Visit Edinburgh in August and you’ll find yourself caught up in a phantasmagoria of festivals.
Edinburgh Military Tattoo
The month kicks off with the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (6-28 August, 2010) a spectacular display of military marching bands, massed pipes and drums, acrobats, cheerleaders and motorcycle display teams, all played out in front of the magnificent backdrop of the floodlit castle. Each show traditionally finishes with a lone piper, dramatically lit, playing a lament on the battlements.
Edinburgh International Festival
First held in 1947 to mark a return to peace after the ordeal of WWII, the Edinburgh International Festival (13 August - 5 September, 2010) is festooned with superlatives: the oldest, the biggest, the most famous, the best in the world. The original was a modest affair but today hundreds of the world’s top musicians and performers congregate in Edinburgh for three weeks of diverse and inspirational music, opera, theatre and dance.
The Royal Mile becomes a colourful crush of people and performers, with stilt-walkers wading through the crowds and fire-jugglers’ flaming torches arcing above a sea of heads. Jazz bands and majorettes parade along a packed Princes St, Charlotte Sq is transformed into a book-lovers’ village, Princes Street Gardens is asprawl with sunbathers and picnickers, and the pub crowds spill out onto the pavements. The city’s population almost doubles, and there is a permanent buzz of excitement in the air.
The famous Fireworks Concert, held on the final Saturday of the festival, is one of the most spectacular events of the year – a concert performed at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens (and broadcast live on radio) is accompanied by the carefully choreographed detonation of around 40 tons of artistically arranged gunpowder.
When the first Edinburgh Festival was held, there were eight theatre companies who didn’t make it onto the main programme. Undeterred, they grouped together and held their own mini-festival, on the fringe…and an Edinburgh institution was born.
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Today the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (6-30 August, 2010) is the biggest festival of the performing arts anywhere in the world, but despite its size the Fringe remains true to its origins in three fundamental respects: performers are not invited to the event (they must make their own arrangements); they make use of unusual and unconventional theatre spaces; and they take all their own financial risks.
The Fringe continues to be one of the world’s most exciting and innovative drama events. Since 1990 the Fringe has been dominated by stand-up comedy, but the sheer variety of shows on offer is staggering – everything from chain-saw juggling to performance poetry to Tibetan yak-milk gargling.
So how do you decide what to see? There are daily reviews in the Scotsman newspaper – one good Scotsman review and a show sells out in hours – but the best recommendation is word of mouth. If you have the time, go to at least one unknown show – it may be crap, but at least you’ll have your obligatory 'worst show I ever saw' story.
Edinburgh International Book Festival
Held in a little village of marquees in the middle of Charlotte Sq, the Edinburgh International Book Festival (14-30 August, 2010) is a fun fortnight of talks, readings, debates, lectures, book signings and meet-the-author events, with a café and tented bookshop thrown in. The festival lasts for two weeks in August (usually the first two weeks of the Edinburgh International Festival).
Midwinter is also the season to be jolly, with a month’s worth of festivities leading up to Christmas and New Year. There are Christmas markets with stalls serving glühwein (mulled wine), big-name bands playing live in Princes Street Gardens, and a spectacular torchlight procession down The Mound.