Edinburgh is dusting off its sequins and arc lights for its maddest time of year. Get a feel for the riotous glory that is the festival, get to know the city - and save your money for that flash B&B. Here are an Edinburgh resident's canniest tips for low-cost good times.
Even outside of Festival time, Edinburgh is a great arts city. A gorgeous walk along the Water of Leith (if you're lucky you might see a kingfisher) will bring you to Dean's Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art - or just slip into the National Galleries on The Mound, right in the heart of town. All are free. The Edinburgh Art Festival (5 Aug-5 Sep), featuring oodles of events in both the public and private galleries, as well as public spaces, also runs throughout August.
Primarily a family event, the Festival Cavalcade (9th of August, Holyrood Park) will this year include 150 motorbikes and the entire cast of the Military Tattoo. You'll also get fringe performers, community floats and bands. There's catering on site.
Catch a busker's show
Buskers are everywhere at Festival time. At its peak, there are so many that Festival staff are on hand to move them along, so you never have long to wait for a new performer. Areas of highest busker density are the High Street in the Old Town and The Mound in the City.
The Book Festival kicks off every day with Ten at Ten, a free 10 minutes of poetry or short story. It's a daily surprise package, but the name of the day's reader is posted at the entrance tent if you're unwilling to sign up for a blind date.
Admission to the West End Art, Craft and Design Fair (8th-30th Aug) is free, and the organisers are promising at least 90 different stalls every day, each offering work made by the store owners. If previous years are any indication, it will be well worth a visit.
The Free Fringe organisation has dedicated itself to bringing free shows to the masses, with 22 stages in 19 venues in 2009. Although traditionally focused mainly on comedy, it's planning to branch into theatre, poetry and spoken word offerings in 2009.
Feel the music
Music's everywhere in Festival time, even if you don't count the buskers. Many of the pubs receive special extended licences for the period, and many are kind enough to supply you with free entertainment while you get down to some serious drinking.
Go out with a bang
The annual Bank of Scotland Fireworks Concert is a Festival institution. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra will perform a number of pieces with choreographed accompanying fireworks exploding on, around and above Edinburgh Castle. Watching from the Princes Street gardens, where you can hear the music, is free but ticketed. Though tickets are quickly snapped up, there are often batches of tickets released close to the date, so keep your eyes peeled. Streets near the venue will be blocked off, but numerous other vantage points across the city will give you a view. If you can see the northern slopes of the Castle, you're well placed. The fireworks are often also televised, but that's not nearly as fun.
Get mellow in the Meadows
Things I have seen in The Meadows: tightrope walkers, marathon runners dressed as chickens, superheroes playing football, Australian rules games, a middle-aged Asian gentleman walking the whole perimeter backwards, cricketers unphased by an outfield of sunbaking Scots, and young nerds in black capes whacking eachother with large broadswords. All this plus kids' playgrounds, the adjoining Brunsfield Links for a spot of free golf and lots of trees and grass. At Festival time, throw in fairground attractions to the mix. BYO portable barbeques and drinks.
Take a bird's eye view
Arthur's Seat, a dormant volcano, is the companion hill to the Castle, and makes a great destination for a steep but eminently manageable walk. Up top you'll get 360-degree views of Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside, including across the Firth of Forth to Fife. It's windy up there. If you're feeling more like a gentle stroll than a determined yomp, head to the top of Calton Hill for a few Victorian follies and some impressive views of town.
Want more Edinburgh tips? Read up on Lonely Planet's article on the city's Old and New Towns.
This article was refreshed in June 2012