Have you heard about the Edinburgh Festival but not sure what it is? Or maybe your friends rave about the amazing shows at Edinburgh Fringe every August, but you don’t fancy sitting indoors all summer? No matter who you are or what you’re interested in, you will find an Edinburgh Festival that is perfect for you. The Edinburgh Festivals are a collection of 11 annual festivals that represent the best of Scottish and worldwide culture: music, literature, theatre, film and everything in between. I’ve been to five Edinburgh Festivals (and worked a whole summer at the Edinburgh Fringe) and there’s something about Edinburgh’s inclusive and vibrant arts culture that will keep me coming back for years to come.
Edinburgh festivals in August
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The OG of Edinburgh Festivals, the Edinburgh Fringe, hosted almost 3,400 shows across 300 venues in 2017. The Fringe is easily the biggest arts festival in the world, showcasing theatre, comedy and dance. The various Edinburgh Festivals consumes the city in August, turning it from a relatively quiet, historic city to a thriving hub of community and arts. Edinburgh can be quite overwhelming with the amount there is to see and do in, but just know that however you choose to spend your time, not a second will be wasted.
Top Tips: Where do I start? Download the Ed Fringe App for localised information once you’re in Edinburgh. Plus, don’t forget to check out Virgin Money Half-Price Hut for daily half-price deals as well as PBH’s Free Fringe for free comedy shows.
Aside from seeing as many shows as your budget and time allows, don’t forget to spend some time walking up and down the Royal Mile. This is where all of the performers’ flyer between their shows and you’ll catch many street performances to try and entice you to buy a ticket for their next performance.
Where: Everywhere! Especially the Royal Mile and Princes Street Gardens
When: 3 – 27 August
Edinburgh International Festival
The crème de la crème of opera, dance and performance can be found at the Edinburgh International Festival. This festival showcases the finest performers in opera, dance and music. The performances take place in Edinburgh’s best concert halls and theatres and, as you can imagine, the ticket prices reflect this.
Top Tip: If you can be in Edinburgh for the last day of the Edinburgh Festivals, then you’re in for a treat. Edinburgh International Festival hosts a huge firework display just behind the historic Edinburgh Castle, accompanied by a performance from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. This incredible closing event can be seen from all over Edinburgh so don’t worry about securing a good spot.
Where: Festival Theatre and other venues
When: 3 – 27 August
Edinburgh Art Festival
The youngest Edinburgh Festival at only 14-years-old, the Edinburgh Art Festival was built upon the lack of visual arts representation in the other Edinburgh festivals. Everything from fashion to sketches, installation and photography is represented every year.
Top Tip: Most of this festival is free, and the dates coincide with many of the other Edinburgh Festivals. So, if you’ve got a couple of hours spare between shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, check out one of the many National Galleries.
Where: Scottish National Gallery and other venues
When: 26 July – 26 August
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Perhaps the most unusual Edinburgh Festival is the Tattoo, one of the biggest Military displays in the world. Performers and infantries are scouted years in advance to represent their culture and country in Edinburgh against the backdrop of the Edinburgh Castle. Every year, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo sells out, with around 220,000 people attending.
Top Tip: Aside from booking tickets as far in advance as possible, make sure to wrap up warm. Take a big coat, hat, scarf and even blanket if you can. I know it’s August but trust me, this is Scotland and it’s a night-time show. You can thank me later.
Where: Edinburgh Castle
When: 3 – 25 August
Edinburgh International Book Festival
Running for 35 years, this unique Edinburgh festival programmes over 800 events for around 220,000 visitors every year. Literature lovers can meet their favourite author and nose through the makeshift bookshelves in the many tents in Charlotte Square Gardens. The Edinburgh International Book Festival is a must for every bookworm.
Top Tip: Many of the events are British Sign Language interpreted which is fantastic. Check out the website for more details.
Where: Charlotte Square Gardens
When: 11 – 27 August
Other festivals in Edinburgh throughout the year
Nowhere else does New Year’s quite like Scotland. Hogmanay is so important to the Scots that they have January 2nd as a public holiday as the celebration doesn’t stop as the clock strikes midnight. In Edinburgh, the Hogmanay street party is a huge event with many famous bands performing in the run-up to the New Year, as well as the impressive fireworks display. There’s nothing quite like ringing in the New Year singing Auld Lang Syne with your new Scottish friends.
Top Tip: Forget the hiked-up bar prices of other street parties. For Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebration you’re allowed to bring your own alcohol if it isn’t in glass bottles.
Where: Princes Street
When: 31 December – 1 January
Edinburgh International Film Festival
Founded in 1947 along with the International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe, the Edinburgh International Film Festival is the world’s longest continuously-running. The Filmhouse is a fantastic independent cinema and where most of the films are screened. There’s even a bar so you can have a drink while watching the latest films before their release date. What could be better?!
Top Tip: Just like any other film festival, Edinburgh hosts a red-carpet event to celebrate the opening. Head down on the first night to watch stars like Ewan McGregor and Tilda Swinton grace us with their presence.
Where: Filmhouse and other venues
When: 20 June – 1 July
Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival
Edinburgh may seem an unlikely place to have such a huge Jazz and Blues presence, but that’s the beauty of Edinburgh, there’s something for everyone. Don’t miss the biggest weekend on the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival’s calendar, a Mardi Gras celebration and Carnival on the weekend of 14-15 July.
Top Tip: Check out George Square Gardens for the heart of the festival. More intimate outdoor music is performed here while you tuck into the food from local vendors and chat with your friends.
Where: George Square and other venues
When: 13 – 22 July
Scottish International Storytelling Festival
Yes, a book festival and a storytelling festival! The Edinburgh Festivals cover every aspect of performance and the arts. The Scottish International Storytelling Festival is held in the autumn so doesn’t have the same draw of the summer festivals. It caters to a more local crowd who want to celebrate the traditions of live storytelling.
Top Tip: Be aware that you may not be a mere spectator to the performances at this Edinburgh Festival. Even though all performances will have been planned and rehearsed, most will have a relaxed and improvised portion to allow audience members to share their stories.
Where: Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile
When: 19 – 31 October
Edinburgh International Science Festival
One of the smaller Edinburgh Festivals, the Edinburgh International Science Festival is largely aimed towards inspiring children to get interested in science. The festival organises all kinds of interactive activities for children of all ages including getting up close to beehives, building mini robots and brushing fossils.
Top Tip: Don’t miss visiting the Edinburgh Zoo during the Science Festival. The Edinburgh Zoo is the only place you’ll find giant Pandas in the UK. The festival often holds workshops specifically about the giant pandas and they always sell out every year.
Where: City Art Centre and other venues
When: 29 March – 13 April 2019
Edinburgh International Children’s Festival
Another one for the kids. Over nine days, Edinburgh International Children’s Festival will take over the National Museum of Scotland and many other performance venues. Theatre troupes from all over the world come to Edinburgh to keep little ones occupied for longer than five minutes.
Where: National Museum of Scotland and other venues
When: 26 May – 3 June
Top Tip: If you’re heading to the National Museum of Scotland, don’t forget to check out the roof. The museum boasts one of Edinburgh’s best vantage points over Edinburgh Castle and the city centre.
Found your perfect festival? Discover the perfect hostel in Edinburgh.
About the author
Rebecca Sharp is a film and travel writer, photographer and blogger at Almost Ginger. Originally from the Lake District, she is currently on a long-term travel spell that includes teaching English in Italy, Spain and hopefully walking the Camino de Santiago. If she’s not travelling, then she’s probably watching Wild for the 1,000th time. Check out her blog and her Instagram for more cinema and wanderlust inspiration.