13 Edinburgh Festivals To Book A Trip Around

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When someone asks, "What's the best time of the year to visit Edinburgh?" Our answer is always short and simple - festival time! To be more exact we'd have to say from about the beginning of June till the end of August. This is when all the main arts festivals such as the Fringe and International take place, not to mention the famous Royal Military Tattoo.

That said, no time of year is a bad time to experience the Auld Reekie. This is a city that caters to interests as diverse as storytelling, science, magic and jazz. Below you'll find a list of suggestions to get the planning juices flowing.

  • See here for tours and tickets to go with your festival visit.

1) Hogmanay:

  • When? - Dec 30, 2017 to Jan 1, 2018 | Learn More.

In the capital city of Edinburgh it's traditional that the end of each year be given a proper send-off at the famous Hogmanay celebration. For three days people from all across the world gather in the lively streets surrounding Edinburgh Castle for live music, great food, torch lit processions and, best of all, the gigantic fireworks display. If you're fortunate enough to find yourself in the Scottish capital come midnight on December 31st then gie's a hand to your fellow reveller and join in the world's biggest rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

Edinburgh end of year Hogmanay

Edinburgh's New Year Fireworks From Calton Hill | Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Can't make it to the Auld Reekie in time for the bells? No worries, Edinburgh plays host to a huge roster of year-round festivals, meaning there's almost always something to enjoy regardless of when you visit. That being said, what does the city have to offer in 2015 and on which dates do they take place?

2) Edinburgh Student Art Festival:

ESAF is an event that aims to provide an engaging platform for public expression to students from a wide array of creative disciplines. These are artists currently homing their craft at one of the capital's higher education institutions, and whose latest works will be showcased at venues such as the Scottish Storytelling Centre, The Biscuit Factory and City Art Centre.

Edinburgh Student Art Festival

3) Edinburgh International Science Festival:

This two week event aims to make the sciences fun and accessible to all. At various venues throughout the city, such as the National Museum of Scotland and the Royal Botanic Gardens, people of all ages will be able to take part in a huge selection of workshops as well as enjoying many fun demonstrations and exhibitions. Each day of the festival during lunchtime a series of talks will take place by leading scientists, academics and politicians about current and future issues.

Edinburgh International Science Festival

EISF in the National Museum of Scotland Grand Gallery.

4) Imaginate Festival:

If you plan on visiting Edinburgh with an energetic youngster then the Imaginate Festival is one to look out for. It's the country's main performing arts event for kids and young people. For the last 7 years Imaginate has attracted some 86,000 children along with their teachers and relatives. The main venue is the Traverse Bar Café (10 Cambridge Street), and the aim of each show is as much to inspire creative talent as it is to entertain.

Best time to visit Edinburgh with kids - Imaginate Festival

Imaginate Festival | Credit: Solen Collet.

5) Edinburgh International Film Festival:

EIFF enters its 72nd year with more incredible international screenings, innovative industry discussions and insightful talent workshops. It is renowned for its widely appealing intimacy and eclectic programming, two features which meld to give the entire event a professional clout well beyond its apparent scale.

Expect no two days to be the same. One night you could be experiencing all the glitz of the red carpet and the next might be spent tucked away in a close-knit Q&A session. Their latest programme is due to be announced in May 2018.

Edinburgh International Film Festival

6) Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival:

This bopping and swinging extravaganza dates back to 1978, when it was set up by banjo-player and guitarist, Mike Hart. Each year it has expanded to encompass more and more varieties of the genre and has also found its way from the small bars and streets into lavish performance halls such as the Festival Theatre.

Don't think its success has caused it to become gentrified, you'll still be able to enjoy some soul in the chilling atmosphere of a classic club. In fact, over 140 diverse gigs will be taking place at 13 venues throughout Edinburgh. One of these is a free open air Mardi Gras parade at the Grassmarket and another is a free Festival Carnival on Princes Street/Gardens. Enjoy the atmosphere of festive New Orleans right in the heart of the Scottish capital.

Edinburgh Jazz And Blues Festival - Tron Kirk

Edinburgh Jazz And Blues Festival In The Tron Kirk | Credit: Eoin Carey.

7) Edinburgh Art Festival:

With over 250,000 visitors every year this festival is the largest of its kind in the UK. Artists from all across the world are invited to join their Scottish counterparts in showcasing their works to a discerning public. The best part about this famous annual event is that most of its exhibitions, screenings, performances, talks and tours are free to attend!

Visit Edinburgh Art Festival

Edinburgh Art Festival | Credit: Erika Stevenson.

8) The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo:

Arguably one of Edinburgh's biggest annual events, if not 'the' largest when one takes into account the 100 million international TV viewers it garners. The tattoo's popularity stems from its inclusiveness as much as its spectacle. Performers from dozens of countries gather on Edinburgh Castle's Esplande for a night of breathtaking choreographed performances, light and music.

Spectator tickets for the Military Tattoo always sell out fast, so if you want to be there till the Lone Piper plays his closing lament head over to the event website and book now.

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Pipes & Drums | Credit: AJ Blair.

9) Edinburgh Festival Fringe:

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival in the world. Walk through the city centre in August and you'll scarcely find a street untouched by its vibrant influence. Think up any kind of artistic performance you can, be it comedy or cabaret, and you're guaranteed to run into somebody who'll hand you a relevant flyer.

The shows vary wildly in genre and quality, but most of them are free and the citywide atmosphere is always great. It's actually impossible not to see a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, as you'll most likely run into a talented street performer and get sucked up into his/her orbiting mass of spectators. All-in-all, it's an excellent time to visit Edinburgh.

Best time to visit Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Edinburgh Festival Fringe | Credit: Janeanne Gilchrist.

10) Edinburgh International Festival:

This one's a sort of 'high brow' competitor to the Festival Fringe. It runs at the exact same time and declares a strong commitment to the 'highest possible international standard to the widest possible audience'. For three weeks all of Edinburgh's most prestigious theatres and concert halls pull back the curtains on some of the most talented performers in the world. Concerts will also take place in the open-air Ross Theatre and smaller venues such as Greyfriar's Kirk.

Best Time To Visit Edinburgh International Festival

Edinburgh International Festival | Credit: Richard Haughton.

11) Edinburgh International Book Festival:

Being a world literary capital it's no surprise that Edinburgh plays host to this fun and thought-provoking event. Get inspired with hundreds of events featuring eminent writers, scholars and speakers. You'll have a chance to share ideas with new people, get engaged in debates and maybe even meet a personal idol.

Most of the festival takes place within the free-to-access Charlotte Square Gardens. A tented village is erected for the soul purpose of the event, and to take advantage of the outstanding natural surroundings. Note that the IBF also has an excellent programme for children and young adults.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

Edinburgh International Book Festival | Credit: Richard Haughton.

12) Edinburgh Mela:

The Mela is essentially a late summer festival of international music and dance. During the last weekend in August Leith Links in north-east Edinburgh takes on a magnificent carnival atmosphere and people of all ages gather to revel in song and dance.

Edinburgh Mela Leith

Edinburgh Mela In Leith Links.

13) Scottish International Storytelling Festival:

Think of the International Festival and Book Festival rolled into one, and you've got Scotland's International Storytelling Festival. What makes this event so unique and intriguing is the sheer variety of formats in which shows can take place. Tales can be told through ancedote, music and lyrics, poetry and more. It doesn't matter if you're 1 or 100, the diversity of the programme will ensure you stay entertained. You're also likely to leave with a new found appreciation for the ancient art of oral storytelling.


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