When to Go

Scotland's reliably unreliable weather means that you could visit at the height of summer and be forced to wear a winter coat. Conversely, conditions can be balmy in early spring and late autumn. You may choose to avoid the crowds (and hotel price hikes) of July and August, but you'd also miss some of the greatest festivals on Earth. May, June, and September are probably the most hassle-free months in which to visit, while still offering hope of good weather. Short days and grim conditions make winter less appealing, though there are few better New Year's Eve celebrations than Edinburgh's Hogmanay.


Walking around Edinburgh in late July, you'll likely feel the first vibrations of the earthquake that is festival time, which shakes the city throughout August. You may hear reference to an "Edinburgh Festival," but this is really an umbrella term for five separate festivals all taking place around the same time. For an overview, check out www.edinburghfestivalcity.com.

Beltane Fire Festival. Held every year on April 30, this flame-filled Calton Hill extravaganza is inspired by an Iron Age Celtic festival, which was held to celebrate the return of summer. Expect drumbeat processions, bonfires, and fireworks, as costumed fire dancers reveal the fates of the May Queen and the Green Man. Calton Hill, Calton, Edinburgh, Edinburgh. www.beltane.org.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe. During the world's largest arts festival in August, most of the city center becomes one huge performance area, with fire eaters, sword swallowers, unicyclists, jugglers, string quartets, jazz groups, stand-up comedians, and magicians all thronging into High Street and Princes Street. Every available performance space—church halls, community centers, parks, sports fields, nightclubs, and more—is utilized for every kind of event, with something for all tastes. There are even family-friendly shows. Many events are free; others start at a few pounds and rise to £15 or £20. There's so much happening in the three weeks of the festival that it's possible to arrange your own entertainment program from early morning to after midnight. Be aware that hotels get booked up months in advance during the Fringe and bargains are virtually impossible to come by, so plan your trip as far in advance as possible. Edinburgh Festival Fringe Office, 180 High St., Old Town, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH1 1QS. 0131/226--0026; www.edfringe.com.

Edinburgh International Book Festival. This two-week-long event held every August pulls together a heady mix of authors from around the world, from Nobel laureates to best-selling fiction writers, and gets them talking about their work in a magnificent tent village. There are more than 750 events in total, with the workshops for would-be writers and children proving hugely popular. Edinburgh International Book Festival Admin Office, 5 Charlotte Sq., New Town, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH2 4DR. 0131/718--5666; www.edbookfest.co.uk.

Edinburgh International Festival. Running throughout August, this flagship traditional arts festival attracts international performers and audiences to a celebration of music, dance, theater, opera, and art. Programs, tickets, and reservations are available from the Hub, set within the impressive Victorian-Gothic Tolbooth Kirk. Tickets for the festival go on sale in April, and the big events sell out within the month. Nevertheless, you'll still be able to purchase tickets for some events during the festival; prices range from around £4 to £60. The Hub, 348–350 Castlehill, Old Town, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH1 2NE. 0131/473--2015; www.eif.co.uk.

Edinburgh International Film Festival. One of Europe's foremost film festivals, promoting the best of global independent cinema since 1947, this event takes place from mid-June to early July each year. It's a great place for a first screening of a new film—movies from Billy Elliot to Little Miss Sunshine to The Hurt Locker have premiered here. Edinburgh Film Festival Office, 88 Lothian Rd., West End, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH3 9BZ. 0131/228--4051; www.edfilmfest.org.uk.

Edinburgh International Science Festival. Held around Easter each year, the Edinburgh International Science Festival is one of Europe's largest, and aims to make science accessible, interesting, and fun for kids (and adults) through an extensive program of innovative exhibitions, workshops, performances, and screenings. The Hub, 348–350 Castlehill, Old Town, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH1 2NE. 0131/553--0320; www.sciencefestival.co.uk.

Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival. Held over a week in late July, the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival attracts world-renowned musicians playing everything from blues-rock to soul music, and brings local enthusiasts out of their living rooms and into the pubs, clubs, and Spiegeltents (pop-up performance spaces) around the city. Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, 89 Giles St., Leith, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH6 6BZ. 0131/467--5200; www.edinburghjazzfestival.com.

Edinburgh's Hogmanay. Nowadays most capital cities put on decent New Year's celebrations, but Edinburgh's three-day-long Hogmanay festivities are on a whole other level. There's a reason this city is famous around the world as the best place to ring in the New Year. Yes, it's winter and yes, it's chilly, but joining a crowd of 80,000 people in a monster street party, complete with big-name rock concerts, torchlight processions, ceilidh dancing, and incredible fireworks, is something you won't forget in a hurry. The headline city center events are ticketed (and can be pricey), but there are free parties happening all over the city. Princes St., Old Town, Edinburgh, Edinburgh. www.edinburghshogmanay.com. From £20.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. It may not be art, but The Tattoo (as it's commonly known) is at the very heart of Scottish cultural life. Taking place, like many of the city's festivals, during August, this celebration of martial music features international military bands, gymnastics, and stunt motorcycle teams on the castle esplanade. Each year 22,000 seats are made available, yet it's always a sellout, so book your place early. If you are lucky enough to get tickets, dress warmly for evening shows and always bring a raincoat; the show goes on in all weathers. The Tattoo Box Office , 1–3 Cockburn St., Old Town, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH1 1QB. 0131/225--1188; www.edintattoo.co.uk.

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