Glasgow may not seem like a must-do tourist location, not having the same grand architecture as Edinburgh and without the lure of Scotland’s beautiful nature that you can find in the Highlands. But there is a particular time of year that Glasgow explodes into a hum of vibrant cultural activity and this should be on the itinerary of any traveller who enjoys unique and cultural experiences. So when is the best time to visit Glasgow?
The best time to visit Glasgow!
Simply put, the best time of year to visit Glasgow is in August. The middle of August to be more specific! Now you may wonder why on earth would I suggest going to Glasgow in the middle of August of all times. The lovely, warm summer has ended. The rain has gone from a simple annoyance to icy and miserable. The skies are mostly grey. The Edinburgh festival has started so there is a wealth of theatre to soak up in the medieval city. So what gives?
Every year in August Glasgow hosts the World Pipe Band Championships and the Piping Live! festival takes place in the week leading up to this world class event.
The World Pipe Band Championships
The World Pipe Band Championships sees bagpipe bands, from every corner of the globe, flock to Glasgow to try and claim the title of World Champions in their grade. The question that you may be asking now is how the hell does that irritating noise that I hear occasionally, from a funny chap wearing odd clothes, have a world championship event?
Bagpipes are an incredibly competitive sport in the field of music. Bands spend hundreds of hours every year practicing for Highland Gatherings that take place across the world. Bands are judged on technical prowess and musicality. And it’s not just bagpipers, drummers are also part of this. Bands are graded from grade 1 (the best) to grade 4 (the weakest) and there are even sections for school bands. There are also solo events for bagpipers and drummers. Do yourself a favour and Google your city and ‘highland gathering’ or ‘highland games’, you may just be surprised to find you have a pipe band competition nearby.
For many bands, competing in the arena in Glasgow is the pinnacle of achievement. Very few bands are sponsored and most end up having to pay their own way, which makes it even more special for them.
This year, 2019, the World Pipe Band Championships will be held on the weekend of the 18th of August. The championships will see roughly 8000 bagpipers and drummers go to Glasgow to compete. If you are a fan of bagpipe music, or just interested in being involved in a really unusual event, then the best time to visit Glasgow is for this.
The event lasts 2 days and you will have the opportunity to listen to the best bagpipe bands from across the world. Northern Ireland’s Field Marshall Montgomery currently holds the title but there is tough competition from local Scottish bands and even bands from as far as Canada and New Zealand. The competition takes place at Glasgow Green and there are competition arenas spread out over the whole area. There are 6 senior band grades with grade 1 being the premier grade and grade 4B being the lowest grade. There are also several junior level grades for school bands. Don’t be fooled though, most of these junior bands can hold their own against the top senior bands! For a more in-depth beginners guide to the World Pipe Band Championships read this article.
To really enjoy the experience, find out if you have a local band competing in the Championships and find out when they’re playing. There is nothing like having a local turn up to wish you good luck when you are competing. I have competed in the Championships 4 times and every time I see a fellow South African cheering us on it adds a boost of confidence.
To find out more about buying tickets to the World Pipe Band Championships, make sure to visit the official website here.
Piping Live! is the lead up event to the World Pipe Band Championships. It is a week long festival showcasing some of the best Celtic music from around the world. Piping Live! has venues all over Glasgow and you can find events at the Kinning Park Complex, the Exhibition Hall at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Waxy O’Connor’s, Buchanan Street, The Convent Chapel (St Aloysius College), at the National Piping Centre, Glasgow Green, George Square and the Drygate Brewery.
At the Piping Centre on Otago Street there is a stage set up for daily performances and a bar with beer on tap all day. One of the most popular events is the Piping Idols, where the top junior pipers compete in a solo style competition for the Piping Idol trophy. There is a round of Piping Idols every day of Piping Live!, where four pipers under the age of 21 compete and the winner of each day goes on to the finals. The judges are planted in the audience so the piper does not know who is judging him or her. There is no entrance fee for this outdoor stage.
In the auditorium of the Piping Centre there are various piping recitals but most importantly the Masters competition is held. It is a qualifying event for the Glenfiddich Competition held annually at Blair Castle. While you’re at the Piping Centre you can also visit the Bagpipe Museum and learn about the history of bagpipes.
Another big event is ‘The World Pipe Band Championships Beat The Retreat’ where bands parade through the streets of Glasgow and officially open the biggest pipe band competition in the world. The parade ends in George Square with a salute to the Chieftain outside the City Chambers.
This is truly the best time to visit Glasgow. The atmosphere is electric with the anticipation of the competition and there is so much to do, see and experience. It is an unforgettable time and well worth the trip.
Experience the unique
Scotland is a cultural pilgrimage during this time of year. With the Edinburgh festival happening around the same time, there is no reason not to visit. Imagine being able to tell your friends and family that you went to the World Pipe Band Championships. It is something quite unique for any traveller who is not involved in the pipe band world. So do something truly unusual and discover why this is the best time to visit Glasgow!
Happy travels and blue skies!
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