Summer in Edinburgh: 'When the city swells with the arrival of artists of every kind from around the globe'
- Kelly Apter
- 28 February 2020
The world's biggest gathering of arts and culture just gets bigger and bolder. We shine a light on the main events taking place in the Scottish capital during July and August
Edinburgh is known for many things: its rich history, architecture, Hogmanay celebrations and the Scottish Parliament to name a few. But mention the city to most people outside Scotland, and chances are the thing they're most aware of is the Festival.
Those in the know recognise that actually the 'Edinburgh Festival' isn't just one event, but several events all co-existing in perfect harmony. Most of them take place in August, when the city swells with the arrival of artists of every kind from around the globe, and people eager to lap up their wares.
Due to its sheer size and scale, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (7–31 Aug) is perhaps the most famous. Started in 1947, the Fringe is open to anyone and everyone: if you want to put on a show, then you're welcome to get involved. Comedy and theatre are the dominant forces, but there's also a wealth of live music, dance, cabaret, circus and shows for children and young people.
Spaces all around the city are used as venues, from theatres to church halls, and bars to university lecture rooms, with shows taking place from first thing in the morning to the wee small hours. Last year there were a staggering 3841 shows across 323 venues, and the 2020 version is likely to be even bigger. Shows go on sale in January, with the full programme launched on 10 June.
While anyone can take part in the Fringe, the Edinburgh International Festival (7–31 Aug) is a bit more choosy. This internationally acclaimed event is entirely curated, with programmers cherry picking the best theatre, dance, opera and music from around the world. With performances in some of the city's finest venues, including the Usher Hall, Edinburgh Festival Theatre and Playhouse, the EIF line-up always includes big names and established figures, but isn't afraid to take risks by programming exciting new work.
Running alongside the Fringe dateswise, the International Festival will once again open with an impressive large-scale free event and close with the hugely popular fireworks display in Princes Street Gardens. The full programme will be launched on 18 March, with Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra already announced as a big draw for classical music lovers.
Events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (15–31 Aug) can sell out within days (sometimes hours) of going on sale, so be sure to check out this year's programme soon after its launch in June. Based in its purpose-built home in Charlotte Square Gardens, the Book Festival invites literary talent from around the world to deliver readings, discussions and signings for adults and children.
Best-selling authors, poets, politicians, photographers, musicians, historians, biographers and more will be in the line-up, triggering thought-provoking and stimulating discussions across all genres. In previous years, many of the world's leading writers, including the likes of Paul Auster, George RR Martin, Malala and Chelsea Clinton, have been in attendance.
Compared to the Fringe, International and Book events, the Edinburgh Art Festival (30 Jul–30 Aug) is a relative newcomer on the block, but has still built up a very impressive reputation over the past 16 years. Running for four weeks, the Art Festival champions work by hundreds of visual artists from across Scotland and the world.
In 2019, it presented more than 50 exhibitions and 140 events in galleries, museums and exciting, unexpected spaces across the city, most of which were free to attend. This year, you can expect the usual blend of new work by internationally-renowned and emerging artists, retrospectives, pop-up exhibitions and a diverse range of talks and events.
Although not a festival as such, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (7–29 Aug) has been an intrinsic part of Edinburgh in August for the past 70 years. Each August, Edinburgh Castle Esplanade becomes a hub of performance, military displays, live music and fireworks, attracting visitors from around the world.
As you might expect from the Tattoo's big anniversary year, it promises to be truly spectacular with more than 1200 performers heading our way. This year's theme is Platinum Edition and will mark the Tattoo's rich history, as well as celebrating 70 years of music, culture and military tradition, and Scotland's Year of Coasts and Waters.
With so much happening during August, thank goodness the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival (17–26 Jul) gets the city warmed up in July. The Jazz Festival started in 1979 and was ambitious right from the start, inviting bands from the US and Paris to rub shoulders with local musicians in bars and hotels across the city.
Forty years later, that fine ethos remains, with this curated festival always featuring a strong mix of international bands and Scotland-based artists, playing a diverse range of contemporary and traditional jazz and blues. The 2020 festival programme is due to be announced around April and May.