Edinburgh Festival

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The complaints about the world's biggest, busiest arts festival are well-rehearsed: 'Nowhere to stay.' 'Not what it was.' 'Too big.' 'Too busy.' They'll be trotted out again over the next three weeks as around a million people crowd into Scotland's capital city. But why do the visitors keep coming back? And why are the media so fixated with what is, after all, only one of 500 or so arts festivals held in Britain each year? The answer is that despite the grumbles, Edinburgh is still special. Where else will people sleep in their cars because they can't find a hotel room but can't bear to miss out? Where else does a show go on in front of two people . . . one person . . . no one? Where else might you see Lea De Laria, Robert Lepage, Bertrand Tavernier, Alfred Brendel, Frank Skinner and The Fall all in the same crush bar? Glasgow may have its Mayfest, and Cannes its Palme d'Or, but nothing can compare with Edinburgh's infinite variety. This year, the Fringe programme alone offers 9,229 performers, 466 plays and 45 musicals. And if you can't find something there, you can always try the International Festival, the Jazz Festival, the Film Festival, the Military Tattoo . . . A definitive guide to all this would, of course, be a contradiction in terms. But we hope the next 15 pages will be of some use.