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Edinburgh International Festival goes outdoors

Old College Quad venue

Pavilion at Old College quad

Edinburgh International Festival is going outdoors in a “reimagined festival’ for 2021 which marks the return of live performance to the capital. 

Taking place from 7 to 29 August, the 2021 edition will see performances in bespoke outdoor venues to safely reunite artists and audiences.

A selection of performance spaces across the city will include three temporary outdoor pavilions designed especially for live performance.

Venues include Edinburgh Park and the University of Edinburgh’s Old College Quad and will feature covered concert stages and socially distanced seating. 

The International Festival is working with the Scottish Government, City of Edinburgh Council and other relevant authorities to implement appropriate Covid safety measures. 


These include shorter performances with no intervals, physical distancing, regular cleaning, and contactless ticketing. Full details of the Festival’s security measures will be published in the coming months. 

As part of an ongoing commitment to accessibility, the International Festival will release a selection of high-quality streamed performances free of charge during each week of the Festival, for audiences in Edinburgh and around the world to enjoy from home.  

Full details of the 2021 programme, which spans opera, orchestral and chamber music, theatre and contemporary music, will be announced on Wednesday 2 June before general booking opens on Friday 11 June. 

Edinburgh Park venue

Fergus Linehan, director at Edinburgh International Festival, said:   “Edinburgh’s summer festivals were officially cancelled almost exactly a year ago. Today, we are delighted to announce that in August 2021 the Edinburgh International Festival will return to live performance.  

“While there are still uncertainties ahead, we are confident that this programme will give us the very best chance of delivering a season of live performance from 7 – 29 August. All our planning will be led by the advice we continue to receive from our partners in Government. 

“We appreciate that these first steps back to live performances will be for audiences closer to home but are delighted to offer a parallel programme of digital work for those further afield.

“We are hugely grateful to the artists who have agreed to come on this journey with us, the stakeholders, donors, and sponsors who have stood by us through a tough year and our audiences who have cheered us along throughout. We look forward to sharing full details of the programme in early June.”

Councillor Donald Wilson, culture and communities convener, said:  “After the challenging year we’ve all had and the disappointment of not being able to enjoy the festival in the usual way last year, it will be fantastic for audiences to share in the live performance experience again with an exceptional outdoor pavilions programme for local audiences alongside the Festival’s online offering.  “

Fergus Linehan

Fergus Linehan, pictured in 2019: ‘these are first steps’ (pic: Terry Murden)

Iain Munro, chief executive, Creative Scotland, said:  “We look forward with anticipation to audiences being welcomed back to live Edinburgh International Festival performances, safely and within the appropriate guidelines.  

“Scotland’s art and creative sector has been hit hard by Covid-19 and its effects continue to have an impact, however, it has been truly remarkable how artists and creative organisations across Scotland have adapted to continue to deliver creative work for audiences.   

Liz McAreavey, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: “This is tremendous news for the city. Last year the Festivals created innovate digital offerings but there is no substitute for the excitement generated by live events. We now hope our other festivals, including the Fringe and the Tattoo, can also return.

“Edinburgh’s festivals are vital to the city’s economic, cultural and social health, to our tourism and hospitality sectors, and play a major role in maintaining and enhancing Edinburgh’s reputation as an outward focused, international city.

“They generate hundreds of millions of pounds for the economies of Edinburgh, Scotland and the UK, and they support thousands of jobs in our creative industries sector, so this is news which our business community will support and welcome.”

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