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Edinburgh Festivals, Edinburgh

Scotland's insider take:

Edinburgh becomes an altogether different, wilder animal during the festival—well, festivals, to be precise. The edgy Fringe (comedy, contemporary music, theater, and dance), the highbrow Edinburgh International Festival (classical music, theater, opera, and dance), the Edinburgh Art Festival, and the International Book Festival, all run concurrently through August. The International Film Festival was moved to June in 2008, although there are suggestions that it may move back.

The Fringe is the world's largest arts fest on its own, and a full-on party from beginning to end, thanks in part to the 17,000 artists and performers who decamp here from all over the world. (The population doubles, so book accommodations as early as possible and expect inflated rates.) The Fringe is open to all "performers," so quality can range from the unwatchable (students from the back of beyond massacring Shakespeare) to the outstanding (Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, and Craig Ferguson all got their start here). There are also niche performances that you'll have to see to believe, like a retelling of Ovid's Metamorphoses performed in a swimming pool. Look to The Scotsman, London's Guardian, and Edinburgh arts and entertainment magazine The List to ensure that you don't book a dud. For more sober arts fans, the EIF is a full-on culture fix, with performances that might include all of Beethoven's string quartets over three days, Wagner's complete Ring Cycle, and an American Repertory Theater production of Chekhov's Three Sisters. There's less fanfare around the book, art; and film festivals, but they're not poor relations: Year after year they turn out world-class programs. Start checking the festival Web sites in June, and book early.

For a completely different view of the city, try Edinburgh's Hogmanay or New Year celebrations, which attract tens of thousands of revelers from all over the world. A street party, torchlight processions, riotous ceilidhs, fireworks over Edinburgh Castle, and open-air concerts featuring bands such as Primal Scream, Kasabian, and the Scissor Sisters all help ring in the New Year.—Update by Jonathan Trew

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.