In Edinburgh during the summer every thoroughfare is clogged, every bin is stuffed to the brim with flyers, every restaurant is full ... but there is always an opportunity to find something new, even to a grumpy local. In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, first staged at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1966, the play’s protagonists are told to ‘Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.’ This advice is well placed to guide you not only through the existential despair of postmodernism, but also the Royal Mile in peak festival season.
When you’re building your own map of memories and experiences, it’s best to start with a solid foundation; it’s a lot easier to work out where you’re going if you know where you’ve come from. I recommend starting at the top end of the Royal Mile on the Lawnmarket, where there is a slight lull between the packed crowds on the High Street and the queues to the castle and the Tattoo. Beginning in an area steeped in history, which is often little known to even the local population, gives your experience depth as well as breadth. To get you started, Martin at strollthroughtime.com offers five-star tours of Edinburgh’s Old Town – perfect if you want to familiarise yourself with your surroundings. Once you have a base, you’re ready to take on the festivals – and there’s no shortage of those.
For the ultimate festival trip stay in one of our three cosy flats, housed in one of the oldest buildings on the Royal Mile. The flats sit above our tour of a typical wealthy abode from the 1600s, and our sumptuous ground floor gift shop.
Edinburgh’s first International Festival was launched to encourage a sense of unity and collaboration in a divided post-war community. Since its beginning in the summer of 1947, the International Festival has continued to ‘provide a platform for the flowering of the human spirit,’ with this year marking the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festival, International Film Festival and the Festival Fringe. Alongside this, we have the growth of the now well-established International Book Festival (my first festival), Art Festival and Jazz & Blues Festival. As well as these big names, there are also smaller independent festivals like Hidden Door and Leith Late. Attempting to navigate the sheer volume of experiences can seem overwhelming, but that means there’s an even greater sense of satisfaction when you get it right.
Exploring a city through festivals contributes to the mood and memory of the place in a unique way. Edinburgh International Film Festival's (EIFF) collaborative exhibition, ‘ed film fest memories’ is a testament to this, mixing contributions from the public as well as a display of the EIFF’s own archive. This way of exploring lets you see spaces in a different light. My favourite from last year was the use of the upstairs of the restaurant Checkpoint as a cabaret venue – this old church was closed for the rest of the year until Assembly Rooms opened it up for the Fringe.
The Edinburgh Art Festival (EAF) provides similar opportunities for exploring undiscovered venues, with installations in the former Victorian fire station on Lauriston Place, and Trinity Apse, a hidden Gothic gem of a church.This year’s EAF commissions programme is inspired by one of Gladstone’s Land’s past neighbours, pioneering social architect Patrick Geddes. Geddes’ approach is still relevant to town planning today and I’m looking forward to seeing how contemporary artists engage with his ideas. I’m a big admirer of Geddes’ belief that it is ‘by leaves we live’ – we need to build green spaces into a city’s infrastructure to help the human spirit bloom.
The Edinburgh International Book Festival in Charlotte Square Gardens, a short walk from the Royal Mile, is always a good place to go to breathe. While you’re there you could pop into our sister property, The Georgian House, and I would recommend stopping off at independent coffee shops The Milkman or Lowdown Coffee on the way. Then, after a long day, retreat to one of our cosy flats in one of the world’s first skyscrapers to regain your energy ahead of your next day of festival-packed adventure. Build your memories around your experiences, and let your spirit blossom.To help you soak up the atmosphere when you stay at one of our Gladstone's Land flats, we include a tour with Martin at strollthroughtime.com of both Gladstone's Land and the Lawnmarket, as well as a complimentary bottle of fine malt whisky and divine handmade shortbread upon arrival. To make the trip even sweeter, we have also arranged for you to become a member of the National Trust for Scotland so that you can visit more of Scotland’s treasures for free!
Hidden Door (26 May–4 June) hiddendoorblog.org / @hiddendoorarts
LeithLate (15–18 June) leithlate.co.uk / @leithlate #leithlate17
Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival (14–23 July) edinburghjazzfestival.com / @edinburghjazz #ejbf17
International Film Festival (21 June–2 July) edfilmfest.org.uk / @edfilmfest #edfilmfest
Edinburgh Art Festival (27 July–27 August) edinburghartfestival.com / @edartfest #edartfest
Edinburgh International Festival (4–28 August) eif.co.uk/@edintfest #edintfest
Edinburgh Festival Fringe (4–28 August) edfringe.com / @edfringe #edfringe
Edinburgh International Book Festival (12–28 August) edbookfest.co.uk / @edbookfest #edbookfest
Checkpoint checkpointedinburgh.com / @checkpointedi
The Milkman @themilkmancoffee
Lowdown Coffee @coffeelowdown
Mary’s Milk Bar marysmilkbar.com / @marysmilkbar
Trinity Apse www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/Venues/Brass-Rubbings-Centre-(1)