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Why Edinburgh’s Festivals Have To Be On Your Bucket List

Bowie Edinburgh Tattoo Castle Festival

I’ve made no secret about my love for Edinburgh. It’s a city steeped in history, boasting beautiful architecture and brimming with an arts and foodie scene. The usual top things to do in Edinburgh include a visit to Edinburgh Castle, a stroll down the Royal Mile and tucking in to a meal involving haggis and a dram of whisky. Cliche maybe, but all on the Edinburgh bucket list nonetheless!

But there’s another part Edinburgh that may have escaped your notice. Edinburgh is a festival city, in fact, it’s the biggest festival city in the world. During the year there are eleven festivals covering everything from storytelling and performing arts, to science and epic New Year celebrations. And whenever there’s a festival happening the city buzzes with an electric atmosphere of excitement!

I’m continually surprised when I mention Edinburgh’s festivals to other travellers from outside the UK and they either haven’t heard of them, or maybe just one or two in passing. After talking to people so much about it, I decided it’s about time to write about why Edinburgh’s festivals need to be added to your must-do list!

I’ve been living in Edinburgh on and off for 6 years now and I’ve been lucky enough to go to an immeasurable number of festival events in that time. But there are still plenty of things I didn’t know about the festivals for most of that time!

So if you’re wondering why exactly these festivals should be bucket-list worthy and what you really need to know, here are ten facts to get you started:

  1. The only event bigger than Edinburgh’s Festivals is the Olympic Games, and festival ticket sales are equal to the FIFA World Cup. That’s a lot of people and a lot of tickets!
  2. The Edinburgh International Book Festival is the largest book festival in the world and in its 17-day run they sell more books than a high street book shop sells in a whole year.
  3. The Edinburgh International Festival, showcasing the arts, began way back in 1947 as a way to bring people together after WWII. They still invite performers from all over the world to the city. 
  4. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe started literally on the “fringe” of the International Festival in 1947. Eight bold theatre groups turned up uninvited and used the opportunity of the already present crowds to perform. That enterprising spirit continues today with alternative spaces across the city morphing into venues for any type of show you can imagine. You can set up an umbrella and call it a festival venue. Seriously.
  5. Also in the spirit of the original, the Fringe Festival is still considered to be “open access” which means that anyone can show up and perform whatever they like. There are over 50,000 performances at the Fringe! And that’s not even including the street performers that take over the Royal Mile for the month.
  6. The United Kingdom’s largest visual art festival takes place in August, with over 30 venues being used to house Edinburgh Art Festival commissions, including traditional gallery spaces but also unique places like inside the Robert Burns memorial and under a railway bridge!
  7. The Edinburgh Festival’s have been home to some of the biggest names in the business, including Billy Connelly, Robin Williams, Emma Thompson, J K Rowling, Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Stephen Fry, George R R Martin, Alan Cumming… I could go on but you get the idea, so get yourself here to see it!
  8. The world’s longest-running film festival is held here in June and also began in that golden festival year of 1947.
  9. Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year celebration, and now Hogmanay in Edinburgh is one of the cities biggest events. It’s the only festival to appear in the Discovery Channel’s Top 25 World Travel Experiences and really is something to behold. I should know, I’ve been for many New Year’s in a row!
  10. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo held it’s first performance in 1950, and since then no show has ever been cancelled. It includes performers from all over the world, who showcase their talents on the forecourt of Edinburgh Castle. The Tattoo has travelled overseas four times, taking Edinburgh Castle with them each time… or a set that looks exactly like it! If you’re lucky you might get the chance to see it on their next tour, but it still can’t compare with seeing the real thing from the grandstands perched on Castle Rock.

When are Edinburgh’s Festivals?

The height of the festival year is in August when five festivals run simultaneously:

  • The Edinburgh International Festival
  • Edinburgh Festival Fringe
  • Edinburgh International Book Festival
  • Edinburgh Art Festival
  • The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The population of Edinburgh doubles for the month, as people flock to the city to revel in the festival atmosphere, an added bonus to the usual top things to do in Edinburgh. Check out my quick guide to all the Festivals in August to make the most of your experience!

But if you’re not coming to Edinburgh then it doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. Come outside of August and enjoy traditional storytelling bought back to life at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival in October. Or enjoy Edinburgh before the pre-August madness at the Jazz & Blues Festival in July or the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June. 

Spring in Edinburgh is one of my favourite times of year to visit, and it also means you can visit the Edinburgh Science Festival or the Edinburgh Children’s Festival. or a celebration of performing arts for children, just to mention a few of the other festivals!

And, of course, there’s Hogmanay at New Year and all the Christmas Markets are on then too!

Edinburgh Festivals August - Edinburgh Tattoo bagpipers

Edinburgh’s festivals should be on your bucket list because they really are like nothing else. I’ve never been to a festival anywhere else, where the whole city is transformed into one big venue for your entertainment and enjoyment. Edinburgh Festivals are the heart of Edinburgh city on display, with all it’s history, creativity, and downright quirkiness there for you to see.

Have you heard of Edinburgh’s festivals? Are they on your bucket list?

Find more about all eleven of Edinburgh’s festivals at the Edinburgh Festival City website or on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Sonja x

Over the years I’ve attended some festival events in partnership with Edinburgh Festivals, Visit Britain and Visit Scotland. As always, opinions are my own (like you need me to tell you otherwise when I rave about Edinburgh all the time!).

Originally published in August 2016.

28 thoughts on “Why Edinburgh’s Festivals Have To Be On Your Bucket List

  1. Clare says:

    I had no idea that Edinburgh had so many festivals and I am from the UK, I would love to see in New Year in Edinburgh, looks like a great show 🙂

    • Migrating Miss says:

      I think a lot of people have no idea, which is why I’m so keen to spread the word haha. I’ve spent my last four New Years here, and hopefully the next one too! It’s that good 🙂

  2. Laura Nalin says:

    I’ve been loving the posts on social media, so I’m glad that you’ve written a blog post about it. I really want to visit Scotland at some point (my boyfriend’s father is Glasweigian) and would love to see Edinburgh as well as, well, everywhere! I definitely want to make it a point to check out these festivals, though! Thanks for sharing it and letting everyone know it’s happening!

    • Migrating Miss says:

      Thanks Laura I’m glad you’ve been enjoying them! Scotland in general is really amazing, I love it so much! The festivals in Edinburgh are like an added bonus that just make it even more cool :). Hopefully you make it up this way sometime soon!

  3. Katie @ The Budget Backpack says:

    So funny, but I *have*heard of them – but only maybe 3 or 4 days ago! An Instagrammer was talking about them (via the new story feature) like the were common knowledge so I had to look it up! But now that I know about them, I’m kinda bummed that it looks as thought I’ll be missing them when I’m in the UK this November 🙁

    • Migrating Miss says:

      That’s great! I wonder if it was me or one of the other people I’ve been here with haha. You might be just here between some of the festivals, but that’s a great excuse to come back right?! Edinburgh and Scotland are still worth the visit too of course! Hope you have a great trip :).

  4. Rosemary says:

    Love festivals. While I’ve never heard of Edinburgh Festival before, I’m quite impressed by its size and scale. I would love to visit and experience for myself. Adding this to my list. Pinning this post for future reference too 🙂

    • Migrating Miss says:

      Thanks Rosemary! I love festivals too and I love that these ones are so different! There is so much happening and something for everyone at any given time of year. Hopefully you get the chance to visit 🙂

    • Migrating Miss says:

      The great thing about these festivals is that I really think there is something for everyone. It’s just a bigger version of what Edinburgh is like anyway with shows and great things to see around the city :).

    • Migrating Miss says:

      I’m about to write a post with a small guide actually! I think you do need to plan for accommodation and if you want to see particular shows. Other than that it’s fun to walk around and see what’s happening! I’m hoping to head to a gin distillery next week! Hopefully you make it back soon too 🙂

  5. Emily says:

    I literally knew *none* of this. I’ve heard of the Fringe Festival but had no idea anyone could show up and perform — I can’t believe that’s still allowed. (Knocks on wood.)

  6. Kiara Gallop says:

    I’ve been wanting to check out Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival for years, but then I check out the accommodation and flight prices and my excitement turns to disappointment. Hogmanay is also on my list 🙂

    • Migrating Miss says:

      I just published a guide with some cheaper accommodation options :). The key is really to get in early for that! It’s definitely the most expensive month, but hopefully you can make it doable in future! Hogmanay is so much fun too!

  7. Eva Casey says:

    I have only been to the Fringe Festival, but I have heard of some of the others! I really, really wanted to make it to Edinburgh this August to experience the Festivals again, but alas..not enough money! Edinburgh is really a special place. Thank you for highlighting some of the amazing festivals that take place!

    • Migrating Miss says:

      It isn’t the cheapest! Although there are a lot go free shows and options as well so it’s mainly getting here and once you’re here it’s worth it! Hopefully you might make it next year 🙂

  8. Kathy says:

    I was there at the weekend. I love Edinburgh at the best of times but the Fringe makes it even more magical. Thanks for your post, it was so informational but also makes me want to drive the 3 hour drive straight back there.

    • Migrating Miss says:

      Haha good to know!!! I’m glad you’ve experienced some of it and hopefully you can come back again next year and experience even more of the festivals :). There’s two more coming up this year too!

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