Summer time is festival time across the world, with celebrations spanning everything from music and the arts, to books and comedy. Europe hosts excellent festivals dedicated to various interests, such as the Altitude Comedy Festival in Austria; but as Robin McKelvie shows us below, the best and most eclectic of them all are sitting right on our doorstep, collectively known as the Edinburgh Festivals and Fringe.
So pack your bags and head to Scotland’s capital: these are the best comedy and culture festivals in Europe!
Every year thousands of Brits jet off abroad, spending a fortune as they go, to catch a variety of festivals. They head off to see everything from film festivals in Cannes to comedy festivals in Melbourne, but did you know that the world’s largest arts festival is actually held right here in the UK? That’s right: the Edinburgh Festivals – usually spoken of as the singular Edinburgh Festival – are the biggest and arguably most thrilling and engaging arts extravaganzas anywhere in the world.
The Edinburgh Festival first came to my home city in 1947 when it was inaugurated to boost morale after the tough war years. The event quickly grew and today the original Edinburgh International Festival is the landmark showcase, with the city’s plushest venues hosting the finest of international ballet, classical music and opera.
What really sets the Edinburgh Festivals apart from other festivals, like the niche festivities of Cannes or Melbourne, is that every August there is not just one festival, but myriad distinct festivals to enjoy. There’s also something to suit all tastes, whether you are into high brow theatre or just are up for a laugh. The biggest of them all is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which started out as a small radical offshoot. They still pride themselves on staging some pretty risqué acts (basically anything goes) and wonderfully anywhere can be a venue, from church halls and schools, right through to Edinburgh Zoo and even public toilets. Nothing is too weird for The Fringe!
Also in the mix is the Edinburgh Book Festival, the multi-arts and multi-medium Mela Festival and the legendary Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a spectacular extravaganza staged high above the city in a purpose-built temporary stadium beneath Edinburgh Castle’s ramparts. Armed forces personnel and police forces from all over the world strut their parade stuff and play their tunes, with some wacky innovations and colourful surprises all part of the fun. The spectacular finale, with a jet fly past and a lone bagpiper playing a solemn lament on the ancient ramparts, is one of the highlights of the Edinburgh Festivals.
Enjoying the Edinburgh Festivals
Part of the fun of the Edinburgh Festivals is discovering new talent. I remember witnessing a very nervous young comedian struggling to raise laughs to a handful of people in a tiny venue a few years back. His name? Michael McIntyre! Some first timers tend to try to plan all of their desired shows in advance, but if you do that, you miss out on all the off the cuff stuff like that McIntyre show. I caught that at the last second, when a flyer waving student managed to coax me in. So it always pays to just go by instinct, listen to the recommendations of others, and check out what shows are next on by hanging around venues likes The Pleasance, the Underbelly, Gilded Balloon at Teviot and the Speigeltent.
That said, always make sure to plan your accommodation in advance. We’ve got some places for you to choose from. Also book your travel asap, as the city’s population doubles at Festival time, and remember it’s a good idea to book bigger shows in advance, like a lot of things at the International. Festival and Fringe shows at the Assembly Rooms especially need some serious advance booking, so build a skeleton of shows from famous performers, and simply flesh out on the day with other fun happenings like the street theatre of the Royal Mile. The possibilities in my city during the Edinburgh summer festivals are endless, so why not tuck in and enjoy the world’s biggest and best arts extravaganza for yourself this August?
Robin McKelvie is a full-time travel writer, photographer, broadcaster, blogger and social media pro too! Robin has worked in over 100 countries. With articles having appeared in over 150 magazines and newspapers across five continents, including the Daily Mail, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Sunday Herald, Scotsman, BA Highlife, CNN Traveller and Business Traveller.
For more great ideas for summer holidays in the UK follow our new series of guest posts by some of the UK’s best travel bloggers. Last week we found out the best places for outdoor eating in London from Fiona Maclean and next week Kelly will show us why beach holidays don’t have to mean jetting abroad.