August: The Best Time to Be in Edinburgh?

Ask just about anyone who’s ever been to Edinburgh, Scotland what they think of the city, and you will probably get a resounding “I love it” or “It’s awesome.”

Because, to be honest, Edinburgh IS awesome. And I DO love it.

But I think my perceptions (and perhaps those of others, as well) were significantly influenced by the fact that I visited Scotland’s capital during perhaps one of the best months possible — August.

Edinburgh comes alive in August. With some of the warmest temperatures of the whole year (and even some sunshine, if you’re lucky!), it’s no wonder that summer is a popular time to travel in Scotland.

But the weather isn’t the only reason August is a great time to visit Edinburgh — not by a long shot.

The real reason is the Edinburgh Festival.

The Edinburgh Festival

The name is actually a bit deceiving, because it makes it sound like the city only hosts one big festival each year. Not true. The Edinburgh Festival actually consists of a handful of separate and independent festivals that take place annually from late July to early September. The “Edinburgh Festival” is simply a collective term for all of them.

Some of the most popular festivals during this time include:

  • Edinburgh International Festival — “The original and ‘official’ festival consisting of classical and contemporary theatre, opera, music, dance, visual arts, talks and workshops,” according to Wikipedia.
  • Edinburgh Fringe Festival — The largest performing arts festival in the world, with performances of theater, comedy, dance, and more.
  • The Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo Festival — Weeks of performances by military bands from all over the world, which take place each evening in front of Edinburgh Castle.

There are also book festivals, jazz festivals, film festivals, and more that all take place during or around August every year.

As you can probably imagine, I had plenty of options while I was in Edinburgh.

A Taste of Festival Culture

I was in Edinburgh for less than 3 days total, so I had to be choosy about how I got involved in the various festivals. I was torn between attending as many festival events as possible and doing the “usual” sightseeing around Edinburgh.

In the end, of course, I had to compromise. I visited Edinburgh Castle, climbed up Calton Hill, went to the Camera Obscura, saw the inside of St. Giles Cathedral, and took a spooky tour of the city and underground vaults after dark.

St. Giles, Edinburgh

Inside St. Giles Cathedral.

But that’s where my sightseeing ended. I spent the rest of my time seeing Fringe shows, being entertained by street performers on the Royal Mile, and enjoying the Military Tattoo on a clear, crisp night.

Going to Edinburgh in August was probably the best decision I could have made.

Highlights of the Edinburgh Festival for me included:

The Royal Mile

On any given day, Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is easily its top tourist attraction. Even when the Festival is not on, this is the best place to go to see buskers and do a bit of people-watching. But the entertainment factor increases exponentially during the Festival each year, with thousands of people milling about the streets and everyone from magicians to comedians promoting their Fringe shows with preview-style performances.

Some of my favorite street performers included a guy with a dancing marionette, a comedic juggler from New Zealand, and an amazing classical guitarist.

Fringe Festival

I hadn’t planned to be in Edinburgh during the Fringe, but was excited to find out that I would be. Yes, being in town during this wildly popular festival meant that accommodation was pricey and difficult to come by, but it was all totally worth it.

During the Fringe, you can attend just about any kind of show you can imagine — from free comedy to burlesque to dance to children’s theater. There really are shows to suit all tastes — and all budgets. With my student ID, I was able to get tickets for 3 different shows on preview days for a total of 23 GBP (about $35 USD).

The shows I saw included:

  • a dance show called “Collision” which mixed seemingly incongruous music and dance styles (like rap and swing dancing, or Nirvana and ballet); it was like a collection of the best “Glee” mash-ups ever.
  • a discussion show called “What the Folk” in which 4 members of the National Folk Theater of Ireland sat down with about 10 of us, fed us tea and cake, and talked to us about what Irish “folk” actually is. They sang, told stories, danced, and helped us gain a better understanding of folk performance in Ireland while at the same time making us all feel like their best friends. This was probably one of the most interesting “shows” I’ve ever seen.
  • a comedic show called “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare — Abridged,” which sought to present all of Shakespeare’s plays in less than 2 hours. It was silly and irreverent, but also highly entertaining.

I loved the variety of shows available during the Fringe, and feel like I got a nice taste of almost everything. If I had been there for more days, I’m sure I would have seen twice or three times the amount of shows! There were hundreds to choose from in venues all over the city.

Military Tattoo

On my last night in Edinburgh, I made my way to Edinburgh Castle to see the ever-popular Royal Military Tattoo. More than 200,000 people flock to see this performance in Edinburgh each year, and I can understand why — it’s freaking impressive.

The word “tattoo” in this sense actually comes from the phrase “Doe den tap toe,” or just “tap toe,” from the Dutch for “last orders.” In literal translation, it means something along the lines of “close the (beer) tap,” and hearkens back to the days when a military regiment’s drum corps (or pipe and drum corps) would play at the end of a night to signal to its soldiers that it was time for bed.

Today, the Military Tattoo is a show full of song, dance, and pyrotechnics, and is performed every night for most of the month of August. Military bands, dancers, singers, and other performers come from all corners of the world to take part in the show. My favorite parts were the gigantic pipe corps, the Swiss Top Secret Drum Corps, and the amazing Band and Drill team from the Norwegian Army.

Tickets for the Tattoo aren’t cheap (I paid 30 GBP for a last-minute ticket), but the show and experience, I think, are worth it.

 

With August being only half over, that means you still have time to go and experience the Best Month in Edinburgh for yourself. Or, you know, maybe plan to go next year.

Because, even though Edinburgh is undoubtedly awesome at any time of year, I’m convinced that August is truly the best time to visit.

——

Have you ever visited Edinburgh during the Festival? Would you want to?

 

33 Comments

  • jason williams says:

    also amanda another good time of year to go to scotland is xmas/ new year for hogmanay! I went last year and it was absolutely amazing! 80000 people on the street partying to music or going on the rides for new year. also for the family side of things they have a candlelit procession coming down the hill from the castle and through princes st which was amazing

  • Matt says:

    Way more blue sky in those photos than I’d expect – you did well! Lovely city, I long to go back – it was home for about 18 months and I spent many a night in any one of the fantastic pubs around the city.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I got soooo lucky with the weather in the UK! Most days, I didn’t even get rained on!

      I can see why you loved Edinburgh so much though, Matt – it’s a very cool city!

  • Cathy Mayhue says:

    I love Scotland and Scottish people! We visit Scotland every year and it is always pleasure.. Trust me it is a pleasure listening to them calling some one ‘Nyaff’, ‘Numpty’ or ‘Troll’ :) (Thankfully I have never been called one)!!! Jokes apart I am really amazed at their appetite for Whiskey, I mean you will get 90% of the times Whiskey served to you! As far as natural scenic beauty is concerned, it is one of the finest places in the world!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yes, they sure can drink in Scotland! Then again, I think the same is true of most brewing cultures – Irish, German, Russian, etc. Though Scotland definitely wins points for some of the most amazing scenery I’ve seen in Europe!

  • Ali says:

    Andy’s parents were just in Scotland in May, and while they did really enjoy it, they said it was rather cold some days. I really want to go, and I’ve heard such good things about Edinburgh. Glad you had fun and ended up there during some cool festivals!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      It WAS chilly up there! Lucky I brought jeans with me, but I had to buy a sweatshirt one night because I was freezing and didn’t have any long-sleeved shirts with me! Totally worth it, though – the country is beautiful!

  • memographer says:

    I love Edinburgh! and I can say IT’S AWESOME! can’t wait for another visit… may be during Christmas. Yoor photos are great. Especially night shots.

  • Zoe French says:

    Edinburgh looks amazing–can’t honestly say I’ve thought much about visiting there before now. Thanks for opening my eyes!

  • I visited in December and June, and liked both. Dark winter afternoons kind of fit with Edinburgh’s mood, nestled away in a coffee shop with a good book!

  • Sarah says:

    Can’t believe that cone is still on the statue’s head! Either the council has a great sense of humour, and have left it there or someone keeps replacing it – it’s been there since at least December last year!!! I like everyone else love Scotland, in fact I would say it’s my favourite country :)

    I really need to update my blog, but unfortunately uni is taking precendence, and I have exams and assignments coming up :(

    Have fun back at home – I know I am missing the regular travel… Hopefully in December I’ll be able to get away somewhere within Aus :)

  • I’ve heard a lot about the Fringe Festival. Definitely interesting but talented people performing in the streets. I desperately want to go to Edinburgh. Any time of year would work for me but the festivals are surely a highlight of the city. I’ve read a lot about the Fringe Festival and look forward to going – whenever I finally can get myself to Scotland!

  • Nancie says:

    I was in Scotland a long long time ago, and came home moldy…so much rain!! Your photo essay makes me want to revisit and in August :)

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Haha, yeah, Scotland can be quite a rainy country! But, I’d definitely suggest you giving it another chance!

  • Kieu says:

    I’ve always wanted to visit Edinburgh. Guess I’ll have to wait until NEXT August for a gaurantee awesome time. 😀

  • Erik says:

    Love the picture from inside St. Giles! Also, I always love how your night and low-light photos turn out. I have not figured out how to do that successfully yet.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I love that photo, too, Erik! That church was SO pretty inside.

      And as for the night/low-light photos… that’s all the camera, and not so much anything I’m doing! Lol.

  • Peter Lee says:

    Thanks for the timely article Amanda. Lots of people are visiting England for the Olympics, so they can also plan to visit Edinburgh also.

  • I am going this August to Scotland – my first time! I am so excited, but I am a little unsure of what types of clothing to pack! What is the weather like in Scotland this time of year? Should I be packing just jeans, sweaters, and my wellies? What would you recommend?

    • Amanda says:

      Scotland weather is pretty much impossible to predict. Lol. When I was there in August, it was warm-ish in Edinburgh during the day, but would get chilly at night. Up in the Highlands, it was only in the 50s and 60s and a bit wet. So I would say: pack layers! It *could* be really warm (they were having a heat wave earlier this year in June), but it could also be cool and rainy. So be prepared for a little of everything.

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