Come August, if you live in Edinburgh and have a spare room larger then a broom cupboard, you're laughing. Paint it black, borrow some chairs, slip the fire officers a fiver and, hey presto, it's an "intimate" new fringe venue. Can't afford the paint? No problem. There's room enough for an entire student theatre company to sleep there. (Rotational breathing, probably, but don't tell them that.)

Yes, the good old Edinburgh Festival is with us once again. Once upon a time, this was a carefully selected parade of upmarket events. Well, that's still there but it's surrounded by a positively bewildering array of everything else you can think of. The book festival is alive with author signings; the film and TV festival is a dead cert for outrageous assertions and media bun-fights at the industry's annual conference; and then there's the International Festival itself, celebrating its 50th birthday year.

Peter Stein brings in another landmark staging of Chekhov (this year it's his wildly acclaimed The Cherry Orchard from the '95 and '96 Salzburg festivals). World-class singers like Bryn Terfel and Jane Eaglen make rare appearances, and anyone with any mind at all offers to sleep with the box-office staff in order to lay their hands on a ticket for Twyla Tharp's new company or for anything with the name Mark Morris attached. (More opportunities then usual this year as not only is the great man presenting his dancers in his production of Rameau's opera Plate, but the San Francisco ballet are over with a mixed bill including his piece Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes).

Yet for thousands of visitors, the sole excitement is the Fringe. In the course of almost four weeks you can throw caution to the winds and race to get into the 200 venues presenting over 1,000 productions, ranging from A A Milne's Winnie The Pooh to Zero via Kissing The Goldfish, The Man In The Welsh Lunatic Asylum and the superbly performed It's Uncanny by The Weird Sisters.

Added to which is the totally serious business of hanging out. Students tend to get legless in the Fringe Club; the Assembly Rooms, once the temple of cool, now resembles a mobile-phone warehouse and has been put firmly in its place by the Traverse. Not only does the latter have a cracking theatre programme, with Caryl Churchill's new play and Philip Howard's revival of David Harrower's marvellous Knives in Hens, but its vast, relaxed, friendly bar is The Place to Be.