Edinburgh: Festival city

By: Anna Millar

April 11, 2013

Not for nothing is Edinburgh known as the Festival City. From epic one-offs to world famous jamborees, the capital is never short of a party, whatever your artistic preference.

For a full throttle offensive, head to Edinburgh in August when Big Daddy, the Fringe, monopolises the playing field. From churches to toilets, office blocks to nightclubs, speigeltents to blow-up purple cows, there’s no end to the spaces being utilised for the theatre, dance, music and comedy acts setting their stall there for the month.

The Fringe | Edinburgh Festivals

Member of the Uncontained Arts publicises their show ‘Treasure Island’ at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 2012 © Stephen FinnUsed under license from

With thousands of acts to choose between, brave the throngs on the Royal Mile and check out the street acts and companies showcasing their wares. The daily reviews should help sway you towards the shows creating the biggest buzz. Relaxed pop-up bars and surprisingly good street food can be found around the main Pleasance, Assembly, Underbelly and Gilded Balloon hubs.

Across in some of the city’s more conventional venues (with a few leftfield surprises thrown in), the Edinburgh International Festival is also in residence in August, offering three weeks of opera, dance, theatre and classical music from around the world, as well as special commissions from some of Scotland’s finest companies and a visual art strand to boot.

Edinburgh International Festival | Edinburgh Festivals

Edinburgh Festival City Wooster Group in Hamlet, who will appear at the Edinburgh International Festival 2013 © Edinburgh International Festival

The month’s mammoth scale doesn’t stop there, with the Edinburgh International Book Festival hosting over 750 events over three weeks, with former prime ministers, top writers and award-winning poets all regularly topping the bill from their tented Charlotte Square home. Edinburgh Art Festival, too, continues to show its mettle showcasing some of the world’s most famous artists, with previous exhibitions celebrating the works of Dieter Roth, Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh attracting huge crowds to the capital.

Those looking for something a little more traditional can opt for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Held in the castle esplanade, massed pipes and drums, military bands and display teams come from around the world to perform.

Edinburgh Military Tattoo | Edinburgh Festivals

Pipes and Drums at the Military Tattoo  ©  domhnall dods, 2013. Used under license from

While August leads the charge, the rest of the year brings plenty of highlights too. In May, Imaginate offers a line-up of storytelling, theatre and puppet shows for youngsters; while June brings Leith Festival, a multi arts knees-up in one of Edinburgh’s best areas for food and drink. June also plays host to the much-loved Edinburgh International Film Festival, complete with feature films, shorts, documentaries, retrospectives and gala premieres. A sprinkling of A-listers can generally be found bringing a touch of glamour to proceedings.


Edinburgh International Film Festival | Edinburgh Festivals

Disney Pixar’s ‘Brave’ opened the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2012 © Disney Pixar

Come July prepare for the swinging, sultry sounds of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, with acts from around the globe performing over ten days. Dionne Warwick, Wynton Marsalis and Jools Holland have all performed here. By late August/early September, as Edinburgh’s main festivals are packing up shop and the Edinburgh International Festival is preparing for its firework finale, Edinburgh’s multi-cultural Mela brings Bhangra beats, global fashion and some great theatre and dance shows to the fold.

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Header Photo © jan kranendonk, 2013. Used under license from


Anna Millar

Anna is a Glasgow born and Edinburgh based freelance writer and editor specialising in arts and travel. When she’s not exploring the Highlands and Islands or reviewing Scotland’s festival scene, she’s likely to be found propping up the bar at one of New York’s finest watering holes or exploring Europe’s untapped corners.