Every year August is the most exciting month to be in the capital of Scotland, as Edinburgh become's the UK's festival city.
The Edinburgh International Festival was established in 1947 and is ranked as one of the most important cultural celebrations in the world.
On average the Festival presents over 160 performances involving over 2,500 artists to an audience of up 400,000 each year.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world with live theatre and comedy performances. Each year there's anything up to 50,000 performances
of over 3,000 shows staged in several hundred venues with ticket sales at more than two million pounds.
There's more about the festival and festival fringe later, but this city is good to visit all year round!
Edinburgh from Calton Hill. Photo courtesy: VisitScotland
From medieval Old Town with Castle, Vaults and Royal Mile, to Georgian New Town with its stucco squares, this "Athens of the North"
blends historic heritage with living culture and even boasts its very own well-nigh "inner-city mountain" - extinct volcano, Arthur’s Seat!
To get an impression of this city, upon arrival, head up Calton Hill, found at the EastEnd of
Princes Street. (Handy Hint: It is PRINCES STREET not PRINCESS STREET. Locals are very particular
about this.) It isn't hard to spot seeing as how it has half a pillared building built on top of
it. (This isn't a ruin, Edinburgh just ran out of money whilst it was being built and since has
been known as Edinburgh's folly.) The climb isn't a climb as such, more a stroll and then you
can look upon the vista of fair Edinburgh.
Over on your left (or South) is the Old Town, a
fantastic jumble of turreted old houses piled atop each other. When Edinburgh was first built,
it had a huge marsh next to it (now Princes Street Gardens) and nobody could figure out how
to build across it so they had to accommodate the population by building upwards, and what
you have today are windy cobbled streets and narrow alleys leading to the nicest
selection of shops and cafes. In complete contrast, straight ahead is the New Town, planned
and laid out in grand Georgian style with wide streets and imposing, perfectly proportioned
If you're thinking of shopping Princes Street is the main
thoroughfare, but really is best avoided. Go a couple of streets parallel and you'll find George
Street, calmer and a touch classier. Further over again and you'll hit Stockbridge which has a
nice selection of cafés and boutique-esque type things.
Check out the world’s largest collection of Scotch whisky, at the Old Town Scotch Whisky Experience, near ancient St. Giles’ Cathedral,
the eye-teasing Camera Obscura and Writers’ Museum. For art, visit the Scottish National Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and
Scottish National Portrait Gallery. For history, try the National Museum of Scotland, Museum of Edinburgh, People’s Story,
Museum of Childhood, quirky well-nigh gory Surgeons’ Hall Museum – or any of a host of informative, oft-spooky, walking tours out
touting for trade!
Relax in leafy Princes Street Garden – seemingly a million miles away from all the shops just up on the road – in which park, if you muster the energy, you can also climb the Scott Monument for fab views. Tour the old Palace of Holyroodhouse and new Scottish Parliament nearby; plus check out the vibrant Dynamic Earth exhibition whilst down that way!
Edinburgh Castle. Photo courtesy: VisitScotland
Take a leafy stroll along the banks of the narrow Water of Leith - stopping off at the picturesque Stockbridge district, plus the splendid Royal Botanic Garden with its mighty trees, hedges and glasshouses - to quaint old Leith itself, home to the majestically moored Royal Yacht Britannia.
You’ll doubtless enjoy Pride Edinburgh in June each year. Famously Edinburgh does, of course, host another
fairly well known Festival – in reality, a clutch of festivals - most notably Edinburgh International Festival and
Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It may be the world’s largest cultural event with the number of tickets sold exceeded only by Olympics and World Cup.
Of course you can see a show all year round at one of Edinburgh’s main venues – like the Festival Theatre, Playhouse, Traverse, Usher Hall or Royal Lyceum.
If you enjoy dance, check out the Scottish Ballet - or maybe even the magnificent Northern Ballet who regular tour Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Edinburgh's scene is best described as small and compact, all contained at the top end of Leith Walk, but it is a lot of fun.
Most of the gay action happens in the Broughton locale around folly-filled Calton Hill (with its Nelson Monument vantage) – up which great views abound, and men oft take airs;
and, at the foot of which, pubs and bars keep pumping tunes and booze into the wee small hours.
Cafe Nom de Plume (60 Broughton Street; T: 0131 478 1372) boasts healthy, filling fodder and attitude-free staff serving all a boy could need. It's adjoining the excellent LGBT Centre.
The Street (2 Picardy Place; 0131 556 4272) sprawls out onto just that all summer long!
Stylish Planet (6 Baxter’s Place; T: 0131 556 5551) is a bit of an
institution that goes head-to-head with buzzing-to-the-rafters Habana (22 Greenside Place; T: 0131 558 1270) a
few doors down. Away from the main bustle, try The Regent (2 Montrose Terrace; T: 0131 661 8198) for comfortable sofas, quirky decor and relaxed ambiance in a gay bar serving guest ales and pub food.
So, you've had a few and so at last it seems a good idea
to head up to CC Blooms on Greenside Place. You'll end up there no matter how
convinced you are that you won't! It will be packed and very mixed, both in gender and age, which is a good thing.
Latecomers on their way from the old town, have to dodge around the castle, then across Princes St, onto Queen St and York Place and you're there.
Edinburgh Castle View - Photo: OutUK
Upstairs it is slightly quieter, but as this is only in comparison to the packedness of downstairs, don't be envisioning anything too quiet!
The drinks are cheap, the music is cheesy and everyone seems to know everyone else. Give yourself a couple of nights and you'll look like a seasoned local too.
Finally, nip down stairs. Now, I was there during the Edinburgh Festival and I appreciate that it is a bit busier in those days but really, how many people can you cram into that tiny space?
You sweat like you have never sweated before but you have a brilliant laugh. And that really is what CC's is about in essence. It is not a 'credible' club but it is a place
to go and get wasted and have a big smile on your face whilst doing so. And some of the boys are rather tasty too.
Still restless? We doubt if any of the world’s great cruising grounds can boast a classier name than the Royal Terrace Gardens – a long
stretch of landscaped slope, brimming with lolling men. And few can claim the 360-degree panoramic, aforementioned manly vantage just behind it,
up Calton Hill, with stars above and the Scottish capital’s own twinkling lamps flickering away beneath.
Alternatively, Steamworks (5 Broughton Market, T: 0131 477 3567) is one of several busy saunas
in town, just around the corner from aforementioned Blue Moon caf. Ditto Number 18 (18 Albert Place, Leith Walk; T: 0131 553 3222).
Assembly's George Square Gardens
The best time to
go to the Scottish capital is definitely during the Edinburgh Festival in August. In fact the month sees several festivals going on at the same time including, International, Book, Film, Science and Art but most famously the Festival Fringe.
You should plan well ahead because there are around two million tickets sold for this event and accomodation
can be tricky to find and very expensive.
So with several thousand shows to choose from, where do you start?
Assembly puts on the very best selection of shows and you'd do worse to start with their fine selection of comedy, theatre and music. Each year they have more than a couple of hundred shows in 24 venues
located all accross Edinburgh, and the festival continues runs for 27 days from the first Wednesday of August to the Bank Holiday Monday.
To find information about great accommodation offers, booking your city break to Edinburgh, or things to see and do in the city, visit www.visitscotland.com
You can reach Edinburgh from London in around 4½ hours by Virgin Trains East Coast. There are loads of great deals to be had online including reduced price First Class tickets if you catch less popular trains.
Revised August 2018.