Picture this: Fairies dancing around you, the Mad Hatter and his entourage sitting still beside you, a guy covered in sticker tattoos laying in the middle of the road in front of you… No, I’ve not gone crazy – I visited the Edinburgh Festival! I lived in the Scottish capital for 3 years so I got to see the massive event that takes over Edinburgh every August. And what an experience that was!
The Edinburgh International Festival was the attempt to bring back and foster the classic arts like opera, theatre and dance after the second world war. Somewhere in Edinburgh there was an event full of sophisticated arts planned and it did of course take place as well. But already on its first year, 1947, word got around that there is an arts festival in Edinburgh in August. This resulted to many independent theatre groups arriving and staging their own liberal, not so classical shows just outside the gates of the official International Festival. This gate crashing became a tradition and grew bigger and bigger year after year…Until the event became known as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
These days The Edinburgh Festival is a term used when talking about everything that goes on in August in the Scottish capital. There are series of festivals taking place simultaneously, among these the Edinburgh International Festival (still focusing on the more classic side of performances) and the Edinburgh Fringe (the most creative, non-traditional performing arts you can imagine!) but many smaller festivals as well, like the International Book Festival.
The festivals take over the city completely and taking into consideration that there are over a thousand shows every day, some of the venues are quite creative. So when someone tells you their show is taking place in the restroom of a pub they probably aren’t joking, it has happened! That particular play addressed the burning question; what do women do in the bathroom and why do they go there with friends? Many shows take place in pubs and of course in actual theatres too. Some take place in parks, schools or and almost any venue will do, really.
Not even the historic sites are safe; the Edinburgh Castle hosts the world famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo which is probably one of the most famous and anticipated shows every year. This show goes on for three weeks but manages to sell out pretty much every time. So if this is the show you want to see, make sure you get your tickets on time.
You don’t, however, need a ticket to all the shows. There are hundreds of free shows every year and many have very nominal ticket cost. A stroll along the Royal Mile in the Old Town will quickly show you what’s available as that is the place where performers hang out advertising their shows. It’s going to be crowded but it’s a great place to get ideas for shows and get a feel of the festival.
A few tips if you are planning to visit the Festival
Book your accommodation early, really early. You can be sure that the hotels will sell out and the room prices are not going down. An option for staying in a hotel is renting an apartment which can usually be done for a week only. It won’t be significantly cheaper but you will have your own kitchen so you don’t have to share the very busy restaurants with other festival visitors.
Talking about restaurants, most of them don’t take reservations during the festival. So don’t start looking for a restaurant when you are already hungry because chances are that you have to wait for a table for quite some time.
Check out the shows you want to see beforehand and get a ticket as soon as possible. This is especially true for bigger more classical shows and of course the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
If you are only a little or not at all interested in the Festival but want to visit Edinburgh I recommend choosing another month to visit. Edinburgh in August is all about the Festival, you can’t avoid it and it will make exploring this city a lot more difficult. Plus there are ‘a few’ others visiting Edinburgh too!
If you are interested in visiting this amazing city and the world’s biggest Fringe Festival -Do it! Start planning early and go for it, it’s an event like no other.