Edinburgh Festivals Guide: Five Festivals in 1 Day
Did you know there are five festivals in Edinburgh every August?
Did you also know it’s possible to see them all in just one day?
In August the population of Edinburgh doubles. It can be overwhelming in Edinburgh if you’re visiting for the first time; I know that when I first moved to Edinburgh it took me some time to get my head around all the festivals. While some dislike the crowds, I love being in the city in August- it feels so alive!
Out of the 11 festivals that happen in Edinburgh every year, five of them occur in August.
- Edinburgh Art Festival
- Edinburgh International Festival
- Edinburgh Festival Fringe
- Edinburgh International Book Festival
- The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Rather than each festival having its own venue, the events intermingle across the entire city. The main action is in Edinburgh’s Old Town, so you can easily see multiple events across all of the festivals in this one area. These festivals run for three weeks in August, usually around the same time.
If this is your first time visiting Edinburgh during the festival season, don’t worry- I’ve got your back. I’ve covered the basics in this Edinburgh festivals guide for August, and how you can see them all in one day.
Edinburgh Art Festival
I recommend starting your day off by exploring the Edinburgh Art Festival. This festival turns historic spaces and streets in Edinburgh into incredible art displays. For example, in 2019 they turned Parliament House into a gallery- hanging installations from a local Scottish artist in the hall.
This festival is very accessible on foot. I suggest picking three displays in Old Town and taking yourself on a walking tour. Allow yourself between 1.5-2 hours to do this.
Why you should go to this festival: The majority of the Art Festival is free, so if you’re counting your pennies this is a very affordable festival to attend in August!
>> Read more: 11 cheap pubs in Edinburgh
Edinburgh International Festival
The Edinburgh International Festival was the original Edinburgh festival that started in 1947. This festival selects some of the best music, theatre, opera and dance acts from all over the world.
Six of Edinburgh’s major theatres play host to the acts, as well as several smaller venues across the city. Aside from exhibitions there are also performances, screenings, artist talks and guided tours.
I recommend buying a ticket to one of the theatre shows or musical events. Allow yourself at least two hours and make sure you book your tickets as far in advance as possible for this festival.
Why you should go to this festival: It’s a fantastic opportunity to see some of the best and most original performances in the world in one city.
>> Read more: How to spend 4 days in Scotland
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe was started by eight performers who were uninvited to the Edinburgh International Festival- so they started their own festival on the fringes of Edinburgh! It’s now considered the biggest festival in Edinburgh during August, and takes over Edinburgh’s Old Town and beyond. Anyone (provided they can find a space) can perform at the Fringe Festival.
The amount of shows on offer can be overwhelming, so picking up a copy of the Fringe Programme and circling the shows that interest you is a good idea.
Sustainability Tip: Photograph Festival Brochures & Flyers
When you walk the streets of Edinburgh you’ll be handed all kinds of flyers from people promoting shows. It’s far better to photograph a flyer and hand it back to be reused rather than keeping and eventually throwing the flyer away. Check out my post on sustainable tourism in Scotland for more tips.
I recommend checking out a stand-up comedy show. Some of the world’s best up-and-coming comedians put on performances, and they make up one third of the performers at the Fringe.
Also make sure you take a stroll down the Royal Mile to see the many (free) street performers!
I would allow 2-3 hours at the Festival Fringe, depending on how many shows you want to see.
Why you should go to this festival: Just like the art festival, there are plenty of free events at the Fringe. Please note, tipping is expected at the end of these shows.
>> Read more: A guide to visiting Craigmillar Castle in Edinburgh
Edinburgh International Book Festival
If you’re anything like me and are a tad obsessed with books- you will adore the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Nestled away in Charlotte Square Gardens in New Town, this festival is a quiet escape from the masses on the Royal Mile. It is especially dreamy when lit up at night!
Head along to the pop-up bar for an evening of live poetry, then explore the thousands of books for sale in the giant tents. This festival is a great way to relax before heading to the bright lights and booming bands at the Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo.
Why you should go to this festival: It offers over 800 events featuring the world’s greatest writers and thinkers, from new hit writers on the scene to Nobel Prize winners.
>> Read more: A day trip to Cramond Island Edinburgh
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is one of the greatest shows that you can see in Scotland- and the world. Often a sell-out, the Military Tattoo is a showcase of music, dance and precision from performers all around the world. They perform against the magnificent backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.
The term ‘’tattoo’’ originated from the Dutch phrase doe den tap toe, which means ‘’turn off the tap.’’ Drummers or trumpeters would play a tune to instruct innkeepers near military garrisons to stop serving alcohol so soldiers would return to their barracks.
The Military Tattoo is a fantastic way to end your day at the Edinburgh festivals. The Tattoo begins at 9pm each night, with two shows each Saturday [one at 7pm, and one at 9pm]. Each performance commences with a display of fireworks over Edinburgh Castle. It is truly an event you cannot miss if you’re visiting Scotland during August!
Why you should go to this festival: Offering both a glimpse into past and present, the Tattoo is a world-class performance of international acts, rooted in Scottish tradition.
SCOTLAND TRAVEL TIP
Tickets for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo go on sale each December, around eight months in advance before the actual show. The tickets all have different prices, and it’s not uncommon to see all the cheap seats disappear months before the event. My advice is to buy your tickets as early as possible, however if you’ve left it too late you can still pick up discounted tickets in July and August. There is a practice night the Thursday before the Tattoo officially begins, and half-price tickets for this go on sale around 10 days in advance.
Another tip I have is to go to the Tattoo office at the bottom of Cockburn Street as soon as they open. Occasionally you can pick up cheaper tickets here as they hold back some tickets to sell on the day. Sometimes people who have purchased tickets but can’t make the show will re-sell them here too!
Visiting outside of August?
Are you visiting Edinburgh another time? There are six other festivals that happen throughout the year:
+ Edinburgh Science Festival – April
+ Edinburgh International Children’s Festival – May
+ Edinburgh International Film Festival – June
+ Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival – July
+ Scottish International Storytelling Festival – October
+ Edinburgh’s Hogmanay – December/January
The five Edinburgh festivals in August offer a diverse palette of the arts, Scottish culture and fun. There really is something for everyone, and each of these festivals offer plenty of new experiences. I feel everyone should experience the festivals in Edinburgh- and visiting in August allows you to tick off almost half of the festivals on offer in Edinburgh every year.
As for visiting each festival in one day, it’s totally doable. Just make sure you start your day early and allow at least 1.5 hours for each festival.
I recommend going to the Edinburgh Festivals website for programmes and more information on each of the festivals in Edinburgh.
Did you enjoy my one day at the Edinburgh Festivals guide? What festival do you want to go to the most?