2023 Stone Mountain Highland Games: An Insider’s Guide on the Best Scottish Heritage Festival

In my family, you would be better off trying to skip Christmas dinner than one minute of the Stone Mountain Highland Games.  Every October, we pilgrimage in our kilts and tartans to our beloved Stone Mountain Park for the annual Highland Games and all the Scottish festivities.

Over the years, I have seen these games grow into one of largest Scottish heritage events in the United States, complete with highland dancing, piping, and a parade of tartans presented in a uniquely southern style. Don’t be fooled by the name though;  there is so much more than just the traditional Scottish games!  (As if that were not enough.)

This year’s Stone Mountain Highland Games in Stone Mountain, Georgia, will be held October 20-22, 2023.

Here’s everything you need to know about the sights and sounds, food, games, demonstrations, and fun to be had at this fall event.

2023 Stone Mountain Highland Games: An Insider’s Guide on the Best Scottish Heritage Festival
Courtesy of Stone Mountain Highland Games

WHAT TO EXPECT AT STONE MOUNTAIN HIGHLAND GAMES

Typically, this event has pipe and drum bands competing and performing.  If you have never heard the sounds of a Scottish pipe and drum band, you just have not lived!  Throughout the weekend each band is usually judged individually for the overall competition, and you get to hear them all.  It’s truly amazing.

The performers are all talented and vested in educating the public about the tradition of Scottish music, their bagpipes or drums or Scottish harping.

A family favorite is the dance stages where performers of all ages compete for ribbons and national standings. Scottish Highland dance has a long, rich history and is fascinating to watch.  Despite the fact that it is a competition, the announcers make a point to explain the history and intricacies of each dance to the spectators.

Just a warning: your little girl might be begging you for a pair of ghillies to stomp around in at home.  If you want to cut a rug while you’re there, stop by the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society’s stage to pick up some new moves and join in the dancing.  All ages are included and the children love the experience!

SCOTTISH CLANS

One aspect that makes the Highland Games such a family-oriented event is all the Scottish families (which we call “clans”) that get together.  Each clan is comprised of multiple family surnames (septs).  At the Highland Games, all of the clans have tents and it’s a mighty impressive mix of sights and colors.

At the front of clan tents, there will be a genealogy tent where you can look up which clan your family may hail from, then find your clan tent.  Visit your clan tent and meet the members for the best kind of games experience. Everyone is warm and welcoming, especially to newfound “family” members!  Each clan has its own history and traditions which they will have represented at their tent.

If you already know your clan affiliation or research it ahead of time (check ScotClans), then you’re in for a real treat.  Usually the clan tents have much to share.

WHAT TO EAT

Don’t want to cook, but plan to stay for lunch?  No worries, there is plenty of traditional Scottish fare to sample! Naturally, I would encourage everyone to try the haggis — because you just have to eat it once in your life — but honestly, even most of us don’t touch the stuff outside of a Burns Night dinner!

Not to fear however!  The fish and chips (chips = french fries, not actual chips) are terrific and you can also find one of my very favorite Scottish dishes, a bridie.  These are a perfect option for children.  A bridie is a savory meat and vegetable pie similar to a hot pocket.  They are easy for little hands to hold without making a mess.

There are also dessert tents too.

SHOPPING AT THE GAMES

Next, venture to the shopping area and take some time to peruse the wares.  You can find beautiful tartan scarves and even sashes in your tartan, if you’ve discovered your Scottish heritage.  There are plenty of toys and novelties for the kids, lovely Scottish home decor items, jewelry, books and best of all, imported food stuffs that are difficult to find stateside!

I personally stock up on PG Tips Scottish Breakfast tea – the most delicious way to start your day and remind you of your visit.  There is a great variety of British candies that are fun stocking stuffers.  If you need a gag gift (maybe a white elephant gift for the holidays?) I highly recommend the canned haggis for a laugh.

THE ACTUAL GAMES!

And we cannot forget — the games!  Many people may not realize that the traditional Scottish Highland Games are serious competition where the athletes are sponsored and contend for national and international standing.

While you may be familiar with the most famous event, the caber toss (caber is Gaelic for tree because it is!), there are many more events — such as the sheaf toss and hammer throw.  Kids of all ages will be completely enthralled watching these athletes heave full trees across the fields!

ESPECIALLY FOR THE KIDS

Back in the wooded area of the festival grounds, you will find a great variety of supervised children’s activities including “Stirling Bridge,” a pint-sized version of the adult game — complete with mini cabers, which is just a riot to watch!

Right by Stirling Bridge, you can find all sorts of other children’s activities.  There will be a Loch Ness obstacle course, face painting, and Scottish-themed crafts such as sporrans or tartan placemats.

In the vicinity, you can check out all sorts of different Celtic musical stylings from Scottish rock and roll to harp and and even Scottish country music.

PARKING AT THE HIGHLAND GAMES

Parking passes at Stone Mountain Park are $20 a day, or $40 for an annual pass. The parking pass includes access to the natural areas of Stone Mountain Park including: hiking and nature trails, public picnic areas, 363-acre lake, children’s playground, Grist Mill, Covered Bridge and Quarry Exhibit.

There will be signs and people guiding you to the Highland Games area from the park entrance.  You may have a bit of walk once you park, so dress comfortably and come prepared for the kids. Little red wagons are a preferred form of transportation for little ones. The mornings are sometimes cool so dress in layers, as it may get warm later if you’re in the sun watching the events.

Read More: Stone Mountain Park: 17+ Amazing Things To Explore

Stone Mountain Highland Games FAQ

Where is the biggest Highland Games held?

The Cowal Highland Gathering, better known as the Cowal Games, is held in Dunoon, Scotland, every August. It is the largest Highland games in the world, attracting around 3,500 competitors and about 23,000 spectators.

What is one of the most popular competitions at the Highland Games?

The Caber Toss is one of the most popular competitions at the Highland Games, and is held at the Stone Mountain Highland Games each year. Other athletic competitions at Stone Mountain include The Hammer Throw, The Weight Throw and Weight Toss, The Stone of Strength (featuring their own little piece of Stone Mountain), and The Sheaf Toss. 

What is the best day to see the pipe bands?

The best day to see the Pipe Bands at the Stone Mountain Highland Games is Saturday afternoon. Stone Mountain Highland Games features one of the largest fields of competitive bands in the Southeast. Typically, you’ll see as many as 30 bands!

MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO GEORGIA

WHERE TO STAY IN STONE MOUNTAIN

This post was contributed by Miranda Haley.

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2023 Stone Mountain Highland Games: An Insider’s Guide on the Best Scottish Heritage Festival