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About the Festivals

Believe it or not, there's no single Edinburgh Festival. With the charm and confusion which so characterises the city at Festival time, August sees the arrival of ten separate cultural bunfights - arranged by independent organizers, with quite separate agendas, but which just happening to be taking place in the same city at the same time.

The difference between these Festivals seems academic at first, but becomes critically important as soon as you want to buy a ticket, see a programme or even find your way to a theatre. The booking systems are separate; so are the websites; and with a few exceptions, the Festivals all operate out of different sets of venues.

And as though that weren't enough to trap the unwary, several of the festivals go by near-identical, abbreviated monikers. So if you want to know your EIF from your EAF - read on.

The Edinburgh International Festival

Dancers against backdrop
Photo: Laurent Philippe/CCN Creteil Cie Montalvo-Hervieu
Top billing has to go to the Edinburgh International Festival, often known just as the EIF. Variously described as "the official Festival", "the real Festival" or simply "the posh one", the EIF is where it all started: established in 1947, just two short years after the devastation of the Second World War, its mission famously remains to "provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit".

Universally recognized as one of the world's most important cultural celebrations, the EIF runs a largely high-brow programme of classical music, theatre, opera and dance. Based in a half-dozen major theatres and concert halls across the city, it combines the innovative and the traditional: Shakespeare takes his place alongside brand-new theatre, and ballet lines up next to stunning contemporary dance. It has a reputation, too, for deftly-woven programme themes, carefully curated and changing from year to year.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Courtesy Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, usually just called The Fringe, is what most people picture when they think of Edinburgh at Festival time. Brash and unruly, organized yet uncontrolled, the Fringe is as old as the International Festival itself; it began in 1947 when eight acts turned up uninvited to the first ever Festival, and has grown unstoppably ever since.

While the International Festival still hogs the prestige, there's no doubt that the Fringe hogs the limelight. Spanning more than 250 separate performance venues across the whole of Edinburgh, and with well over 2,500 shows to choose from each year, the sheer scale of the Fringe puts it front and centre of the arts scene of Edinburgh - and, arguably, the whole world. The size of the undertaking presents unique challenges to visitors, who can be seen throughout August scurrying across the city, the telephone-book-like Fringe programme clutched under their arm.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival

From 2008, the Film Festival is no longer part of August's festival programme.  It's moved to June, when its organizers hope it will get more attention both within Edinburgh and in the woldwide film festival calendar.

The third of Edinburgh's "original" Festivals, the Edinburgh International Film Festival or EIFF was established alongside the International Festival in the post-war atmosphere of 1947. Though not the world's first film festival - the Venice equivalent can trace its roots back to 1932 - the EIFF proudly trumpets its record as the longest-running, having escaped the budgetary woes which forced the cancellation of Cannes during the 1950's.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival

Entrance tent
Courtesy Edinburgh International Book Festival
There's a lot to recommend the quietly-successful Book Festival. It's the most compact of the multi-event festivals - based entirely at Charlotte Square, a stone's throw from Princes Street. It has a varied, interesting, family-friendly programme, and it's got some of the cheapest tickets around, as well. It may not be the reason you came to Edinburgh - but if you give it a chance, you could well find it filling a few slots in your Festival diary.

The Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival

Courtesy Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival
Beginning at the tail-end of July, the Jazz & Blues Festival makes for a hugely civilized Festival warm-up before the chaos of the Fringe is unleashed. But, make no mistake, it's a major event in its own right - where over little more than a week, Edinburgh plays host to a truly world-class line-up of musicians, covering the broadest range of the style.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Unquestionably the most successful show in the entire history of the Festival, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo defies adequate description. Drawing a daily crowd of 8,500 - who brave all weathers on the outdoor grandstand seating - this extravaganza of music, showmanship and military precision is played out nightly against the incomparable backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.

Other August festivals

As the Festival bandwagon rolls onward with unstoppable pace, more and more organizations are joining the August party. Though less established, smaller, or shorter than the major Festivals, these newcomers are all deserving of their place in the schedule - and often make for a calming diversion from the hectic Festival routine.