This blog post was updated on July 26, 2021.
Visitors to Scotland looking for culture and fun should absolutely experience the Highland games, a winning combination of athleticism, socializing and tradition. Typically, the Highland games take place at various festivals during the summer and early fall. The historical roots of the Highland games can be traced back to the 11th century, when King Malcolm III decided to host a race to the top of Craig Choinneach (a mountain near Braemar in the Highlands) in an attempt to located the fastest runner in his kingdom to serve as his personal courier.
The scope of the event has expanded over the centuries, and now the Highland games include a variety of activities such as tug-o-war and caber tossing (a sport in which competitors toss a large tapered poll called a caber, trying to get it to turn end over end), Highland dancing (including the sword dance and, of course, the Highland fling), relay races, bagpipe competitions, children’s sack races, hill races, and hammer throwing.
The most famous Highland games event is the annual Braemar Gathering, which is always held on the first Saturday in September. This year, the Braemar Gathering will take place on September 5th in the Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park in the village of Braemar. The Braemar Gathering was born in the 1800s and became so important that Queen Victoria attended the games, as do the current Queen and other members of the Royal Family.
The Braemar Gathering isn’t the only reason to visit this northern Scottish city. Situated near the mountains of the Cairngorms National Park, Braemar is a haven for those who enjoy hiking or simply taking in the stunning scenery. With 24 Munros (mountains over 3000-feet high) and more than 65-miles of walking and cycling paths, there’s plenty of terrain to challenge even the most avid outdoorsperson.
History buffs should definitely check out Braemar Castle, a 17th century castle that was built by the Earl of Mar in 1628. Over the years, it has been hunting lodge, fortress, garrison, family home, and now it’s a museum that is open to the public. Since the Castle is technically home to the chief of Clan Farquharson (the Clan leases the property to the State), it is decked out with the furniture, memorabilia and personal belongings of the Farquharson family. The combination of stunning architecture and fascinating history makes Braemar Castle one of the premier tourist destinations in the area.
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