History of Edinburgh’s Festivals

Edinburgh has about 11 festivals celebrated annually earning the nickname Festival City. Every year, people flock to this city to imbibe in the many celebrations of its art, music, and culture.

Music festivals have been part of the city’s history and culture since the 19th century. Festivals were then held at the Parliament House and Corri’s Rooms. But the most notable festival that made Edinburgh synonymous with arts and music celebrations would be the Edinburgh International Festival held every August.

How it all started

The idea of having an international festival came from Rudolf Bing, an Austrian impresario who fled Nazi Germany in 1934. He was the General Manager of Glyndebourne Festival Opera. The aim of the festival was to have people from all nationalities come together to celebrate art, culture, and music. It was meant to lift the hearts and spirits of the people after the war.

He was looking at Oxford as a possible venue but Henry Harvey Wood who was working for the British Council proposed Edinburgh as an alternative. The city won Rudolf Bing over with its iconic castle on the hill. Not to mention that Edinburgh was relatively free of wartime damage, has a large number of theatres, and can accommodate a considerable number of visitors.

The idea was enthusiastically welcomed by Sir John Falconer, the Lord Provost during that time, and Lady Rosebery. Their combined influences resulted in the formation of a festival committee in 1945. In the year 1947, the idea became a reality and a three-week festival was held from 24th of August till the 13th of September.

The Birth of the Fringe

Due to the festival committee’s emphasis on high culture, there were shows that were excluded from the performances thereby provoking controversy. Eight theatre groups decided to come uninvited to the first festival in 1947 and staged their own performances outside the “official” festival. This became known as the Fringe.

It later on created its own committee called the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. It has remained true to its principles that the Fringe festival is open to any participant who would like to bring their talent and show to the streets of Edinburgh.

Many festivals within a festival

The EIF has given way to many other festivals celebrated within the festival week.

The first official Edinburgh Military Tattoo performance was in 1950 and had about 6,000 viewers sitting on simple benches. Today about 220,000 people come to see the live show.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival was a brave venture with just over 120 writers. Now, this Book Fair has over 800 writers from different countries and attracting 30,000 visitors from all over the world.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) also established in 1947, screens over 150 feature films from over 50 different countries.

The world’s first science festival is in Edinburgh. The Edinburgh International Science Festival created in 1989 has about 200 events and receives over 90,000 visitors yearly.

Rising numbers

Over the years the festival has grown to several shows and events that take place in over 300 venues throughout the city.

At present, the EIF has more than 160 performers involving more than 2,500 various artists presenting to an audience of at least 400,000 each year. Just this 2014, a recorded number of 49,497 performances were staged in various venues and ticket sales that reached 1.94 million.

Last 2017 was the 70th anniversary of the EIF and an estimated 2,696,884 tickets had been issued for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival alone. It has grown so much that it has attracted over 4million people to visit the city every year.

With that many people visiting Edinburgh, the city tends to get packed during festival season. Advance reservations in hotels are now necessary and festivals have websites where you can book your tickets ahead of time. Hiring a coach or minibus comes in handy making travel safer, comfortable, and convenient from one show to another.

Global awareness

Keeping abreast with current global issues, Edinburgh is also home to the Climate Festival. The festival aims to increase public knowledge on climate change awareness. They seek to inspire and empower the people on how to live more sustainably.

The city aims to be carbon neutral by 2030. Its Low Emission Zone (LEZ) restricts cars that fail to meet the standards. They are encouraging recycling, community gardens, and lowering carbon emissions by collectively travelling in coaches or minibus.