Published 18th July 2013
Edinburgh was still drab and grey after the dark days and nights of the Second World War when it was decided that the old lady should lift up her skirts and indulge in a bit of colourful fun to celebrate the peace.
And so the Edinburgh International Festival was born, as was the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The civic leaders who pioneered these events in 1947 had no idea that they were unleashing what would become two of the most fantastically popular occasions in the calendar for people from all over the world.
They would make Scotland’s capital city the greatest place to be on the planet every August for decades to come. Their intention was to open Edinburgh to the world and the world to Edinburgh but they never realised just how incredibly successful they would become in achieving that aim.
It has become accepted that every summer crowds will head for Edinburgh because there will be so much to do and enjoy. But back in 1947, those pioneers were taking something of a leap of faith.
The Edinburgh International Festival was quickly paralleled by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which has since grown so much that, together with the “official” festival, it has become the world’s biggest arts festival.
Edinburgh had set out to be Festival City for one month a year but became the City of Festivals all year round. However, even with all the other festivals that fill the calendar, August remains the main month for festivities.
This year, the Edinburgh Comedy Festival kicks off on 31 July and the Fringe runs from 2 August, both concluding on 26 August. The International Festival of the arts opens with a Prokofiev concert in the Usher Hall on 9 August and ends with the spectacular Virgin Money Fireworks Concert in Princes Street Gardens on 1 September. The Edinburgh International Book Festival, billed as the world’s largest public celebration of the written word, is in Charlotte Square from 10 to 26 August.
Meanwhile, the Tattoo will be wowing the crowds at Edinburgh Castle, from 2 to 24 August, with massed pipes and drums, massed military bands, display teams, dancers, and the haunting lament of the lone piper against an historic backdrop that is unrivalled anywhere.
There are exhibition and performance venues all over town, but most are within reasonable walking distance of Waverley Station, in and around the city centre.
It’s always a good idea to take a leisurely stroll around the pedestrian area in the centre of the Royal Mile where Fringe shows stage free open-air performances in the High Street, between the City Chambers and the Tron Kirk.
Lothian Buses provide local transport – buy a day ticket from a driver when boarding a bus – and there’s a range of tour buses from Waverley Bridge, near the station. Download the amazingly useful My Bus Edinburgh App to your smartphone for help in getting around.
It’s easy to get to Edinburgh by direct train from many parts of Scotland – as far away as Aberdeen and Inverness – and England, including all the way from Penzance.
Daytime London trains are provided by East Coast from King’s Cross via Peterborough, York, Darlington and Newcastle, and, less often, by Virgin Trains from Euston through the Midlands and North West England. The overnight Caledonian Sleeper is run from London Euston by ScotRail, who also run 95 per cent of the passenger trains in Scotland. Virgin Trains come in from Birmingham and elsewhere, TransPennine Express trains roll in from Manchester and CrossCountry Trains arrive from a wide swathe of England.
There are also many special trains running from across the UK to Edinburgh. See rail.co.uk charter train section. Statesman Rail, Compass Railtours and the Northern Belle specialise in direct services to the Edinburgh Festival month.
It’s a good idea to check the exact location of your accommodation in case it’s handy for a different station. All trains from England arrive at the main Edinburgh station, Waverley, which is convenient for a lot of the most popular hotels, hostels, guest-houses and self-catering, but many of the trains from England also call at Haymarket station. This is best for some of the accommodation on the west side of town, either within a short walk or by bus or taxi. Local stations at Edinburgh Park and Newcraighall, both served by ScotRail, have reasonable hotels nearby but check the locations carefully in case a taxi or bus is better from Haymarket or Waverley.
If you find difficulty getting accommodation in busy Edinburgh, there’s plenty of good options elsewhere within an easy ScotRail train journey, for example Glasgow, which is served by some of the special late-night trains that are provided for festival-goers.
Enjoy! You will!
Written by Allan McLean