It’s the biggest arts fest on the planet, in one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Throughout summer world-class music, theatre, comedy, dance, cabaret and art descend on hundreds of venues around Edinburgh, from grand concert halls and churches to public toilets and underground caves.

Because negotiating Edinburgh in August can be as tricky as walking the length of the Royal Mile without taking a flyer from a Fringe performer, here’s our guide to the best of the many fests that make up the city's summer season.

People enjoying a summer day in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens © Fabio Pagani / Shutterstock

Edinburgh International Festival

The Edinburgh International Festival is the granddaddy of them all: the rarefied, high-class and grown-up behemoth that boasts the crème de la crème from the traditional and contemporary worlds of opera, music, theatre and dance. Highlights this year include: The Secret River by the Sydney Theatre Company; Rite of Spring, an visually enthralling dance reinterpretation of Stravinsky's masterpiece; Peter Gynt, a raucous reboot of Ibsen's epic play; Connan Mockasin, the Kiwi multi-instrumentalist plays Leith Theatre; and Hear Word! Naija Woman Talk True, which features ten of Nigeria's biggest stars to tell moving stories about everything from bravery and sisterhood to joy and disrespect. Tickets for the aforementioned shows range from £10-38, but should be booked in advance (there are occasionally seats on offer or available on the day too). The programme may seem intimidating, but don’t be put off: there’s something for everyone at this peerless festival.

Dates: 2-26 August

In a city as beautiful as Edinburgh you'll often get a great view to go with a great show © Gareth Mccormack / Lonely Planet Getty Images
In a city as beautiful as Edinburgh you'll often get a great view to go with a great show © Gareth Mccormack / Lonely Planet Getty Images

Edinburgh Fringe

Sprawling, diverse, non-curated, and completely and fabulously bonkers, the Fringe is otherwise known as ‘the largest show on Earth’. The 2019 programme boasts thousands of shows including almost as many premieres… and it has a habit of getting bigger every year. Assembly, Underbelly, the Pleasance and the Gilded Balloon (or the Big Four, as they’re known) boast reliably strong programmes, whether comedy, theatre, dance, circus, cabaret or really weird stuff is your thing; equally popular venues are the Summerhall complex and the Traverse Theatre. But do take a risk and experiment with a free show (of which there are hundreds) or a last-minute recommendation based on some random flyer pressed into your hands by a stilt-walker on the Royal Mile. The disasters are all part of the Fringe experience too.

Dates: 2-26 August

Performers and people fill the streets during the Edinburgh Fringe © georgeclerk / Getty Images
Performers and people fill the streets during the Edinburgh Fringe © georgeclerk / Getty Images

Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival

Gathered from all over the world, the finest jazz and blues players descend on Edinburgh to perform in a dozen venues over 10 days. This festival features an eclectic programme of boogie-woogie and blues-rock, old-style and modern jazz, swing and soul; you can expect every kind of listening experience, from packed gigs in small sweaty clubs to laid-back open-air concerts.

Dates: 12-21 July

Participant in the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival carnival parade © Skully / Shutterstock

Edinburgh Art Festival

In a relatively short period of time this event has grown into the largest annual festival of visual arts in the UK. Presenting works by more than 200 artists at dozens of venues across the city – from major galleries and museums to smaller artist-run spaces and pop-ups – this is an ambitious and accessible festival and, happily, a lot of the exhibitions and events are free. In addition to showcasing stellar international and local artists, the festival introduces up-and-coming talent in unexpected places, and hosts programmed evening tours, artist and curator talks and live performances. Showings of note in 2019 include Victoria Crow: 50 Years of Painting at the City Art Centre, the abstract paintings of Bridget Riley at the National Galleries of Scotland and Grayson Perry: Julie Cope's Grand Tour at Dovecot Studios.

Dates: 25 July–25 August

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

An institution that’s guaranteed to sell out every year, the Tattoo (along with the fireworks marking its finale) is the Festival City at its most iconic and spectacular. Against the romantic and floodlit backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, nearly 1000 musicians, pipers, drummers, singers and dancers perform their military pageantry in front of a faithful audience of 220,000 people over the three weeks. The theme of 2019 is ‘Kaleidoscope’, which explores colour, music and light. Expect battle tunes, rousing displays, and the traditional emotional close with fireworks accompanying a mass chorus of Auld Lang Syne while jets fly overhead. It’s bold, brash, as Scottish as it gets – and yes, there’s a good chance of rain.

Dates: 2-24 August

Massed Pipes and Drums at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo © Domhnall Dods / Shutterstock

Edinburgh International Film Festival

This film fest doesn’t strictly take place in August (though it used to), but it’s world-renowned and has been going on since 1947, the year of the inaugural Edinburgh Festival. Described by film critic Mark Kermode as being ‘like Cannes – but civilised’, it takes over both independent cinemas and multiplexes across the city and boasts a stellar line-up of indie films, international cinema, A-list stars, mainstream premieres and an excellent programme of shorts. Films premiered in recent years include A Most Wanted Man, Brave, The Hurt Locker, Moon, Fish Tank, Let the Right One In, Man on Wire, Control and Ratatouille.

Dates: 19-30 June

The box office in the George Square Gardens during the Edinburgh Festival © Ludovic Farine / Shutterstock

Edinburgh International Book Festival

The world’s oldest book festival, in one of the most beautiful and tranquil settings imaginable. Weather permitting, you can’t find a better place to hang out during August in Edinburgh than World Heritage-listed Charlotte Square, dipping in and out of tents to hear authors from all over the world discuss their work, lazing on the grass with a beer and a book, and browsing the excellent local bookshops. The festival attracts more than 230,000 visitors every August, and the impressive programme features more than 800 authors. Some of the biggest literary names in the world (such as JK Rowling, Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood in recent years) are hosted alongside debut authors, politicians, historians, philosophers, scientists, illustrators and celebrities. The free Unbound evenings in the Spiegeltent – fusing spoken word, music and live literature events – are well worth checking out, and the children’s programme is excellent too. Highlights of the 2019 programme include Salman Rushdie, Eddie Izzard, Josh Haner, Carol Ann Duffy, Prue Leith, Gordon Brown and Colson Whitehead.

Dates: 10-26 August

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