A local’s guide to the Edinburgh Beltane Fire Festival

Every year Edinburgh hosts Europe’s largest Bealtaine festival, put on by the Beltane Fire Society, with visitors from around the world flocking to the Scottish capital to take part. Set on top of Calton Hill, a park topped by a half built replica of the Acropolis, the May Queen and her retinue oversee the transition from winter to summer through the lighting of the neid fire, followed by a ritual procession around the hill, attended by various elemental and mythical beings, and finally the death and rebirth of the Green Man.

This year the festival is set for Tuesday, April 30. Tickets are on sale now through Citizen Ticket. If you’re planning on joining them this year, here’s a little advice on what to expect and how to make the most of your visit to Britain’s most haunted city.

Beltane 2019 Edinburgh Calton Hill – Image credit: Nyri0 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81651179


Accommodation and Travel

Book now. It’s only going to get more expensive the closer you wait to the festival itself, especially if you’re planning on coming by train. Trust me, rail prices have gone through the roof lately, and last minute train tickets double so.

As far as accommodation goes, Edinburgh has something for every price point, from the absurdly luxurious historic hotels scattered all over the city to numerous cheap and cheerful options.

At the far end of the scale, there’s The Witchery, an incredible 16th century building just next to the castle, and so named because it’s beside the spot where accused witches were burned at the stake. However, with prices that range between just under £500 to well over a grand for a single night in one of their uniquely styled, antique-filled rooms, the average festival-goer might find that a little bit out of reach. For those who do find themselves flush, but not quite that flush, with cash, may I recommend its sister hotel, Prestonfield House, just as gorgeous but a steal at half the price.

If you’re not swimming in cash, Edinburgh is filled with charming bed and breakfasts, as well as reliable chain hotels like the Ibis, where, around the May festival time, you should be able to get a room for around £100 – 200 a night.

One thing I ask as a resident is that, no matter how tempting the price, you do refrain from booking into an AirBnB for your stay here. Convenient as they are, the proliferation of AirBnB rentals in our tourism-heavy city has helped create a housing crisis for the actual residents. So if you would like to continue enjoying the rich artistic and cultural life produced by this city, please avoid patronising the businesses forcing creatives to move elsewhere.


Edinburgh has an incredible food scene, and even if you’re only planning on being in the city long enough to attend the festival itself, it’s a good idea to eat something before heading up the mound. There are usually food trucks up there too, but in my experience, especially if you’re planning on drinking, it all goes better if you’ve got a solid meal in you first.

If you’re looking to experience some Scottish luxury, then The Dome, The Witchery, The Cafe Royal, and The Guildford Arms all offer high quality and delicious Scottish food. For more affordable fare, try Fazenda, an Argentinian and Brazilian barbeque place, or Beirut for excellent Lebanese food.

Little hole-in-the-wall places selling everything from cicetti (Venice’s answer to tapas) to curry roti are all over the place. And of course, you must stop at a traditional chippy on your way home if you’ve not partaken up on the mound – there’s nothing like chips in curry sauce or a deep fried haggis to end a night.

2012 Beltane Fire Festival in front of the National Monument of Scotland on Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland [Wikimedia Commons, Stefan Schäfer, Lich, CC 3.0]

The Festival

If you want to get a good view of the opening ceremonies, or snag yourself a prime spot on the parade route, it’s important to get there early. Queues to get in begin some time before the event itself and if you’re not there an hour before it’s scheduled, you can kiss getting one of those spots goodbye.

If you’re less concerned about that and more interested in the vibes and watching the individual group performances later, then feel free to turn up at a later time. I often come a little late these days and still have an excellent time.

Make sure you dress in layers, and if we have a misleadingly warm day do not be taken in by it. By nightfall it will be freezing up there. It’s also a good idea to have a waterproof top layer with you as well, because while it doesn’t always rain, you’ll really regret going without one if it does.

There’s no alcohol available for sale on the mound, but you are allowed to bring your own. However, there is a rule against glass bottles, so if you’re planning on bringing booze make sure to decant it into a plastic bottle or flask first.

Towards the end of the night, some performers may end up mingling with the audience while people dance and celebrate around various bonfires. There are some parts of the hill, however, that will remain cordoned off to those who aren’t members of the Beltane Fire Society. Do not try to cross into these areas as you are likely to end up being removed from the hill if you do.

While you’re here

If you’ve decided to extend your stay past the festival itself, there’s a plethora of Witch and Pagan friendly activities to do here in the UK’s most haunted city.

Greyfriari’s Kirkyard, an important historical site due to its role in Scotland’s 17th century religious conflict, is said to be haunted by the most violent poltergeist in the country. Brave, or possibly foolish, tourists can go on walking tours there at night, though many attendees have reported being attacked by the entity.

Arthur’s Seat [Magnus Hagdorn, Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0]

The National Museum of Scotland houses numerous items of interest, including Pictish artefacts, witch finders’ tools, and the mysterious Fairy Coffins of Arthur’s Seat – eight miniature coffins, containing miniature sculpted corpses, found on the side of an extinct volcano in 1836.

The Witches Well, a memorial drinking fountain beside the castle, is a monument set up to honour the accused witches executed during the years of the witch panics.

Finally, St. Bernard’s Well, topped by a neo-classical imitation of a temple to Hygeia, is a healing spring that can be found on the banks of the Water of Leith. Closed off to the public since the 1940’s due to arsenic in the water the temple itself is still well worth a visit.

Editor’s note: If you do visit the Beltane Fire Festival this year, send us your impressions! We would love to hear from Festival-goers – drop us a message to eric@wildhunt.org.

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