The Highland Games is the Scottish tradition of friendly rivalry between clans that goes back centuries. Bagpipes, drumming, dancing, kilts and heavy athletic events are all up for competition, making the events quite a celebration of Celtic culture. Although originally held solely in the actual Scottish Highlands, the Highland Games have spread all over the world, especially in the USA. The annual Queen Mary Scots Festival held at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California is an amazing event our family has made a point of attending for a few years now. Yes, we attend the Queen Mary Scots Festival with kids!
What makes this event extra special is that is also honors the location of the ship’s construction over 80 years ago, on the River Clyde in Glasgow, Scotland. We also have a special family connection to Glasgow and spent 3 weeks in Scotland when our children were 3 and 4 years old, which you can read more about in our Ultimate Guide to visiting Glasgow with kids.
At a Glance...
Keep the Cost in Check:
The Scottish Festival at the Queen Mary is a weekend long event, so there is a variety of tickets and packages you can purchase that range from hotel/event packages to specific event tickets. However, Groupon is where we usually purchase our tickets, because it sometimes offers the best deals. One year we got our tickets for 50% off and this year we got the weekend pass for the price of a single day pass. So if you plan on checking out the Queen Mary Scots Festival, I’d check out Groupon first.
Things to do Queen Mary Scots Festival:
If handsome men in kilts isn’t enough entertainment, don’t fret there is plenty to do at The Queen Mary Scottish Festival with kids!
The Highland Games run from 9:00am until 6:00pm. Here clans test their strength and skills while visitors (like me) get to gulp beer and watch! It really is fascinating to watch as people participate in these historical athletics. Though some might not think that such an event would be very family friendly, this is precisely the sort of attraction that we love to visit with our children, with something fun for the whole family.
Some of the events include:
• Caber toss (log throw as I call it) where you balance the log and toss it so that it flips in a 12 o’clock fashion.
• Stone Put, which is similar to the shot put, but instead use a stone (much more medieval) and they don’t run to a toeboard, but either stand still or spin.
• Scottish Hammer Throw
• Sheaf toss. This really interesting, because competitors hurl burlap bags stuffed with straw over a horizontal bar, using only a pitchfork. Funny, right?
For the kiddos there are Kid-friendly versions of the highland games for free. My kids love competing in the Wee Athletics such as the Tug O’ War, Caber Toss, Archery and Potato Sack Races. FireCracker is surrounded by boys every day, with her brother and cousins. So, when she went to compete in the Tug O’ War girls vs. boys event, she joined the boys team! I’m like, “She thinks she is a boy!”
In addition to the Wee Athletics are other exciting activities for the kids like the Balmoral Bounce House face paintings, meeting royalty at Queen Mary’s Quest Knighting’s & Coronations. Yes, your kid could get knighted (for fun).
There is lots of music and dancing to enjoy as well. Highland dancing and Bagpipes are also up for competition at the Scots Festival. The most exciting part for me is walking around listening to the various bagpipe bands practicing, because there is nothing like the magical sound of a bagpipe!
Rock Your Kilt Concert usually kicks off the weekend on Friday night and features an array of Scottish rock bands.
Other activities include, Celtic Harp demos, sheep-herding, reenactments, iron working, vendors to shop for Scottish treasures and so much more. HotDaddy and I both have Scottish blood and we loved buying our kids the metals representing the various Scottish surnames from our family.
Where to stay: Aboard the ship, of course!
The Queen Mary is not only a historical site, but also functions as a hotel. It truly is an amazing experience to stay aboard this glorious ship, and if you are spending the day drinking Scottish-style, then is it probably best to purchase the Stay and Play or Nightly Package. Both packages include a night stay in one of the staterooms aboard the ship and passes to the Scots Festival events. We have actually stayed aboard the ship a couple of times and felt like we were transported back to another era.
Where to eat at Scots Festival:
Guests can experience a traditional Scottish meal for $99. Robert Burns Supper is a four-course sit-down event hosted by Robert Burns (a famous Scottish poet) and features haggis and whisky. As diners nibble and sip through the evening they also will get to enjoy traditional Scottish music and dancing. So, if you really want a full dining experience, it is worth the extra cost.
For those who just want to keep is casual, there are plenty of other dining options and food vendors. I will be honest; the food at the event from the vendors is pretty much what you expect from a standard fair or festival. I’m more of a sit down and relax kind of diner, and plus the Queen Mary has some excellent dining options aboard the ship. So my personal recommendation is to eat at one of the restaurants on the ship.
Where to grab a drink:
Although it is the Queen Mary Scots Festival with kids, that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of beer and whisky for the pleasure of us parents! The thirst is real, friends. During the event, the Queen Mary offers whisky tastings and craft beer tasting, but those are purchased as upgrades to your event pass.
Buy tasting tickets well in advance as they sell out every year!!
There are various beer gardens set up around the Scots Festival, but I prefer to get out of the heat and hangout in the Observation Bar on the Queen Mary. It is probably my favorite bar in general, because I love the views and the history. In fact, we return to visit the Queen Mary several times per year just to hang out in the Observation Bar, and it is super kid-friendly. Read more details and advice about visiting the Queen Mary in Long Beach CA all season long. It definitely ranks as one of our top 7 affordable family-friendly things to do in OC.
That’s a Wrap:
So, you don’t need to be in Scotland to enjoy the festivities surrounding the Highland Games. You can probably find an event your part of the world easily throughout the year. I love this one, because it is at the Queen Mary. I don’t need many excuses to get my butt over that awesome ship for the day. Check out the Queen Mary Scots Festival with kids and let the games begin!
Have you ever been to a Scots Festival?
Have you ever seen the real Highland Games?
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