Five festivals might seem like a lot crammed into one month but Edinburgh actually has 12 festivals throughout the year. From the famous new year celebration of Hogmanay through to Storytelling.
This August I was lucky enough to attend all of the Edinburgh festivals which happen in August, a fantastic month as the city comes alive with five different festivals.
During August the population doubles as over 500, 000 people visit to marvel at this historic Castle city. By day the crowds come to soak up the street performers on the Royal Mile and cram in as many shows as possible. By late night it’s about sinking some bevvies in a purple, upside down cow, or one of the many pop-up bars throughout the city.
To give you an idea of just how big the festival events are in Edinburgh the only other two events that sell more tickets are the World Cup and the Olympics… crazy stuff right?!? The streets are pumping, the city is buzzing and the sun is shining (ok, this is still Scotland so no guarantees) making it the perfect time to soak up not just the history that this city is famous for but also the world’s biggest festivals.
I had the privilege of being the blogger in residence at Festivals Edinburgh, which meant I got to capture, explore, and discover the city through all of the five festivals.
With so much going on including over 3000 performances in 300 different venues it is very easy to mismanage your time during the Edinburgh festivals. But, with a little planning, you can be sure to see the best bits of each.
Here’s the lowdown on the five different festivals in August.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Perhaps the most famous of them all, the Fringe Festival literally takes over the city. The street performers and a mountain of flyers on the Royal Mile lure you in. Whether you opt for the big-ticket venues or the smallest back room pub a good time is for sure. The Fringe is the worlds largest arts festival and last year over 3000 shows took part with an unbelievable 50,000 + performances put on.
As well as the four main stages which host curated fringe shows there are tons of smaller venues, shows and artists around. The beauty of the Fringe is if you have an idea and can find a venue then you have a show. This makes it super accessible for performers to get their work into the spotlight without forking out heaps of cash.
It also means for us we can take in free shows without the worry of buying tickets in advance. Remember, if you enjoyed it, leaving some cash at the end to pay these talented folks is the way to go.
With thousands of performers and shows from around the world this mix of comedy, dance, acrobats, and many other performing arts wow international crowds from circus tents to underground hubs.
The Royal Mile is a central hub for the action with street performers, flyers and the chance to sample some of the performances as well as buying tickets from the official Fringe Shop.
The Fringe isn’t just restricted to shows though, many events and activities such as the Silent Disco tours provide ample ways to keep yourself entertained while buzzing beer-gardens pop up throughout the city to help you enjoy the atmosphere.
My top tip: Don’t miss the Circus Hub in the meadows where circus skills are being reimagined in this uber colourful hang out or the Fringe Friday Takeovers which happen in the national museum!
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has been wowing crowds against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle for years, and the custom-built seating around the castle’s esplanade is impressive.
I’ve gotta admit, I have seen clips of it on TV but with a two-hour running time I had thought it might be over kill. How wrong could I have been.
The Royal Tattoo is now so popular it tours, complete with Castle set, around the globe. Over 200, 000 people attend it live every year but the reach through Television is insane. If 100 million people tune in globally each year to watch it then it has got to be pretty damn impressive right!?!
From the projection lit castle back drop at the start to the closing fireworks those two hours flew by. Watching different army bands from around the world perform pieces as varied as the US army belting out some Aretha through to Jordan’s much more intimate performance which expressed their local culture.
If there is one thing you splurge on when you visit Edinburgh Festivals make this it!
Even more impressive is that come wind or rain, the show has never once been cancelled! While the weather is unpredictable in Scotland, the show has always gone on, and even if the rain comes, the fantastic atmosphere and the set of the castle more than make up for it. To witness one of the cities most famous landmarks come to life in such a unique way is incredible.
Each year the cast of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo seems to grow. With over 1000 performers from both Scotland, the UK and around the world, this is a truly international show.
In 2018 band from Mexico, USA, Switzerland and Oman were part of the cast, and each one brought a unique aspect to their performance while showcasing their local cultures. It’s absolutely incredible to witness so much global talent in one evening.
People will tell you that the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a big ticket item, and in relation to many of the other shows in August it is, but with tickets starting from around £25 for the 110 minute performance I personally think they are pretty good value in comparison to many huge shows and concerts in Europe.
Edinburgh International Book Festival
When you think of a book festival, your mind likely wanders to a large bookshop where people drink cups of tea and exchange tips on the next top read.
Reality check: the Edinburgh International Book Festival is anything but that.
I mean, they have bookshops, three in fact, and they serve up a mean cuppa, but there is so much more going on in Charlotte Square Gardens, the beautiful and usually closed square where the Book Festival takes place, that it really deserves to be a part of your August Edinburgh visit.
You’ll get to hear lots of authors who you may not have heard of before reading segments of their books and sharing their passion behind creating it. I’ve come away with plenty of new books over the past week from authors new to me, and that was all down from hearing them read and speak about their novels.
This year’s Unbound programme which happens nightly at the Spiegeltent combines words with music, poetry, performance and discussion and these events are a real crossover of mediums. Whether it’s an evening discussing gender or politics or simply a night of music, each slot on the programme brings something fresh to the table.
With book signings, talks by famous authors and a huge on site shop it is no surprise that in the few weeks the event runs it sells more books than most of the permanent stores in the city. Located in the beautiful Charlotte Square Gardens it’s an awesome spot to chill on the grass, grab a coffee and get stuck into a few chapters of a new novel.
Edinburgh Art Festival
Edinburgh is already an art filled city, with not just museums and galleries but also 150+ permanent statues and monuments dotted around. That coupled with the Castle, cobbled streets and historic architecture makes it one of the best places to visit in the UK for art lovers.
Now, the art festival goes well beyond the city walls. Jupiter Art world with its green hills and set against the impressive private residence of Bonnington House was one of my favourite places to visit. Surrounded by the greens and yellows of the Scottish countryside it’s sculpture garden was well worth the out-of-town trip for.
In the city itself you will stumble upon installations all over. From subways to Carlton hill and with art as varied as neon lights through to classical works. Trust me, you don’t need an art degree to appreciate how impressive the collection is.
Countless different forms make up the definition of art, and the lines can sometimes seem blurred across the five festivals in Edinburgh during August, but as the diverse programme on offer at the Art Festival, the venues are equally as intriguing.
Edinburgh is full of hidden gems and slightly off-the-beaten-path places to explore, and the Edinburgh Art Festival is a great way to tour the city while enjoying a wide range of great cultural expression.
From classical music in converted churches to pop-up events in wildlife gardens, the art festival programme is packed out with local and international talent and will make you reconsider what art can be. When I sat down with to chat with Sorcha, the art festival director she summed it up.
“Festivals provide a safe space for people to explore and experience new things and people navigate a festival with an element of surprise. This gives us a great opportunity to help people visit galleries and explore our programmes which may not normally do so.”
Edinburgh International Festival
While for many people who visit Edinburgh during August a show is a show, anyone who knows the history of the festivals can tell you the Edinburgh International Festival was the original festival, with the Fringe growing alongside it to accommodate acts who also wanted to perform in Edinburgh.
Still, the International festival can sometimes get confused and blended in with the Fringe. This curated collection of performances are usually put on in the bigger venues and often with big name performers. I was lucky to snag a ticket to Alan Cumming live at the The Hub and his after show party and it was a brilliant night in an intimate but ornate venue.
Whilst Alan might be a Scotsman the International Festival gives talent around the world a stage in Edinburgh. This year there were performers from over 43 countries offering a huge varied program of events giving insights into performing arts and theatre from different cultures as well alongside the home-grown talent. I couldn’t help notice a theme of politics, travel and acceptance through many of the shows which on the back of Brexit and the emotions it has stirred up seemed rather apt.
With the Festival’s programme carefully curated, there is a wealth of talent from around the world and in some of Edinburgh’ largest venues, the sheer spectacle some of these shows offer makes them really shine.
Edinburgh is a city with some incredible venues, ranging from smaller theatres to large concert halls and each one offers astonishing architecture inside. Even the Festival’s closing event, a fireworks display to a live orchestra, takes place in front of Edinburgh Castle, the programme is a real treat!
The Edinburgh International Festival programme is truly outstanding in its diversity and as well as the more contemporary shows I’ve had a chance to see, traditional pieces such as The Prisoner at The Lyceum and La Cenerentola by Opera de Lyon were equally outstanding.
And that, for me, is what defines the Edinburgh International Festival, they seem always to be finding new ways to share theatre with their audiences and taking risks some other companies wouldn’t dream of and that, at its very core, is what keeps creativity alive.
WHERE TO STAY?
Accommodation can jump hugely in price during the August Festival season so advance booking is a great idea. Here are two options I tested out that don’t need to cost a bomb.
SYHA Edinburgh Metro Hostel: Dont panic! This isn’t your typical dorm hostel. During the summer months this University city hand many of their campus flats over to the SYHA to manage which means you can score your own room (share bathroom) within a flat right in the heart of the city for around £50 a night which given how expensive hotels can jump is a great option. For me it was better than a hostel as you still get a private room with plenty of space, your own wardrobe and desk as well as access to the flat kitchen so you don’t have to eat out every day.
Motel One: There are two of these chic, German based hotels in the city offering really chic designed rooms at a lower price than most boutique hotels. Don’t let the Motel name fool you, with plush bedding, designer features, amazing showers and a great breakfast buffet this is much more of a 4* hotel experience than a motel. Rooms start from £59 a night during the off season but can rise higher especially if booked last minute leading up to the festival.
HOW TO GET THERE?
By Train: If you are starting your journey already in the UK then train might be the best way to get up here. Our trains can be both expensive and packed but if you book in advance you can usually score a good price and get a seat reservation (try and go for one with a table for a charger as it could be a long ride). I love using The Train Line as a starting point for finding great fares.
By Air Edinburgh has a great airport located not far from the city and there is also an airport in Glasgow. Both serve International routes as far as Asia with both budget and legacy carries. Check out Skyscanner as allows to hunt down the cheapest flight deals – I have a super handy post on the best ways to get cheap flights as a good starting point.