“Wait, there’s more than one festival?!” – A Beginner’s Guide to the Edinburgh festivals

A Summer Full Of Peaches Beginner's Guide to the Edinburgh Festivals

I would like to take this opportunity to clear something up. It’s a bit of a bugbear of mine, and the timing is rather apt. The term “Edinburgh Festival” doesn’t stress me out, but loads of people – both locals and tourists alike – use it incorrectly. Technically, the “Edinburgh Festival” doesn’t actually exist – it is a  actually collective term for the plethora of cultural festivals that take place in August. There’s a grand total of 22 different festivals going in Edinburgh throughout the month – no wonder everything gets so confusing!

I’m going to break it down and clear up a few festival foggy patches, giving you a better idea of what exactly goes on up here.

  • The Edinburgh International Festival is the “original festival”, established in 1947. A more serious programme, EIF features classical theatre, opera, and dance. Entry to the festival is by invite only, via selection committee. If you want to hear the Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing Mendelssohn’s interpretation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, this is the festival for you.
  • The other big one is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, also established in 1947 – it came about when some theatre companies went up to the first EIF uninvited and basically gatecrashed the thing, offering their own alternative theatre. In it’s current state, the Fringe offers a mix of theatre, music, and comedy, with the latter making up a third of the programme. Anyone can put on a show, provided they put up the registration fees. This is probably your cup of tea if you want to see your favourite comedians off the telly, or something totally bonkers – there are no restrictions when it comes to putting on your show.
  • I struggled to find a way to describe the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, to be honest. It’s just “The Tattoo”, you know? No, I didn’t think so … Basically, military regiments from Scotland, the rest of the UK, and internationally come to Edinburgh Castle and “do their thing”. There’s lots of kilts, bagpipes, drumming, and highland dancing. (And pyrotechnics, if you’re lucky!) Despite my rubbish description, it’s a really important part of Edinburgh’s year – it’s popular across the world, and the BBC even televises it.
  • The Edinburgh International Book Festival probably played a part in Edinburgh becoming  the first UNESCO City of Literature. Established in 1983, this festival runs lots of differing events, from workshops and panel discussions to talks and performances by various writers and poets. Recent festivals have featured Ian Rankin, Margaret Atwood, and J.K. Rowling, to name but a few. Carley is actually going to a lot of book festival events this year, so keep your eyes peeled for a post on that soon!

Along with the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, the Edinburgh Art Festival, and the Edinburgh Mela (a cultural festival with South Asian roots), the above summer festivals come under the “Festivals Edinburgh” umbrella.  This organisation is made up of directors from the major Edinburgh festivals so that they can co-ordinate strategies and maintain their competitive edge globally. Their website is good for information about the festivals generally, and includes information about events at other times of the year, such as Edinburgh Hogmanay at New Year.

Here are some other notable festivals:

  • Previously running for a fortnight in August, the Edinburgh International Film Festival shifted its programme to June in 2008. The festival is known for promoting and discovering various international films, with films in categories such as “Night Moves” (independent horror and actions films) and “Black  Box” (abstract films). Notable films to have premiered at the festival include Billy Elliot, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Hurt Locker.
  • The Edinburgh Annuale took place in June this year, but in previous years the festival has run into July, too. This festival looks to promote contemporary visual art at grassroots level. In association with the Embassy Gallery, and with funding from the Scottish Arts Council, events take place at galleries of varying sizes across the city.
  • Technically, the first Edinburgh International Circus Festival is part of the Fringe. At its core, it’s your standard circus extravaganza, with acrobats and clowns aplenty, however, the audience play an important part in the show. The acts that receive the best audience responses will be deemed the winner of the People’s Choice award, with acts also being judged on their skills and abilities by “proper” judges. A show for all the family, I’m sure. (But not me. I don’t like clowns!)
  • Don’t be fooled by the name of the Festival Of Politics – it’s not all about parliamentary processes and the like, though events are hosted in the Scottish Parliament(!) With discussions, debates, and workshops, some of the topics this year include “children’s rights”, “libraries in the digital age”, and “the future of the Scottish music industry”. Definitely a festival for those who like to stick their thinking caps on.

There are many other smaller festivals taking place, covering a varied cross-section of subjects. This Wikipedia page provides a good starting point if you want to find out more.

I hope this has been of some use, and has helped to make more sense of the festival chaos that ensues for a good few months every year!


2 Comment

  1. These festivals sound like a lot of fun! Thanks for sharing. Xo

    1. Stacey says: Reply

      No worries!

      August is such a good time in Edinburgh, if you can cope with the streets being chock full of tourists(!) There is so much going on – the city is just buzzing! It’s probably the best time to come to visit, I reckon.

      Cheers for reading!


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