Summer means one thing in Edinburgh: the Fringe. Edinburgh's most famous festival grabs the headlines as it turns the city into a circus where famous faces are only outnumbered by ones in mime makeup. But Scotland has one of the best festival cultures in Europe and there are lots of other less-known festivals that are worth heading north for. Some make the most of Scotland's wild and rural countryside, while others round up mainstream music acts. Happily, there are dozens within easy distance of both Edinburgh and Glasgow, so you can get a unique festival experience a couple of hours away with a flight from London City Airport to either Scottish city.
These are some of Scotland's best festival experiences just a short trip from London, from psychedelic woodland adventure to island retreat and city-wide celebrations of art.
Not only is ButeFest one of the best-value festivals in the UK, it also has one of the best settings. On the beautifully green Isle of Bute, the festival feels like a real getaway. Despite Bute's remote and rural location, it's easy to get to from Glasgow with a direct train to Wemyss Bay and a short ferry trip to Rothesay, where the festival is just a short walk from the ferry terminal. The location is unbeatable and it's a unique alternative to the big-name festivals, taking place the last weekend of July.
Edinburgh Art Festival
An unusual festival experience, in that almost the whole thing is free. Edinburgh Art Festival is the biggest annual festival of art in the UK, with dozens of exhibitions all over the city. It's by no means a chin-stroking fest – the idea is accessibility, and one of the festival's aims is showing off hidden corners of Edinburgh, so even if you're not an out-and-out art lover it's a fun way to explore the city. That makes Edinburgh Art Festival a perfect excuse to book a city break to Edinburgh. With exhibits from late July through August it also coincides with the Fringe and the Tattoo, so it's well worth seeking out if you're already in town for either of the bigger festivals.
On Glasgow Green, TRSNMT is rising from the (apparently temporary) ashes of Scotland's T Festival and promises to be one of Europe's best city music festivals. With Radiohead topping the bill, it will be worth making the trip to Glasgow just for the Friday for fans, but in lieu of T, TRNSMT is Scotland's major music festival this summer, taking place 7–9 July. If you've got tickets but haven't booked your flights, have a look at our deals on accommodation and flights from London to Glasgow.
Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival
Understandably overshadowed by the Fringe, annual Edinburgh's Jazz & Blues Festival is just as impressively curated, with international and Scottish acts from the obscure to more mainstream. The festival takes place 14–23 July 2017 and, like the fringe, it's a city-wide event with gigs in venues around Edinburgh. Big names this year include Ibibio Sound Machine, Hot 8 Brass Band and Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, but the festival is excellent for discovering new acts from trad jazz and swing bands to wailing blues guitarists and experimental trios.
Kelburn Garden Party
Kelburn Garden Party at the end of June is another Scottish festival that combines a strong line-up of alternative music with a matchless setting. The festival is in the glen around a 13th-century castle that looks like it was built by a medieval laird with a taste for 90s hip hop since it was painted by Brazilian street artists a few years back. Kelburn Garden Party is far more than a novelty though; it's one of few to pull off a genuine mini-Glastonbury feel, with seven stages, a Secret Forest woodland trail and a waterfall. Put it all together and you get a psychedelic fairy-tale atmosphere.
Kelburn Castle is just over half an hour's drive from Glasgow Airport, so you can either fly from London to Glasgow and hire a car or take the festival's party bus from either Glasgow or Edinburgh city centres.
Glasgow Jazz Festival
Held in late June, Glasgow Jazz Festival is a serious rival to Edinburgh's. There's plenty on the bill for serious jazz cats but there are always more accessible acts, including Gregory Porter this year. There are other highlights including a music-themed city tour, and it also hosts a fest-within-a-fest with the big band festival at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.