Festival Hopping In Edinburgh
By Lucy Eglington
Edinburgh is compact, atmospheric and packed with winding side-street treats. A raw, rugged terrain jammed with churches, cathedrals, and Georgian streets, parks, palaces and monuments form its heart. When you’ve overdosed on architecture – museums, wacky shops, markets, bars, restaurants, boat, bus and bike tours will divert you until the wee small hours. For a city its size, there’s an awful lot to do.
And that’s not including the Festival.
The highlight of Edinburgh’s annual calendar, The Festival is actually several intertwining festivals that, when combined, last all summer and explode Edinburgh in a blaze of music, dance, theatre and song.
The Festivals cover every type of entertainment, and there’s something for everyone — from the bagpipe-loving movie-buff to the 10-year old bookworm.
- EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL
August 13— September 3, 2006
This is the festival that started it all in 1947. The EIF includes performances of highbrow classical music, drama and dance, by a host of celebrated artists, as well as new and unfamiliar works.To find out more go to eif.co.uk/ where you can join the mailing list or order tickets.
- THE EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL2006 Dates not yet posted
This infamous festival also had its beginnings in 1947, when, like Sleeping Beauty’s christening, the International Festival attracted so much attention that eight theatre companies turned up uninvited i.e. on the “Fringe.” It has now overtaken the International Festival to become the largest arts festival in the world.Unlike the International Festival, which showcases well-known and well-financed arts companies, The Fringe is where many of the world’s finest talents have been discovered and where unusual acts like Stomp first shot to fame: it is a showcase for the wild, off-the-wall, straight and traditional alike. It is also a critic’s nightmare: with 1350 shows in nearly 200 venues, you have to take your chances from an enormous range of acts from dawn to the wee hours of the morning. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is part of the fun, as tickets are inexpensive: dive in and you’ll see stellar performances…along with some occasionally terrible dross!
For a day-by-day breakdown of what is happening across the festival, you can pick up a copy of the Edinburgh Festivals Guide Daily, available all over town. The program will be launched in early June. Order your copy from edfringe.com/
- EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL
August 12-28, 2006 This is Europe’s largest and liveliest public book event for big and little bookworms alike. You might wonder how such festivities evolve around something which essentially spends its life sitting on a shelf, but the program includes readings, debates, workshops, discussions, lectures and late night music events with a literary flavor, on almost any subject you can think of.The program will be available sometime in May. To keep an eye on things go to edbookfest.co.uk/
- EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
2006 dates not yet posted Movie buff? Live out your celebrity fantasies by being the first to see an amazing range of movie premieres as part of the Film Festival.This festival is Scotland’s answer to Sundance or Cannes, and if you’re interested in films, this is a must.
The program will be published in mid-July. edfilmfest.org.uk/
- SCOTTISH INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN’S FESTIVAL (SICF)
2006 dates not yet posted: If you’ve got little ones, try to coincide your visit to Scotland with this festival. SICF is Britain’s biggest performing arts festival for children and young people, featuring many of the world’s leading children’s theatre companies. This year’s festival will include fourteen world-class productions from Denmark, Italy, Wales, Canada, Belgium and Russia, all especially created for an audience of three to twelve year-olds, alongside the best in children’s theatre from England and Scotland.The program is available at imaginate.org.uk/
- INTERNATIONAL JAZZ AND BLUES FESTIVAL
July 28— August 6, 2006The longest running jazz and blues festival in the UK features every kind of beat from every kind of artist in halls, theatres, clubs, pubs and open-air events. Top names like Courtney Pine, Martin Taylor, Dr. John, Leon Redbone and Georgie Fame, play beside fresh young things from all over the globe.There are also the popular free outdoor events, like the “Mardi Gras” in the Grassmarket and “Jazz On a Summer’s Day” and its newly-spawned sibling,
“Jazz On A Summer’s Evening,” in Princes Street Gardens.
To check the listings, go to jazzmusic.co.uk/
- EDINBURGH MILITARY TATTOO
August 4-26, 2006If you hate the sound of bagpipes, you’d probably better stay away during
the Tattoo. But if you want a real Scottish experience with a little bit of world music and dance thrown in, make plans to be here.The Tattoo features outdoor military display teams worthy of an Olympics opening ceremony, including Massed Military Bands, display teams, dancers and acts from around the world. The forthcoming program includes the ever-popular music of the Massed Military Bands, the Guard of the King of Norway, Cook Island Polynesian Dancers and, of course, a Highland Dance display.
To check out what’s coming up, go to edintattoo.co.uk/
There are hundreds of venues involved in the various festivals, ranging from concert halls and community theatres to murky pubs, hotels, meditation centers, museums, libraries, banks, chapels, towers, even the whisky heritage centers are utilized. In fact, no large space is safe during festival season. Outdoor events are held in many of the city’s fantastic Georgian gardens and tents. Possibly the most unusual venue this year will be the double-decker “Buzz Bus,” providing Shakespeare and children’s entertainment!
There are a few “Blue Chip” venues, such as the Assembly Rooms at 54 George Street, where the quality of the shows is not under debate and the standard is (nearly always!) high. If you’ve only got the time to see one show, it’s wise to book in a venue such as this and you’ll be guaranteed your ticket money will be well spent. To reserve, call The Box Office at Tel: (+44)-131-226-2428 / 624-2442.
Sure, The Festivals will keep your head spinning and your feet moving from venue to venue, but don’t forget to take a bit of time out to enjoy the city of Edinburgh itself. Edinburgh itself has more historic buildings than you can shake a stick at (over 16,000 in all). The entire city is a UNESCO world heritage site, so don’t even think about seeing it all. Instead just relax, pick a manageable itinerary, and wander.
- The Castle
Perched dramatically atop a high crag, The Castle juts from a park in the city center. Castle Rock (actually the core of an extinct volcano) has formed the city’s epicenter since the fortress of Dun Eadin was built there in the 6th Century. Walls were built around the growing city around 1450 and, not wanting to be left out in the cold, people began to build upwards — up to 12 stories, in fact. These tall, trademark, higgledy-piggledy tenements mingle with churches, arches and alleyways to form the flanks of the Royal Mile.This stunning cavalcade of buildings is, deservedly, the tourism epicenter. There are numerous “Scottish” exhibits there, such as a working tartan mill and a whiskey center. It is also a gauntlet of identical, tacky souvenir shops. A king’s ransom in fake bagpipes, swords, ginger wigs, horrible knitwear and “Celtic” paraphernalia are among the treasures available here. How the tartan kilt-u-like outlets manage to find “family name” tartans for their many Japanese and European-named customers is a tribute to the spirit of free enterprise.
- New Town
Just out of the town center, this not-so-new Georgian area is often overlooked, yet really worth strolling around. The simple, elegant grandeur of cobbled crescents and quiet, refined streets are a stark contrast to the imposing architectural jumble of the town center.
- Museum of Scotland
Spare the time to visit the ultra-modern Museum of Scotland for some “potted history.” Opened in 1998, this museum should be a model for museums everywhere. The displays are vivid and well-worded with choice anecdotes: a far cry from the dusty cases of stuffed wildebeest with missing eyes that you see in many national museums.Glittering Roman treasure hoards will have you sieving your garden just in case. Thrones and altars, suits of armor, fossils and bearded masks are intuitively and chronologically arranged, so you are drawn from one room to the next. There is a patriotic heroes’ gallery, extolling the many Scots who have contributed to history, and evidently to luxuriant living. They may have a reputation for being tough, but the small ads would be pretty barren if it weren’t for the Scots, who invented all the greatest home comforts including TV, gas lighting, phones and decent plumbing. Aside from civilizing us with all their knick-knacks, the Scots have brought us health
(Alexander Fleming), literature (Robert Louis Stephenson, Walter Scott and, of course, good old Robbie Burns), and intrepid explorers like Livingstone.
As if all that weren’t enough, this museum is tasteful to the last — you aren’t even funneled through the gift shop on your way out. They have discreetly placed it off to the side, knowing people are unable to resist the lure of looking at overpriced tea towels and shortbread, even if it means making a diversion.
The Museum of Scotland: Chambers Street, Edinburgh
Tel: (+44) 131 247 4219.
Admission is £3 for adults, children free.
- Victoria Street
Wander through a few “closes” (entrances) and “wynds” (lanes) to Victoria Street. In the shadow of the castle, this eclectic street has a flea market, a cheese shop, and a rather unique brush shop, founded in 1873 and still going strong. For a spectacular view of town, walk up Calton Hill (or you can cheat, pay two pounds and go up the Scott monument).
After seven, the closes and wynds double as public conveniences, taking on a less savory odor, and the city buzzes with revelers heading out onto the town. If you want to work off some of that dinner, take a walking tour with a difference.
- Witchery Tours
Adam Lyal (deceased), an actor attired as a man from beyond the grave, leads groups around the city’s ancient, grizzly underbelly on a unique Witchery Tour. It seems the Scots went to tortures as they now go to soccer matches, and you’ll pass the spots where people were sliced, diced and frizzled in a variety of imaginative and gory ways. The well-researched, witty commentary on Edinburgh’s darker past makes this tour a gripping, surprisingly educational diversion. If you’re not that way inclined, however, you can stroll around the still-light streets and soak up the atmosphere of a more light-hearted revelry.Witchery Tours (Adam Lyal, deceased)
This predilection for torture mixed with revelry has persisted over the centuries, culminating in the modern equivalent of a night spent tap-dancing on the pyre. During festival season the pubs stay open until the wee small hours and an evening’s crawl down Rose Street — a mile-long stretch of pubs, pubs, and more pubs — has defeated many a valiant warrior, who lie stricken upon the torturous rocks of guest beer, helplessly giggling and flapping in the gutters like stranded fish.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
It’s much cheaper and easier to fly to London and take the train to Edinburgh. It’s a very pleasant ride from London to Edinburgh on GNER. For bookings:
Tel: (+44) 345-225-225
You could also rent a car (major car rental agencies are all represented here), but during Festival season, the city is very crowded and finding a parking space is next to impossible. Don’t bother, unless you plan to be in town only briefly. If, however, you want to tour Scotland before or after your festival visit, rent a car in Edinburgh and head out.
- Getting Around
Once in Edinburgh, walking is the name of the game. You may want an occasional taxi or even to rent a bike, but be prepared to spend a lot of time on your feet in this very walkable city.
Throughout festival season Edinburgh is jam-packed with visitors, so book early!
The Edinburgh Tourist Board Accommodations center can help with a wide range of lodgings from elegant hotels and B&Bs to hostels. The Edinburgh tourist board accommodation site is at edinburgh.org/accommodation/
Many festival visitors opt to stay on one of the university campuses in student dormitories that have been vacated for the summer. It’s an inexpensive alternative to hotels, and great if you plan to stay for more than a few days to catch all the Festivals have to offer.
- Edinburgh University edinburghfirst.com/
- Heriot-watt University eccscotland.com/
- Napier University napier.ac.uk
- EATS: Finding food is child’s play in Edinburgh: just close your eyes and walk randomly in any direction. Assuming you aren’t struck down by an open-topped tour bus, you will most likely hit an eatery of some sort. Apart from some of the more touristy places on the Royal Mile (beware limp white bread!), the quality is generally superb. Edinburgh has fought hard to shed Scotland’s unhealthy gastronomic reputation, yet glimpses still remain. Doughnut vans skulk on street corners, and a deeply troubling “WE SELL MARS BARS IN BATTER” (?!?) peeks from a chip-shop window.
Still, the international flavor of the Festivals has produced some wonderful and ethnically diverse restaurants. Pick and choose from Asian to African and beyond.
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