The Beltane Fire Festival

This blog shares pictures and my own experience of the Beltane Fire Festival, Edinburgh. 

Although my friends have been going for years, 2024 was my first year attending.

This makes it easy to share my impressions and tips – including the few things I wish I’d done differently. 

But first, a quick introduction…

I write as lead coach at a small independent language school in Perthshire, offering English conversation holidays which explore Scotland.

This year, I brought an advanced English user (Katarzyna) to Beltane as part of her week of English immersion, enjoying Scottish landscapes and culture with an English coach as her guide.

Our other activities this week include cycling from Strathyre to Killin (up the old railway and across a stunning viaduct), cooking together and a whisky tasting.

Because Katarzyn’s an academic and bibliophile, we visited the amazing Innerpeffray Library, (quite possibly my favourite place in the world).

As you can see, our holidays are bespoke adventures into English, as well as the landscapes & cultures of Scotland.

The Beltane Fire Festival is an amazing ingredient in a holiday designed to lose inhibitions around speaking English as a second language. 

(You’ll see why when you read this blog).

Beltane Fire Festival Edinburgh 2024 group of performers

What is Beltane?

Beltane is an ancient celebration marking the beginning of summer through fertility rites, fire, drumming and dancing.

It is still remembered through popular folk traditions:  it’s the origin of English maypole dancing too: but it’s not widely celebrated in the UK.

When I was growing up, the tradition was to climb a hill before dawn on May 1st, to wash your face in the morning dew.

However, the once significant date is now just a bank holiday for most of the population.  

All of this makes it extra wonderful that The Beltane Fire Society are keeping ancient customs alive.

Edinburgh’s Beltane celebration is a unique opportunity to connect with costumes, rites and worship of times past.

Beltane Fire Festival Edinburgh 2024 female performer portrait

The Night Unfolds

Beltane Fire Festival Edinburgh 2024 waiting for dusk

What to Expect

The evening begins with waiting for the sun to set.

The first performers are in place, visible on the monument walls, the wind flapping their cloaks but otherwise, they are still.


Beltane Fire Festival Edinburgh 2024 waiting for dusk

Feel the Night

Night arrives to cheers, the beacons are lit, drumming begins and burning shapes light up the night.

The hillside is soon completely dark.

Your senses heighten as you must find your footing as processions of strange, beautiful characters spread light, comedy, joy, love and mischief as they weave through the crowds.

They are characters from ancient lore – but you don’t need to know the tales to feel emerged in them.

They will remind you of ancient roles of protection, and ways of worshipping and celebrating that you forgot you even knew.

Beltane Fire Festival Edinburgh 2024 fire to start the celebration
Beltane Fire Festival Edinburgh 2024 female performer portrait

About Photography

There needs to be a conversation about iPhone photography and privacy at the Beltane Festival. 

Phone technology is so good that it automatically converts low-light situations into bright scenes. This may make detailed shots, but it demystifies the night, as well as exposing nude performers to an extent they may not have intended. 

Everything in the event is highly Instagramable, but don’t omit putting your phone away and watching, listening and feeling. 

The point is not to see the glue holding the costumes together, but to feel connected to the seasons, humanity and the natural world. 

Beltane Fire Festival Edinburgh 2024 female performer portrait

About Clothes

Everyone will tell you to wear warm clothes and strong shoes.

While this is undoubtedly sensible, I took it to heart and then regretted being as boringly dressed as I was.

I mean, do stay safe, but this is an opportunity to be as glorious as you wish.  

The floaty dresses, costumes and luminous makeup of the audience are gorgeous.  

Beltane Fire Festival Edinburgh 2024 performer portraits

Who to Go With

This is a great festival to go to alone.

Even if you attend with friends (or English learners!) I suggest splitting up and then meeting up later to share what you saw.

If you experience the festival alone, you can move with it like a pebble in the tide.

There are plenty of people to share conversations with, but above all, the most powerful moments are the silent and still ones,  like waiting for the sunset or the pauses between drumming.

The silence is part of the show/event.

Don’t miss it by talking.

Beltane Fire Festival Edinburgh 2024 performer portraits

About Audience Interaction

Performers walk through the crowds as processions, acting out personalities & roles.

However, there are also plenty of Beltane performers walking around and interacting with the audience.

For example, the girl at the start giving everyone their Beltane blessing radiated such warmth, that I was buzzing afterwards.

I realised that I had held the prejudice that the event might feel a bit pretentious.

Friends who have been coming for years had told me that the vibe had changed, that modern Beltane was more of a show than a festival.

My impression was of a friendly festival that may have morphed in size but still seems to exist to share a moment that people truly love.

Beltane Fire Festival Edinburgh 2024 female performer with globe

The Spiritual Side

For many attending Beltane, it’s a big glorious show.

For others, it’s a fresh start as powerful as New Year.

Above all, it’s a sincere (but joyous) spiritual celebration in which we are guests.

The Beltane Fire Festival shares ways to connect with nature and ancestors.

It even reminds us of a different way of being alive.

Its power is that within all the colourful chaos, you feel more aware of the night’s sky, and your own heart beating in your body.

inside the new Perth museum logboat

The Beltane Fire Festival

How does this English conversation activity help your English / positively impact our community:


✅ Great for mental/physical health (if you aren’t scared of heights).

⭕ benefits our local community.

🟠 preserves craft skills, historic machinery, monuments etc.

✅ gets you talking with a rich and diverse selection of people, or about diverse subjects.

⭕ supports Scottish industry/agriculture

✅ supports arts & artists

⭕ explores Scottish wildlife in non-invasive ways 

🟠 a good introduction to Scottish culture

✅ financially contributes to preserving culture

✅ it is for fun and feeling good in English.


Find out about this list

Edinburgh’s Beltane Fire Festival 

Taste Freedom

The whole evening modelled what freedom can look and feel like.

That’s freedom from rules, clothes, small talk, inhibitions  (and plenty of other social norms).

If you follow me as an English teacher, you know I’m all about immersive experiences which have the power to change how you think and feel.

Beltane is a good one!

If you’re in Edinburgh at the start of May, don’t miss it!

And book your ticket early as places are limited. 

See Scotland Learning English

If you would like to experience Scottish culture WHILE enjoying using your English, I’d love to be your guide. 

See our 2024 Holiday Schedule.

Further Information

Beltane Fire Society

We have another festival-based holiday coming up:

Discover how our language school shares the Drovers Tryst Festival.