One of the best parts of travel is having the opportunity to experience cultural events in other countries; sure we all know about the holidays and events in our homelands, but discovering when, why, and how different people mark special occasions in other parts of the world is a truly delightful way to meet locals where they are.
While Burns Night is not an English holiday – it is definitively Scottish, and should be recognized as that immediately – you can actually celebrate Burns Night in London if you know where to go. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about Scotland even if your travel plans won’t take you out of England, or even out of London itself.
Below you’ll find an introduction to Burns Night, why it is celebrated – and how. Then I’ve pulled together a list of Burns Night celebrations and suppers that you might consider adding to your London itinerary. Take this opportunity to learn more about what makes all of Great Britain so great, and to try haggis if you’re so inclined!
What is Burns Night?
If you’re a fan of poetry, you may have heard of Scotland’s most famous poet and lyricist, Robert Burns. He wrote over 550 songs and poems, with his most famous work being “Auld Lang Syne,” sung to mark the ending of something, such as on New Year’s Eve, or at graduations and even funerals! (However, my favorite work of his is the song “My love is like a red, red rose…” which you’ll sometimes hear used as wedding vows.)
To mark the anniversary of Burns’ birth in Ayr, Scotland on the 25th of January 1759, Burns Night has been celebrated since 1801, when nine of his close friends gathered to honor the fifth year of his passing.
Ways to Celebrate Burns Night
It is said that the original nine celebrated Burns Night with a supper of haggis, renditions of Burns’ works, and a speech to honor Scotland’s National Poet. Over 200 years later, most people celebrate Burns Night by attending a Burns Supper (basically an evening to celebrate the Great Man himself.)
A Burns Supper follows pretty much the same format as the 1801 original: the host welcomes everyone and says the Selkirk Grace, a hearty Scottish meal is served (usually haggis, neeps (Swedes), and tatties (Potatoes), and whiskey, of course), followed by a recital of some Burns’ poems and songs, then the Immortal Memory (a tribute to Burns), and the singing of Auld Lang Syne to mark the end of the evening. (Don’t forget to cross your arms and link hands when you say “And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!”
Is Burns Night Celebrated in London?
Yes! Burns Night in London is quite an event; in 2023, for example, there were at least 17 Burns Suppers, held everywhere from the floating bar Barge East in Hackney to the Michelin-starred restaurant Seven Park Place. For a list of Burns Night 2024 events I’ve found so far, read on…
Burns Night Events in London
While Burns Night is traditionally celebrated on January 25th, there are actually events happening from January 20th-28th in London; you can certainly find something to mark the occasion if you’re visiting London during this time.
Ceilidh Club (January 20)
Photos courtesy of Ceilidh Club
If you’re only in London pre-25 January but really want to experience Burns Night in London, join the Ceilidh Club on the 20th of January! The £53 event starts at 6 but the Scottish buffet will only be served from 6.30 (gluten-free options available) with dancing starting at 7. The haggis is piped in at 8.20 and you’ll be treated to an address to the haggis before it is piped off stage again! The evening is brought to a close at 10 with the singing of Auld Lang Syne.
Royal Over-Seas League (January 24)
For a more formal Burns Night, participate in the Royal Over-Seas League’s sit-down dinner (with a smart casual dress code.) There will be a master of ceremonies, piper, and singer! The evening starts with the Selkirk Grace, am amuse-bouche, the piping in and address of the haggis, a 3-course meal, Glenmorangie 12-year-old single malt, and ends with the Auld Lang Syne.
Tickets are £95 for members and £105 for non-members.
The Fentiman Arms (January 25)
Photos courtesy of Fentiman Arms via Instagram
At The Fentiman Arms in Vauxhall, you can enjoy a drink and a 3-course meal to celebrate London Burns Night. Tickets start from £35, and you have to be over 18 years of age to attend this 3-hour event (from 6 to 9 p.m.)
M City (January 25)
If you’re a rugby lover up for a more extravagant Burns Night in London, try M City’s traditional celebration, which is priced between £150 to £180! The ticket entitles you to a four-course dinner, wee drams, Robert Burns poems, and entertainment by rugby stars! (Name of stars to be confirmed.)
The Nest Collective (January 26-27)
Photos courtesy of The Nest Collective via Instagram
On the 26th and 27th of January, The Nest Collective will be throwing a more physical celebration: a ceilidh (Scottish dance)!
There will be live music, by the Ceilidh Liberation Front, for you to ceilidh – I mean dance – Burns Night away. Tickets go for £25 for the 26th and £12 on the 27th. (Kids are welcome on the 27th and can get concession tickets. You can also pay extra on the day if you want the full works of a haggis supper and whiskey.) Dancers of all ages, skill, and attire are welcome.
Band of Burns (January 27)
On the 27th of January, 12 folk artists from Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, and even Turkey will be performing to celebrate the life and works of Robert Burns. This 2-hour performance costs £27 (+10% booking fee.)
London Kilt Run (January 28)
Photos courtesy of London Kilt Run via Facebook
On the 28th of January, between 2 to 4 p.m., for a mere £10, you can participate in a more modern celebration of Robert Burns: the London Kilt Run! This 10k run is being held for the 3rd year and will start and end at the Robert Burns statue opposite Embankment Cafe in Victoria. (The route incorporates many Scottish-themed sights and whilst wearing a kilt is appreciated, it’s also optional.)
Have any questions about how to celebrate Burns Night in London this year, or these events I recommend? Let me know in the comments below!