The Hebridean Celtic Festival or HebCelt as it is affectionately known, is like the Coachella of the Scottish Isles (that’s a reference for all you Americans). Of course minus the bikini tops, cowboy boots, 106º scorching heat, desert dust, and the Kardashians.
At HebCelt it’s flowered fairy crowns, glitter, wellies, green grass, an idyllic castle, and a beautiful sunset at 10:30pm. The music is a mixture of Scottish, UK and world renowned artists. Yes, it’s as dreamy as it sounds.
Now in its 24th year, HebCelt is a well-oiled machine. It’s graciously hosted by the largest town on the Isle of Lewis and Harris, Stornoway. Surprisingly, the normally quiet little town is able to accommodate, feed, transport, and entertain us all for the 3 day music fest.
1. Book Your Festival Tickets Early
Just like any other music festival on the planet you need to book early. The Isle of Lewis normally has a population of about 18,000, during HebCelt it almost doubles. Considering it started with 1,000 people 24 years ago and now has a capacity to hold 16,000–it’s safe to say it’s becoming more popular.
Sign up on the HebCelt website for early bird ticket announcements, usually in August or September. Everyone needs a ticket including infants and children—there’s a limit to those so they sell out first.
Which ticket to buy is confusing on their website. Here’s the easy version—it’s either a single day ticket (Thursday, Friday or Saturday) or a 3 Day Ticket. I would recommend the 3 day ticket at £95.
Thursday is the cheapest then the single day prices go up.
There are two arenas a main stage and a smaller stage. Your wrist band gets you into the venue then you can walk around the grounds and see any of the acts. You can also go in and out all day.
2. Decide On Accommodations and Book Early
There is every accommodation imaginable on the Island, including camping, tents, AirBnb’s, hotels—just book early. I know I sound like a broken record, but that will be the take away message for this entire post. Book early!
As soon as we bought our tickets, we started looking for places to stay and things were already sold out.
3. How To Get Across The Water
There are 2 ways to get over to the island—Ferry or Plane. I think the majority of people choose the ferry because it’s the cheapest. You can do a car/drive or walk on passenger situation.
Make sure you book your ferry early! Buy a R/T fare. Don’t forget to double check your booking and tickets for the correct type of tickets and time. They are very strict on bookings during HebCelt because it’s extremely crowded. We had a time change on our way home without any notification and almost missed our boat!
Logan Air – R/T from Inverness to Stornoway around £150, and the Ferry R/T from Ullapool is about £20
4. It’s Muddy
We’ve been to Scotland enough times to comfortably say, expect rain at some point in the day. Rain isn’t a huge problem because it’s easy to deal with, toss up your umbrella or throw a poncho on and you’re good to go.
Now the mud… that’s another beast. The festival grounds are grass with muddy areas all around. If it rains and I guarantee it will, then you could be in muck for 3 days. All the smart people wore Wellies—I wasn’t that smart and have some very muddy shoes to prove it.
There are food trucks and booths on the festival grounds. There was a wood fired Pizza truck, Thai food (limited), a vegan booth, fish and chips, a burger truck, ice cream truck, and BBQ booth.
You can bring your own food according to the website but I really didn’t see anyone with their own food. So just bring money, support the locals, and buy your food there.
Let’s start with the alcohol. The entire drink system is run by tokens and recycled plastic cups.
You cannot bring your own alcohol or cups into the venue. Stay with me on this because it’s complicated. You start out by buying a cup token for £1 (refundable if you turn your cup in) and also drink tokens.
First thing you do is take your cup token and your drink token to the drink tent. You will get your first drink and first plastic cup. After that you just need a drink token. With every single drink you will get a new clean cup. I bet for health and safety reasons they don’t refill cups.
It’s actually a very good system.
At the end of the festival or end of the day, if you don’t want to keep the cup you can turn it back in for your £1. But the cups are a nice keepsake so most keep it.
As far as bringing your own water you can as long as its sealed. If not they will ask you to pour it out because people put vodka in water bottles, but you can still bring the empty bottle in. You can also bring sealed soda. Just no alcohol, or unsealed drinks.
As you can see some bring their own seats, there are a few hayblock style seats under a tent, but not enough for everyone .
In the stage tents there is absolutely no seating. You have to stand the entire time. Some people just sit outside the test in their chairs and listen to the music.
If you’re like me, toilet facilities are an important thing to know. They have the typical porta-potty’s, with a flush type pump and hand sanitizer. There’s also a men’s urinal station in a tarped area. Bring your own hand wipes because they do run out.
They are these annoying bugs that fly around your face and were out in full force by the 2nd day of the festival. I felt myself doing lots of swatting, so arm yourself with some good spray like the Avon brand.
10. General Arena Tips
- Get to the stage/tent about 30 min early and stake out your spot.
- Each music set is about an hour
- There are 2 tents and they never play at the same time
- Don’t cinch your wristband too tight. Once they are on, they are on. There is no ‘reverse”
- There’s a circus tent, a bounce house, and face painting for the kiddies.
- There’s a small arts and crafts tent and a booth where you can buy your own fairy crown.
- Don’t even think of bringing any alcohol, there’s a bag check at the entrance—and they know all the tricks.
We had the best time at HebCelt and loved the Isle of Lewis and Harris for it’s serene beauty. We highly recommend it and wouldn’t hesitate to go back again!!