As you step off the train in Edinburgh Scotland in August, you’ll immediately be hit by the electric feels. The feels of die hard determination and antsy anticipation within organised chaos. Edinburgh in August is a fascinating playground crammed full of art, music, theatre and comedy performances, accumulating in around 1000 shows happening each and every day.
Yes, you’ll probably going to be feeling utterly overwhelmed and wondering where to start. It’s all good though! You’re here and I’m going to walk you through all FIVE of the Edinburgh festivals happening in August.
Most revelers turn up to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival in Scotland – but with 4 other festivals happening at the same time, why not make the most of it all? With this straightforward Edinburgh Festival Guide, start planning ahead for 2020 now to make sure you don’t arrive unprepared.
In a hurry? Here’s everything you need to know to make it through the Edinburgh Festivals!
You’ll find Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, in central eastern Scotland close to the North Sea. It takes 5.5 hours to get here on the train from London. It’s only 3.5 hours on the train from Manchester too!
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Edinburgh International Festival
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Edinburgh International Book Festival
Edinburgh Art Festival
Edinburgh Festival Fringe: 7 to 31 August 2020
Edinburgh International Festival: 7 to 31 August 2020
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo: 7 to 30 August 2020
Edinburgh International Book Festival: 15 to 31 August 2020
Edinburgh Art Festival: 30 July to 30 August 2020
Try seeing shows at Summerhall, Pleasance Courtyard, Underbelly’s Circus Hub, Surgeon’s Hall, Cabaret Voltaire and The Free Sisters (to name just a few). There are many venues!
Download the Edinburgh Fringe app
7 to 31 August 2020
Let’s get stuck into the most popular festival in Edinburgh of them all first: the Edinburgh Fringe Fest!
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world and was essentially started by a bunch of rebels. They turned up uninvited in 1947 to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival on the ‘fringe’ of the city – and the rest is history!
You may automatically think of comedy when it comes to the Edinburgh Fringe shows, but there’s so much more! The Edinburgh Fringe programme covers theatre, dance, circus acts, musicals, opera, cabaret, spoken word and whatever else a performance artist can dream up.
Anyone wanting to show the world what they’ve got can take part (as long as they find a venue willing to host them). Or maybe not…sometimes the street is the place to be too.
Artists are not vetted which makes the entire Fringe terribly exciting. Performers clearly put their life, soul and money into these 24 days. You’ll see them and their mates handing out flyers left, right and centre to get you into their show. By week 3 you wonder how they’re still standing.
The blood, sweat and tears does pay off though. Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson and Eddie Izzard have skyrocketed their careers from performing at the Fringe.
Here’s a fun fact for you: if you watched every performance scheduled at the Fringe it would take 5 years! I believe there are 2 ways that you can approach the Fringe Festival in Scotland.
I played it both ways and loved both approaches. For some events with the most prestigious top acts, I immediately booked ahead. Yet I also ventured into tiny backrooms of obscure venues without any plan at all. This is risky show viewing at its greatest and a whole lot of fun. You can simply walk down the street and go into shows that are suggested to you. Or, you can use the Edinburgh Fringe app.
It has a fantastic ‘Near Me’ option on it which allows you to see which shows are up next, close to where you’re currently standing. How else would I have ended up making music with Spencer Jones at 1am at a ‘disco show’ using a packet of crisps, a vibrating exercise board and a balloon?
Yep! Walking around the city you’ll easily find an Edinburgh Fringe guide in physical print form. It’s also online.
If you’re really on a budget, I have three top recommendations for you.
Edfringe tickets don’t have to cost the salt of the earth. Started in 1996 by comedian Peter Buckley Hill (hence the acronym PBH), The Free Fringe advocates for free entrance for everyone and no hire charge for comedians in the venues they perform in. It works! If you go and see a show and like it, all you’re asked to do is pop a donation in a bucket or pint glass at the end.
Obviously, you’re going to see some absolute trash but you’re also going to unearth some brilliant gems. Make sure to pick up PBH’s programme of free shows in The Wee Blue Book scattered around Edinburgh.
If you don’t have a particular plan for the day and would like to grab a bargain, the Virgin Money Half-Price Hut is going to be your go-to! They’ll have tickets available for shows on the day at an awesome discount. The Inspiration Machine off to the side of the hut is really good fun. Hop on that if you simply cannot think anymore.
Regardless of whether you’re on a budget or not, the Royal Mile is actually a fantastic place to start your Edinburgh Fringe experience! Every single day of the festival you can head here to see street performers on stages and within performance areas.
Shows are family-friendly with buskers, street performers, living statues, arts and crafts stalls, tarot readers, portrait artists and more. The atmosphere is absolutely alive here. Make sure to admire the pillars smothered with flyers. Promoters are working non-stop to get the word out about their show!
I saw such a variety of shows that gave me the ultimate belly laughs (Zahra Barri you rock) and the most heartfelt moments of tears and despair (Bryony Kimmings I salute you). But if you’re planning for 2020, these following two are definitely ones to watch out for…
Who in their right mind would step into a pitch-black shipping container, lie in a hospital bed, take a placebo pill and surrender to an experience named ‘Coma’?
I didn’t want to go in at all. But the ticket had already been booked for me. And in the name of ‘professionalism’ I told myself to suck it up, shut up and get the hell in there.
As I was waiting for my turn outside I mumbled to the girl next to me that I was bricking it. ‘Oh Darkfield are great. Last year we were in a plane crash and the year before it was a Seance. I come to their show every year’ she says. ‘Oh my’ I exclaim.
I make it out the other end an hour later fully alive. Turns out practicing deep breathing and meditation every morning pays off. Can’t quite get over the fact that the pre-recorded words spoken in that shipping container included my name though. ‘Alice…Alice…are you ready for your pill?’
If you like to be naughty and break the rules, why not head to the coolest variety show east of the Berlin Wall! Little Death Club is kinky, daring, darkly humourous and bursting with the highest level of talent.
This is genius. We’ve all been on guided walks. But what happens when you’re taken on a solo night tour guided by an interactive video on a mobile phone? As the clock struck 11pm, I walked into a coffee shop. A man handed me a big pair of chunky headphones and a mobile device. ‘Cross the street. Stand on the black cross. Press play’. I did as instructed.
Swiftly and almost too easily, I was whisked into a parallel Edinburgh Universe. Looking at the screen I was walking and standing exactly where I was told to go. Intense, dreamy, otherworldly scenes played out in front of me. The music flowed into my ears. The stories sucked me into deep thought and inquisitiveness.
Yet each time I looked up directly back into reality, I was starkly reminded that yes, I was here, but in this present. Not the other one.
Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have come up with such a simple idea. But its impact is intense. There were a couple of times where I had to pause the video and take the headphones off. Some scenes were uncomfortably trippy and I am a solo female traveller after all. Was I OK to be in this alleyway at this time of night alone?
The fact that this interactive art experience can take place at this time of night in Edinburgh makes me happy. Edinburgh is a very safe city and being able to experience something so off-the-wall as this, under the moonlight, was a real treat. Good news: they also have security hanging around to make sure you’re OK!
7 to 30 August 2020
Unbelievable! You’ll be surprised with what the world’s finest military performers can do to you in 100 minutes at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo show. Bursting with vibrant music, cultural dance and an abundance of mighty fireworks, this is a night you’ll never forget. Within the grounds of Edinburgh Castle upon an extinct volcano, the Tattoo had me bobbing up and down against the rat-a-tat-tat of the drums and the bursts of its bagpipes and bands.
As the commentator’s voice swept across the vast audience shouting out their countries before the performance started, I was in awe.
More than 40,000 performers from over 50 countries have taken part in the Tattoo since it began in 1949. This show not only brings servicemen and women around the world together. It brings us all together. All 1,200 military and civilian performers. Plus all 8,800 of us watching. That’s a magical 10!
The Tattoo has certainly morphed and adapted as the years have gone by, so by all means, do not arrive expecting stiff pleasantries.
The La Musique de l’Artillerie got us all going with a rousing rendition of the ‘Can-Can’ before bursting into Uptown Funk. The New Zealand Army Band pulled Circle of Life out of the bag. Then one of my all time favourite Queen songs ‘The Show Must Go On’ happened. Amazing!
The experience increases in intensity and enjoyment throughout – and just when you’re ready to go home because it’s so blimin’ cold out there – they bring out the fireworks and Lone Piper. That will warm you up!
Please remember to bring a warm, waterproof jacket along with a hat and gloves to this event. You’ll be thankful for it as the night draws in and Scotland’s weather comes out in full force.
Performances have sold out every year for the last 20 years, so make sure to get your skates on if you want your bum in one of the seats for 2020. Tickets go on sale at the beginning of December every year.
Want to try and get a last-minute ticket? There is a chance that you can! There is a possibility of return tickets on the morning of performance days. If you miss out on the online sales. it’s worth joining the queue on the day to get last minute returns.
Why not extend the fun and add some of these top activities and tours to your Edinburgh itinerary?
I hope you do consider all 5 as they’re happening at the same time in Edinburgh in August!
Do you have any Edinburgh Festivals tips? Which festival are you most excited to go to next year?
Comment below and don’t forget to check out my other destinations in Europe!