Having lived in Scotland now for a little while, it seemed appropriate that we take part in some of the annual events surrounding the anniversary of the birthday of celebrated Scots poet – Robert Burns. The first of the events we decided to attend was the Big Burns Supper Festival, held annually in Dumfries, a town located in south-west Scotland.
This is one of the largest festivals celebrating all things Robert Burns, as well as Scottish culture and heritage in general, so naturally seemed like a good place to start our own personal exploration into Robert Burns. It is also aimed at everyone,
Begun in 2011, the event runs over a number of days and has a wide variety of performances, from musical acts to cabaret to stand up comedy – and more!
We popped down to Dumfries for the day to see what the Big Burns Supper festival was all about, to find out more about the connection Robert Burns has with Dumfries, and to be entertained. Read on for our experience attending the Big Burns Supper, as well as some practical advice to help you plan your own trip to this special annual festival.
Visiting Dumfries for the Big Burns Supper
We visited Dumfries on a Saturday for the Big Burns Supper. The weekends tend to host some of the more popular shows and acts, so this seemed like a good time to come down for the experience.
We booked ourselves in to see two acts – an afternoon show by WeBanjo3, and the evening Le Haggis cabaret show. Well known British comedian Bill Bailey was also performing that night, but his show had already sold out due to his popularity, so we didn’t make that one.
We also gave ourselves plenty of time between acts to explore a bit of Dumfries and learn about its Robert Burns connection, which we can highly recommend doing. More about that a little later in the post.
First, our experience at the Big Burns Supper.
The first show we saw was WeBanjo3. This is an Irish band comprising two sets of Irish brothers, who play what they call “Celtgrass”, a blend of traditional Irish and bluegrass music. As you would expect from the name, banjos are involved. as is a mandolin, a guitar and a fiddle – along with vocals.
These guys were super energetic, and had the whole audience up on their feet and dancing. They also clearly loved what they did, and Jess and I both agreed that it was one of the best live shows we’d seen in a while. If you happen to have a chance to see them live, definitely go for it! Here are some photos from WeBanjo3 to give you an idea of what we saw.
We had a bit of a break after the first show, which we used to pop out and visit a couple of nearby Robert Burns attractions – you can see more on those a little later on in the post. We also had dinner in a nearby restaurant – there’s quite a good choice of dining options in Dumfries, and we had an excellent Italian meal at La Dolce Vita.
Our second, and last show (for us anyway!) of the festival was the Le Haggis performance.
This was one of the main events of the festival, running over multiple nights. It’s a cabaret style performance, with a number of different acts performing various routines. Think musical numbers, acrobatics, contortionists, hula hoopers and dancers – basically there’s something for everyone, with a fairly adult, risque theme.
We loved it, and so did the sold out audience as far as we could tell – although this sort of show isn’t going to be for everyone, and some of the acts especially are fairly adult themed. Here are a few photos to give you an idea of the event.
Overall, we had a wonderful experience. The event was well organised and a lot of fun, and we can highly recommend it to anyone looking for something a little different in this part of Scotland. Now, on to answering a few common questions about the Big Burns Supper in Dumfries that we think you’ll have, as well as some information about visiting the main Robert Burns attractions in the area.
When is the Big Burns Supper?
The Big Burns Supper is an annual event which coincides with the anniversary of Robert Burns birthday on the 25th January, with events taking place in the days before, during and after the anniversary.
In 2019, the Big Burns Supper will run from Friday 24th January until Sunday 4th February. You can also check the official website for the latest dates.
In 2018, the festival took place from the 18th to 28th January.
How long is the Big Burns Supper?
In 2018 the Big Burns Supper ran for 11 days, from the 18th January until the 28th January, with events taking place every day. The events vary – some events such as “Le Haggis” showed for multiple nights, whereas other acts like Bill Bailey only performed once.
Where is the Big Burns Supper?
The Big Burns Supper is held annually in Dumfries. In 2018, many of the larger ticketed events took place in the Spiegeltent, which was set up in the city centre just off White Sands road. This is a large, heated tent with seating that can accommodate a few hundred people, and it makes for a fun location for the performances.
There are also events held at a number of other venues around Dumfries, as well as at Ellisland Farm, slightly north of the city center.
Over the years the location of the Big Burns Supper has varied, so the best option is to check the official website for the year you are attending to find out more information. We will endeavour to keep this site up to date with locations as well.
What Events are at the Big Burns Supper?
A wide variety of events take place over the Big Burns Supper festival. These range from cabaret and musical performances, to a roller disco, a high tea and of course, a Burns Night supper replete with Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. There’s also a lantern procession / parade on Burns Night itself which parades through the town, talks on Burns and more.
In fact there are over 200 events taking place over the course of the festival – definitely something for everyone!
In terms of family events, many of the shows and events are family friendly, some are free to kids, and some events such as Bear & Butterfly and the Baby Disco Dance Hall are specifically geared towards families.
There are also events throughout the town, including sound displays and light shows, resulting in a festival that really brings all of Dumfries together to celebrate Burns. On some years there’s also a Burns Night Carnival Parade, although this didn’t take place in 2018.
Is it free to attend the Big Burns Supper?
The majority of events require a ticket and prices vary depending on the act. There are some events which are free including family events. There are also often events happening on site which do not require a ticket, including in 2018 a “Free Fringe” event, which had free performances taking place across five days of the show in a pop up venue next to the Spiegeltent.
Where do I get tickets for the Big Burns Supper?
Tickets for the Big Burns Supper events are available online from the official website. There is also a number for phone bookings on the website.
If you are in Dumfries, you go to the box office on site to buy tickets. The most popular events do sell out, so if you see an act or show listed that you really want to see, we suggest booking tickets in advance as early as possible to avoid disappointment.
In addition, you can buy packs of tickets for multiple events, which will let you see a number of shows at a reduced price.
How do I find out about the acts for the Big Burns Supper?
Acts can be announced months in advance, so it’s worth subscribing to these social media feeds to be sure you don’t miss an act you’d want to see.
There are a good many Robert Burns attractions in the Dumfries area, and fans of the poet will definitely want to spend a little bit of time exploring the town and its surrounds so as not to miss anything. Here are some of the highlights.
1. Robert Burns House
In the centre of Dumfries is the Robert Burns House, which is the house where Burns lived out the last years of his sadly too short life. He died here in 1796 at the age of 37. Today the house is open to visitors, and you can see a number of original manuscripts as well as the poets belongings. You can also get a sense of what life in the house would have been like, as it has a number of items of period furniture and other items.
The Robert Burns house is free to visit and open year round – see the official website for opening hours.
2. Jean Amour Statue
Just slightly south of the Robert Burns house on your way to the graveyard, you will find a statue to Jean Amour. Jean was Robert Burn’s wife, and was married to him for a number of years, although the history of their relationship was a rocky one. Despite this, she stayed with him until he died, and they had nine children together, three of whom survived to adulthood.
3. Burns Mausoleum
Robert Burns is buried in St. Michael’s cemetery, which is just across the road from the statue of Jean Amour. His grave was originally a simple stone slab affair, however after a fund raising effort by his friends, which was also supported by the then Prince Regent, a large white mausoleum was erected.
Today, you can visit the Mausoleum in the graveyard, as well as a number of graves of the poets friends and peers, which are marked. Since the 19th century the Dumfries Burns Club has lain wreaths here on the anniversary of the poet’s birthday, and this has now become an integral part of the Burns Night celebrations in Dumfries.
4. Globe Inn Pub
Robert Burns enjoyed a drink with friends, and when he was in Dumfries, his local of choice was the Globe Inn. This pub, established in 1610, is one of the oldest in Scotland, and very much worth popping in to for a drink or a bite to eat. In 1796, Burns wrote “… the Globe Tavern here, which these many years has been my Howff …”.
Today, the pub has a number of artefacts and memorabilia relating to the poet, including lines of his verse etched into the window panes. It was also the first place in the world to host a “Burns Supper”, in 1819, a tradition which is now carried on in numerous locations across the world, and consists of Haggis, Neeps (swedes, probably) and Tatties (definitely potatoes).
5. Robert Burns Statue
Near the centre of Dumfries and opposite the church, there’s a statue to the man himself. This statue, carved by Italian craftsmen, was unveiled in 1882, to commemorate Burns’ life and works, as well as his connection to Dumfries.
6. Robert Burns Centre and Film Theatre
Across the river from all the attractions above, the Robert Burns Centre and Film Theatre tells the story of Robert Burns’ time living in Dumfries until his untimely death. It also covers the history of Dumfries and what life was like in general in the town at that time.
It is also, as the name suggests, a film theatre, (Scotland’s smallest!) which shows both contemporary and world cinema, covering a wide range of productions.
7. Robert Burns Ellisland Farm
Last on our list of Robert Burns sites in Dumfries is Ellisland Farm. This is about a ten minute drive north of the city center, and is the farm where Robert Burns lived with his wife from 1788-1791. Here he produced some of his most famous works, including Auld Lang Syne and Tam O’ Shanter, and it was in fact here that he was most productive, with around a quarter of his works written here.
For fans of Burns, Ellisland Farm is a must visit. There’s an informative film, rooms filled with original furniture and manuscripts, as well as plenty of information about his life at this time. There’s a small fee to enter, and a friendly on-site curator who will give you all the information you need. Not to be missed.
Where should I stay for the Big Burns Supper?
If you’re visiting Dumfries for a couple of days (recommended to make the most of your trip and see as much as you can without rushing around too much), then you will need somewhere to stay. There are a number of lodging options in Dumfries – we suggest you take a look at the Dumfries listings on booking.com to find the best deal for your visit. If your are visiting over a weekend, we highly recommend booking in advance, as the festival is very popular and properties can book out.
If you are struggling to find a place, check out our travel resources page, which has a number of hints and tips to help you find the best deals on a range of travel related items, including accommodation.
Well, that just about sums up our guide to visiting Dumfries for the annual Big Burns Supper! Before you go, we have a few more resources to help you plan your trip around Scotland that we think you’ll find useful.
- For everything related to the Big Burns Supper, check out the official festival website.
- Not too far from Dumfries is the city of Glasgow. If you’re heading there, we’ve got a 2 Day Glasgow & Loch Lomond itinerary to help with your planning, which covers the highlights of the city and the nearby Loch Lomond area.
- Just near Glasgow is the beautiful Finnich Glen, which is well worth a visit.
- No visit to Scotland is complete without some time spent in Edinburgh! Check out our guide to spending two days in Edinburgh, as well as getting off the beaten path in Edinburgh for lots of ideas for your visit.
- If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ve got to check out Jess’s Guide to the Best Edinburgh Harry Potter locations.
- If you were thinking of taking a trip around the UK and want to include Glasgow as part of that itinerary, we have both a one week itinerary of the UK and a two week itinerary of the UK for you to give you some ideas for what’s possible in those timeframes..
- If you want to get further afield into the highlands, check out our five day Isle of Skye and Highlands itinerary, as well as our guide to driving Scotland’s answer to Route 66 – the gorgeous North Coast 500 coastal route.
And that’s it! Had you heard of the Big Burns Supper festival? Do you celebrate Burns Night where you are? As always, your comments and feedback are welcome – just use the comments box below!