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Brace yourself for entertainment like nowhere else. Edinburgh is the world’s leading festival city with an impressive mix of cultural experiences. Start planning and get the most out of Edinburgh Festivals with this all you need to know-guide!
Scotland’s capital is a magical city any time of the year, but during Edinburgh Festivals it gets even more extraordinary. Especially during the Festival’s peak in August when as many as five of the annual 11 festivals are going on at the same time.
The beautiful medieval heart and cobblestone streets are filled with energy, excitement, and laughter. You never know what you might see around the corner. Dancing performers, owl displays, bagpipers, magicians, a samurai or maybe a wood wizard floating above the ground? When night falls, The Royal Military Tattoo decorates the sky with fireworks above the castle.
I visited Edinburgh in August and was completely blown away. Not only by the city in itself but by the festive atmosphere. In no other city will you find such a wide variety of theatre, musicals, comedy, dance, and literature.
What is even more fascinating is that you can always manage to find peaceful places and hidden escapes, just minutes walk from the Royal Mile and crowded streets.
Edinburgh Festivals: At a Glance
The Edinburgh International Festival established back in 1947, in the hope of reuniting post-war Europe through culture. The same year Festival Fringe and The Edinburgh International Film Festival were also born.
Today there are 11 major festivals attracting artists and audiences from all around the world. To give you an idea of how big it is, there are only two events that sell more tickets: The Olympics and The World Cup. Impressive huh?
It is, in other words, well worth to start planning your visit and book some tickets in advance (even if you have the opportunity to be very spontaneous too).
To help you make the most of your Edinburgh Festivals experience, I’ve put together this all you need to know-guide with information about the upcoming festivals, what you need to think about and how to choose what shows you want to see.
You can also visit edinburghfestivalcity.com for the latest dates and information.
A Quick Guide to 11 Festivals over 12 Months
- Edinburgh’s Hogmanay
30 December 2017 – 1 January 2018
What better place to celebrate the beginning of the New Year than at one of the most famous celebrations on the globe? Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is a 3-day festival with that begins with an impressive Torchlight Procession (30 Dec) and continues into traditional ceilidh dancing, live music and a massive Street Party. When the clock strike midnight at New Years Eve you will be surrounded of thousands of people singing Auld Lang Syne to the firework display over Calton Hill and Edinburgh Castle. A dip in the freezing River Forth (known as Loony Dook) gives you a fresh start of the new year.
- Edinburgh International Science Festival
31 March – 15 April 2018
Edinburgh’s annual Science Festival is the world’s first celebration of science and technology, and one of Europe’s largest science events. It’s a two-week festival filled with innovative events.
- Edinburgh’s International Children’s Festival
26 May – 3 June 2018
The International Children’s Festival (The Imaginate Festival) is a week full of Scottish and international theatre, dance and performance for children and young people. The program is also filled with lots of free shows.
- Edinburgh International Film Festival
20 June – 1 July 2018
Red carpet glamour and the very best in international film and documentary genres. Past premières at The Edinburgh International Film Festival have included Let The Right One In, Pulp Fiction, Blade Runner and Back to the Future.
- Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival
13 – 22 July 2018
The Jazz and Blues Festival is the biggest festival of its kind in Britain presents over 170 gigs over 10 days with the best international musicians and Scottish talent.
- Edinburgh Art Festival
26 July – 26 August 2018
UK’s largest annual festival dedicated to visual art. The Art Festival includes more than 40 museums, galleries, and pop-up spaces.
- Edinburgh International Festival
3 – 27 August 2018
Edinburgh International Festival showcases the very best and most prestigious international acts. From opera, music, and theatre to dance from around the world.
- Edinburgh Festival Fringe
3 – 27 August 2018
Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world with over 3200 shows and more than 50 000 performances across 294 venues.
- The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
3 – 25 August 2018
An iconic and must-see 100-minute performance. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a blend of music, ceremony, entertainment and theatre, hosting over 1 000 military and civilian performers every night.
- The Edinburgh International Book Festival
12 – 28 August 2018
Meet your favorite authors, get inspired and find new books to read and soak up the peaceful atmosphere. The International Book Festival is the largest of its kind and hosts over 800 participants from over 55 countries around the world.
- The Scottish International Storytelling Festival
20 – 31 October 2018
The Scottish International Storytelling Festival is inspired by the Scottish ceilidh tradition and its sense of togetherness. It is a ten-day celebration full of tales, anecdotes, music, songs, and ballads.
Why You Need to Visit Edinburgh in August
If you are planning a trip to Edinburgh, you should consider visiting the city in August. Sure, the main sights are going to be crowded, but there is truly something unique about being in the middle of all the joy, happiness, excitement and entertainment that the festivals bring.
It’s an action-packed month with five different festivals going on at the same time. The city is buzzing with the festival spirit.
Just an ordinary stroll through the city center becomes extraordinary in August.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Apart from the festival spirit that August brings, I think the main reason to visit Edinburgh in August is to see The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Missing it would be like entering Harry Potter’s world without going to Hogwarts.
It’s an iconic and spectacular show with 1200 performers from all around the globe. The magnificent sound of massed pipes and drums and display of precision, music, and dance to the magnificent backdrop of Edinburgh Castle will take your breath away.
Even though there is an impressive number of 217 000 Tattoo tickets released 1 December, it’s best to book your tickets well in advance as they get snapped up quickly.
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Edinburgh Festival Fringe
3 – 27 August 2018
Theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, music, children’s shows, exhibitions, musicals, street performers, The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has it all. It is the largest arts festival in the world with over 3200 shows and more than 50 000 performances across 294 venues.
What is fascinating is that anyone with a show to produce and a venue willing to host them can take part. You have the opportunity to see something truly unique. And whether you opt for the big-ticket venues or acts in the tiniest back room, you will surely have a fabulous time.
It’s a festival you need to experience at least once in your life.
From street performances and the hilarious Circus Elixir to a unique performance with nostalgic comedy by Diane Chorley. Fringe Festival has it all.
Edinburgh International Festival
3 – 27 August 2018
Edinburgh International Festival showcases the finest performers from the worlds the very best and most prestigious international acts. Book a ticket (starting from £8) to see some of the greatest artists from the worlds of opera, music, and theatre to dance from around the world.
Edinburgh International Book Festival
12 – 28 August 2018
For all you book lovers, The Edinburgh International Book Festival is for you. Meet your favorite authors, find new books to read, soak up the peaceful atmosphere and grab a coffee in the Charlotte Square Gardens. The Book Festival is the largest of its kind and hosts over 1000 writers and thinkers from over 55 countries around the world.
It was here JK Rowling read from Harry Potter to just 30 people in a teepee 1997. She made yet another appearance 2004.
Edinburgh Art Festival
26 July – 26 August 2018
Edinburgh Art Festival is UK’s largest annual festival dedicated to visual art. It includes more than 40 museums, galleries, and pop-up spaces – most with free entry.
Some of the best art exhibitions are not in galleries though. It’s those pieces that you might stumble upon when you walk around a corner, and might not even know are a part of the Art Festival. Like a hidden pop-up art greenhouse, just minutes walk from the center to the colorful Scotsman’s Step where you step on colorful marble from all over the world.
The Art Festival also let you discover beautiful old buildings that might otherwise be closed to the public.
Tickets to Edinburgh Festivals: What to think about
Book your tickets to The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo at least four months in advance. Due to immense popularity, some shows at The Fringe and The International Festival is also worth buying in advance. A lot of tickets are on sale at least 3-6 months before the start of the festival.
Otherwise, just go with the flow! If you visit Edinburgh Festivals during its peak in August, you can decide what you want to see just hours before a show. Most of the venues are within walking distance.
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What shows to pick?
Now, you’re going to want to do a bit of planning and deciding which shows and festivals you want to attend. In August, you have an overwhelming number of over 3 000 shows to choose from. How to pick one? How to know what’s gold among all the glitter?
My best tips are to book tickets to 1-3 of the hottest shows in advance and then see what you are in the mood for. The streets are bursting with street performances that give you a preview of their show. Collect flyers and talk to the locals in bars and cafes. Many shows get promoted by word-of-mouth, and it’s easy to get tips and ideas from both locals and other tourists.
Getting to and around Edinburgh
Whether you’re traveling to Edinburgh by plane, train or car, it’s very convenient to get to and from the city as well as explore the city once you’ve arrived. You can fly directly to Edinburgh, hop on the Caledonian Sleeper overnight train from London or travel with Virgin Trains from London. If you plan to drive to Edinburgh, be aware that there are limited parking and strict restrictions throughout the city.
When you are in Edinburgh, the best way to explore the city is by foot. Edinburgh is very compact, so it’s easy to walk everywhere. Both your wallet and step counting app will be pleased.
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
As it is so easy to walk around Edinburgh, I would recommend getting a room in or close to the city center. If you are visiting the festivals in August, book early as the town’s hotels and lodgings reach maximum capacity. Check out Booking.com or Hotels.com for the best accommodation deals.
How Long Should I Stay?
As long as you can! Seriously. I was in Edinburgh the 17-21 August and wished I could have stayed for a couple of more days. Apart from attending the festivities, you may want time to explore the city and see the main highlights of Edinburgh. Three days should give you enough time to catch some shows and to a bit of sightseeing, but if you can – stay longer!
Edinburgh Festivals Facts
Edinburgh’s Festivals attract an audience of over 4.5 million people each year.
Edinburgh’s Festivals peak during August, when more than 25 000 artists, entertainers and thinkers populate the city with over 1 000 shows per day.
The Edinburgh International Film Festival is the longest continuously running film festival in the world.
Some of the best-known names in entertainment got their big break at the Edinburgh Festivals, including: JK Rowling (Harry Potter), Hugh Laurie (House), Billy Connolly (stand-up comedian) and Emma Thompson (Harry Potter/Love Actually).
I visited Edinburgh in partnership with Visit Britain, Edinburgh Festivals och Visit Scotland. As always, all opinions and tips are my own.