsky's thunderous 1812 Overture, written to celebrate Russia's deliverance from Napoleon's invading armies.
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Garry Walker performed Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition to a firework display choreographed by Pyrovision. The 4 tonnes of fireworks included the popular waterfall of white light that cascades down the castle rock.
The 2012 Fireworks Concert marked the Queen's Diamond Jubilee with a "feast of pageantry and patriotism", with a touch of Shakespeare including Walton Orb and Sceptre (written for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953); Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Greensleeves; Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet (excerpts); Walton Suite from Henry V (excerpts).
Seated tickets to the Festival Fireworks Concert in the Ross Theatre (£36) usually sell out quickly due to its prime location and limited capacity.
"Top path" seated tickets (£36) have a better view, but also sell out quickly.
Princes Street Gardens standing tickets are much easier to come by and cost less (£15.50 or £20 priority entry; children under-5 years go free but are ticketed). Priority entry tickets are allowed in the gates at 7pm, and standard garden tickets at 7.30pm. You may not have the greatest view due to obstruction from trees, but you can enjoy the sense of occasion with a pre-show picnic.
Tickets are limited to only ten per booking.
Note: Ticket holders for the Ross Theatre don’t need to rush to secure their spot in the gardens and so can take their seats once the gates are open.