Everyone knows the big-daddy Edinburgh Festival Fringe – of the world’s largest arts gatherings, and the main reason Scotland’s capital transforms into a hub of creative activity throughout the month of August. But did you know Edinburgh also plays host to five more major festivals in late summer? Here’s a primer on all the major events hitting Edinburgh this month, plus unmissable highlights from each.
Not a summer-season traveller? These are the best year-round things to do in Edinburgh.
And while you're at it, why not amble around Leith? It's one of Europe's coolest neighbourhoods.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
When? 5-29 August
What? The king of king’s, Edinburgh’s pride and glory, the Fringe is an absolutely mammoth celebration of the theatre arts. This year is the festival’s 75th edition, and though it’s been going for donkey’s years, it still has a scrappy, independent spirit – anyone can get a spot on the Fringe programme, as long as they can find a venue that will host them. It’s hard to overstate the Fringe’s magnitude – the programme is mind-scrabblingly epic, with thousands upon thousands of comedy gigs, plays, cabaret performances, basically anything you can put on a stage.
This year, St James Quarter will act as the central hub, where visitors can find practical advice for making the most out of their festival experience. Street performers will take over central Edinburgh, congregating around the Royal Mile and Mound Precincts but spilling out into surrounding areas. The rest of the performances will take place at venues across the city – use the festival website to browse goings-on by day, and book a few you like the sound of. Just make sure you leave plenty of room for surprises – performers and promoters will be aggressively flyering for their shows throughout the city, so you may stumble into something great.
- Jordan Brookes: This is Just What Happens (3-28 Aug, Monkey Barrel Comedy): Brookes, a Fringe veteran, won the prestigious Main Prize for comedy back in 2019 for his one-man show I’ve Got Nothing. This year, he confronts the apocalypse head-on with surreal humour and existential perplexity.
- Donuts (3-14 Aug, Assembly George Square Gardens): A tribute to '90s and '00s sitcoms, this dancey show is based around three friends who are vibing before a night out. It’s a fun look at the ebbs and flows of friendship as well as the connections we can forge through music.
- Liz Kingsman: One Woman Show (16-28 Aug, Traverse Theatre): After a barnstorming run at London’s Soho Theatre last year, Liz Kingsman’s caustic and brilliant show comes to Edinburgh for a limited run. Over an hour and ten, Kingsman incinerates the “messy millennial woman” trope, leaving Fleabag et al. a pile of ashes.
- La Clique (5-27 Aug, Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows): For something a little bit different, this excellent cabaret brings together the best young talent from the circus arts. Sexy, thrilling, and unforgettable.
Edinburgh Art Festival
When? 28 July - 28 August
What? Repping the visual arts during Edinburgh festival season, EAF is a delectable platter of painting, performance, sculpture, photography, and more. This year, new commissions mark the 200th anniversary of Scotland’s union canal, including work from Jeanne van Heeswijk, Nadya Myer, and Pester and Rossi. There will also be retrospectives of work by sculptor Barbara Hepworth and painter Alan Davie, plus several programmes spotlighting emerging talent from Scotland and beyond. EAF has bloomed into the UK’s biggest visual arts festival, and so there’s a great mix of big and lesser-known names represented – make time to see one of the larger retrospectives, then pick another exhibition at random, and just go for it. You’re likely to discover a new favourite artist.
- Barbara Hepworth (on until 2 Oct, National Galleries of Scotland): One of Britain’s eminent sculptors, Hepworth’s curvaceous works evoke the Cornish landscape through a naturalistic, hand-carved style. This is a major retrospective of her life and work.
- Ishiuchi Miyako (29 Jul - 8 Oct, Stills): Miyako is a celebrated Japanese post-war photographer who’s been rarely seen in the UK. This is the largest exhibition of her work to date, and will feature wide-ranging selections from some of her most famous series, including photographs of Frida Kahlo’s garments at the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City.
- Platform: 2022 (on until August 28, French Institute for Scotland): The festival’s annual spotlight of early-career talent. Always well curated and a must visit.
- Dancing a Peripheral Quadrille: Ashanti Harris (28 Jul - 28 Aug, Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop): For this new commission, multimedia artist Ashanti Harris immersed herself in the culture and history of West Indian Carnivals. The piece, set in the liminal place between the Caribbean and Scotland, will be performed by three dancers, and use sound, memory, and movement to explore questions of identity.
Edinburgh International Book Festival
When? 13-29 August
What? A biggie in the literary world, the Edinburgh International Book Festival will feature talks and debates from over 700 authors. “Author” here is applied loosely – so long as the talk-giver has, at some point, written a book, they can be on the festival programme. This means the lineup includes some very famous incidental authors, like Scottish actor Brian Cox and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Most of events will take place in the palatial Central Hall, many of which will be recorded and available to stream at a later date. Expect book launches, lively discussions, and plenty of opportunities for hobnobbing.
- Ocean Vuong: I’m Here to Stay (27 Aug, Central Hall): The Vietnamese-American poet and writer rose to literary fame with the release of his devastatingly gorgeous novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. His new poetry collection, Time is a Mother, reckons with the grief of losing a parent. He speaks with Canadian poet Alycia Pirmohamed.
- Armando Iannucci: An Epic Poem for Our Times (19 Aug, Central Hall): The Scottish satirist (whose epic CV includes creating/directing The Thick of It, Veep, and The Death of Stalin) has always been a zeitgeist slayer; so you know when he turns his eye on both Brexit and the pandemic, it’s going to be a delightful bloodbath. His new book, Pandemonium, takes the ever-loving piss out of our times. He speaks with festival producer Jenny Niven.
- Maria Ressa: Democracy – Death by a Thousand Cuts? (29 Aug, Edinburgh College of Art): The Nobel Peace Prize winner and investigative reporter – who faces 100 years of prison in her home country of the Philippines – takes stock of democracy’s sorry state in How to Stand Up to a Dictator. Here, she gives an hour-long crash course in fighting untruths and propaganda.
- Brian Cox with Nicola Sturgeon: The Lion of Dundee (29 Aug, Central Hall): A mash-up of Scottish grandees, the literal First Minister of Scotland will be interviewing Succession actor and giant of the stage, Brian Cox, about his memoir, Putting the Rabbit in the Hat, and the life that inspired it.
Edinburgh International Festival
When? 5-28 August
What? Edinburgh International Festival is the OG Edinburgh gathering. Founded in 1947, it was originally the larger, more commercial counterpoint to the Fringe. These days, the Fringe dwarfs it – still, there’s lots to see at EIF. Expect performances from big players in the worlds of theatre, opera, classical music, and dance, plus gigs from indie faves like Sons of Kemet, Lucy Dacus, and The Cinematic Orchestra. As the name suggests, EIF has an international bent, so companies and performers are imported from across the world – from the Philadelphia Orchestra, to the Czech Philharmonic and Internationaal Theater Amsterdam.
- Princess Nokia (17 Aug, Leith Theatre): The American outsider-rapper brings her brash, high-energy live show to one of Edinburgh’s most historic theatres.
- MACRO (5 Aug, BT Murrayfield): EIF’s free opening event promises to be a corker, with performances from Australian contemporary circus outfit Gravity & Other Myths, First Nations dance company Djuki Mala, the National Youth Choir of Scotland, and Scottish musicians including Aidan O’Rourke, Brìghde Chaimbeul and Kathleen MacInnes
- The Philadelphia Orchestra (25-27 Aug, various): Philly’s world-renowned orchestra will play four concerts across a three-day residency at EIF, with special appearances from American soprano Angel Blue and Scottish mezzo Karen Cargilland.
- Internationaal Theatre Amsterdam (21-22 Aug, various): Amsterdam’s best theatre company will also be in residence at EIF, performing stage adaptations of two novels – Hanya Yanagihara’s smash-hit A Little Life, and Édouard Louis' autobiographical The End of Eddy.
Edinburgh International Film Festival
When? 12-20 August
What? Also entering its 75th year, the Edinburgh International Film Festival is a thoughtfully-programmed celebration of global cinema. Over two weeks, there will be screenings of 125 features and shorts, organised into five thematic strands: ‘Night Moves’, ‘The Conversation’, ‘Heartbreakers’, ‘The Chamber’, and ‘Postcards From the Edge’. Most events are ticketed, but there will be a curated programme of free outdoor screening in St Andrew Square over opening weekend (12-14 Aug). All in all, a nice reason to go to the cinema during Edinburgh festival season.
- Social Studies: Six Films by Tanaka Kinuyo (TBA): A major retrospective of the actor turned director, who had an indelible impact on the history of Japanese cinema. Her films – which will be presented in 4K restoration – deal with a chaotic period of social upheaval in postwar Japan.
- After Yang (20 Aug, VUE Omni 12): South Korean director Kogonada’s latest will be shown both on the festival’s opening and closing nights. It stars Colin Farrell as a father out to fix his daughter’s beloved, malfunctioning robot companion.
- Reframing the Gaze: Experiments in Women’s Filmmaking, 1972 to Now (Various): Fifty years ago, the EIFF presented a sub-festival dedicated to the work of female filmmakers called Women’s Film Festival. This year, they’re marking that anniversary with a retrospective programme tracing the strides made by avant-garde directors since then.
- Aftersun (15 Aug, Filmhouse1): Paul Mescal is being heaped with praise for his tender portrayal of a young dad who takes his daughter on holiday to a Turkish resort in the '90s.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
When? 5-7 August
What? No, this isn’t a military-themed stick-’n’-poke convention – the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is like a giant variety show whose stars just happen to be in uniform. The show – whose official name this year is ‘Voices’ – is performed at the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade, and will feature over 800 performers from around the world. Not all of them are military men/women, but the lineup does tip the army way, with acts like the United States Army Field Band, UK military musicians, and the New Zealand Army Band on the bill. You can also expect to see civilian artists like singing trio The Highland Divas and 12-person pipe band Massed Pipes and Dreams.
Highlights: It’s the same show every night, so you can’t go wrong.