When I think about why people might add Edinburgh to their travel bucket lists and flood the streets of the Scottish capital year-in, year-out, I think of the medieval Old Town with its picturesque castle, the picture-book views from Carlton Hill and Arthur Seat, and The Elephant House coffee shop for Harry Potter fans. People go to Edinburgh to marvel at architecture and immerse themselves in a world they know from their favourite films or history class. Since I moved to Scotland myself two years ago, I always thought of Edinburgh as a classy weekend getaway to refill on high culture, breathtaking architecture and proper Scottish culture – priceless if you need to get away from your daily routine of work and uni – but not necessarily vibrant, young and urban…

Edinburgh the Ultimate Festival City - New Town Edinburgh, Travelettes, Kathi Kamleitner

A City Transforms

That changed entirely last summer, when I visited the city for the first time in August, also known as ‘festival season’. Every August, six different festivals are transforming Edinburgh into a creative melting pot for an entire month and artists, performers, musicians, writers and comedians from around the world come to showcase their work.

How to get the best out of Festival Season: 10 Tips for the Edinburgh Festivals

Suddenly the city is buzzing with an artsy vibe. What I used to think of as a rather quiet and settled town, turns into an edgy city in which medieval backdrop and modern art seem to blend in perfectly with each other. Rather than flocks of tourists streaming out of busses and chain hotels, the streets, pubs and clubs are crowded by creative people to full capacity. People perform for free on the streets, spread the word about their favourite shows and give spontaneous tasters in the parks. Every person you talk to has the potential to turn out to be a rising comedy star or the next bestselling author – never was chatting up guys in bars more exciting!

Edinburgh the Ultimate Festival City - August Fringe Festival, Travelettes, Kathi Kamleitner

The Festivals of Edinburgh

But six festivals is not where Edinburgh stops. Living up to its status as ‘Festival City‘, it boasts an entirety of twelve (!) large-scale festivals throughout the year. Each of them has a different focus, engages audiences with a different aspect of modern culture and is a perfectly reasonable occasion to visit Edinburgh for itself. Here is a rundown of the twelve festival that happen throughout the year:

  1. Edinburgh International Science Festival (March/April): one of Europe’s largest science festivals with a programme full of innovation, education and entertainment
  2. Imaginate Festival (May/June): a festival of performing arts for children, young and young-at-heart people
  3. Edinburgh International Film Festival (June), EIFF: the third-oldest film festival in the world with loads of Q&As, workshops and parties open to the audience!
  4. Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival (July): finest jazz and blues talent from all corners of the globe
  5. Edinburgh Art Festival (July/August): the largest visual arts festival of the UK with the majority of the festival is free to attend
  6. Edinburgh International Festival (August): provides the ‘highbrow’ programme of the August festival season – theatre and classic music mixed up with experimental and unconventional ways of delivery
  7. Edinburgh Fringe Festival (August): thousands of performers take to hundreds of stages all over the city to present shows for every taste (theatre, performance, comedy, music, circus, poetry, exhibitions and more)
  8. Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (August): showcasing military bands, cultural troupes and large performance groups from around the world in a pop-up arena on Castle Hill (don’t miss the fireworks on the opening night!)
  9. Edinburgh International Book Festival (August): readings by the world’s finest writers, poetry slams, inspiring discussions, and a spiegel-tent for late night drinks
  10. Edinburgh Mela (August): the shortest of Edinburgh’s festivals is a celebration of music, dance and physical theatre
  11. Scottish International Storytelling Festival (October): live storytelling and oral traditions for adults, families and children, also loads of workshops and networking events!
  12. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay (December/January): one of the world’s largest New Year’s celebrations – a massive street party with live acts playing all night!

Edinburgh the Ultimate Festival City - August Fringe Festival, Travelettes, Kathi Kamleitner

So, why does Edinburgh stand out as festival city?

The thing about Edinburgh is that the festivals bring so much energy and fresh wind into an otherwise quite traditional town – the ‘before and after’-effect is incredible, and that’s what makes the festivals in Edinburgh so special. They are not just another event in a never-ending stream of festivals, happenings and celebrations in a city that is edgy all the time anyways (like Berlin) – they are a true break from normality; they change the nature of a visit to Edinburgh; they make regular tourists disappear in the crowds of artsy and creative folk; they make the city more diverse, make it seem bigger.

Edinburgh on its own is a gorgeous city that everybody should see at least once in their lives. Edinburgh with the festivals, though, is the kind of place you could come and see over and over again – every festival and every edition is different; so much to see and enjoy!

Edinburgh the Ultimate Festival City - August Fringe Festival, Travelettes, Kathi Kamleitner

Which is the best Festival to Visit?

This question can hardly be answered as every festival attracts a different crowd and offers such completely different experiences. As a writer, I already highlighted next year’s dates for the Storytelling Festival in October, and the film student in me can’t wait for EIFF in June. Joining all six festivals in August was a real eye-opener and I can only recommend to visit Edinburgh during this time, especially if you’re more into lifestyle than sightseeing.

Traveletty Highlights: 5 Cool Things to do in Edinburgh

The absolute highlight of the year though, might as well be the Hogmanay Street Party. Sadly, I had to give it a miss last year but will do my utmost to make up for that this year – spending New Year’s Eve sick in bed is definitely not happening again! The festival lasts three days from December 30 to January 1. There is a massive outdoor Ceilidh (a Ceilidh is a traditional Scottish dance event), a Torchlit Procession through the city centre and the annual Stoats Looney Dook, where people jump into the freezing River Forth in fancy dress for charity.

Edinburgh the Ultimate Festival City - Hogmanay, Travelettes, Kathi Kamleitner (credit Edinburgh’s Hogmanay)

On New Year’s Eve you should attend the Street Party on and around Princes Street. It is one of the greatest New Year’s celebrations with one of the largest firework displays in the world – the lights over Edinburgh Castle are broadcast all over the world (alongside the fireworks in NYC, Sydney, London and Berlin).

This year’s main act from the all-Scottish line-up for the Concert in the Gardens were just announced – and it’s Biffy Clyro! Although the concert is already sold out, it’s outdoors in Princes Street Gardens – yes, just next to the Street Party in Princes Street. See what I’m getting at? The music will be everywhere! There is also the Indie Stage headlined by Maximo Park, and a couple of other stages with all sorts of live music (all included in a Street Party ticket).

New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh was named one of the ‘Top 100 things to do before you die’ – intriguing right?

EH2010_-_Midnight_Moment_credit_lloyd_Smith_gallery_detail  (credit Lloyd Smith/Edinburgh’s Hogmanay)

So, when you think about where to spend New Year’s Eve this year, or which festivals to add to your bucket list for 2016 – think Edinburgh! Who’s game?


Disclaimer: My visit to Edinburgh was supported by Edinburgh Festival City and Smart City Hostel.

This is a post by Kathi Kamleitner.

Kathi Kamleitner was a regular contributor at Travelettes from 2013 to 2019. Originally from Vienna, Austria, she packed her backpack to travel the world and lived in Denmark, Iceland and Berlin, before settling in Glasgow, Scotland. Kathi is always preparing her next trip – documenting her every step with her camera, pen and phone.

In 2016, Kathi founded Scotland travel blog WatchMeSee.com to share her love for her new home, hiking in the Scottish Highlands, island hopping and vegan food. Follow her adventures on Instagram @watchmesee!