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August is the most exciting month to be in the capital of Scotland, as Edinburgh becomes the UK's festival city. The Edinburgh International Festival was established in 1947 and is still ranked as one of the most important cultural celebrations in the world. Pre-pandemic, the Festival presented over 160 performances involving over 2,500 artists to an audience of 400,000 people.

Alongside it run 10 other festivals including the infamous Edinburgh Festival Fringe - the largest arts festival in the world with live theatre, dance, physical theatre and comedy performances. Outside of the pandemic there's anything up to 50,000 performances of over 3,000 shows staged in several hundred venues throughout the city. Independent researchers estimate that in normal years all the festival events together generate around over a billion pounds for Scotland's economy.

So Edinburgh's festivals are back in full swing for 2022 and we have more about that later, but this is a city that is good to visit all year round!

Calton Hill Edinburgh from Calton Hill. Photo courtesy: VisitScotland

SIGHTS

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 extinct volcano, called 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 buildings.

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 cafes and boutique-esque type things.

TOURIST FUN

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 Gardens - 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 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.

For entertainment, 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.

SCENE

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.
At the foot of Calton Hill are the pubs and bars that keep pumping tunes and booze into the wee small hours. The excellent LGBT Health & Wellbeing Centre can also be found here.

Pride Edinburgh (formally Scotia) organises their annual event each June to celebrate diversity and inclusion in the capital city and beyond.

Pride Scotia
Pride Scotia by S. Yu
Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 .

The Street in Picardy Place is a good starting point. It's a sleek contemporary bar hosting quizzes and DJ sessions in the downstairs nightclub space. Nearby is the stylish Planet Bar & Kitchen in Baxter's Place which also has DJ sessions and is a bit of an institution that goes head-to-head with buzzing-to-the-rafters Habana a few doors down. It's a lively LGBT hangout turning out cocktails in a contemporary, bi-level setting with plenty of disco balls. Away from the main bustle, try The Regent 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
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.

To work up a sweat, Steamworks Sauna Edinburgh offers cabins for hire with your own double locker, TV, USB charging sockets and lockable door. Their darkroom is fully dark and they have a video room with two large screens, a play area, dark area and glory holes. They have special themed days through the week, including a naked day on Wednesday.

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.

FESTIVAL FROLICS

Assembly's George Square Gardens
Assembly's George Square Gardens
Photo: OutUK
The best time to go to the Scottish capital is definitely during the Edinburgh Festival in August. In fact the month sees 12 festivals going on all 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.
With so many 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. Although still recovering from the effects of the pandemic they will be staging shows for 27 days from Wednesday 3rd August to the Bank Holiday Monday the 29th.
Amongst the gay offerings this year are Jinkx Monsoon, RuPaul's Drag Race legend, comedienne, and singer in She's Still Got It! With Major Scales. Cabaret drag star Seayonce and a hysterical spiritual medium helmed by comedian Dan Wye are in a show Res-Erection, complete with some theatrics, musical numbers, audience interaction and innuendo. Jinkx Monsoon
Jinkx Monsoon
Photo: Assembly Festival
Also worth seeing is Tom Detrinis : I Hate New York in a gay-tastic solo debut from a self-professed rage-a-holic. It's a non-stop, hilarious litany of grievances, with his singular views on everything from NYC, his huge family, cheese and himself.

There's lots for you to enjoy and the key to getting the most from the festival is to plan your timetable in advance. Leave yourself plenty of time between shows to navigate your way from one venue to another and make sure you enjoy something to eat or drink on the way.

STAY

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 less than 5 hours by LNER. There are some deals to be had online if you catch less popular trains.

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

CC Blooms (23-24 Greenside Place; T: +44 131 556 9331; Website)
Habana (22 Greenside Place; T: +44 131 558 1270; Website)
LGBT Health and Wellbeing (4 Duncan Place, Leith; Website)
Planet Bar & Kitchen (6 Baxter's Place; Website)
Pride Edinburgh (Website)
Regent Bar (2 Montrose Terrace; T: +44 131 661 8198; Website)
Steamworks Sauna Edinburgh (5 Broughton Market; T: +44 131 477 3567; Website)
The Street (2b Picardy Place; T: +44 131 556 4272; Website)

Revised July 2022.

 

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