Edinburgh Festival: a guide to Scotland's capital during its festival of festivals

Image of dancers on the Royal Mile as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Image by Edinburgh's Festivals)

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Location: Edinburgh, Scotland

Dates: August

Level of participation: 4 - no sleep till September

There could be no better location for the world’s largest arts festival than the Scottish capital, where a castle looks down from its volcanic perch at Georgian townhouses and Gothic closes. The official reason for the month-long frenzy, which turns Edinburgh into a citywide work of performance art, is the highbrow International festival of classical music, opera, theatre and dance.

But many visitors don’t hear a note of Carmina Burana, unless they stay in one of the eternally open pubs until things start to unravel. The Fringe festival, once a niche alternative to the International festival, now dominates August. Performers from across the world sink their savings into tiny venues and hand out flyers all day, waiting for a visit from the all-powerful critics.

You have to be organised about interpreting the labyrinthine programmes and snapping up tickets, or you may end up at a show that makes you snigger for all the wrong reasons. But there’s plenty of free entertainment out on the streets. Buskers battle for possession of the Royal Mile with Special Brew-swigging tramps intent on reclaiming their town from the thespians. Oh, and there’s a book festival, a jazz festival, an art festival, plenty of marching bands and a grand fireworks finale.

Essentials: book tickets well in advance.

Local attractions: head west to Glasgow, Scotland’s post-industrial capital of cool.

More info: www.eif.co.uk (International festival), www.edfringe.com (Fringe festival),  www.edinburghfestivals.co.uk (the umbrella website for all events).

See other top festivals in August here.