Edinburgh: the best festival city in the world

This article is from 2016

GSF: Festival city

The High Street during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe / credit: Chris Scott

Whether you quantify success in numbers of tickets sold or by critical acclaim, for serious festival-goers, Edinburgh in August remains the place to be

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe (5–29 Aug) has long been a byword for innovation, daring, boldness and bravery as it lays on everything from kids entertainment, comedy, dance, theatre, music, cabaret, talks and magic in a city where almost every corner has something ‘Fringey’ going on. The stats tell a large part of the Fringe’s story all by themselves: in 2015 alone there were a mighty 50,459 performances of 3314 shows in 313 venues. Such a vast choice makes it an enormous challenge to get round even a sliver of the programme while keeping an eye on what’s hot (and what’s not), but taking a chance is a strong element of what makes the Fringe both enormous fun and truly unique.

While some Fringe tickets will be on sale from early 2016, the Edinburgh International Festival (5–29 Aug) are speedily off the blocks once again with information about their 2016 schedule being released while the embers were still dying from the 2015 event. It’s already been announced that opera superstar Cecilia Bartoli heads up the cast for a new staging of Bellini’s Norma. Other announced highlights include a showing of Mark Cousins’ documentary, Atomic, with its soundtrack performed live by Mogwai; a project provisionally titled Flit features members of Portishead, the Unthanks, Mogwai and Lau; and the BBC SSO, Edinburgh Festival Chorus and Donald Runnicles present Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder.

A genuine August bestseller comes in the form of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (5–27 Aug). A truly invigorating event for all the senses, its music, costumes and firework displays make this a proud staple of the festival calendar. The 2016 event marks the Queen’s 90th birthday while Tunes of Glory features the Massed Pipes and Drums with representatives coming from the likes of Norway, New Zealand and Jordan. As well as the 220,000 people who attend each year, the Tattoo attracts a TV audience of around 100 million.

For visual art buffs, the Edinburgh Art Festival (28 Jul–28 Aug) has been showcasing work from Scottish and global painters, photographers, sculptors and proponents of multimedia since 2004. Keep an eye on announcements of the big summer shows at the likes of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and Fruitmarket Gallery as they are likely to be embraced as part of the EAF. Beyond the exhibitions, there should be performances, screenings, artist talks and guided tours to fill out an already packed programme.

GSF: Festival city

Festival-goers reading in Charlotte Square at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

Over at Charlotte Square Gardens, literary types will have a field day in this delightful setting as the Edinburgh International Book Festival (13–29 Aug) opens its doors to novelists, poets, biographers, short story writers and thinkers from close at home and around the world. Having played host to 30 events at its first foray in 1983, the EIBF tally is now over 700 with the children’s programme as impressive and ambitious as the adult selection.

While the Fringe, International, Tattoo, Art and Book festivals may be seen as the big five, there are other events which do more than their fair share at making Edinburgh the world’s hottest cultural hub in the summer. The Festival of Politics (dates tbc) boasts an excellent setting in the Scottish Parliament and will feature talks, films, debates and discussions while music keeps things ticking over nicely in the café area. At the end of August is the ever vibrant Edinburgh Mela (27 & 28 Aug), Scotland’s biggest celebration of world music, dance, food and fashion while the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival (15–24 Jul) kicks the season off in fine style with everything from bop to blues and samba to swing.

For fashionistas, there’s the Edinburgh International Fashion Festival (23–26 Jul), for tecchies, there’s the Turing Festival (18–20 Aug). Meanwhile the multi-disciplinary and experimental Forest Fringe (dates tbc) has an identity all of its own. And anyone in the TV industry should make their way to the Edinburgh International Television Festival (24–26 Aug) while for the rest of us, it’s fun spotting the celebs in town who make their way to Edinburgh for that event: the likes of Kevin Spacey, Davina McCall and Matt Groening have graced the telly festival down the years.

The Guide to Scotland's Festivals 2016

Guide to Scotland's Festivals 2016

When it comes to festivals Scotland leads the way, providing an inspiring programme throughout the year, with everything from tiny one-day shindigs to massive month-long bonanzas incorporating music, art, literature, theatre, food & drink and more.