Guide to the Edinburgh summer festivals

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe High Street © Janeanne Gilchrist

If you’ve been to the Edinburgh summer festivals, you know that you are hurtling towards a riot of colour, sound and performance that completely overtakes the city for 6 weeks – and if you’re heading to Edinburgh for the first time, buckle up because you’re in for a treat!

Here are a few top tips to help you navigate the many (many, many) things to look forward to in the capital this July and August:

The Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival kicks off the core period, with the festival running from the 19th – 28th July. One must-see for those new to Edinburgh and wanting a taste of the festival is the carnival at Princes Street gardens (21st July 2 – 4 pm). Watch as 400 performers from across the world showcase their street music, colourful costumes, circus, street theatre and dance – with free admission for all. Other highlights include Tia Fuller (Beyonce’s saxophonist) at the Queen’s Hall, Mud Morganfield at the Festival Theatre, the ever popular Jazz Festival Mardi Gras at the Grassmarket and Crossing the Tracks, a new strand of music which showcases cross-over bands and collaborations between jazz & blues, hip-hop and electronica.

The Edinburgh Art Festival is the newcomer on the scene, having only launched in 2005 and inhabits the city with new and exciting artworks. In addition to astonishing collections showcased at some of Edinburgh’s amazing galleries, a range of commissions are taking place from Peter Liversidge’s ‘Hello’ flags on buildings across the city, to the Edinburgh Complaints Choir, which invites citizens to assemble and sing their complaints out loud to a receptive audience. Don’t miss Conde Nast’s Coming Into Fashion exhibition at the City Art Centre for a fascinating look into the history of fashion.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is the show that you absolutely must not miss. The massed pipes and drums, the finale on the esplanade, the lone piper on the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle and everything in-between ensures that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Tattoo has a performance at 9pm every week night, and a 7:30 pm and 10:30 pm show every Saturday in August. Some tickets are still available.

During the Edinburgh Festival Fringe you will see the high street filling up, alongside large pop-up venues and small cellar spaces. The Fringe is an open access festival where anybody who wants to perform can, and in 2013, more than 20,000 artists are taking up that invitation! It can be difficult to know what to see, but that’s half the fun. Theatre critic Mark Fisher has picked his hot list here, but a lot of great performers can be seen cheaply by heading to the Half Price Hut (located on the Mound) to see about daily deals, or just by chatting to performers on the Royal Mile. Keep all your flyers (you will get loads!), they are great for bragging rights after the festival season.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival takes place in the midst of the August rush and is often described as a ‘haven’ or ‘oasis’ located in the city centre. The quiet leafy space of Charlotte Square gardens nonetheless welcomes over 220,000 visitors during the festival season. Have a browse through the festival’s book shop, see world-class authors (highlights this year include Ruby Wax, Alexander McCall Smith, Margaret Atwood, Ian Rankin and Rupert Everett as well as a brand new graphic novel strand called Stripped) and generally enjoy the tranquility from the rest of the city. Stick around for Unbound – a Spiegeltent dedicated to ‘stories, music and literary high-jinks’ which is free and you can drop-in every night from 9 pm.

Edinburgh International Festival is the one that started it all. EIF was created in 1947 to help the flowering of the human spirit, and it continues in its mission to bring astonishing high-end art (theatre, opera, dance and experiential performance) from across the world to the audiences of Edinburgh. Hot tickets in 2013 include performances from the LA Dance Project from Black Swan’s Benjamin Millepied (that’s Mr Natalie Portman to you or I), American Lulu from Scottish Opera and a performance of Hamlet by the Wooster Group, creating an interaction between live performance and archive footage of Richard Burton in the title role. Star-spotters can look for Michael Gambon (Dumbledore!) in Samuel Beckett’s ‘Eh Joe’ and poet and provocateur Patti Smith paying homage to Allen Ginsberg in ‘The Poet Speaks’. There are great deals for students and young people, with those under 30 and students able to get some great deals. For a bit of fun, why not check out the Suggest My Fest Facebook app?

The Edinburgh Mela is Edinburgh’s celebration of world music and dance, and in 2013 there are amazing performers from Argentina, Brazil, China, Spain, India, Ghana, Malawi and Kenya. One of the highlights is the World Dance Feste, showcasing dance and performances from around the globe. The closing show is The Orb and Ghanian master drummers Kakatsitsi are playing a set that has only been played once elsewhere in the UK (Glastonbury) – not bad for a £4 day pass! The Mela is also known for its amazing range of food, and is famously family friendly. Head down there from the 31st August – 1st September to check it out.

This is just a bite-sized chunk of what will be available in August, see the Edinburgh Festivals website for full details, a step by step guide and more.

You can also read our latest blog post on Joey, the life-size puppet of the National Theatre’s War Horse which is making an appearance every night at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo up until 16 August.

Jennifer Reynard

Jennifer is the Digital & CRM Marketing Manager for Festivals Edinburgh.

Latest posts by Jennifer Reynard (see all)

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  • Owen Bell

    There’s also a real ale festival, http://www.sraf.org.uk/ being held in the Edinburgh Corn Exchange 11th-14th July, sorry to see it’s not listed.

  • Danny Delnison

    This is such a great guide! We lived in London for a few years but never made it up to the Burgh for the festival. We did visit though, we stayed in the Missoni hotel in the centre of the city which was very swish but a little impersonal in my opinion. Renting a room or staying in an Airbnb would be a great idea. Living like a local is so much more fun!