5 highlights of the Edinburgh Festivals

It’s incredible to think that The Edinburgh Festivals celebrated 70 years this year.

tightrope walker at the Edinburgh Festivals

The Edinburgh Festivals (which are actually made up of five separate festivals) have been pulling in world-class performers since 1947. It started out as a movement to lift people’s spirits after World War II and amazingly, it has grown to become a part of the largest arts festival in the world.

Edinburgh Castle

The historical Edinburgh Castle, home to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo

This year, I was so chuffed to experience it, after leaving university in Edinburgh 11 years ago (gawd, I feel old).

BC and I travelled up for a long weekend and I’d forgotten just how jam-packed the programme is. I mean there are 3,000 events, 25,000-plus performers and some 4.5 million attendees.  

With just 48 hours in the Scottish capital, there was no way we were going to see everything. But we armed ourselves with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe app, umbrellas, waterproofs and comfy shoes and took to the streets to see as much as we could.

Here are some of the highlights:

5 Highlights of The Edinburgh Festivals, 2017

1. The street performers

The street performers make up so much of the atmosphere and sense of spontaneity at the Edinburgh Festival. Highlights for us included the double-jointed guy who locked himself up in chains and a straight jacket (with assistance) before amazingly, wriggling his way out of it.

The other, was the dude who walked a tight-rope while undressing himself and playing the violin.

Now that’s not something you see every day…

For the best of the street performers, head to the Royal Mile, the historical street that runs from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood. This cobbled thoroughfare teems with off-the-wall entertainers (and some great pubs).

Street Performer at the Edinburgh Festival

2. The amazing dance and theatre groups

Acrobatics, theatre and dance performances are all up for grabs at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe. And the best thing is you’ll find talent from all over the world here. As soon as we’d dropped our bags at our accommodation, we made a bee-line to the Assembly George Square Theatre to see Djuki Mala – an aboriginal dance troupe from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia.

You may have heard about Djuki Mala – formerly known as The Chooky Dancers – from that YouTube video of the Zorba dance. These guys fuse some traditional Aboriginal dancing and stories from their Yolngu culture with some fun interpretations of some well-known songs. While some of it was a tad cheesy, I was really moved by their traditional dance scenes and personal story which really opened my eyes to the struggles the Aborigines face. One minute I was choked up with emotion, the next I was whooping with my hands in the air. Definitely worth a watch.

The Djuki Mala dance troupe at Edinburgh Festivals

3. The venues

The pop-up venues are one of the biggest highlights of the Edinburgh Festival. If you like navigating your way through pop-up venues, whimsical circus tents strewn in fairy lights and piles of exciting street food stands, you’ll love it here. One of my personal favourites was the Assembly George Square Gardens which plays home to cabaret acts, circus acts and all sorts of other places to eat, drink and enjoy entertainment. You’ll find a mean espresso martini stand here too. Their famous Spiegeltent venue (now in St Andrew Square) is also a must-visit.

Street food stand at Assembly George Square Gardens Edinburgh

4. The Comedy

You can’t come to Edinburgh Festivals without enjoying some comedy. The brilliant thing is you will find everything from comedians who are just starting out, to those we see on the tele every day. What adds to the whole appeal of the comedy scene here is it’s so experimental and interactive. So yes, prepare to get picked on if you sit on the front row but go with an open mind!

We joined an audience of 6 or 7 in the side room of a pub to watch urban poet ‘Wisebowm’ Steve Whiteley in the afternoon. Later, we joined an audience of 50 or 60 in a Grassmarket pub to enjoy the improvised stand-up act Moll and Sullivan. Then, in the evening, we joined a sell-out audience at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre to see the side-splitting Jimeoin.

And we didn’t stop there. After dinner, we continued our quest for comedy and headed over to the Pleasance to see the completely crazy, off-the-wall Terry Alderton.

My tips would be to book the big-name comedians in advance but allow yourself to be spontaneous. And check out some of the lesser-known comedians once you’re there – you never know what you might find.

A sign for Edinburgh International Festival

5. The Food

A festival isn’t a festival without food. And Edinburgh has some great places to eat – whether you’re looking for no-frills haggis, neeps and tatties, or stylish fine dining. We went for something in the middle, with a trip to The Rose Leaf in Leith for delicious fish chowder one night, followed by a stylish dinner at my favourite, The Outsider for a trip down memory lane. During the day, we dipped into cafes and picked up street food which you’ll find across the city.

National Geographic menu at The Rose Leaf, Leith

The menu at The Rose Leaf, hidden inside a copy of Nat Geo

pan fried stone bass and lamb rump at The Outsider restaurant

street food in Edinburgh

caramel and tonka bean poached pear at The Outsider restaurant

Happy 70th anniversary Edinburgh Festivals – here’s to many more years of amazing entertainment.

These were my highlights of The Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe. And of course, there were so many more things happening that I haven’t mentioned, from The Edinburgh Military Tattoo to the Bloom light show.

So if you fancy planning ahead for The Edinburgh Festivals in 2018, you can check out the full festival calendar in Edinburgh here, which of course, includes the world-famous Edinburgh Hogmanay – an incredible way to see in the New Year.

Did you go to the festival this year? If so, what were your highlights? Feel free to share your tips!

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This was an independent trip with no press assistance involved.