Culture + Style

Why’s Edinburgh Called ‘Festival City’? You’ll Get a Clue at These 11 Events

Known as “Festival City,” Edinburgh has been entertaining massive crowds on its bustling streets and stages since 1947. Throughout the year, world-class artists, musicians, comedians and dancers take over hundreds of historic venues.

Whether you’re looking for laughs, traditional theater, master storytelling or modern jazz, you’ll find a festival in the Scottish capital devoted to it. This World Heritage City has become synonymous with excellence in art, culture and science thanks to its thriving festival scene.

Pro-tip: Check festival websites for exact dates, as they may be subject to slight changes each year.

Here are 11 seasonal faves to build your trip around:

Late Winter/Spring

Feel like getting crafty? The Edinburgh Yarn Festival is an urban knitting love-in, showcasing everything wool-related, from spinning and weaving to crocheting and felting. Held at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange, the event also hosts artisans and hands-on workshops for yarn junkies and newbies alike.

edinburgh festivals
Channel your inner geek at the Science Festival. (Photo: Getty Images)

Sneak some education into your spring break at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, which features approximately 300 events, including hands-on tech workshops, eye-popping demonstrations and interactive performances.

Summer

Edinburgh festivals explode in warmer months, beginning with the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Attracting thousands of A-list filmmakers, actors, movie buffs and industry folks, this event showcases as many as 150 films from 46 countries, including outdoor screenings.

It’s no illusion: The Edinburgh International Magic Festival draws more than 12,000 people to 80 events at the city’s most historic venues. MagicFest features traditional magicians along with circus acts and master illusionists from around the world. There’s also a professional workshop stream where fans can pick up tricks of the trade.

Get your boogie-woogie on at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, as an eclectic mix of blues, swing, soul and modern jazz sweeps through town. Taking place in intimate clubs and open-air venues, this event routinely tops Europe’s top 10 music festival lists, with more than 170 acts providing a feast for the ears.

Drawing art lovers worldwide, the Edinburgh Art Festival is the U.K.’s largest visual arts event, with works by hundreds of artists shown at exhibitions, guided tours, artist talks and pop-up galleries. Founded in 2004, the festival is a great place to discover new talent and offers many free events at leading galleries, museums and artist-run studios.

edinburgh festivals
The drama of the Military Tattoo is unforgettable. (Photo: Getty Images)

Soak up authentic Scottish culture at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, where 1,000 or so musicians, pipers, dancers and singers — including Switzerland’s Top Secret Drum Corps and the Central Band of the Czech Armed Forces — perform on the esplanade at the iconic Edinburgh Castle.

Celebrating the top performers in theater, opera, dance and music, the Edinburgh International Festival takes over grand concert halls and small theaters to present innovative, diverse entertainment, like a restaging of the hugely successful musical comedy “Midsummer.”

Looking for edgier entertainment? The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival, with more than 53,000 performances by thousands of performers who descend on the city to captivate crowds with comedy, spoken word, music, physical theater and more. Hundreds of free shows make this offbeat cultural extravaganza the best bargain in town.

Bring out your inner bookworm at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which presents 800 events in Charlotte Square Gardens in Edinburgh’s historic New Town. The world’s oldest book festival attracts some 220,000 word-lovers annually, who come to meet more than 800 authors in attendance at readings, book signings and discussion groups. Check out the free Unbound evening events, which combine music and spoken-word performances.

Fall

Hear spellbinding tales at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, where distinguished storytellers and musicians share oral traditions and cultural diversity. Annual themes have included Growing Stories, with botanical events including walking tours and live storytelling events.


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