With flags flying and to the skirl of bagpipes, the International Festival explodes upon Edinburgh tomorrow. The tourist beat of the Royal Mile becomes a backdrop to troops of Fringe performers, with chorus- lines bursting into impromptu song-and-dance along the pavements. Weirdly dressed self-publicists press leaflets and extravagant claims upon anyone who will listen. Because it is all a bit of fun, normally sane citizens and shoppers tend to humour them. In Princes Street below, the piazza outside the art galleries is filled with a seething mass of musicians, buskers and crowds out and about for a good time.

The Festival and Fringe can be an exhausting round of exhibitions, opera, drama and street theatre. Even the most celebrated luvvie, or the youngest hopeful, let alone the visitors, locals and culture-vultures - all have to recharge their batteries. Edinburgh's cafes have a lively trade. All human life is here and an exuberant, almost Glasgow-like camaraderie prevails.

Edinburgh's most popular watering holes are mainly around the medieval Old Town, the Georgian New Town and the urban village of Stockbridge. Those listed here are strong on home cooking and on vegetarian options; some are licensed and some have newspapers strung on sticks for visitors to read. Children are usually welcome. During the Festival, opening hours are often extended and there is also a blossoming of temporary cafes at Fringe venues: Cafe Mania was packed with customers last year; the Under Balcony Bar and Cafe looks as if it will be a good place to go people- watching this year.

When it comes to continental patisseries and late opening, the raffish Cafe Florentin near St Giles' Cathedral is the place for students and bohemian types. Both the cafe and its sister shop, Patisserie Florentin in Stockbridge, are supplied with croissants, quiches and delicious pastries from the company's bakery in town. The enterprise has been so successful that co-owner Lorna Pellet has been asked to run a Marquee Cafe beside the National Gallery of Scotland at The Mound.

Near Edinburgh Castle, Victoria Street is a steep curve of small, colourful shops. Walk under the sign of a bicycle, past the pungent cheesemonger to find another much-loved cafe. The strong aroma of coffee pervades Kinnell's House, which stocks 44 kinds of coffee and has a wide range of exotic teas. It has the look of an old, lived-in Scottish castle, with stone arches, red walls, jumble-sale furniture, careless bric-a-brac and ancient tartans. In its somewhat distressed garret of a bathroom it actually has a bath.

Downstairs is an old-fashioned grocery, stacked to the ceiling with provisions. The first-floor cafe, where salads, filled croissants and home-baked cakes are served, is a haunt of students, who say the place has good vibes - and claim that many poems and PhDs have been written here.

Dubious-looking but well- frequented stone stairs lead up from Victoria Street to Victoria Terrace. Those of a nervous disposition can approach 6 Victoria Terrace from busy George VI Bridge. Here is 6VT, a youth cafe which is a registered charity for Lothian 16- to 20-year-olds. During the Festival, 6VT will operate as a cafe for the general public.

From here it is only a few minutes' walk to the Old Quad of Edinburgh University. Nearby are the contrasting Cafe Lucia and Seeds. The former is on the ground floor of the newly opened glass-fronted Festival Theatre. On screens in the cafe, customers can watch and hear performances as they take place in the auditorium. Seeds is a vegan co-operative. Food is tasty, and erstwhile hippies can savour a sense of deja vu as they look at the arty photographs and oilcloth tablecovers.

Between the Old and New Town, perched above Waverley Station, is Acanthus. Once BR's parcel office, this busy cafe and bar offers 'international' food, from hamburgers to pasta dishes, but haggis is its bestseller.

Old Festival hands usually head for Hanover Street in the New Town for two basement cafes that have almost become Edinburgh institutions: Henderson's Salad Table and The Laigh Coffee House. Established in 1963 and still family-run, Henderson's is a vegetarian restaurant and cafe with all the right ingredients: home baking, organic vegetables, fresh salads, wine, newspapers and a lively yet laid-back atmosphere. It is a firm favourite with residents and visitors alike all year round but, contrary to popular belief,

it is not heaving with people all the time and no one should be

deterred by queues out on the pavement.

Across the road is The Laigh, complete with original flagstones, range, sink and small backyard. The salads, filled rolls, scones and home-made soup are excellent; the cakes, especially the coffee and walnut, superb. The clientele tends to be less colourful and more establishment than at Henderson's, and the newspapers in the rack reflect this.

Broughton Street, on the fringes of the New Town, has two cafes described as 'lesbian, gay and friends': The Edge and The Blue Moon Cafe. The Edge at the Gay and Lesbian Centre offers vegetarian food served in an airy, high-ceilinged room along with information and maps of interest to gay visitors. At The Blue Moon, the all-day breakfasts. are popular.

Edinburgh's cafes in museums, galleries and theatres tend to lack the intimacy of the smaller 'howffs'. A notable exception is The Queen Street Cafe at the National Portrait Gallery. There, a cosier space, reminiscent of an old tea-shop, has been created. The food is delicious (tasty salads, hot dishes with wonderful smells), but the glory is the decor. You will travel far before seeing finer paintings on a cafe wall. One of them, In the Queen Street Cafe, was painted by John Bellany.

Down in Stockbridge, Bib & Tucker, set beside the leafy Water of Leith, offers good home cooking. The chattering classes of the New Town fringes, meanwhile, are catered for at Patisserie Florentin. French flour is used in the mille-feuilles and other delicacies made at the Florentin bakery by Master Patissier Frederic Pellet from Lyons. Filled croissants, quiches and salad nicoise are offered as main courses.

Acanthus, 17 Waverley Bridge (031 556 2358). 10am-midnight.

Bib & Tucker, 2 Deanhaugh Street (031 332 1469). Usually 11am-5pm, 6.30-10pm; Sunday, noon-5pm.

Blue Moon, 36 Broughton Street (031 556 2788). 9.30am- midnight.

Cafe Florentin, 8 St Giles Street (031 225 6267). Weekdays, 7- 2am; weekends, 7-3am (possibly 24 hours, depending on licence).

Cafe Lucia, The Festival Theatre, 13-29 Nicolson Street (031 662 1112). 10am-midnight.

Cafe Mania, Roman Eagle Lodge, 2b Johnston Terrace (031 225 7995). 11-1am.

The Edge, 60 Broughton Street (031 556 0852). 10-1am

Henderson's, 94 Hanover Street (031 225 2131). 8am till late; Sunday, 9am-9pm.

Kinnell's, 36 Victoria Street (031 220 1150). 9am-10pm (at least); weekends, 9am till late, depending on customers.

The Laigh Coffee House, 121 Hanover Street (031 225 1552). Mon-Sat, from 8.30am-5pm or 6pm, depending on customers.

Patisserie Florentin, 5 North West Circus Place (031-220 0225). 8am-10pm.

The Queen Street Cafe, in the National Portrait Gallery, 1 Queen Street (031 557 2844). More or less gallery opening hours.

Seeds, 51-53 West Nicolson Street (031 667 8673). Mon-Sat, 10am-midnight. Sunday, probably the same.

6VT, 4-6 Victoria Terrace (031 220 2108). Daily, 10am-4.30pm; and for young people on Mon, Wed, Fri and Sat, 6-11pm.

Under Balcony Bar and Cafe, Assembly Rooms, George Street (031 220 4348). 11am-1am.

(Photograph omitted)