For the first time since 1947, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe will not be going ahead this year, along with four other festivals that draw people to the Scottish capital from all around the world each summer.

People bouncing on yellow spacehoppers
Comedians and cast members from the Pleasance programme bounce on yellow spacehoppers in 2016 © Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The Fringe is the biggest celebration of arts and culture in the world, and it runs every August for three weeks in Edinburgh. The 2019 programme featured 3841 shows by performers from 63 countries, and there were 59,600 theatre, dance, circus, physical theatre, comedy, music, musical, opera, cabaret, variety and children's performances. In addition, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Edinburgh Art Festival and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo are also cancelled, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three people dressed as clowns performing for a photocall
Mexican performers Triciclo Rojo promoting their show Vagabond in 2015 ©  Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images

The five festivals between them usually attract over almost half a million visitors to Edinburgh, and Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has described the cancellation as “heartbreaking, but the right decision”. Global warming and the effects on our planet was one of the big themes at the Fringe last year, and it generated £144 million (€164 million) for the Edinburgh economy and £173 million (€197 million) for Scotland’s economy. The organisations in charge of the five festivals are now in the process of refunding those who have already purchased tickets.

"Just a few months ago, the idea of Edinburgh without the Fringe and our sister festivals would have been totally unthinkable," says Fringe chief executive, Shona McCarthy. "Now, like so many other aspects of our day-to-day lives, we must pause and take stock in the face of something far bigger." There is a small chink of light on the horizon, however, as Shona has hinted that the festivals may be able to offer entertainment via an alternative medium in the future.

Performers dressed as swans pictured beside real swans in a river
Dancers from 'Tutu', perform at St Margaret's Loch in their Swan Lake costumes for Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017 © Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

"Whilst the Fringe and our sister festivals may not be able to provide a stage in the same way as before this summer, we are committed to working with artists and creatives from Edinburgh, Scotland and across the world to find new ways of uniting people under a Fringe umbrella," she said. "It’s too early to say what this will look like, but we are confident that as a collective we can find a way to reach through the walls that currently surround us and inspire, cheer and connect."

Keep up to date with Lonely Planet's latest travel-related COVID-19 news here.

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