In Arts + Entertainment

A Definitive Guide To Edinburgh Festival Season

Scotland’s shining capital Edinburgh is abuzz with arts, culture, music, circus, theatre, and comedy during peak festival season. Not sure where to start? Our definitive guide is here to help.

Scotland is one of the most naturally beautiful countries in the world. It’s rich cultural fabric stretches across history, music, arts and language, making a trip here at once unforgettable.

Visitors to Scotland can expect a line-up of heavy hitters like ancient castles, mysterious standing stones, and intricate architecture. For the nature lovers among us, consider touring the expansive highlands, fishing Loch Ness, mountain biking or hiking in the highlands or teeing off at Drimsynie Estate Golf Course.

Arts and culture top of the agenda? Scotland’s shining capital Edinburgh has you covered with an almost year-long program of festivals showcasing the world’s best acts from comedy, jazz and film through to books and the spectacle that is the Royal Military Tattoo.

With so much on offering during Edinburgh’s peak festival season, it can be difficult to know where to start. To help you navigate what’s on, we’ve compiled this definitive guide.

Edinburgh International Film Festival

Until June 30 


EIFF Film in the City, 2017. Image: Beth Cameron

“Edinburgh boasts the world’s longest continuously running film festival – beat that Cannes!” runs the slogan. Founded in 1947, the Edinburgh International Film Festival will celebrate its 73rd edition in 2019.

Notable guests this year include the makers of the hit series ‘Good Omens’, Douglas Maokinnon and composer David Arnold who’ll attend a special screening of all six episodes of the show on June 29. Actor Riohard Dreyfuss will attend the world premiere of ‘Astronaut’.

Actor Timothy Spall will walk the red carpet at the world premiere of ‘Mrs Lowry & Son’ for closing night celebrations. Katherine Parkinson of ‘The IT Crowd’ fame will attend the UK premiere of ‘How To Fake A War’. The stars of this year’s opening night film ‘Boyz In The Wood’, director Ninian Doff and producer Brian Coffey, will attend the festival alongside their cast.


Gods Own Country Opening Gala, 2017. Image: Dechlan Nicholson

In addition to this, a series of strands – Best of British, American Dreams, European Perspectives, World Perspectives, Documentaries, Culinary – will feature approximately 121 new features, 18 feature film world premieres, 12 international premieres, eight European premieres and 78 UK premieres from 42 countries. If that’s not enough to get your film tastebuds salivating, we’re not sure what will.

View the full Edinburgh International Film Festival program here.

Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival

12 July – 21 July

Edinburgh festivals jazz and blues festival

Image: Ibibio Sound Machine / Facebook

Swing, soul, samba, jazz, blues and more. The Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival will serve up 150 gigs at the Jazz Bar, Festival Theatre and George Square Spiegeltent over 10 days. That’s a whole lot of scatting and flutter-tonguing.

Celebrating its 41st anniversary in 2019, the festival’s line-up features a broad range of Scottish and international shows. Performers include Ibibio Sound Machine, Jamison Ross, Mike Whellans, and Moses Boyd Exodus among a slew of other established and emerging acts.

View the full Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival program and buy tickets here.

Edinburgh Art Festival

25 July – 25 August

Edinburgh festivals art

Art Late at Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh Art Festival. Image: Sally Jubb Photography.

Edinburgh Art Festival is where you want to be if the visual arts are your go-to cultural fix. The best part? Participating galleries, museums and artist-run spaces provide a canvas of special events, most of which are free to attend during the month of August.

This year’s commissions program is aptly named Stories For An Uncertain World; as artists, gallery-goers and our global communities navigate the increasingly complex world, it’s not surprising to see themes centred on understanding the world and our place in it rise to the top.

Edinburgh festivals art festival

Alfredo Jaar, Teach Us To Outgrow Out Madness, 2014, courtesy of the artist.

The five artists participating in Edinburgh Art Festival’s Stories For An Uncertain World program are: Nathan Coley, Alfredo Jaar, Rosalind Nashashibi, Sriwhana Spong, and Corin Sworn who’ll showcase work in a range of mediums from large scale lightboxes, public interventions, observational film, text and sculpture, group improvisation, and collaborative storytelling.

View the full Edinburgh Art Festival program here.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

2 August – 24 August

An event that needs no introduction, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a powerful display of pipes, drums and kilts. This year’s theme is Kaleidoscope with the Tattoo set to explore colour, music and light in honour of the optical invention created by Scottish Physicist Dir David Brewster in 1816.

1200 international performers will descend on Edinburgh Castle Esplanade from 2 August through 24 August with the British Army at the fore. Massed Pipes and Drums, Pipers Trail, the Tattoo Dance Company and Hjaltibonhoga will complement the program designed to celebrate geometry, colour and movement of the Tattoo’s military and folkloric performers.

Learn more about The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and buy tickets here.

Edinburgh International Festival

2 August – 26 August


Rite of Spring, Peacock Contemporary Dance Company & Yang Liping, Edinburgh International Festival, 22-24 Aug 2019. Image: supplied

The Edinburg International Festival brings audiences and artists together from all over the world. Dance, music, opera and theatre is the focus here, which extends into a program of community learning and engagement during the year.

For those looking for a homegrown act, look no further than Sydney Theatre Company’s adaptation of The Secret River. Playwright Andrew Bovell has transformed Kate Grenville’s novel into a deeply moving journey into Australia’s dark history.

Other highlights include: Rite Of Spring by Peacock Contemporary Dance Company, Hear Word! Naija Woman Talk True, West Side Story by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, The Crucible by the Scottish Ballet featuring Helen Pickett and Peter Salem, and Oedipus by Internationaal Theater Amsterdam.

View the full Edinburgh International Festival program and buy tickets here.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

2 August – 26 August


Rouge will take the stage at Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2019 following a sold out season at Adelaide Fringe Festival. Image: Highwire Entertainment / Facebook

It feels as though the whole planet descends on Scotland’s capital for a month of mischief during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It’s the biggest open access fringe in the world and attracts artists, musicians, comedians, actors and creatives from all walks.

This year’s fringe boasts acts from a record 63 countries, including 206 shows from mainland Europe across more than 300 venues. Themes span climate change, identity politics, migration to space, death and grief, true crime and beyond. Mediums include theatre, dance, circus, physical theatre, comedy, cabaret, opera, musicals, variety, spoken word, exhibitions and events.’

No idea where to start? Frances Barber will perform her one woman show Musik featuring original songs from the Pet Shop Boys, comedian Kathy Burke will direct #HonestAmy and Game Of Thrones’ Daniel Portman will join the cast of Square Go.


Rhys Nicholson is bringing his show, Nice People, Nice Things, Nice Situations, to Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2019. Image: Rhys Nicholson / Facebook

US talent includes #MeToo activist Rose McGowan who’ll combine music and memoir in her fringe debut Planet 9, Nick Offerman who’ll take the stage at Assembly Hall, Scottish-American comedian Craig Ferguson and Phoebe Robinson of podcast-turned-TV show 2 Dope Queens.

One hundred Australian acts have already been announced with more expected to drop. Highlights include Celeste Barber, Rhys Nicholson, Tap pack, Guru Dudu’s silent Disco Tours as well as circus shows Humans, DNA, Le Coup and Rouge following its sold-out run at Adelaide Fringe Festival earlier this year.

View the full Edinburgh Festival Fringe program and buy tickets here.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

10 August – 26 August

edinburgh festivals international book fesitval

Image: Edinburgh International Book Festival

Over three weeks, Edinburgh International Book Festival plays host to over 800 events – enough to rival the world’s very best literary events. The 2019 theme is We Need New Stories and this year’s festival is asking people to make up a shared understanding of humanity’s place in the world.

A series of conversations, debates, workshops and performances will explore the idea of technology, the collapse of truth in who’s telling the truth, and the dominance of certain languages with new voices such as Indian author and activist Arundhati Roy making her first appearance at the festival in conversation with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.


Indian author Arundhati Roy will make her first appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2019 in conversation with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Image: Arundhati Roy / Facebook

Australian novelists Thomas Keneally and YA writer Markus Zusak will also make their debuts at this year’s festival. From Indonesia, the world-renowned essayist and playwright Goenawan Mohamad will discuss his life and work, and from France the festival will welcome two writers shortlisted for the man Booker International Prize Annie Ernaux and Mathias Enard.

A key voice in the US protest movement Black Lives Matter, DeRay Mckesson will talk to Texan writer Casey Garald about growing up underprivileged, black and gay in Dallas, the first event in a major strand exploring identify politics. Further exploring themes of displacement and self-discovery, Val McDermid will tackle Home/Less in her Guest Selector strand and speak to Ali Smith, Karine Polwart and Palestinian author Nayrouz Qarmout about the process individuals go through when making the decision to leave their homeland.

View the full Edinburgh International Book Festival program and buy tickets here.

Visit the Edinburgh Festivals website for full details and ticketing for all festivals.

(Lead image: High Street during Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Photo by David Monteith Hodge)

Published 19 June, 2019