The best guide to Edinburgh Festivals in August (2023)

Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland

August might just be the best time to visit Scotland.

Why, you ask?

First of all, you have a 50% chance of sunshine, which by Scottish standards is a wee bit better than the rest of the year. And second of all, it’s EDINBURGH FESTIVAL TIME!

For many years, artists, performers, musicians and dancers have flocked to Edinburgh in July and August to be part of the 8 Edinburgh Festivals.

These major festivals are so huge and popular that Edinburgh is now known as the world’s leading festival city. August is the busiest month where you have the chance to experience several festivals in just a few days. 

I went to 5 festivals and lots of shows in one weekend. Here’s a quick overview of the famous Edinburgh Festivals in August and which shows to watch.

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Edinburgh Festivals in August

These are the Edinburgh Summer Festivals that are held in July and August each year:

  1. The Film Festival
  2. The Jazz & Blues Festival
  3. The Art Festival
  4. The International Festival
  5. The Royal Military Tattoo Festival
  6. The Fringe
  7. The Book Festival
  8. The Mela

When are the Edinburgh Festivals in 2023?

The Edinburgh Festival is held for just over three weeks in the month of August, generally beginning on the first Friday of the month and ending on the fourth Monday.

Each year, the dates vary slightly, but the summer festivals typically includes four weekends filled with a variety of music, theatre, art, and culture events.

💵 There are many free events (like street performances) or shows that require a small commission. Other shows require a pre-booked ticket. A ticket usually costs between £5-15, which you can buy online or in person.

Here’s a time schedule of the Edinburgh Festivals 2023:

🎭 The Fringe Festival

Aside from the majestic Tattoo festival, which a) I’ll get to in a minute, and b) has absolutely nothing to do with tattoos, the Fringe festival is the best known of the Edinburgh Festivals in August.

The Edinburgh Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, and you kind of get that feeling walking down the Royal Mile.

It attracts well-known artists, street performers, theatre groups, young people and unknown artists who want to build their career doing theatre, comedy, dance, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera and much, much more.

Read next: things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland
Street magician
Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is packed in August
Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland
POP-UP Duets (fragments of love)

The first show I attended was a modern dance performance at the National Museum. The show was free. I haven’t seen dance performances like that before; it was very moving and beautiful.

Another Fringe show I watched and will late forget, was the Elixir. If there’s one show, I would recommend above the rest, this would be it.

Elixir is performed by the Head First Acrobats; three not-so-bad looking Aussies acting as scientists who attempt to create the elixir of life. The show is well-performed, acrobatically impressive and absolutely hilarious. Think handsome acrobats who don’t take themselves too seriously.

These guys ↓

Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland
Elixir by Head First Acrobats

🎨 The Art Festival

The annual Art Festival is the UK’s largest annual celebration of visual art. Most of the art festivals events are free to attend and include exhibitions, artist talks performances, screenings and guided tours.

I joined a free choral workshop by artist Olivia Webb, which was a bit daunting, but I’m so glad I did it.

What I really like about the Edinburgh Festivals is that they get you out of your comfort zone – if you let them.

Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland
Jonathan Owen’s untitled sculpture at the Burns Monument
Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland
Fountain of Youth by Sally Hackett

🎤 The International Festival

The Edinburgh International Festival has been around for more than 70 years and like the Fringe, it’s very diverse. The live performances include dance, opera, classical music and theatre performed by artists from all over the world.

One of the most impressive shows I saw was the Chotto Desh; a story of a young boy’s struggle to impress his traditional father and fulfill his dream of becoming a dancer. 

This 50 minute show is danced entirely by one male performer whose remarkable performance kept me completely engaged the entire time and made every movement worth watching.

Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland
Chotto Desh performed by Dennis Alamanos 
Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland
Sneak peak for an opera at Usher Hall

Club Cumming

I also had the pleasure of seeing Alan Cumming perform on home turf. I know him from The Good Wife, The L Word, and Bernard and the Genie, but I had no idea he was a singer and entertainer as well. But clearly he is.

His show was intimate – a mixture of his personal life and him singing and making people laugh.

After the show, they opened the doors for an after-party at Club Cumming with Alan as the DJ. It was quite fun so if you’re in Edinburgh next August, make sure to get tickets well in advance.

Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland
Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs
Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland
After-party at Club Cumming

📚 The International Book Festival

Now, let’s not forget about the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The majority of the events are held in Charlotte Square, where it’s possible to join author readings, literature talks and book signings.

There’s also a rather large bookstore for children and grown-ups. The festival grounds have a nice and relaxed atmosphere. It’s a great place to find a good book and experience the unique festivals in this beautiful city.

Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland

🏅Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Price: £60-80 for standard seating, £420 for bespoke packages

Last but not least, there’s the Royal Military Tattoo, which is held at Edinburgh Castle and has an annual audience of 217,000 people. It’s the most impressive of Edinburgh’s festivals.

With military performers from over 48 countries, the show combines precision marching, bands, light shows, singing, pipers and fireworks. It’s very impressive to say the least.

The theme changes every year, and when I visited it was “Tunes of Glory” as a tribute to The Queen’s 90th birthday.

🔥 Tickets for the Tattoo Festival are high in demand, so you need to buy your tickets well in advance! No later than January. Get them here.

Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland

🎭 Tips for joining the Edinburgh Festivals

How to choose the right shows

There are more than 3,800 shows and performances at the Edinburgh Festivals, so if you feel overwhelmed, I get it!

I recommend picking out some categories, like dance, opera and whatnot, and then choose a few shows from every festival. You can find more info on their websites (every festival has its own).

🔮 A must is the Military Tattoo, you can’t miss that. I also highly recommend Elixir, Club Cumming and Chotto Desh.

Prepare to be inspired

Some of the shows cost a small fee, but many of them are free. Stroll down the Royal Mile and grab a flyer for one of the many events. There are lots to choose from.

Challenge yourself

Challenge yourself and join a workshop or a type of dance or musical you’ve never seen before – you might be surprised.

Book at one of the “Big Four”

See at least one show at one of the “big four” venues – the Assembly, the Gilded Balloon, the Pleasance and the Underbelly.

All these venues are conveniently located within walking distance of each other, making it easy to visit multiple shows in one day.

Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland

How many shows can I see per day?

You can easily do 5 or 6 shows a day if you are ambitious. Try to visit all the festivals for the best experience.

How much does it cost to attend a festival in Edinburgh?

Prices range from free to about 40 pounds (although most tickets cost 5-15 pounds). All street performances are free, and you’ll have a chance to donate to the artists after the show.

You can book tickets in person, but I recommend checking out the schedules beforehand so you can plan in advance. Here’s the Fringe program.

Buy tickets in advance

As mentioned, tickets for the Royal Military Tattoo Festival are high in demand. You can get tickets for the Tattoo Festival from early December this year.

Other shows and performances are not nearly as hard to get tickets to. A few weeks in advance should be enough when you plan your Edinburgh festival itinerary.

Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland

😴 Where to stay during the Edinburgh Festivals

Edinburgh gets crowded during the Edinburgh Festivals in August, so make sure to book your accommodation well in advance! 3-4 months before your visit is ideal, which means you should start thinking about accommodation in April.

You’ll want to stay at a hotel or hostel near the Royal Mile, where the action is. Like this one:

Market Street hotel (⭐️ 9.0) has the perfect location in the centre of Edinburgh. You’re only a few minutes walk from the Royal Mile, and at the end of the day you can return to your boutique-style room and have a drink at the rooftop lounge. Find the latest prices here.

🙋‍♀️ FAQ

How many days should I stay in Edinburgh? 

You should stay at least 2-3 days at the Edinburgh Festivals in August. That way, you can experience the best of the festivals and also see other attractions around the city. Check out my post about the best things to do in Edinburgh.

What festival is every August in Edinburgh?

Every August, Edinburgh hosts the Edinburgh Festivals, which are 8 individual festivals:

  1. The Fringe
  2. The International Festival
  3. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
  4. The Art Festival
  5. The International Book Festival
  6. The International Film Festival
  7. The Jazz Festival
  8. The Mela
Edinburgh Festivals, Scotland

What is the most famous festival in Edinburgh?

The most famous festival in Edinburgh is the Edinburgh Festivals, held every August. The most known summer festival is the Fringe and the Royal Military Tattoo Festival.

How many festivals are there in Edinburgh?

With 11 yearly festivals, Edinburgh is known as the world’s leading festival city. The 11 festivals are:

  1. Edinburgh Science Festival (April)
  2. Edinburgh International Children’s Festival (May/June)
  3. Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival (July)
  4. Edinburgh Fringe Festival (August)
  5. Edinburgh International Festival (August)
  6. Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (August)
  7. Edinburgh Art Festival (August)
  8. Edinburgh International Book Festival (August)
  9. Edinburgh International Film Festival (August)
  10. Edinburgh International Storytelling Festival (October)
  11. Edinburgh’s Hogmany (New Years)

Do you need tickets for Edinburgh Festival?

It depends on the show and venue. You’ll find many free shows like street performances, but there are also shows with entrance fees.

The one show you must have tickets to is the Military Tattoo Festival.

All tickets can be purchased online or in person from authorised ticket sellers. Prices vary depending on the event and seat location.

What do you wear to the Edinburgh Festival?

Edinburgh can be quite a rainy city (it’s Scotland after all), so if you’re visiting the festivals in August, it’s best to be prepared!

I recommend something comfortable like a pair of jeans, T-shirt, a rain jacket (or rain repellent jacket) and sneakers.

Read next: The best raincoat for Scotland

Where is the Edinburgh Festivals in August held?

The festival is held everywhere around town.

Performances are held in concert halls, restaurants and churches, pubs and schools, and there are also outdoor performances.

However, the most action takes place near High Street, particularly St. Giles’ Cathedral along the Royal Mile (the Old Town’s main street).

Where to next?

Going elsewhere in Scotland? Get the best itinerary for a Scottish Highland road trip or check out my guide to the magical Isle of Skye.

Scottish highlands and Glencoe, Scotland

Many thanks to Edinburgh Festivals, VisitScotland and VisitBritain for hosting me on this trip to Edinburgh. As always, all opinions are my own.

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