One of the quintessential Must-Dos in Scotland is to attend at least one of its Highlands' Games. It is a traditional gathering of clans (and non-clans) to compete in various athletics and skills. There are many to choose from, and they are spread out over a large swath of the countryside. You could plan your travels around one or more of the festivals, but seek out the dates and times well in advance. One of the most popular is The Braemar Gathering. Set on the first Saturday of every September, this is a memory and experience of great Scottish culture to be treasured.
Accommodations for The Braemar Gathering
Accommodations fill up very quickly around the town of Braemar, so you will need to make reservations well in advance. However, if you are booking closer to September, you may still be able to obtain an entry ticket to stand. You can always rent a car and enjoy the drive in the Highlands, as we did. Taking a bus to Braemar or a guided tour are two other ways to get there. For help finding more transportation options, click here.
We actually stayed in an Airbnb on a working farm near the Bridge of Cally. Upon the advice of our hostess, we could choose to drive to the Games very early, or wait to leave around 10 am, after the morning traffic had subsided. Opening time was set at 9:30 am, and being night owls, we chose the latter option, knowing the Games ended at 5 pm. This worked out great, as the vast majority of attendees had already arrived, and most were already seated, leaving small lines for entry, food, and hot drinks.
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Braemar Highland Games Tickets
I highly recommend buying a Ringside Seat or Covered/Uncovered Grandstand Ticket. These tickets ensure a seat versus standing.
We bought our tickets in advance, and had asked for them to be held at the booth for pick-up. The gracious staff had everything in order for us when we arrived.
Braemar Gathering International Tent
Hospitality tents were set up including the International Tent where we were pleasantly surprised with a sprig of heather to wear. In the corner, a giant wall map was provided for guests to tag their hometown. It was fun to see all of the places eventually pinned, especially on the North American map.
There's lots of information if you are interested in your Scottish ancestry. Maps of clans and their septs with corresponding tartans are available for you to discover.
The day was filled with all sorts of competitions, including foot races and tugs-of-war.
Events at the Braemar Highland Games
You can expect Scottish culture on full display from the precise footwork of the Sword Dance to the 'Heavies' contests of Tossing the Caber, Hammer, and Putting the Stone. Being there in person to see these very capable men in kilts try to outmaneuver each other to win prize money in the Heavy Events intensified the excitement of the day.
If bagpipes are what you want to hear, there are plenty of 'Battles of the Pipes' to fill your senses, along with parades of Massed Pipe Bands, drummers included, in all of their Scottish finery. Pomp and circumstance with Scottish pride will have you grinning from ear to ear, even if the weather is less than friendly.
The Queen as Patron of The Braemar Gathering
Since 1848, during Queen Victoria's reign, a member of the Royal Family has attended these games at Braemar. The Queen is the Patron of these games, so if you go, be prepared for her arrival at approximately 3 o'clock, and be sure to get a good view. As a Royal 'watcher', it was definitely one of my favorite memories and a privilege to see Her Majesty still attending and enjoying the competitions at age 90~~yet another reason I recommend attending!
Tips for attending an outdoor event in Scotland:
Take necessary items for rain and a cover for your seat (it may already be wet). I carried an extra waterproof poncho with us, and I was thrilled that it was large enough to sit on, and covered our laps during a light shower. And don't be fooled: it can be sunny one minute and downpour the next in Scotland (my photos are evidence of this). Wear comfortable rain boots ~~these are a staple in the Highlands. To find ones that are both very comfortable and packable, read my 5 Must-Have Items.
Food at the Games
Sometimes it's nice to know the types of food offered, as well as their price, so I wanted to include photos of what you can expect (subject to change):
Tickets and Website for Braemar Gathering
Tickets are relatively inexpensive, but as I mentioned earlier, I highly recommend purchasing a ticket for an actual seat, so don't wait to purchase at the gate. The Braemar Highland Games now have an online method to purchase your tickets using PayPal or a credit card. Click here for their website.
If you are renting a car, be sure to read the helpful advice on Driving UK-style and for alternatives: How to Find Transportation Options You Can Trust For Free.