Burns night in Edinburgh

Take supper in the city where Robert Burns lived

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Kai Sedgwick

Kai Sedgwick
HomeAway travel expert

Robert Burns

Although born in Ayrshire, Robert Burns made his way to Edinburgh in 1786 at the age of 27. A year later, Scotland’s national poet saw the Edinburgh edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect published. If you’re thinking about celebrating Burns Night up north, where better than the city where the poet composed many of his greatest works?

While Scotland – as well as many other nations – celebrates Burns Night, in Edinburgh the event has a special significance. Come 25 January, friends gather across the city to toast the haggis, drink whisky and read Robert Burns’ poems aloud. Whether you’re a Burns aficionado or are merely curious to know what all the fuss is about, Edinburgh is the perfect city in which to pay tribute to Scotland’s most famous son.


Celebrate Burns night in the city of Scotland’s national poet


The life of Robert Burns The life of Robert Burns

Born in 1759, Robert Burns only lived to 37 before succumbing to illness, brought on by alcohol and his legendary hell-raising lifestyle. He may not have been on this earth for long, but during his time, the bard penned some epic poems which are as cherished today as they were in the 18th century. The most famous of Burns’ works is one that is sung by millions of people every year – Auld Lang Syne, traditionally recited at Hogmanay. Other notable compositions include A Red, Red Rose, To a Mouse, Ae Fond Kiss and Tam O’Shanter.

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The origins of Burns night The origins of Burns night

Burns Night – also known as a Burns supper – is a Scottish tradition that has been in effect since the late 18th century. Following the poet’s death, his friends in Ayrshire got together to remember the man who had made such an impression on their lives. Originally, Burns Night was celebrated on 21 July – the anniversary of the bard’s death – before later being switched to his birthday on January 25. While the minutiae may have changed over the centuries, three staple ingredients of the Burns supper have remained constant – whisky, haggis and poetry.

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Burns night food and drink Burns night food and drink

Haggis is a Scottish delicacy made from minced sheep’s offal mixed with oatmeal, onion, suet and salt. It may not sound appetising, but those who’ve tasted haggis will swear there’s nothing quite like it. While popular in Scotland all the year round, January sees butchers and supermarket shelves stocked to overflowing with haggis in readiness for the main event. Usually boiled or cooked in foil, haggis can be served neat, accompanied by mince and tatties, or added to burgers, turned into pakora or even put on pizza. To accompany it on Burns Night, there’s only one drink that should be seen passing your lips – Scottish whisky that will put a fire in your belly.

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Burns night ceremony Burns night ceremony

Over the years, Burns night has evolved into a semi-formal occasion, complete with its own ceremony and rituals. While there are no absolute rules, the evening usually starts off with the skirl of the pipes to welcome in the guests. After the host has said a few opening words, the guests are seated and grace is delivered, usually reciting the words from Burns’ Selkirk Grace. Then, everyone stands as the piper enters the room, ‘piping’ in the haggis which is set down on the table. Address To a Haggis is recited and the meal begins. The rest of the evening is made up of drinking, eating and often humorous speeches, including Toast to the Lassies, which is followed by a reply from the ‘lassies’ to the gents.

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Burns night in Edinburgh Burns night in Edinburgh

Every January, a host of formal Burns suppers and dances are held across Edinburgh. While some residents choose to attend private functions or to cook a supper in their own homes, many dress up for the occasion (the men in kilts) before attending a formal dinner. Bars, hotels and supper rooms are among the many venues to host Burns suppers on 25 January. After booking yourself accommodation in Edinburgh for the weekend, check online to discover the various Burns suppers being held in the area. Tickets can be purchased in advance, with the option of attending just the supper or also the traditional ceilidh dances afterwards. But remember: there's also comedy, dance and concerts held in memory of the bard, too. Were Robert Burns alive today, he would surely be touched to see that so many still remember his life and words so fondly.

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Robert Burns statue © Karen V Bryan
Burns supper © mnem
Stained glass © summonedbyfells
Bagpipe box © mikecogh
Burns grave © summonedbyfells


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