Absolute Escapes August 12 2019

Bagpipes echo through the Highland glens and the enchanting melody of the fiddle spills from lively pubs to warm the city nights.

As well as being renowned the world over, traditional Scottish music is still alive and kicking all over Scotland today. From rousing upbeat anthems to stomp your feet to, to gentle melodic folk tunes, it really does offer something for everyone.

With 15 years’ experience of arranging award-winning self-drive holidays in Scotland, Absolute Escapes know a thing or two about where to find the best experiences. We’ve put together a list of some of our favourite places to hear traditional Scottish music.



The Scottish capital has no shortage of venues to suit every taste. Being based in the city, the Absolute Escapes team have certainly ‘researched’ these extensively!

The unassuming Sandy Bell’s and The Royal Oak just south of the Royal Mile both provide authentic folk sessions in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

Not only is there scheduled live music every weekday from 21.00 at Sandy Bell’s, and from mid-afternoon on the weekends, but impromptu sessions frequently break out amongst the enthusiastic and talented locals. It’s a very encouraging environment, with newcomers welcome to join in.

The Royal Oak is a similarly snug, wood-panelled pub on the Southside of the city. Here you will find an excellent selection of beer and whisky to pour over while you listen to some of the best local talent in folk and acoustic music.

Also in Edinburgh, the Whiski Bar on the Royal Mile offers up a quintessential Scottish experience. Adorned with fairy lights, the atmosphere is superb, and you can sample a taste of Scotland in every sense with the delicious menu and extensive choice of whiskies, set to live music every night.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Whiski Bar (@whiskibar) on

If all of this music sets your feet tapping, then you might fancy trying out some traditional Scottish dancing. As complex as the word itself looks, Ceilidh (pronounced ‘kay-lee’) dancing is actually remarkably simple. Most ceilidhs will have a ‘caller’ at the front of the band to announce the dance and explain the moves step-by-step, so everyone can participate. It’s a very fun, casual and friendly affair, with good spirits and much raucous foot-stomping, whirling and clapping.

Ghillie Dhu in the city centre has live music and a ceilidh every Friday and Saturday night from 19.00.

Summerhall, to the south of the city centre, plays host to the Edinburgh Ceilidh Club every Tuesday night throughout the year.

Both are brilliant nights out and sure to leave you in high spirits for days and weeks to come! We would, however, recommend booking tickets in advance to avoid missing out.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Edinburgh Ceilidh Club (@edceilidh) on



Scotland’s biggest city is a hub of culture and is brimming with unique venues and up-and-coming bands.

If you’re looking for something more modern, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut is one of the most well known and best-loved venues in the heart of the city and has been pivotal in launching the careers of some huge names. Radiohead, The Killers, Florence and The Machine, and Paolo Nutini are just some of the few to have played here. King Tut’s has a loyal following of locals and the atmosphere is always lively and electric.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (@kingtutsofficial) on

For a more mellow evening, The Ben Nevis and The Park Bar – both in Finnieston – host traditional folk and acoustic sessions in a laid back setting. A famously good selection of whisky can be found perched upon The Ben Nevis’s quirky wooden shelves, and traditional folk sessions are held here every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, while the Park Bar hosts live music on weekends.

Both pubs offer copious amounts of old fashioned charm and a charismatic atmosphere. They can become packed at peak times, so arrive early if you want a seat.

A real all-in-one venue, check out Òran Mór for something truly special. The name translates from Gaelic to ‘great melody of life’ or ‘big song’, and that’s exactly what you’ll experience in this unique venue. Housed in the former Kelvinside Parish Church, there is a smorgasbord of entertainment – two restaurants, a lounge and Whisky Bar, a live music venue, nightclub and an auditorium set beneath a mural ceiling by local artist Alisdair Gray.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Òran Mór (@oranmorglasgow) on


Rest of Scotland

Outside of the two big cities, the folk scene continues to flourish.

Impromptu sessions can often be stumbled upon in remote locations and traditional pubs throughout Scotland’s Highlands & Islands. Similarly to different malts of whisky, local towns can have really unique and different styles of folk music, so it is worth slowing down and exploring all the different flavours.

Scotland’s rugged west coast has a proud musical heritage, and in recent years, Ullapool has become a gathering point for musical talent. Don’t miss a visit to The Ceilidh Place, set back from the harbour. This vibrant venue is the beating heart of the town’s folk scene.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Col (@col.baird) on

The northern archipelagos of Shetland & Orkney also have a strong folk heritage which stretches back through the ages. Fireside melodies to warm the soul through the fierce winter nights, and joyous jigs to dance gleefully into endless summer evenings. The sell-out Orkney Folk Festival occurs in May each year, while Wrigley and The Reel in Kirkwall is the place to visit for an ever-changing menu of themed evenings and workshop sessions.

In Inverness, MacGregor’s Bar on Academy Street is the destination of choice. Much of the reason for their popularity is the incredible mix of traditional music playing live at the bar seven nights a week, with sessions led by some of the nation’s finest musicians. Alongside this, a monthly folk club has attracted some of the world’s finest performers, there’s a weekly songwriters gathering, and a piano just waiting to welcome any passing troubadour!

For more live music in the ‘Capital of the Highlands’, head to Hootenanny (or ‘Hoots’ as it’s known locally), where you’ll find award-winning live music. Folk sessions take place on Sunday to Wednesday nights, and ceilidhs on Saturday afternoons.


Fancy a Scottish Singalong?

We would recommend you check out VisitScotland’s event listings for an idea of what might be on when you are in Scotland.

Though we’ve done our best here to include particular favourites and the big names of the Scottish traditional music scene, the spontaneity of folk sessions is a large part of their authenticity and charm.

Keep an ear open on your travels. Simply by slowing down and taking the time to explore and discover, you are bound to be treated to a taste of the exquisite folk music Scotland is famed for.

Charlotte Wood

P.S. Established in Edinburgh in 2004, Absolute Escapes are award-winning specialists in self-drive holidays in Scotland. Our team have turned our love of exploring Scotland into our day job – we know exactly where to find the best experiences and how to turn your trip into an unforgettable one. Send us an enquiry today and take the first step in planning your escape to Scotland.

Back to top