42 things to do around Edinburgh this August

Last updated: Tuesday, 6 August 2019

During August, all eyes are on Edinburgh as the world descends on the city for the festivals.

Dancers_at_the_Edinburgh_Festival_Fringe_original_1_originalThousands of events take place all over the city to celebrate the arts – from classical music, to children’s books, to circus to poetry to comedy… the list goes on.

One of the best things about the festival is that you can enjoy so much of it for free. Street performances take place all over the city and there’s even a dedicated Free Fringe Festival.

In honour of our recently introduced 42-minute Glasgow to Edinburgh eXpress rail service, we’ve put together 42 things to do in and around our Capital this month. It includes the free events taking place in the city and a few ideas of other things to do if you need a moment to step away from the crowds.

Free events

  • The BBC sets up a hub in the heart of the city with lots of outdoor seating, games and a bar. There are lots of free tickets to shows and filming throughout the festival. Take a look here for what’s available.
  • PBH The Free Fringe – there’s a whole festival dedicated to free performances taking place between 3 - 25 August. With events covering dance, comedy, music, magic, common word and much more, there’s a free event for everyone!
  • Free Fringe Festival – the official Free Fringe has a fantastic array of free shows covering every genre. It runs from 1 - 25 August all day, every day with 410 different shows.
  • Edinburgh International Book Festival – entry into the Book Village is free and it’s a lovely place to relax with lots of outdoor seating. It’s open 10 - 26 August from 09:30 until midnight. There are lots of free events including talks, signings and kids activities.
  • Free classical music concerts at the National Museum of Scotland. Taking place at 14:05 between 3 – 25 August, with some of the very best Scottish young musicians performing.
  • Free festival-friendly walking tour . Explore Edinburgh on foot with Little Fish Tours, taking place at 10:30 and 13:30 during the whole of August. Lasts around two hours.
  • Escape the bustle of the Royal Mile and relax with some music. The Cathedral lunchtime concerts take place at St Mary’s Cathedral at 13:10 every Monday to Saturday throughout August.
  • While away an evening with fantastic live acoustic music at Live at the Grassmarket , Biddy Mulligans from 19:00 on 3 August.
  • Stand-Up Philosophy at The Counting House between 1 - 25 August at 15:00. “It’s like stand-up comedy - but philosophical” hosted by philosopher/comedian Charlie Duncan Saffrey.
  • Cathedral Coffee concerts 5 - 7 August St Mary’s Cathedral – pianist John Bryden plays classical music.
  • Virgin Money Fireworks Concert – while you can pay to go into the Gardens, you can also watch and listen for free from Princes Street. An awesome fireworks show accompanied by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. One evening only - 26 August at 21:00.
  • The West End Fair arrives at St John’s Market in the ground of St John’s Church for a month of fantastic crafts, art and design. Takes place between 3 – 25 August.
  • Take a walk down the Royal Mile – you’ll find lots of street performers with magicians, show snippets, acrobats, musicians and a whole lot more. Start at Edinburgh Castle and work your way down to Holyrood Palace.
  • Unbound with Edinburgh Gin at the Book Festival is a nightly literary event for over 18s. Starting at 21:00, relax with a drink and an evening of magic with words. Runs every night from Sunday 11 until 26 August.
  • Keep the little ones happy with lots of free events purely for kids – from theatre to ceilidh, to science and entertaining maths, there’s a fantastic selection to get everyone smiling.

Step away from the hustle and bustle

  • Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh – Stretch your legs with a 25-minute walk from the city centre or hop on the Number 8 bus to the relaxing gardens. Free to enter, it’s a lovely way to while away a few hours.
  • Climb Arthur’s Seat – Pack water and snacks, then head up this ancient volcano for some smashing views. Be sure to wear proper footwear.
  • Scottish National Gallery – Enjoy some of the best fine art masterpieces in the world.
  • National Museum of Scotland – you could easily spend a day exploring all of the exhibitions. Be sure to visit the Rooftop viewing terrace for great views over the castle.
  • Walk up Calton Hill for great views over the city and the River Forth.
  • Find peace and quiet in Dean Village – a five minute walk from the west end of Princes Street, situated on the Water of Leith.
  • From Dean Village, walk along the Water of Leith to Stockbridge. A lovely, relaxing walk before arriving in the charming suburb filled with great cafes, restaurants and shops.
  • Wander down Leith Walk past independent cafés and shops into Leith, home to The Shore area and the Royal Yacht Britannia.
  • Escape to the seaside by hopping on a bus to Portobello . Wander the promenade, play on the slots and enjoy an ice cream.


  • Mary’s Milk Bar, Grassmarket – It’s a given that you’ll have to queue but the gelato here is worth the wait. Plus, there’s bound to be some great chat in the queue. You never know where you might pick up your next show recommendation.
  • Bon Papillon , 15 Howe Street - Step away from the bustle with a ten-minute walk away from Princes Street to refuel at this lovely art gallery and café. You’ve got to try their scones!
  • Feeling flush? The Michelin-starred restaurant The Kitchin in Leith serves outstanding Scottish produce. You’ll need to book in advance as it’s already filling up for August.
  • Put together a picnic from M&S on Princes Street to enjoy in Princes Street Gardens. With the castle as a backdrop it’s one of the best places to stop and relax in the city centre.
  • Lovecrumbs – a five minute walk from the Usher Hall, this quirky cafe is packed with great cakes, great coffee and a great atmosphere. During the festival, they’ll have a bar service too.

Great value attractions - show your train ticket for a discount

Escape the city altogether

  • Experience another festival, this time by the sea in North Berwick – home to the Fringe by the Sea which runs from 2 - 11 August. A smaller arts festival with the added bonus of fresh sea air and an abundance of fish and chips. Hop on the train out to the coast.
  • Take the train to Glasgow. With the quickest journeys taking just 42 minutes, you can escape the crowds of Edinburgh quickly. Here are some ideas for what to do in Glasgow .
  • Hop on the train to Dalmeny to enjoy the views of the iconic bridges across the Forth. If you’ve got a head for heights take a walk across the Forth Road Bridge or for a more sedate option, enjoy a boat cruise .
  • Take a ride on Scotland’s newest railway line with a trip to the Borders. There are lots of lovely towns to explore plus some great attractions including Abbotsford House and Floors Castle .
  • The Falkirk Wheel , just half an hour by train from Edinburgh is a feat of Scottish engineering. Enjoy a walk around the beautiful grounds and along the canal or take a boat ride to experience the boat lift for yourself. Get off the train at Camelon for a 20-minute walk to the Wheel, or alight at Falkirk Grahamston to get a bus from the city centre.
  • For Outlander fans, Linlithgow Palace is a must - it was the setting for Wentworth Prison where Jamie is imprisoned. The palace was once a favoured royal residence of the Stewart Kings and Queens. If you fancy a longer Outlander Itinerary, find out more here .
  • Take the train to Stirling – visit the castle and the nearby Wallace Monument for an insight to Scottish history.

Whatever you choose to do this August in Edinburgh, we hope you have a fantastic time. Don’t forget, we have help points at all stations if you need some assistance and there will be lots of staff around. Our social media team are also available from 05:30 until midnight and are always happy to help.

Want to find out more about what's on at the festivals and get travel advice?
Visit our festivals webpage