Edinburgh Festival 2019: Everything you need to know from the Fringe to the fireworks

The Edinburgh International Festival, Fringe Festival and International Book Festival make up the world's biggest arts event.The Edinburgh International Festival, Fringe Festival and International Book Festival make up the world's biggest arts event.
The Edinburgh International Festival, Fringe Festival and International Book Festival make up the world's biggest arts event.
The programmes are out, the tickets are on sale and the venues are already beginning to take shape.

As Edinburgh prepares for its festival season, here’s everything you need to know about the world’s biggest arts event.

Is it the Fringe or the Festival?

Scotland’s capital plays host to what is collectively the world’s biggest arts festival every year. Officially that is made up of two separate events.

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With thousands of shows there is something for everyone at the Edinburgh festivalWith thousands of shows there is something for everyone at the Edinburgh festival
With thousands of shows there is something for everyone at the Edinburgh festival

The Edinburgh International Festival is the oldest, having started in 1947 after the devastation of World War II, with the aim of reuniting people through art.

Now, every year, the festival presents a programme featuring the finest performers and ensembles from the worlds of dance, opera, music and theatre.

The Fringe was initially just that - a slew of less professional performers who looked to grab an audience that couldn’t get tickets to international festival events.

But it has since mushroomed and today encompasses huge venues of all shapes and sizes, from public toilets to industrial warehouses, upside-down purple cow tents and tiny basement cupboards.

The festivals end each year with a spectacular fireworks display.The festivals end each year with a spectacular fireworks display.
The festivals end each year with a spectacular fireworks display.

And just to ensure Edinburgh is the world’s cultural hub for a month, the Edinburgh International Book Festival also takes place around the same time.

When does Edinburgh Festival take place?

Both the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe officially run from 2- 26 August, although many of the Fringe shows will run preview events in the days leading up to the official launch, and others will continue their run after the main programme has ended.

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The Edinburgh International Book Festival runs from August 10 to August 26.

Where can I get tickets?

The Festival runs ticketing operations on their website, allowing you to select and book performances in advance - as long as you’re quick.

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Most venues will also sell tickets at their own box offices and bookings can be made online or in person.

For the International Festival, the place to go if you’re not keen on booking online is the Hub at the top of the Royal Mile, which is where the box office is based.

The Fringe official box office, which has tickets for all shows at all venues, is on the High Street.

The Book Festival box office is located on site, and tickets can also be booked online.

If you’re looking for a bargain, the Virgin Money Half Price Hut at the Mound Precinct is the place to go, with discounted tickets for different shows sold daily.

Do I need to book shows in advance?

Edinburgh Festival attracts the world’s largest gathering of performers every August and many of the shows sell out very quickly.

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A sprawling expanse of performances, the Festival takes over the city for almost a month - so if you’re looking to see a specific show, a little bit of planning will go a long way.

Peruse the brochure and website well in advance and once you’ve decided what you want to see, book quickly to avoid disappointment, particularly for well-known acts.

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If the show you’re after is sold out however, don’t despair - there is always a chance of a return, and if that doesn’t work you’re almost certain to find something else to see.

While plenty of shows sell out, not all of them do.

Are there any free events?

While getting tickets for the shows you want to see can be tricky, there is no shortage of free events.

The Free Fringe has a programme to rival the main event, while both the Fringe and the International Festival host large-scale free events.

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Edinburgh Festival 2019: 6 of the best free Fringe shows for kids and families

The Fringe also hosts an area on the Royal Mile where performers can tease their show’s daily.

This year the International Festival will see the LA Philharmonic Orchestra perform music from the Golden Age of Hollywood, including themes from classic films such as Star Wars and Harry Potter. Tickets will be available from July 1 on the Edinburgh Festival website.

With more than 53,232 performances of 3,398 shows across 300 venues, competition amongst performers for an audience is perhaps more intense than anywhere else in the world.

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As a result you can find yourself being offered free tickets to shows at venues across the city - as long as you’re willing to take pot luck on a performance.

What about food?

The festival’s many pop-up venues are well-served with street food vendors, so you can try tasty treats from around the world.

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The food and drink offerings range in quality and price, so whether it’s a basic burger or an extravagant lobster ciabatta you’re after, you’ll probably find it.

Where’s the best place to get drinks?

There are plenty of pop-up bars throughout the Edinburgh Festival venues where you’ll be able to enjoy the buzz of the festival - and many of these have outdoor spaces and food vans.

Pleasance Courtyard and the Underbelly on the Cowgate are some of the best-known pop-up venues for festival revellers and tend to be packed throughout August.

There are also plenty of well-established pubs near the centre of the festival, which become incredibly busy throughout August. You can stop by the Pear Tree for a great beer garden, while Brass Monkey is just near the Pleasance.

Some bars and clubs are also granted extended licenses during the festival and stay open two hours longer than usual - so some clubs will be open until 5am allowing the party to continue into the wee hours.

Where can I stay?

The population of Edinburgh is estimated to double each year during the festival season, so it’s hardly surprising that finding somewhere to stay can be a bit of a challenge.

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However with hotels, flat rentals, campsites, couchsurfing communities and an ever-increasing number of Airbnb properties available it can be done, and on a limited budget as well.

A good resource to check-out if you’re stuck is Edinburgh Festival City which has a great guide to the accommodation options available.

How should I get around?

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The festivals are spread out across the city centre and beyond, so it’s fortunate that Edinburgh is well-served by public transport.

Be aware that during the festival there will be several road closures and getting around the city will be more difficult than usual.

Lothian Buses run routes across the city centre, so it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with which bus goes to which venue.

Failing that you can always hop in a taxi - most of the festival is contained within the city centre so it should never cost too much, although traffic can be slow due to the crowds.

There are also bicycles for hire or you could always walk - don’t worry about getting lost as during the Fringe, that can be half the fun.

I’m a festival first-timer - anything I should know?

If this is your first time at the Festival, the best advice is to stay calm and avoid getting overwhelmed.

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Make sure you pick up a programme for the various festivals and venues, and don’t worry if you don’t want to plan your day - go for a wander and see where the city takes you.

Oh, and you may get a little distracted by the number of people trying to hand you flyers and tell you about their incredible show, but many of them are just starting out in their arts careers so be patient!

When does the parade take place?

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The Edinburgh Festival Carnival is held in July, as part of the Jazz and Blues Festival.

This year’s parade will see more than 800 performers take part, and is being held on Sunday, 14 July, beginning at 2pm at the top of the Mound before making its way to Princes Street's west end for 3pm.

Further attractions include theatre, cabaret shows, workshops and puppet building.

What about the fireworks?

Edinburgh Festival comes to a dazzling close each year with a stunning fireworks display and concert.

The Virgin Money Fireworks Concert with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra will be held on 26 August in Princes Street Gardens.

Those lucky enough to get a ticket can enjoy a front-row seat for a performance of orchestral classics set to a stunning display of 400,000 fireworks launched from Edinburgh’s iconic Castle, making this one of the biggest fireworks concerts in the world.

And the crowds will gather on Princes Street, Calton Hill and other vantage points to enjoy one of the city’s most famous spectacles.