6th August 2015 at 1:48pm
Every August, a tidal wave of artistry, creativity and full-blown entertainment sweeps across the city of Edinburgh, transforming its streets, courtyards, parks, theatres, pubs and cafes into one giant performance venue. The Scottish capital’s population doubles in size as hundreds of thousands of visitors arrive from across the globe to either witness or partake in the world’s largest arts festivals.
This year, over 50,000 performances will take place across nearly 300 venues, featuring just about every creative art form imaginable. Edinburgh’s festivals pride themselves on their all-inclusiveness; world class musicians, dancers, actors, painters and comedians can be found side-by-side to up and coming amateur acts, with thousands of free shows thrown into the mix.
Here at Standard Life, we’re always full of excitement and anticipation whenever August comes around. So in the lead up to this year’s festivities we thought we’d share some of our top tips to surviving the festival, from where to snap up cheap tickets to the must-visit venues.
Know your festivals
Most people simply refer to it as ‘the festival’, however, the carnival atmosphere which engulfs Edinburgh every August is in fact a result of multiple festivals all kicking off simultaneously. Here’s a quick overview of the main players:
- The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is officially the world’s largest arts festival, having initially emerged as an extension to the International Festival. The Fringe runs between 7-31st August and features everything from comedy and dance to cabaret and silent discos.
- The Edinburgh International Festival is the original, having first kicked off way back in 1947. Expect theatrical drama and plenty of music, with the city’s main theatre halls acting as key venues. For an overview of all the performances, visit the website.
- The Edinburgh Book Festival offers respite from the crowded streets, with various talks, readings and signings taking place within its Charlotte Square base. This festival grows in size and popularity every year, attracting some of the world’s leading authors as well as the pick of the best upcoming talents.
- The Edinburgh Art Festival runs between July 30th – August 30th and is recognised as the UK’s largest annual celebration of visual art. The city’s leading galleries, museums and artistic hubs swing their doors open to showcase some of the finest artistic talent in the world, with the majority of events free of charge.
- The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is perhaps the most iconic aspect of the Edinburgh festivals. Staged within the majestic castle walls, this spectacular event sells out every year and features bag pipers, dancers, singers and military bands – culminating with a nightly fireworks display which lights up the city skyline.
Edinburgh Festival: Where to get tickets
Chances are you’ll have eyed up a show or two prior to arrival in Edinburgh, however, many people prefer to simply wander around and see what they stumble upon. There’s certainly no shortage of shows, and if you’re anywhere near the Royal Mile – Edinburgh’s grand Old Town boulevard – then you’ll be inundated with flyers from on-street promoters.
In addition to the clearly sign posted official ticket outlets dotted around the city centre, you can also try your luck at the Half Price Hut just outside the Scottish National Gallery on Princes Street. As the name suggests, this is the place to grab some bargains – with hundreds of discounted tickets going on sale every day.
Cheaper tickets also tend to be easier to come by during the first week of the festival, which is traditionally less crowded. This, however, happens to be the time when journalists are out in force to review shows, which means promoters are keen to pack out the venues. The result? Generous discounts on tickets – so keep your eyes peeled and make regular stops at the ticket offices.
Top festival venues
It doesn’t take long to get your bearings in Edinburgh, and once you do you’ll soon familiarise yourself with the main venues: The Pleasance, Bristo Square, Underbelly and Assembly Rooms to name but a few. They’re all excellent places to catch a show, grab a beer and chill out, but don’t forget to venture further afield. There are 300 venues in total, and some of them are absolute gems:
- Summerhall is located on the fringes of The Meadows, a vast green space in the heart of the city. It may operate under the anonymous name ‘Venue 26’, but rest assured it plays host to some of the most celebrated acts of the festival. There’s even a gin distillery on site.
- The Traverse Theatre is home to some of the festival’s finest theatrical productions – ideally located next to Usher Hall on Cambridge Street. Even if you find yourself without a ticket, it’s worth visiting just for its cosy bar and Artisan Roast coffee alone.
- The Stand Comedy Club is somewhat of an Edinburgh institution; an intimate basement venue which has served as the breeding ground for some of the UK’s top comedians. Guaranteed laughs.
- Whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to miss out on a visit to The Caves. Having been lost to the world for over 100 years, this 18th century labyrinth of hidden stone vaults and rooms opened its doors – and Edinburgh is richer for it. It’s filled with bars, dance floors and gorgeous lights – oh, and it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Surviving the Edinburgh Festival: General tips
- Umbrellas, Umbrellas, Umbrellas: You might be blinded by sunlight as you step out the door, but at the bat of an eyelid the brisk Edinburgh wind can come sweeping in – bringing with it a generous helping of rain. Don’t get caught out – bring your brolly.
- Stretch those legs: Edinburgh city centre is relatively compact, and an absolute delight to explore by foot. The Old Town is filled with century-old closes which act as short cuts, whilst cutting through Princes Street Gardens makes for a wonderfully picturesque detour.
- Stop for a chat: The official festival guide is the size of a phone book, thanks to the 3,000 plus shows taking place around the city. Pick out a few, by all means, but don’t forget that word of mouth is equally as important. So strike up a chat in the ticket queue, at the bar or on the street – you never know what recommendations you might pick up.
- Peace and quiet: Looking to escape the crowds for a few hours? Arthur’s Seat, the city’s extinct volcano, is always an ideal destination – but you need not necessarily venture up the hillsides. In fact, you don’t have to leave the Royal Mile. Head south until you reach Canongate Kirk, then take a left into Dunbar’s Close – lo and behold you’ll stumble upon some wonderfully secluded gardens which even most locals aren’t aware exist. Find yourself a bench in a quiet corner and chill out.