Discover the A to Z of Edinburgh International Festivals

Friday 27 July 2018

Summer is approaching, and in Edinburgh, that means one thing - festivals!

The Scottish capital is well known for being the world's leading festival city, with great events happening right throughout the year, not just in the summer. Edinburgh is THE place to be for festival fans across the globe. 

Summing up everything that goes on at Auld Reekie's festivals is a tall order - but here's an attempt at an alphabetical analysis of all the action!

A is for ART 
Edinburgh's festival tradition began in 1947 and, in the decades since, festival after festival has joined the three original events. The most recent is Edinburgh Art Festival, founded in 2004 and now the UK's largest annual celebration of visual art. More than a quarter of a million people attend exhibitions, installations and events at the Festival, which takes place in August.


Charlotte Square Gardens from above, Edinburgh © Robin Mair, Edinbugh International Book Festival
Charlotte Square Gardens from above, Edinburgh © Robin Mair, Edinburgh International Book Festival

With more than 800 authors and over 700 events including talks, poetry readings, group literary discussions and storytelling sessions, Edinburgh International Book Festival is the biggest of its kind in the world and is a must for lovers of literature. Laze around in the gorgeous surroundings of Charlotte Square, spot a famous face or two, absorb a few chapters or just drift off for a while in one of the on-site deck chairs.


With well over 3000 events and over 25,000 performers, it's no wonder that people travel from more than 70 countries across the globe to enjoy Edinburgh's year-round selection of festivals. In fact, the festivals see around 4.5 million attendances every year - that's the same as the FIFA World Cup and second only to the Olympic Games! 

D is for DRAMATIC 

Edinburgh's Festivals deliver incredible spectacle and flourish, from the glamour of the red carpet at the Edinburgh International Film Festival to the breathtaking Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the fantastic open-air light and music shows of the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh's Hogmanay's incredible Torchlight Procession when 10,000 people bearing fiery torches fill the city's streets.


There's plenty to see and loads to take part in at Edinburgh International Science Festival, which expertly blends a bubbling mixture of serious, grown-up science discussion and exploration with wonderfully silly (and often very messy) hands-on fun for kids. Pull on those safety goggles and get ready for some experimenting!


Virgin Money Fireworks Concert Edinburgh International Festival © Dave Stewart
Virgin Money Fireworks Concert,  Edinburgh International Festival © Dave Stewart

If you like a bit of "whizz, bang, oooh!" then Edinburgh is the city for you - on almost every night of August a plenitude of pyrotechnics illuminates the sky above Edinburgh Castle as part of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. But that's just the start because, at the end of the month, the International Festival does it too, only even bigger, in its tradition Fireworks Concert. And then at Edinburgh's Hogmanay, it happens yet again - repeatedly!

G is for GREEN

Edinburgh's Festivals work hard to minimise their environmental impact and address different aspects of sustainability, with a shared environmental policy and a commitment to achieving its aims. This includes encouraging sustainable methods of transport, helping visiting performers and festival-goers to participate in the festivals in environmentally-sensitive ways and working with suppliers who uphold similar standards.


For travellers intent on exploring the majestic Highlands of Scotland, Edinburgh is an ideal base from which to strike north. So if you're thinking the same, what better way to bookend your trip than with an Edinburgh festival or five? And with festivals spread across the calendar, there are plenty of opportunities to combine a capital city break with a northerly excursion from spring right through to winter.


Did you know that world's first commercially available mobile phone app was launched at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1999? Or that it was a production of The Thrie Estates at the Edinburgh International Festival that led to the re-emergence of the thrust stage after centuries, influencing both theatre production and theatre architecture in the decades that followed. Or that it was in Edinburgh that the world's very first public Science Festival was born - opened by none other than Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. Well, you do now.

J is for JOKES

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe welcomes any and all types of entertainment and artistic endeavour, from opera to ballet and from theatre to music. One of the best known parts of the Festival's programme though, is the mammoth collection of comedy on offer. Thousands of comics from across the world converge on the city, transforming almost any space big enough to hold a few seats into a comedy club for the night. In fact, you could put it this way - a man walks into a bar... and it's a Fringe venue!

K is for KIDS 

Carnival of the mind Edinburgh International Science Festival © Edinburgh International Science Festival
Carnival of the mind Edinburgh International Science Festival © Edinburgh International Science Festival

Edinburgh's Festivals all have something to offer for younger festivalgoers, but two festivals, in particular, are ideal for kids. In spring, the Edinburgh International Science Festival has a fantastic range of entertainment events and participatory workshops to really let them get their hands dirty (with appropriate safety gloves and glasses of course!) And then as Edinburgh reaches the first days of summer, the Edinburgh International Children's Festival brings together a world-class collection of theatre and dance work for children, with artists from across the globe taking part.


After the bombastic three-week celebration of colour and noise in August, Edinburgh's October offers a gentler and more intimate experience, as the Scottish International Storytelling Festival takes audiences on journeys of the imagination. Gathering the best spoken-word storytellers from across Scotland and around the world, the Festival invites you to lean in, listen up and lose yourself in an expertly told tale.


Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley at the Edinburgh Film Festival © STEVE COOK original

Edinburgh International Film Festival is up there with the very best in the world and attracts a high calibre of cinema (and guests) - films that have received their premières here include ET, Brave, Let The Right One In, Billy Elliot, Ratatouille and The Hurt Locker, while the festival's red carpets have been graced by the likes of Elijah Wood, Keira Knightley, Britt Ekland, Sam Mendes, Karen Gillan, Elliot Gould, Sienna Millar, Jesse Eisenberg and Clint Eastwood.

N is for NEARBY

Edinburgh is a beautifully compact city which packs an awful lot of festival fun into a pretty small area. You're almost never going to be too far from anything to walk there, and if you're in a hurry, the city has a great public transport system for getting you around


Alongside magnificent theatrical productions, opera, dance and those famous fireworks, the Edinburgh International Festival always has a top class selection of orchestras from all around the world performing each year. Going right back to 1947's original International Festival, where the Vienna Philharmonic had an emotional post-war reunion with their conductor Bruno Walter, the orchestral tradition in Edinburgh is as strong today as ever. 

P is for PARTY

There's nowhere in the world quite like Edinburgh for celebrating the end of the old year and the arrival of the new. Edinburgh's Hogmanay is quite simply the place to be at the end of December, and it should be on everyone's list of Things To Do At Least Once. 

Q is for QUALITY

The Fringe is well established as the world's biggest arts festival, but Edinburgh's Festivals are just as much about quality as they are about quantity. With their worldwide reputation for excellence, the Festivals are able to attract some of the world's very finest artists, performers and companies to entertain and inspire the Scottish capital's citizens and visitors.

R is for RHYTHM

Jazz Festival Carnival Edinburgh, credit to Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival
Jazz Festival Carnival Edinburgh, © Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival

Do you enjoy music with that extra touch of cool? Then Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival is the one for you. At venues ranging from huge grand halls to tiny underground bars, the festival offers over 170 gigs, plus two huge free open-air events - the Festival Carnival and the Mardi Gras.

S is for SOCIAL

As you would expect, Edinburgh's major festivals have all got great social media channels, with up-to-the-minute news, photos, videos and more. And for an overview of them all, follow Edinburgh's Festivals on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or check out their Social Wall to see a selection of the best social media from and about the city.


Yes, even amid the intensity of Edinburgh's wonderfully mad August period, there are oases of calm to be found without leaving the festivals altogether. As mentioned above, visit the Book Festival in Charlotte Square for a more laidback time (both literally and figuratively), or head to one of the many small Edinburgh Art Festival galleries dotted around the city, for some quiet (and usually free) contemplation of all kinds of interesting work.


We already mentioned the glamorous Hollywood side of things, but Edinburgh International Film Festival is also about introducing and giving a platform to exciting new filmmakers and low profile cinema. A perfect opportunity for those hipster-types who like to be ahead of the curve.

V is for VARIETY

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, credit The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo,  © The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The range of festivals (and events within them all) in Edinburgh is simply breathtaking. From artists at the very peak of world culture to tiny one-man shows in a phone box, and from foot stomping jazz and blues to serious scientific discussion, comedic clowning and incredible military precision, Edinburgh's festivals have it all.


Edinburgh has led the world in developing the idea of the 'festival city' - no surprise when you consider that way back in 1947 Scottish capital became home to the world's first multi-disciplinary arts festival in the Edinburgh International Festival, and to the world's first fringe festival - not just the first Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but the first 'fringe' festival of any sort. The city was also the birthplace, in 1989, of the world's first Science Festival.

X is for XXXXL

Fringe, Royal Mile street performer in Edinburgh, credit to Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Fringe, Royal Mile street performer in Edinburgh, credit to Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Edinburgh plays hosts to the largest arts festival in the entire world - with over 50,000 performances each year the Fringe is simply larger than life! Plan what you can, but do leave time to just go with the flow as well - quite often the best shows and experiences are the ones you stumble upon without even trying!


August gets most of the attention, but Edinburgh has plenty of amazing festivals spread throughout the rest of the year as well - so if you want the festival experience without quite so many crowds, consider a visit between September and July, for festivals including Storytelling, Hogmanay, Science, Children's, Film and Jazz & Blues.

Z is for ZZZs

Don't expect to get too many of these if you head to Edinburgh during the peak August period! And with the world's greatest collection of festivals taking place outside your hotel/B&B/hostel/tent, why would you even want to sleep?!

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