A guide to Edinburgh's festivals: From fringe to science

There's a common misconception that the "Edinburgh Festival" is just  one festival. In fact, the city hosts 12 separate festivals throughout the year – it just happens that six of them are in August when more than 25,000 artists perform in more than 1000 shows a day. It's a month of late nights and lie-ins; a frantic rush of creativity and culture. How do the locals survive? "Easy," replies one with a rueful smile, "we sleep in September."

During August the entire city becomes a stage, with performances everywhere from concert halls to phone boxes to private gardens. While some big-name acts sell out in advance, there's such a dizzying amount going on that you'll always be able to buy tickets to something on the day. For a free sample, stroll down the Royal Mile, the city's main thoroughfare, where you'll be bombarded with promotional leaflets by an eclectic cast of musicians, jugglers, mime artists and comedians. 

While Edinburgh's big six – the Art Festival, Book Festival, International Festival, Festival Fringe, Mela and Tattoo – garner most of the attention thanks to their summer scheduling, don't forget the city's other six annual events. They might not get as much glory, but they're equally compelling reasons to visit: here's the line-up, with their dates for 2016.

INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE FESTIVAL 

March 26-April 10

The world's first public science festival turns 28 this year and promises an intriguing program themed around "Building Better Worlds". Exploring how science, technology, engineering and design can help improve our planet, the two-week festival will feature more than 200 events.  Back by popular demand is the food series GastroFest, which explores the science of food and drink, plus scientists roving the streets on bikes. See sciencefestival.co.uk

IMAGINATE FESTIVAL 

May 28-June 5

Over the past seven years Imaginate has managed to lure more than 85,000 youngsters away from their games consoles and into the theatre to watch productions specifically designed for this hard-to-please age group. Headed up by Noel Jordan, former curator of programs for children and young people at the Sydney Opera House, the festival draws on acts from all over the world. See imaginate.org.uk

INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 

June 15-26

It might not have Cannes' beaches or Sundance's ski slopes but Edinburgh is still a firm favourite on the international film festival circuit. Every year more than 1400 industry experts descend on the city for a packed program of screenings, workshops and debates. Over the years, notable premieres have included Blade Runner, Billy Elliot and The Hurt Locker.  See edfilmfest.org.uk

Advertisement

JAZZ AND BLUES FESTIVAL

July 15-24

Visit Edinburgh in the latter half of July and you can expect to see a lot of people wearing sunglasses indoors. For 10 days some of the best international jazz and blues musicians mix it up with Scottish talent during 150 gigs at 13 venues. The festival encourages spontaneous creativity so look out for impromptu jam sessions and don't miss the program's two celebrated free events: Mardi Gras in the Grassmarket​ and Jazz On A Summer's Day in Princes Street. See edinburghjazzfestival.com

ART FESTIVAL

July 28-August 28

During last year's Art Festival, visitors arriving into Edinburgh's Waverley station were greeted with a striking sculpture by Charles Avery. It was one of 40 museums, galleries and pop-up spaces that encouraged people to look at the city in a new light. Specialising in contemporary art, the festival also provides access to some of the city's most beautiful spaces, such as Trinity Apse, which is normally closed to the public. See edinburghartfestival.com

ROYAL EDINBURGH MILITARY TATTOO

August 5-27

For sheer pomp and spectacle, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has few peers. Enjoying a fairytale setting in front of Edinburgh Castle's floodlit facade, the 90-minute performance showcases the world's finest military bands and display teams. Despite its outdoor setting and Scotland's capricious climate, a show has never been cancelled in 65 years.  See edintattoo.co.uk

FESTIVAL FRINGE 

August 5-29

Who would have thought that a breakaway event staged by eight companies not invited to the first International Festival in 1947 would end up being the world's largest arts festival? Last year the Fringe staged a head-spinning 3314 shows across 313 venues, covering the entire artistic spectrum from theatre to comedy to dance to musicals. There's no audition process or vetoing – if you've got a show and you can find a venue, you can put it on. Pick something at random and you could end up seeing the next Mike Myers or Eddie Izzard. See edfringe.com 

MELA 

August 27-28

Founded in 1995 by members of the city's ethnic minority communities, the Edinburgh Mela has blossomed into one of Scotland's biggest celebrations of world music, dance and food. Held every year on the Leith Links, a large outdoor park in Edinburgh's dock district, the diverse program features everything from Ghanaian drumming to Bangladeshi hip-hop. A firm favourite with families. See edinburgh-mela.co.uk 

INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL 

August 5-29

Since making its debut in 1947, the International Festival has evolved into an exhilarating three weeks of the world's finest classical music, theatre, opera and dance.  Refreshingly affordable (many tickets start at just $15), this year's line-up includes world-renowned mezzo soprano Cecilia Bartoli in the title role of Bellini's Norma at the Festival Theatre. See eif.co.uk

SCOTTISH INTERNATIONAL STORYTELLING FESTIVAL

October 21-30

Anyone who's spent time in a Scottish pub will know the locals' talent for spinning a good yarn. Inspired by the Scottish ceilidh tradition, this 10-day festival celebrates traditional and contemporary storytelling by Scottish and international artists. Last year more than 26,000 people attended 48 events across the city, gathering in cosy spaces to be captivated by the mesmerising power of live storytelling.See tracscotland.org

INTERNATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL

August 13-29

When the frenzied onslaught of the Fringe gets too much, seek solace among like-minded literary types in the elegant surroundings of Charlotte Square Gardens. Every year the Book Festival stages more than 750 events in this delightful space involving 800 authors from 55 countries. Many are free and those that charge cost $20. While big-name authors draw the biggest crowds, the festival is also a great opportunity to check out tomorrow's literary talent. See edbookfest.co.uk

HOGMANAY

December 30-January 1

Like surfing in Hawaii, drinking beer in Bavaria and dancing the Tango in Buenos Aires, celebrating New Year in Scotland should be on every traveller's  list. Each year more than 30,000 people take part in a magical torchlight procession through the centre of the city before joining thousands more to dance in the streets. There are hourly firework displays from 9pm until midnight, when everyone joins hands to sing the most famous Scottish song of all – Auld Lang Syne. See edinburghshogmanay.org 

Dates included are for 2016.

Rob McFarland was a guest of Visit Britain and British Airways.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

See edinburghfestivalcity.comvisitbritain.com 

GETTING THERE

British Airways flies from Sydney and Melbourne to Edinburgh via Singapore and Heathrow. Phone 1300 767 177, see britishairways.com

STAYING THERE 

The 16-room 24 Royal Terrace has an impressive contemporary art collection and sweeping views over the Firth of Forth. Rooms from $160. See 24royalterrace.com