When it comes to festivals in Scotland, one likely comes to mind first and foremost: Fringe. The Edinburgh arts fest is a nearly month-long celebration of creativity that has no equal across the globe. If you’re a fan of stand-up comedy, street magic, avant-garde theater, or pretty much anything in-between, you have to visit at least once in your lifetime. While the performers are fairly U.K.-focused, the fest has launched some serious careers. Fringe is where Robin Williams got his first big break on stage and contemporary comedians like Hannibal Burress and Mary Lynn Rajskub are known to frequent clubs or perform longer-term residencies during the festival.
Still, there’s more to Scotland’s festival scene than Fringe. The country boasts an eclectic mix of cultural fests that celebrate the intricacies of Scottish culture, one-of-a-kind whisky events tucked away on the Inner Hebrides, and rad EDM bacchanals that last days on end.
If those don’t nail your vibe (they definitely nail ours), there are plenty of other options, too. You might have heard of the famed Highland Games — featuring modern-day goliaths competing in feats of strength supported by a rich cultural (and culinary) backdrop — or the almost impossible-to-summarize scene at Eden (paganism! music! yoga!). The point being, the whole Scottish festival universe is unique, diverse, and a whole lot of fun. We’re calling out five festivals beyond Fringe that we love best below!
Terminal V Resurgence, Edinburgh
The easiest recommendation we can give is Terminal V Resurgence. This is the ultimate techno party with a direct line to Berlin’s scene, where a sibling festival takes place next year. While that sounds amazing in and of itself, Festival Director Derek Martin takes us deeper:
“Our stage designs are productions that have been meticulously planned with no corners cut on costs,” he says. “Our lineups feature the biggest electronic acts from across the musical spectrum.”
On that last point, Martin isn’t kidding. The lineup this year is a deep dive into the cutting edge of techno, EDM, trance, and every other form of electronic music from all around the world in one place. That translates to nearly 60 acts on six stages with over 20,000 people dancing and partying every day and night. You can see the whole, vast lineup right here.
Terminal V runs April 16th-17th, 2022, at Edinburgh’s The Royal Highland Centre. The venue is out at the Edinburgh airport, meaning that there are plenty of hotels very close. Terminal V will also be providing pre-party buses to and from the venue to central Edinburgh and several other cities throughout the U.K.
Tickets start at $88 for a one-day pass with VIP upgrades starting at $27. The full weekend pass is $168.
Highland Games, Nationwide
If Fringe isn’t what you think of when you think of Scottish festivals, then it’s probably the Highland Games. This nearly 1,000-year-old cultural festival celebrates all things Scotland but is far more than a monolith. Sure, you can watch bulking Scottish dudes throw logs (caber toss) and rocks (shot putt) while a bagpipe parade bellows in the background alongside foot races. But you’ll also find plenty of local food, drink, dancing, and community.
2022’s Highland Games take place across the whole region. The gist of the Highland Games is really local celebrations of summer across the region. Expect a county fair vibe but with a quaint Scottish village feel to it with Scotland’s dramatic Highlands framing every scene.
In all, you could spend May to September traveling all of Scotland and hit all the games, and then leave having a deeper understanding of the whole country under your travel belt. Plus, you’ll have eaten some amazing meat pies and drunk some great whisky and ale along the way — hopefully, at a local pub after a tug-of-war battle just outside.
The Highland Games run May through September. You can check here for nine towns hosting the games this year. Most games will have a small entrance fee ($7 to $12 per person) plus an extra fee if you want to compete in any of the sports/activities. Don’t take that lightly though, the games are taken very seriously by local folks — it might be a good idea to just sit back with your whisky or pint and cheer from the crowd.
Fèis Ìle 2022, Islay
Fèis Ìle is the ultimate Scottish whisky festival. The festival takes place in the late spring on the isle of Islay and celebrates the island’s deep and long history with all things Scotch whisky.
Ben Shakespeare, the communications manager for the fest, breaks it down like this: “each distiller has their own festival days, which are a celebration of whisky and music. But mostly, it’s just people from all over the world coming together and having a good time on this little island.”
While whisky is the main focus, Fèis Ìle is really all about the community in Islay. The whole island participates from pub to pub and distillery to distillery, proudly sharing everything the island has to offer, from white sand beaches to the local Gaelic Centre, perfect for history fans. There are also bands and food and scores of very friendly locals — it’s a whole vibe.
Shakespeare offers one last tip, stay until the end. “The Final Fling is a great night!” he says. “It’s the last night of the festival when a lot of the locals come out and celebrate the end of a really busy week.”
Fèis Ìle runs from May 27 to June 4th this year. All “first batch” tickets are sold out but there will be more events and tickets going up soon. Keep an eye on the fest’s social media for updates. You’ll also be able to buy tickets to food events, boat trips around the island, and music events at the distilleries themselves.
We’d also argue that you’d need to book accommodation ASAP if you plan to go this year. There are just over 3,000 people on Islay and up to 10,000 are expected to show up for the fest.
Eden Festival, Moffat
The Eden Festival started off cheekily as the Wicker Man fest back in the early aughts. That vibe transcends to this day. The modern Eden Festival is a place where ancient Gaelic paganism, hippy vibes, and a 1990s carnival of the absurd collide. There are the requisite yoga mornings, meditation tents, vegan treats for everyone, and plenty of scantily clad and painted bodies everywhere you look.
Then there’s the music. Eden Festival is the biggest music fest in the whole country. This year’s event will have 250 acts across ten stages over just four days. Naturally, that vastness covers pretty much every genre of music there is. So we’re pretty confident that you’ll be able to find something that speaks to you.
All of that combines to create a scene, and that’s what the festival is all about. Those Wicker Man vibes still permeate through the whole event and drive the holistic and paganist nature of a festival that prioritizes treating all music and people as equals.
Eden Festival runs June 9th-12th, 2022, at St. Ann’s just outside Moffat in the Scottish Lowlands. There’s camping and glamping on-site for a fee. There are also public buses from Edinburgh and Glasgow with an Eden shuttle to take you the rest of the way. Otherwise, this is a pretty remote location. There are plenty of food stalls, beer taps, and cocktail bars on-site in case you’re worried about food.
TRNSMT Festival, Glasgow
Let’s end things with a classic multi-stage music festival in a big city. TRNSMT in Glasgow has a classic main stage in a big ol’ field with huge nostalgia acts this year like The Strokes as well as two supporting stages with up-and-coming hip-hop, rock (Wolf Alice is on the lineup), and EDM artists.
The stages are set up with vendors in between selling plenty of food and drink. That being said, the ripple here is that the fest takes place in Glasgow Green, which is right in the middle of the city. That means you have the entirety of Glasgow’s restaurant, bar, and club scene at your fingertips before, during, and after every performance. That makes this kind of the perfect festival to travel to, especially if you’re looking to party in one of Europe’s coolest cities while also attending a massive music festival.
The fest runs from July 8th-10th this year. Since it’s in the middle of Glasgow, transportation isn’t an issue once you arrive. Moreover, there a plenty of hotels within a stone’s throw of the Green. Though be warned, up to 120,000 people attend this festival. So book your accommodation now.
Tickets start at $82 for a single day or $210 for the full run. Though, since this is the first year back since 2019, tickets are going quickly.