With a range of major annual events bringing talent from across the globe, turning the capital of Scotland into a vibrant stage for global entertainment, debates and the performing arts. Living North made the trip to experience a family-friendly festival.
Spanning the length of the summer half-term break, the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival is well worth making the trip with little ones in tow. The 30th edition of the festival, which takes place 25th May–2nd June, promises to be another spectacular event with Festival Director Noel Jordan saying: ‘This year children and young people will again have a unique opportunity to see some of the world’s best theatre and dance. Take a voyage from a retro kitchen into outer space with a nod to the first female astronaut, or marvel at the determination of triplet sisters as they journey separately around the globe. Whatever your choice, you can be confident the works will be diverse, challenging and enthralling. Shows that will encourage children to be critical thinkers with curious minds, whilst making them laugh, gasp and cry.’
Living North made the trip for the 2018 festival as a family of four, with an excited seven and five year old, which began with the scenic east coast train journey up to Edinburgh. As you emerge from Waverley station your view is dominated by the imposing Castle – a sharp reminder that this city is a proud one, steeped in history – but as you explore, it becomes clear it’s also a place where the history is mixed with all the offerings of a modern and vibrant capital city. A five-minute taxi ride takes us to our accommodation, The Leonardo Royal Hotel in the Haymarket area, which is a nicely appointed, modern hotel and the perfect base for our exploring. Bags dropped and after a little freshen up, we make the walk from the hotel into the city centre, taking roughly 20 minutes (at a five year old’s leisurely pace) and arrive on the famous Royal Mile.
Festival aside, Edinburgh has a lot to offer families. One top attraction is Camera Obscura & World of Illusions. Situated near the top of the Royal Mile it is Edinburgh’s oldest visitor attraction, with its illusions, tricks, puzzles, hands-on experiences and effects that culminate in the rooftop chamber. Here, a guide leads us through the workings of the Camera Obscura. We watch as an image appears on the viewing table and are led through a real time adventure around (and over) this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Heading back to the ground floor the fun continues with ‘Bewilderworld’ which truly scrambles our senses with Mirror Mazes, a Vortex Tunnel and a fluorescent pendulum. This attraction really is good fun and brilliant for the kids’ inquisitive minds – most of the attractions are interactive, so they are encouraged to learn new things along the way.
It’s now early evening and our attention is turning to food – which for our party means less fine dining and more pizza with puzzle pads and crayons while you wait. It takes us all of five minutes to find somewhere that suits us! With everyone full and happy we head back to base to recharge so we are ready to immerse ourselves in the Children’s Festival the following day.
We’ve decided a trip to Edinburgh is not complete without a visit to the Castle. Billed as one of the most exciting historic sites in Western Europe, it’s an unforgettable experience where you can freely explore the grounds, including The Great Hall, St Margaret’s Chapel (Edinburgh’s oldest building), the Prisons Of War and the Crown Jewels. Everything is accompanied with information points and the emphasis throughout is on learning about the history within the walls – another brilliant experience for young and older minds alike. Don’t forget to peer out from the walls looking down over Edinburgh, surely the best views of the city you will get?
Back to the reason for our visit and after a short walk from the Castle we arrive at the iconic National Museum of Scotland. Each year the Children’s International Festival opens with a family day here with free drop-in events throughout the building (including live music, pop-up performances, storytelling and hands-on activities). The children are free to explore and are encouraged to interact with the various ongoing performances and activities. Imaginate (who produce the Children’s Festival) are the national organisation which promotes, develops and celebrates theatre and dance for children and young people in Scotland, and it’s impressive to see how freely the kids engage in this creative environment. Besides everything that happens here as the Festival opens, a special mention is deserved for the National Museum of Scotland in its own right. It’s a magnificent museum with diverse collections that take you on a journey of discovery through the history of Scotland and around the world, taking in the wonders of nature, art, design, fashion, science and technology all under one roof, with plenty of interactive learning along the way. Whilst wandering you are reminded of the festival as you become unwittingly involved in one of the pop-up performances that are set within the museum’s surroundings. Never mind the children, it’s all delivered so well that you can’t help but enjoy yourself.
If you have any questions about the upcoming Festival programme, a pop-up box office at the opening event at the museum is where you will find your answers. Numerous festival staff are on hand to advise and help out, and you can also book tickets here for any of the performances in the festival programme. A little tip: be sure to ask where the performances will be staged as some may be outside of the city centre and require a short journey. We booked tickets to two performances for the following day to take in before we headed home. Both were superb. Engaging, funny and thought provoking – and both the kids sat mesmerised throughout.
The 2019 festival truly is an International programme with 15 productions from eight different countries. Including two brand new commissions, the festival will showcase a range of shows suitable for all – from toddlers to teenagers. As has come to be expected from this festival, productions are all highly visual and deeply engaging. Whether it’s an acrobatic circus-dance for toddlers (Three Legs), a stage full of floating foam sculpted to reveal mysterious characters (The Little Bath), a magical family show featuring an invisible man (The Invisible Man) or a superhero who doesn’t feel up to the job anymore (Super Human Hero), audiences are in for a treat.
We talked a lot with the kids on the way home – and they had loved their entire trip. Put simply, they had taken it all in their stride, and I dare say it was the two adults who were having a harder time processing it all (in a good way), which goes to show this environment is ideal for young, open minds that are eager to learn and engage, and can only have a positive impact on their development.