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Which Edinburgh Festival in Scotland must you see in August? I Tried All 5!

By Alice Teacake

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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.

Tourists at the Virgin Money Street Event on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh Festival in Scotland

Virgin Money Street Event on the Royal Mile Edinburgh Festival in Scotland

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.

Which Edinburgh Festival in Scotland must you see 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.

Alice Teacake holding the Fringe Festival programme guide Alice Teacake holding the Fringe Festival programme guide

Edinburgh Festival programme brochures Edinburgh Festival programme brochures

Edinburgh Fringe Festival Scotland

7 to 31 August 2020

Let’s get stuck into the most popular festival in Edinburgh of them all first: the Edinburgh Fringe Fest!

What is the Fringe Festival in Scotland?

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!

What Edinburgh Fringe events are there?

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.

Male performer from the Little Death Club cabaret show in skimpy sequin underpants

Possibly the most amazing human ever? This gentleman could contort and wrap his body around a hoop hanging from the ceiling like a total wizard.

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.

Actors performing in Contact Light at the Pianodrome in Edinburgh

The young performers in Contact Light put on a great show in the beautiful setting of the Pianodrome!

Determination, courage and perseverance is an understatement

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.

Do you have any Edinburgh Fringe recommendations?

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.

  • Go with clearly organised precision and booked tickets in hand
  • Turn up last minute with an open mind for the unknown

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.

Performers in the Holy Sh*t play in a scene holding a dead woman

A comedy about two vicars struggling with their church funds, who turn to grave robbing to pay the bills. That's Holy Sh*t!

Download 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?

Is there an Edinburgh Fringe Guide?

Yep! Walking around the city you’ll easily find an Edinburgh Fringe guide in physical print form. It’s also online.

Plan and book ahead for the 2020 Edinburgh Fringe here

How to do the Fringe on a budget

If you’re really on a budget, I have three top recommendations for you.

Go to PBH’s Free Fringe

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.

Get a random bargain at the Virgin Money Half-Price Hut

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.

The Inspiration Machine next to the Virgin Money Half-Price Hut The Inspiration Machine next to the Virgin Money Half-Price Hut

View of Edinburgh Castle in front of Ross Fountain in Princes Street Gardens View of Edinburgh Castle in front of Ross Fountain in Princes Street Gardens

Explore the Virgin Money Street Events on the Royal Mile

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.

A pillar covered in Fringe posters advertising different shows

A pillar on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh Scotland plastered with flyers showcasing what is on at The Fringe Festival

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!

My personal Fringe highlights to watch out for in 2020

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…

Coma by Darkfield

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’?

Me.

Outside the COMA experience at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland

Make sure to see the DARKFIELD show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. They do something weird every year!

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?’

Look out for DARKFIELD in 2020

Little Death Club

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.

Lady in black sequinned jumpsuit opening the Little Death Club cabaret

Bernie Dieter with her in-house band opening her Little Death Club cabaret show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland

If you’re looking for burlesque with bold freaky performers, sword swallowers, fire eaters, gender-bending acrobats and a weird little French man – Little Death Club unapologetically serves it all to you. Get this one in the diary for sure.

Keep your eyes on Little Death Club for 2020

Edinburgh International Festival

7 to 31 August 2020

Established in 1947, the Edinburgh International Festival was created to bring cultures together in the wake of global conflict. With tickets starting at just £8, you can see the finest dance, opera, music and theatre here in August.

I had the pleasure of enjoying two amazing events within the festival

  • A gig with Sharon Van Etten at Leith Theatre
  • The craziest immersive walking night tour ever
Sharon Von Etten at Edinburgh International Festival in the Leith Theatre

Sharon Von Etten at Edinburgh International Festival in the Leith Theatre

Essential tips for Edinburgh International Festival

  • The programme and tickets are released in March/April every year. If there’s big name or production that you absolutely want to catch, it’s best to book well in advance. For many shows however there will still be tickets available during August!
  • The ticketing centre of the International Festival is the Hub – toward the top of the Royal Mile. You can find The Hub here.
  • Edinburgh International Festival offer a 25% discount if you are aged 26 or under. A student discount of 50% is available too! If you are under 26 years of age or if you receive Universal Credit, you can get tickets for only £8 on the day for selected performances

Night Walk for Edinburgh

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.

Apartments in Edinburgh Scotland at night

Just one of the places on the Edinburgh Night Walk that allowed me to see Edinburgh in a whole new light at night!

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!

Discover more about the Edinburgh International Festival here

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

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.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

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!

German military performers at The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in front of Edinburgh Castle

German military performers at The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

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!

All of the Royal Edinburgh Military performers on the Edinburgh esplanade at once for the finale of the show

The finale of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo Kaleidoscope show!

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!

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Military Tattoo top tips and booking

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.

Get your 2020 Tattoo tickets here

Best activities and tours in Edinburgh

Why not extend the fun and add some of these top activities and tours to your Edinburgh itinerary?

Which Edinburgh Festival in Scotland will you go to in August?

I hope you do consider all 5 as they’re happening at the same time in Edinburgh in August!

Related Reading

The Ultimate Edinburgh Sightseeing Guide

18 Best Music Festivals in Scotland

The Scotland Highlands Trip You Need to Go On

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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!

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About Alice Teacake

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I'm a feminist British kickass solo female traveller who believes in women facing their fears, pushing their boundaries and reaching their full potential through solo adventure travel! I have been featured in Nat Geo Traveller UK, Lonely Planet, the Daily Mail and Buzzfeed and spoken about solo female travel safety on BBC One, whilst working with a bunch of awesome brands. Follow me for travel advice and inspiration, so you can go forth and challenge yourself to reach your own personal goals!

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