If you’re going to Edinburgh for even just a few days, you’ll be immersed in one of Europe’s most fascinating cultural scenes.
From the world-class Edinburgh Fringe Festival to the 12th century castle, the city’s medieval and Georgian architecture offers an atmospheric backdrop to the classic and cutting-edge theatre, dance, music and comedy that lights up stages across town. Drawing upon a heady mix of Scottish cultural heritage, British traditions and far-flung global inspirations, the performing arts scene in Edinburgh is simply magical.
Celebrate the Patron Saint
Come St Andrew’s Day, the 30th of November, the melancholy dirge of bagpipes will ring out all over Scotland to celebrate the country’s patron saint. Look for spirited events to kick off on the 29th all over town at pubs and cultural institutions such as the Scottish Storytelling Centre, which hosts two celebratory evenings of traditional stories, poetry and songs. Don’t miss the Scottish Market at St Andrews Square, where you can sample old-fashioned treats like butteries (Scottish bread rolls), shop for handmade crafts, and enjoy craft beers to the backdrop of morning-to-night live music and choirs. The iconic Edinburgh Castle, the city’s towering medieval centrepiece, also gives out scores of free tickets on St Andrew’s Day.
In the evening, experience the unrivalled good cheer of a ceilidh (Gaelic for a social gathering), an all-ages gathering of Scottish music, dancing, and a dram or two of Scotch. Don’t be afraid if you’re unfamiliar with the dances, as a caller is traditionally on hand to call out the steps. Ask your hotel concierge for suggestions: a handful of pubs and community centres usually host ceilidhs around St Andrew’s Day.
Theatre in Edinburgh: Spoilt for Choice
A circa-1929 former cinema, the Edinburgh Playhouse remains the biggest working theatre in the whole of the UK and a must-visit for fans of blockbuster musicals. A typical week at Edinburgh Playhouse draws classic big-cast extravaganzas such as The Sound of Music and Cabaret alongside hot-ticket rock bands like Bon Iver.
With its sparkling glass facade, you’d never guess that the Festival Theatre Edinburgh, built in the 1830s and now home to the largest stage in Scotland, survived a devastating 1911 fire. Home to the Scottish Ballet and the Scottish Opera, it’s the country’s premier performing arts venue for dance and opera. It’s also a sensational place to catch a film: the Festival Theatre turns into a cinema several times a month, hosting classic films, family friendly sing-a-longs and theatre screenings from the world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Company.
Don’t forget to check out what’s on at the Festival Theatre Edinburgh’s sister venue. The King’s Theatre is a Viennese Baroque beauty that stages touring shows fresh from London’s West End, popular stand-up comedians, and classical and contemporary plays from acclaimed Scottish theatre companies such as The Rapture Theatre.
While the highlight of the Edinburgh theatre calendar may have impressive competition, there’s only one victor: the Edinburgh Festival, otherwise known as the Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival and a major bucket list attraction for culture mavens across the globe. With a magical and ever-evolving mix of theatre, comedy, magic, children’s shows, cabaret, circus and spoken word, this is the place to catch up-and-coming comics, emerging writers and experimental performance companies. Going strong since 1947, the Fringe takes the city by storm every August: last year’s Edinburgh Festival sold nearly 2.5 million tickets to more than 3200 shows.