Edinburgh Festivals Guide: All you need to know

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.

Royal Military Tattoo & Edinburgh by Night
Edinburgh is a magical city any time of the year, especially so in August.
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
The Edinburgh Festivals celebrates its 70th year anniversary 2017.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
The highlight of the festivals is The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. It would be a crime to miss it.

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).

Owl flying at Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh - Edinburgh Festivals
Do you have a name or can I call you mine? In August you never know what you might find around the corner in Edinburgh.

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.

People Gathering at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

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

Fireworks over Edinburgh Castle at The Royal Edinburgh Military TattooThe Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo - Edinburgh Festivals
100 million people watch The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo on television each year.

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.

Read more: 7 Magical Places in London

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Circus Elixir - At Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Circus Elixir - At Edinburgh Fringe Festival
One of the best shows I saw at The Fringe was Circus Elixir. It was so impressive and laugh-til-you-cry-fun.

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.

Strangerfaces - Street Performance in EdinburghStreet performer at Fringe Festival in EdinburghCircus Elixir - At Edinburgh Fringe Festival

From street performances and the hilarious Circus Elixir to a unique performance with nostalgic comedy by Diane Chorley. Fringe Festival has it all.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe - Diane Chorley

Edinburgh International Festival

Macbeth - Edinburgh International Festival
We were captivated by Giuseppe Verdi’s dark operatic thriller Macbeth in the beautiful Festival Theatre, as part of the Edinburgh festival’s 70th-anniversary celebrations.

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

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

Greenhouse - Edinburgh Art Festival
Bobby Niven’s ‘Palm House’ at 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.

Edinburgh Art Festival
Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich’s ‘The Dragon of Profit and Private Ownership’ within the gothic kirk of Trinity Apse

The Art Festival also let you discover beautiful old buildings that might otherwise be closed to the public.

Scotsman's Step - 104 stairs with marble from all over the world.
Scotsman’s Step is 104 stairs with marble from all over the world.

Tickets to Edinburgh Festivals: What to think about

Macbeth - Edinburgh International Festival

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.

Read more: Discover 9 Legendary Places inWales

What shows to pick?

Street performance at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

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

Edinburgh Festival - People in the Streets

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.

» Find the cheapest flights to Edinburgh

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.

Edinburgh Street by Night

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.