What Is Burns Night? (& How To Celebrate In London 2024)

By Olivia Emily

6 months ago

Happy Birthday, Rabbie Burns!


Happy Burns Night! Or Slàinte Mhath, as the Scots say. But what is this Scottish celebration, and who is the man behind the name? C&TH explains.

What Is Burns Night?

Burns Night is a celebration of Robert Burns (aka Rabbie Burns), a Scottish poet who lived and wrote reams of poetry in the 18th century. In Scotland, he is widely regarded as the national poet, thanks to his Scots dialect poems and songs. Perhaps his best known song is ‘Auld Lang Syne’, traditionally sung at Hogmanay (the last day of the year) – i.e. when the clock strikes midnight across the UK.

Burns Night takes place on Burns’ birthday, 25 January. It originally began as a memorial arranged by (and for) his family and friends following his death in 1796, but it has since evolved into a national affair in Scotland (though it sadly doesn’t warrant a bank holiday).

A painting of Robert Burns

Robert Burns. Alexander Nasmyth, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

What Happens On A Traditional Burns Night?

Burns Night is all about Scottish traditions: tucking into haggis, neeps (aka swede or turnips) and tatties (potatoes); reciting Scottish poetry, specifically Robert Burns’; and supping a warming dram of whisky. People typically greet each other with the Scots phrase ‘Slàinte Mhath’, meaning ‘good health’.

The classic way to celebrate is by tucking into a Burns Night supper, where haggis is the undisputed centrepiece. These raucous evenings are traditionally accompanied by free-flowing whisky and poetry readings, typically the ‘Selkirk Grace’ and ‘Address to a Haggis’. It is also traditional for the host of the evening to deliver a speech commemorating Robert Burns, toasting to the Bard and maybe reciting some of his poetry – this speech is called the ‘Immortal Memory’. Meanwhile, ‘Address to the Lassies’ is another important speech, traditionally penned for the occasion and followed by ‘The Reply from the Lassies’.

How To Celebrate Burns Night In London

Tuck Into Supper

Fancy tucking into a traditional Burns Night supper? Plenty of London eateries curate a special menu for celebrations of Rabbie – here are our top picks for 2024.

Burns Night At Ceilidh Club

It’s the annual highlight in the London Ceilidh Club’s calendar: Burns Night. How to celebrate? With a giant, three hour ceilidh, of course. The doors (and bar) will open at 6pm, with a buffet of food from 6.15pm and dancing kicking off at 7pm. Expect plenty of bagpipes and poetry readings, before a group singalong of Auld Lang Syne to wrap up the evening.

Details: From 6pm on 25 January 2024 at Cecil Sharp House (2 Regent’s Park Rd, London NW1 7AY). If you’re busy on 25 January, there are plenty of events to choose from in the surrounding days. Learn more and book at ceilidhclub.com

Whisky being poured into a glass from a bottle

Mama’s Wee Burns Night Bash

Looking for a traditional celebration in the capital? Head to Mama Shelter London Shoreditch for their Burns Night bash, paying homage to Robert Burns through a fireside feast with poetry readings, plus whisky flights and bagpipes aplenty.

Details: 6.30–10 pm on 25 January 2024 at Mama Shelter London Shoreditch (437 Hackney Rd, London E2 8PP). The menu is priced at £49 per person, with whisky an additional charge. Book via eventbrite here.

Whisky Cocktails At Dram

Soho’s newest cocktail bar Dram has teamed up with three renowned Scottish whisky brands for its first Burns Night, which it’ll be celebrating from Thursday 25 to Saturday 27 January. The weekend-long celebration will see a series of exclusive whisky tastings alongside limited edition tapped and canned cocktails, plus Haggis for a truly traditional Burns Night.

Details: Events from 25–27 January at Dram (7 Denmark St, London WC2H 8LZ). Find more details and book at drambar.co.uk

A dinner table beside a mantlepiece

Cockney Burns Night

Head to The Pelican for a unique Cockney Burns Night on 25 January, celebrating the Scots poet Robert Burns with a London twist. After a welcome cocktail, the three-course feast will feature classic Scottish dishes paired with whisky from the East London Liquor Company. Meanwhile, Burns’ iconic poetry will be performed by a true Scotsman, with original Cockney poetry also exploring the intricate relationship between England and Scotland.

Details: 25 January 2024 from 6.30pm at The Pelican (45 All Saints Rd, London W11 1HE). Tickets are £75 and can be booked at thepelicanw11.com

Band Of Burns

King’s Place will be celebrating Burns Night by welcoming Band of Burns, a unique cohort of folk artists conceived by Alistair Caplin and Dila Vardar, celebrating Rabbie’s life, works and philosophies through jovial music.

Details: 27 January 2024 from 7.30pm at King’s Place (90 York Wy, London N1 9AG). Tickets are £27 and can be booked at kingsplace.co.uk

Sip Some Whisky

Keeping it low key? Mark the occasion with a humble dram of whisky. Here are our favourites.

Whisky

When?

Burns Night takes place every year on 25 January, Robert Burns’ birthday.

Where?

Burns Night is celebrated across the globe, notably in Canada, the US, and England – but the Scottish celebrations are, of course, the most important.