The Edinburgh Festival is actually multiple festivals celebrating everything from music, theatre, and opera to books, dance, comedy, bagpipes, stilts and anything else that can be performed. The first official Edinburgh International Festival was created in 1951 but its roots began just after WWII. Edinburgh was one of the few large European cities to escape large-scale bombing and became a meeting ground for visiting soldiers and refugees. The hospitable Scots welcomed them, even setting up cultural programs that brought in poets, musicians, critics, artists, and novelists from each country. These programs were a great success and provided a foundation for the later International Festival,
Unfortunately, one of the founders, gave the impression that this was to be an elite festival by international artists for international visitors and that Edinburgh residents were only to provide hospitality. Not willing to be left out, the Edinburgh People’s Festival was created which eventually evolved into the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a very important part of the festival experience.
This year’s offerings at the International Festival include anything from Shakespeare to world premier operas like “In the Locked Room and Ghost Patrol” to a visual arts exhibit called “Speed of Light.” From the Fringe, there’s the highly-rated comedy of Susan Calman, a 2-man musical, “Secrets Hidden in the Beatles Rockband” and the Warriors of Goja, 20 Sikh martial arts masters in a show that “stunned the world.” Or travel the Royal Mile and join the pub-hoppers and street performances.
While I was researching, I had a lot of fun watching a DVD called Alternate Routes, Edinburgh. It follows a group of young travelers, ages 16 to 22, as they see the sights in Scotland, stay in a hostel and sample the Edinburgh Festival. You get to see some of the street performers and also learn the answer to that age-old question…What does a Scotsman wear under his kilt? (not for the faint at heart) While there was some occasional bad language, the kids were wonderfully enthusiastic about everything from the pubs to the highland scenery.
You also won’t want to miss historic spots like Edinburgh Castle, the High Kirk of St. Giles, the National Museum of Scotland and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where Queen Elizabeth stays when she’s in town. While it’s probably too late to catch any of the festivals this year, it’s not too early to start planning for next year. Check out Fodor’s Scotland 2012 for great information on places to eat and stay and just about everything else. They recommend booking accomodations at least 3 months in advance if you’re coming for the festivals.
For historical information, try Donald Campbell’s Edinburgh, a Cultural and Literary History. It has a great section on the history of the festivals. For a lyrical description of Edinburgh from 1879, try Edinburgh Picturesque Notes by Robert Louis Stevenson, a native son. We also have lots of DVDs of touring in Scotland. Or, check out Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series set in Edinburgh, novels and DVDs.