Edinburgh Festival: what is it, when is it and why is it such a big deal?

This article is from 2015

Edinburgh Festival: what is it, when is it and why is it such a big deal?

Dates and details for the Fringe, the Military Tattoo, the Book Festival and the International Festival

If you live in Edinburgh on this planet, there’s a fairly strong chance you will have heard of the Edinburgh Festival. Don’t let the title fool you, though, ‘the Festival’ is actually the collective term for a series of arts and culture festivals that take place in the city every summer (though, mostly in August, and yes, mostly while it rains).

The most prominent festivals include the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Book Festival and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. We know your inquisitive mind is bubbling with questions about each of these, so cool your boots and we'll tell you more.


What is it: Um, only the world’s largest arts festival, with show categories including comedy, dance, theatre, circus, music, cabaret, spoken word and more.
When it it: Fri 7–Mon 31 Aug
Where is it: Where isn’t it, more like. Venues crop up all over the city, but the biggest ones are Underbelly (Cowgate, George Square, Circus Hub, Potterrow, Med Quad), Gilded Balloon (Bristo Square), Pleasance (Pleasance, Potterrow) and Assembly (George Square, the Mound, Murrayfield Ice Rink, Roxburgh Place).
Tell me more: Established in 1947, the Fringe takes place in Edinburgh every August. Within the festival, there are different strands – there’s the main Fringe programme, the Laughing Horse Free Festival, PBH’s Free Festival and the La Favorita Freestival. This year, a record 3,314 shows are being staged, with more venues than ever participating (over 300, since we’re counting). If you like top performers, medium performers and some downright terrible performers – the Fringe is a good place to go. Not bad if you like to drink beer from plastic cups and survive on a diet of burgers and takeaway crepes for a month, either.
2015 highlights: See our critics’ top picks for theatre, kids shows, circus and dance.


What is it: A three-week long festival, showcasing the best creators and performers from the global arts world
<strong>When it it: Fri 7–Mon 31 Aug
Where is it: This festival takes place in Edinburgh’s major theatres and concert halls: Playfair Library Hall, The Hub, Usher Hall, the Festival Theatre, the Edinburgh Playhouse, King’s Theatre, the Lyceum, The Queen’s Hall, the Edinburgh International Conference Centre and Princes Street Gardens.
Tell me more: Also established in 1947, the EIF was the brainchild of Rudolf Bing, who was the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It was set up as a world-class cultural event, aiming to bring together talented performers in the arts from around the globe. It offers an international platform for artists to share their work, and encompasses the realms of music, theatre, opera, dance and more. Every year, the end of the festival is marked by a spectacular fireworks show, which sees thousands flock to Princes Street to stare at the sky. This year, the dates of the festival coincide with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
2015 highlights: FFS, Sufjan Stevens, Chilly Gonzales, King Creosote, Complicite and Robert Lepage’s Ex Machina. Read more about the programme.


What is it: A literary festival celebrating the written word, with author events, workshops and readings
When it it: Sat 15–Mon 31 Aug
Where is it: The main strand of the festival takes place in Charlotte Square Gardens, where there are lots of tents decorated better than most buildings
Tell me more: Founded in 1983, right around the time Madonna was excessively accessorising, this festival was originally held biennially, and soon grew in size and scope to become an annual event in 1997. As the world’s largest public celebration of the written word, this year’s festival has over 700 events and has its own book selling operation.
2015 highlights: Rev Jesse Jackson, Alan Cumming, Ian Rankin, Nicola Sturgeon, Val McDermid, Paul Merton, Caroline Lucas and Jaume Cabé. Read more about the programme.


What is it: Billed on the website as ‘the greatest show on earth’, the event is comprised of a series of tattoos, performed by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and International military bands
When it it: Fri 7 15–Sat 29 Aug
Where is it: A small, quaint, largely-unknown venue by the name of Edinburgh Castle
Tell me more: The first official Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo took place in 1950, drawing in around 6,000 spectators. Last year, 22,000 visitors attended the event, which now has an international reputation for excellence.
2015 Highlights: Come on, it's the greatest show on earth. Everything is a highlight.