Edinburgh Festivals

Unmissable festivals Edinburgh

Edinburgh is known around the world as the Festival City, and for good reason. Celebrating film, theatre, music, books and even winter river dipping, let us run you through Scottish capital’s most calendar-worthy events.

Edinburgh is a city that knows how to have fun, and to outsiders it may seem like the city is always amidst a celebration. Summertime, in particular, is jam-packed with festivals of live music, theatre, literature, film and art. In fact, there are so many festivals that they often overlap. If you want to do a festival Edinburgh-style, here are some of the best.

What most people know as the Edinburgh Festival is actually several festivals all combined together. The Edinburgh Festival comprises of around ten festivals in total, kicking off in June and culminating in the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe which run concurrently in August. Edinburgh Festival includes…

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Edinburgh International Festival

The Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) is the traditional centrepiece of the Edinburgh Festival and takes up pretty much all of the city for the whole of August.

Founded in 1947, the schedule focuses on music (mainly classical), theatre, opera and dance from all around the world. The names to have graced the stage during the festival read like a who’s who of classical music and arts, and include Richard Burton, Jacqueline Du Pré, Sir John Gielgud, Yo-Yo Ma, André Previn and Maria Callas. The festival traditionally ends with an extravagant fireworks display over Edinburgh Castle. Tickets are available online for all events.

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe

What began as an offshoot for those not invited to the official festival has in many ways surpassed the EIF to become the biggest arts festival in the world. Running concurrently with the official festival, it sets itself apart by having no selection committee and staging performances in unconventional spots around the city – a nod to the Fringe’s founders, who showed up uninvited to the EIF in 1947 and found all the theatres occupied. The Fringe covers theatre, comedy, dance, music, spoken word, art exhibitions and more, and has launched many popular shows and many household names in the world of stand-up comedy. So you never know which star you might see whilst on your Edinburgh city break.

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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Jerry Springer: The Opera and Stomp all premiered at Fringe, while the festival also kick-started the careers of Rowan Atkinson, Jo Brand, Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard and Tim Minchin.

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Edinburgh International Film Festival

Launched alongside the EIF in 1947, the Edinburgh International Film Festival (or EIFF) is the longest continually running film festival in the world. In its early days, the festival helped establish Ingmar Bergman as one of the foremost directors of his era and has continuously helped to promote emerging British talent such as Stephen Frears (Philomena, The Queen, Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity) and Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire). Over the years, the festival has held UK premieres of films from Annie Hall to The Hurt Locker and attendees can expect to see plenty of famous faces around the Scottish capital. Stars such as Clint Eastwood, Jennifer Lawrence and Cate Blanchett have attended the festival in recent years. The festival used to be held at the same time as EIF and the Fringe Festival but was recently moved to June.

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Edinburgh International Book Festival

The Edinburgh Festival covers music, theatre, film, opera and every other type of performance possible, so it would be remiss to leave out the written word, especially for a city that boasts strong links to everyone from Arthur Conan Doyle to JK Rowling.

Edinburgh International Book Festival has been running since 1983 and offers attendees the chance to meet and pick the brains of some of the world’s best writers, all in the picturesque setting of Charlotte Square Gardens. Writers who have attended to read their work, host workshops and sign copies of their books include poet and author Kate Tempest, crime fiction maestro Ian Rankin, Schindler’s Ark author Thomas Keneally, David Mitchell (as in Cloud Atlas, not Peep Show) and musician and author John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats, Wolf In White Van).

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Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival

Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival began life in 1978 as a way to encourage live traditional jazz in the city’s pubs. Over time, it expanded its remit to welcome blues, mainstream and Dixieland jazz into the fold, becoming a truly international event whilst still championing local talent. Today, the festival aims to attract the best players to the city every July, rather than just the most famous ones. This is the festival for jazz and blues aficionados. Most events are ticketed, but the Mardi Gras in the Grassmarket and the Jazz On A Summers Day event in Princes Street Gardens are free.

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Hogmanay

Nowhere does New Year’s Eve quite like Edinburgh. Every December 31st, the city erupts into a gigantic party to see out the old and welcome in the new. The festivities are eclectic, but there’s a strong Scottish thread running through them all, whether it’s Shetland Vikings parading by torchlight, traditional Scottish folk music performed in Edinburgh’s Old Town, or contemporary stars such as Simple Minds, Biffy Clyro and Paolo Nutini playing in Princes Street Gardens. The party comes to a close on New Year’s Day as thousands of people in fancy dress plunge into the icy cold River Forth in the traditional ‘Loony Dook’, which is enough to sober up even the most dedicated reveller.

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