A Burns Tour of Scotland

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

Every year, the Scottish celebrate the life, exuberant character and works of the poet (and writer of ‘Auld Lang Syne') Robert Burns — the national bard — with a traditional ‘Burns Supper’ on the evening of the 25th of January — his birthday. But with an iconic Haggis centrepiece (carried into the room on a silver platter, led by a bagpiper) paired with cock-a-leekie soup, neeps and tatties and a dram of whisky, wolfed down by diners dressed in a Scottish silhouette of kilts and trail jackets, a traditional Burns Night feast is as much a celebration of Scotland as it is their national bard. From decadent dinners aboard a former Royal Yacht, to bagpipe soundtracked evenings in some of Scotland’s most iconic destinations, these are the best places to celebrate Burns Night.

Burns Night Aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, Leith

After sailing 1,000,000 nautical miles across hundreds of state visits with the Royal Family, the Royal Yacht Britannia now rests its elegant bow just two miles outside of Edinburgh in Leith port. Board on one of two evenings for a five-course menu of sumptuous Scottish fare crafted in the ship’s original Royal galleys and served in the regal State Dining Room by Britannia's well-heeled butlers. As is customary, Scottish music will be played throughout the dinner and includes the 'Address to a Haggis’, Burns’ sonnet-like poem, or love letter if you prefer, to the flavoursome cocktail of sheep-bits that makes a Haggis. This is followed by a whisky tasting and a highlight tour of the yacht’s majestic interiors. 

The Burns and Beyond Festival, Edinburgh

A full week’s worth of cultural festivities takes over Edinburgh in January. With Scottish folk-tinged pop music from acts such as Adam Holmes and Kilsyth's The Twilight Sad, unfurling their seductive, post-punk-tinged folk sounds with a stripped-back show at the Assembly Rooms crafted especially for the annual Burns celebrations. Other events include the Bairns Burns Supper, a family-friendly supper with a Cèilidh band and tables full of Scottish fare, as well as theatre evenings showcasing comic celebrations of Burns’ works. Between shows, visit the Burns Monument in Edinburgh’s old town and The Writer’s Museum, which hosts a variety of artefacts like Burns’ writing desk, manuscripts, and, rather macabrely, a plaster cast of his skull.

Extend your visit to Edinburgh with a stay at the iconic Balmoral Hotel, whose majestic bell tower has become an icon amongst the gothic topography of the capital’s attractive old town. Expect tartan welcomes and an encyclopaedic 500-strong whisky collection paired with a melange of traditional Scottish flavours and modern techniques in the sublime Number 1 restaurant.  

Follow Burns’ Words to the Highlands

Many, if not all Burns’ poems and songs offer a lingering romantic glimpse of Scotland. In his poem, ‘My Heart’s in the Highlands’ he wrote “Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, The hills of the Highlands forever I love”, and there’s no better way to understand his adoration of the Highlands than to see their raw, unfiltered beauty for yourself. For a luxurious view of those sublime hills, journey aboard Belmond’s Royal Scotsman, stopping at Fort William and the Isle of Bute to see placid lochs framed by enigmatic mountains. Hike Glen Nevis to see mirror-still waterfalls at Steall Waterfall or spend the night in Kyle of Lochalsh, with loch and Isle of Skye views from the country house-Esque comfort of the Royal Scotsman’s Observation Car. 

Burns Night In Glasgow

Before indulging in any of Glasgow's Burns night festivities, turn your attention to a trio of Burns-themed sights in Glasgow’s leafy city centre. Start in George Square to meet the legend himself immortalised as a giant plinth-top effigy. Intriguingly, the statue was not officially commissioned by the city but bought and paid for by a public subscription by Burns’s fans and erected on his birthday in 1877 (more than a century after his birth) as a rousing testimony to the bard’s popularity amongst the Scots. From here, take a lunchtime tipple in the Saracen Head’s, a historic pub with a who’s who of past guests: from Burns to the Duke of Hamilton, and end your tour at the Robert Burns Collection in the Mitchell Library, home to 900 editions of his work as well as original manuscripts and the only surviving letter written by Burns in his native Scots language. 

Finish up your tour of Glasgow with an 'Evening with the Bard', a traditional Burns Supper held inside the beautiful Grade A-listed Corinthian Club. 

Host your Own Burns Night

While each Burns supper is individual, there’s a core of set traditions that turn a Scottish-themed dinner into a celebratory Burns Supper. First and foremost, familiarise yourself with Burns’ work and gather the necessary provisions: from a good Scottish Whisky like a Dalmore or a smokey Laphroaig to a delicious Haggis and the traditional sides. Kilts are optional but always appropriate. From here, the supper begins, and the guests gather to listen to the host say a few words of introduction before Burns’ Selkirk Grace is said:

“Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it,

But we hae meat and we can eat,

Sae let the Lord be Thankit!”

Afterwards, the starter of cock-a-leekie soup is served and the haggis is piped in (a bagpiper plays as the chef brings the Haggis to the table) as the host performs the famous Burns Night haggis poem: ‘Address to a Haggis’.

“Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!…”

Afterwards, everyone toasts the freshly cooked Haggis with a good dram of Scottish whisky, and the Haggis is sliced, plated and devoured ceremoniously. After dessert, a series of recitals take place including the ‘Immortal Memory’ (the main tribute to Burns), before the evening closes with Auld Lang Syne.

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