Updated: Jan 8, 2020
Edinburgh is a festival lover’s dream - in fact it is billed as the world’s leading festival city. The bustling tourist hub has major festivals going on all year long from Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) to the busiest month – August, and beyond. After WWII, the International Festival was launched in order to raise people’s spirits and overcome the austerity of the war years. Over time, more festivals were added until Edinburgh became a top destination devoted to celebrating the best in art, culture and science.
“The importance of the Edinburgh Festivals cannot be overstated. It’s an astonishing showcase of arts and culture from around the world that transforms the Scottish capital into something otherworldly.” Mail Today, New Delhi, India
So, when should you visit this fine city? That depends on where your interests lie.
Here ‘s a rundown of many of the best festivals and celebrations in Edinburgh.
Burns Night, January 25, 2020. Robert Burns is Scotland's legendary bard. Robert or Rabbie Burns composed some of the world's most instantly recognisable lines of poetry and song lyrics. January 25th is the night people around the the globe celebrate his birthday and career by coming together to enjoy a Burns supper and a wee dram. This celebration will combine traditional Scottish activities with some more modern events; haggis eating, whisky toasts, poetry readings, and ceilidh dancing. It is a night to join old friends and make new ones while paying homage to Scotland’s most famous writer.
Edinburgh Science Festival, April 4-19, 2020. This is one of Europe’s largest Science Festivals combining performances, discussions, events and exhibitions. One of the main purposes of this festival is to spark dialogues about our planet, our universe, and our future. It is family friendly and caters to audiences of all ages – active participation is highly encouraged. If you or your children have an interest in how our world works, our history or future technology, then this festival is for you.
Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, May 20-31, 2020. This festival features theatre, dance, puppetry and multimedia performances for both the young and not so young. 1990 was the inaugural year for this festival but it now attracts over 10,000 people each year. Opening weekend includes free performances and art exhibits at the National Museum of Scotland, so why not check it out.
Edinburgh International Film Festival, June 17-28, 2020. Launched in 1947, EIFF is the world’s longest continually running film festival. Every year over 1200 filmmakers present their films, documentaries, shorts and experimental cinema. Lauded for their ability to present innovative new talents along with crowd favorites, this festival has garnered worldwide appeal. Notable actors/directors who have been showcased at this festival include Ingmar Bergman, Martin Scorsese, Stephen Frears as well as many emerging British personalities.
Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, July 17-26, 2020. Started in 1978, this festival has grown over the years to showcase the best local and international musicians. Venues include open air concerts in the park, jazz clubs, opulent theatres and a historic Spiegeltent from the 1920’s. Every aspect of jazz and blues is covered during this festival from classic to modern sounds including samba, swing and soul. Don’t miss out on the free Mardi Gras and Carnival concerts showcasing sounds from Latin and South America as well.
Edinburgh Art Festival, July 30 to August 30, 2020. Billed as the UK’s largest visual arts celebration, the Art Festival draws a crowd of over 250,000 fans during its month-long run. The festival covers public artworks, museums and galleries with both a modern and historical flavor. This is the place to see and hear leading and emerging artists as they present exhibitions, performances, and artist talks along with gallery tours. The majority of events at this festival are free to attend and sure to inspire.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Aug 7-31, 2020. The Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world and has made Edinburgh a go to location in the month of August. Performances cover every genre imaginable: theatre, comedy, dance, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, spoken word, music, and opera. All performances are open access, so you can wander the city streets and stop in to the venues and events that are of interest to you. However, make sure you bring along some coins and small bills in order to tip the performers for their efforts.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Aug 7-29, 2020. The tattoo is one of the most visually stunning events in the city – massed pipes, drums, bands, singers and performers all set against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle. Every year a different theme is selected, so no two events are ever the same. The estimated audience numbers around 220,000 in person but over 100 million will watch the spectacle on national TV. 2020 will mark the 70-year anniversary of the Tattoo and its sure to be magnificent.
Edinburgh International Festival, Aug 7-31, 2020. Edinburgh’s original event, the International Festival is the one that started it all in 1947. Over the course of three weeks, the finest performances of music, opera, dance, and theatre are available for viewing. Organizers spend months touring the globe to find the most original and engaging acts to headline the festival, many of which are world premieres. Tickets go fast for this event so make sure you book in advance.
Edinburgh International Book Festival, Aug 15-31, 2020. If you love to read or you want to meet some of your favorite authors in person, then this is the Festival for you. From rising stars to bestselling authors to Nobel Prize winners, the guest list is diverse and guaranteed to spark some lively debates and workshops. The festival brings together writers of children’s and young adult literature as well as adult literature for book signings and readings. A fledgling novelist named JK Rowling had her first reading from Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone at the Book Festival in 1999.
Scottish International Storytelling Festival, Oct 19-31, 2020. Scots have a long history of storytelling in their culture - a traditional ceilidh included the telling of oral histories along with music and dance. The festival is open to everyone and includes activities for young and old alike. The overall theme of the event is togetherness – families and friends who gather together to listen to ballads, tales, music and anecdotes. Be prepared – audience participation is a key ingredient in this festival.
St. Andrews Day, Nov 30, 2020. This day marks the celebration of the patron saint of Scotland. Be prepared for events showcasing music, food, dance and of course whisky. St. Andrews Day is also the kickoff for the Winter Festival season which includes Edinburgh’s Christmas Market, Hogmanay and Burns Night. This is the day to wear your kilt, try some haggis, hoist a glass of your favorite spirit and attend a ceilidh.
Edinburgh Christmas Markets, November 21, 2020 – January 2, 2021. Edinburgh’s Christmas extravaganza has it all – rides, music, dancing, food, skating, crafts, kids’ activities and Santa! The city is lit up with festive lights to mark the occasion – don’t miss Light Night which is the official lighting of the Christmas Tree on the Mound If you want to experience a traditional German style Christmas market head to Princes Street Gardens while the George Street market is uniquely Scottish. If you are feeling brave, then ride the Star Flyer, located beside the Scott Monument. It will lift you to a height of 60m above the ground while swinging you in a circle. Events/rides/attractions are on a pay per visit basis so check ahead to see if you need tickets. There is a large Children’s activity and market area so make sure to bring the whole family.