Scotland's traditions

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  • Caber Tossing at the Braemar Gathering
    Caber Tossing
  • Fireworks bursting over a floodlit Edinburgh Castle
    Edinburgh Castle forms the impressive backdrop for the world-famous Hogmanay Midnight Fireworks
  • Shot of a haggis sitting on a bed of heather
    Haggis on a bed of heather
  • Pipe bands perform to a hushed crowd on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle during The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
    The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle

Scotland’s cultural identity is a rich and colourful tapestry of traditions that have been passed down through the ages. While everyone is familiar with the Scottish clichés of popular imagination – bagpipes, haggis and kilts – Scotland’s traditions don’t merely survive as staid customs and dusty relics preserved behind glass cases in museums. They remain a vibrant and essential part of Scottish culture to this day, continually evolving as they are embraced by each new generation. 

Visitors returning to their ancestral homeland can witness the breathtaking reality of Scotland’s centuries-old traditions being enacted firsthand. Hear the rousing sound of the bagpipes as hundreds of pipers march in unison at the annual World Pipe Band Championships held on Glasgow Green and at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

There are plenty of opportunities to attend Highland Games throughout the summer months, the oldest of which is believed to be the Braemar Gathering which is traditionally attended by the British Royal Family. Watch as kilted athletes compete in Highland sports like the tossing o’ the caber and hammer throw at this unforgettable spectacle said to date back to the 11th century during the reign of Malcolm III.

A traditional male garment, the kilt has its roots in the 16th century but in recent years has made an appearance on the catwalk in the collections of designers including Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood and Glaswegian designer Jonathon Saunders. There are plenty of places where you can pick up your own authentically woven kilt in your clan tartan and you can learn more about the history of this striking, practical fabric and its continued influence upon fashion at the Scottish Tartans Museum in Edinburgh. 

Traditional Scottish food and drink is renowned throughout the world, in particular its whisky and haggis. You can see for yourself how Scotland’s most famous export the ‘water of life’ is produced at historic distilleries using time-honoured methods and taste the country’s national dish – a delicious savoury pudding – at a traditional Burns Supper or a St Andrews Day celebration.

Discover how today’s leading chefs, such as Gordon Ramsey, Nick Nairn and Gordon Ramsey, are reinventing traditional Scottish fare at Michelin starred restaurants using the county’s finest local produce including beef, venison and seafood.

Held on the 25th of January, Burns Night only celebrates the life and poetry of Robert Burns, but allows visitors to both sample their culinary heritage and witness their ancestral tongue being spoken. Attend a Burns Supper and you’ll have the chance to hear Old Scots spoken as the host recites the Address to a Haggis which is traditionally followed by performances of the Bard’s best loved songs and poems. 

Immerse yourself in Scotland’s proud musical heritage at events and festivals held throughout the year such as Celtic Connections and the Perthshire Amber Festival, and celebrate the arrival of the New Year as you never have before at Hogmanay.

Head to Edinburgh where you can take part in the city’s world famous street party and witness a breathtaking fireworks display against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, or bring in the New Year at the Stonehaven Fireball Ceremony. Watch this ancient custom as locals parade down the street swinging great fireballs over their heads before flinging them in the harbor on the stroke of midnight.

Experience the excitement of traditional ceilidhs and join hands singing Auld Lang Syne, an old Scots song that was adapted by Burns into the world renowned anthem it is today. 

Kept alive by a proud and passionate people, these traditions continue play an essential part in Scotland’s cultural past and present. Witnessing and taking part in them is one of the best ways for visitors to truly appreciate both Scotland’s unique heritage and their own ancestral ties to the country.