The Edinburgh Festival
It's A Really Big Show, So Get Ready
The Edinburgh Festival, the largest arts festival in the world, is made up of at least six separate events which run roughly concurrently throughout August and early September. The original, the Edinburgh International Festival,
features opera, theatre, ballet, and the world's top philharmonic orchestras. This is your chance to hear all 17 hours of Wagner's Ring cycle in one sitting or see Ibsen's A Doll's House performed in Norwegian.
The most popular festival, the massive Fringe, features up to 500 performances daily of drama, music, and dance in 180 venues across the city. Smaller Festivals include the 10-day Jazz and Blues festival, the International Film
Festival, and my personal favorite, the International Book Festival, where world-renowned writers congregate under canvas, giving the event a feel somewhere between a literary salon and Scout jamboree.
All six festivals operate individual ticketing systems and you will need all six programs to make sure nothing is missed. (Order tickets online at the sites listed below.)
Book ahead for your rooms, preferably up to six months in advance, through the excellent B and B service at the Tourist Centre in Princes Street.
Or consider staying in campus accommodations at the Univ. of Edinburgh or Napier Univ., or at backpacker hostels (Princes Street West Backpackers is particularly friendly), or go together with friends and rent a flat for the duration (www.dickins.co.uk).
Watch for Freebies
Excerpts from many Fringe shows are performed for free at Fringe Sunday-a great opportunity to check out acts before parting with your
cash (this year it's currently scheduled for August 11, adjacent to the Queen's Edinburgh residence in Holyrood Park).
Any number of free talks and events are scheduled; e.g., free guided walks, led by local historians (see Fringe program). Other free
or nearly free events include whisky tastings, poetry readings, and herbalist demonstrations. Entry to the Book Festival is free; so is the Amnesty International-supported
"Imprisoned Writers" series, where celebrities read each day from the works of writers currently imprisoned for the views expressed in their books.
The most spectacular freebie is the hour-long Fireworks Concert, held at 10:30 p.m. on the last day of the International Festival.
Plan Your Schedule
The best way to get organized is to consult the various festival programs. Along with venue and price information, these list finishing
times for all shows and contact numbers to book tickets. Of course you can always buy tickets before the show, but lines are often hideously long and there
is no guarantee your choice will be available. Many International Festival events and the big names at the Book and Fringe festivals sell out within days
of going on sale. That can be as early as April.
To decide what to see ahead of time you'll just have to trust your instincts or look for shows or performers you recognize. Once the
Festival has begun it gets a bit easier. Many papers like the Scotsman publish daily reviews. You can also access and even write reviews online at the Fringe
and Scotsman sites. BBC2 screens a package of Festival highlights most evenings around 11 p.m. (check local listings). If you can avoid the temptation, don't
schedule every minute. Part of Edinburgh's charm is in discovering the unexpected or relaxing in the Princes Street gardens or one of the city's innumerable
To get the most out of Edinburgh in August, make sure you bring the following:
- Sunscreen and an umbrella. You'll use both before you've seen your last show, and probably in the same day.
- Stout walking shoes and plenty of exact change for the bus. Go to the Lothian Regional transport office at Waverley or Hanover Street
for timetables and maps.
- A strong stomach for digesting all those peculiar Scottish delicacies, such as Irn Bru, the popular local soft drink that is bright
orange in color and said to contain iron filings. Tourist versions of traditional Scottish fare such as haggis and neeps 'n' tatties abound during festival
time. But it is the array of deep-fried goods you really need to watch out for: deep-fried Mars bars, ice cream, even pizza. The chips, though, are superb,
particularly when smothered with the local combination of brown sauce and vinegar.
Don't Leave Without
- Taking in an outdoor performance. Edinburgh is a stunning city, so why not get your culture fix outside where you can also
enjoy the surroundings?
- Going to an Edinburgh pub. Be sure to avoid the chain pubs springing up so relentlessly across the U.K. and seek out one of the true
Edinburgh watering holes. These often have incredible design (Tiles, Café Royal, The Dome), literary connections (The Oxford Bar, The Conan Doyle,
Milnes), and a raucous atmosphere (anything in the Grassmarket).
- Making sure you catch the end-of-festival pyrotechnics. Alternatively, there is a 15-minute fireworks display around midnight each
Saturday evening in August as the late Tattoo finishes. Even if you can't get tickets, do what the locals do and wander up to Princes Street for a free