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 twelve festivals covering everything from storytelling and performing arts, to science and major New Year celebrations. 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 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!
Even after living in Edinburgh there were still things about the festivals I didn’t know. So here’s ten facts about the festivals that show why they’re awesome:
- 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!
- The Edinburgh International Book Festival is the largest book festival in the world and in it’s 17 day exhibition they sell more books than a high street book shop sells in whole year.
- The Edinburgh International Festival, showcasing the arts, began way back in 1947. In 2016 they have invited performers from over 36 countries to take part.
- The Edinburgh Fringe Festival 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 being turned into places to put on a show. You can set up an umbrella and call it a festival venue. Seriously.
- 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 what ever they like. In 2016 there will be 50,266 performances at the Fringe! Not even including the street performers that take over the Royal Mile.
- The United Kingdom’s largest visual art festival takes place in Edinburgh in August, with over 30 venues being used to house Edinburgh Art Festival commissions, including unique places like inside the Robert Burns memorial and under a railway bridge!
- The Edinburgh Festivals 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, get yourself here to see it!
- The world’s longest running film festival is held here too, and began in that golden festival year of 1947.
- 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 the last four New Years!
- The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo held it’s first performance in 1950, and since then no show has ever been cancelled. It’s 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.
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 and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Whew, say that five times fast!
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. That’s not the only time to travel to Edinburgh for the festival atmosphere though. Come outside of August and enjoy traditional storytelling bought back to life, Jazz & Blues, or a celebration of performing arts for children, just to mention a few of the other festivals!
Edinburgh’s festivals should be on your bucket list because all year round they’re like nothing you can experience anywhere else. They’re 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?
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I 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!).