Visiting the Edinburgh International Science Festival

Edinburgh International Science Festival skyline

Edinburgh, you might not be aware, is a bit nuts about festivals. I was aware already of the yearly Edinburgh Fringe, and the Military Tattoo, and of course, the incredible New Years Eve celebration that is Hogmanay. But I had no idea that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the festivals that Edinburgh puts on throughout the year.

Edinburgh bills itself as the Festival City, and for good reason – they have no less than twelve festivals throughout the year! And there’s something for everything, from military celebrations, to books, to comedy – the list goes on.

But this post isn’t about those festivals. As the title suggests, this post is about the Edinburgh International Science Festival. Which, as you might guess, is all about celebrating science.

Over a period of two weeks, hundreds of science focused events happen at venues across the city. And, you might not know this, but Edinburgh really has some spectacular venues for events, of all sizes and shapes. In my mind, it’s pretty much the perfect city for festivals. I guess they figured so too.

Back to the Science Festival. We were invited to check out some of the events through the festival and see what we thought. Now, you might be thinking – science? Isn’t that going to be a series of dull lectures involving chalkboards and equations and, well, things you’d not be interested in?

The answer is no. Science is amazing. Everything comes from Science! How beer is made. How wine is made. How cocktails are made. Wait, I’m focusing on the alcohol. Photography! It’s all about the science. And there was a chance to learn about all these things at the Science Festival, which, incidentally, is the world’s oldest public science festival.

We picked a variety of events to attend, to get an idea of what was on, and who it might be for. We even managed to pick some things that were more educational, and less focused on drinking. Very noble of us. Here’s what we got up to:

Light Painting

The first event we attended was all about the art of Light Painting, which, if you’re not familiar with it, involves taking long exposure pictures of dark scenes, using light sources to “draw” in the air and create art.

Science Festival Edinburgh Light Workshop

This event was hugely popular with families, and other than parents, Jess and I were the only adults in the room. I have zero problem embracing my inner child, and we really enjoyed the session. We were all issued with five LED lights and batteries each, given a brief explanation and history of light painting (I had no idea Picasso was a big light painting fan!), and then we got to get on with light painting ourselves.

Being a well prepared photographer, I turned up with my own camera and tripod. Everyone else in the room got to share three tripods and cameras, which they all seemed more than happy to do. Our host explained some different techniques and things to try, and off we went!

Science Festival Edinburgh Light Workshop

I have to admit, I’m terrible at drawing. I’m even worse at light painting, where you can’t really see what you’re doing. But we had a lot of fun anyway, even if the efforts by the majority of the five year olds in the room eclipsed our scribblings. Still, we had a lot of fun, and got some funky photos to reward our efforts. Plus, we got to keep the LED lights and batteries. Win!

Learning About Mountains

From one extreme to the other – our next stop on our tour was a lecture by Professor Martin Price on Mountains. I’m a big fan of mountains. You can walk up them. You can take pictures of them. They don’t complain if you expose their less flattering side. Basically, what’s not to love about mountains. Here’s a picture of a mountain I took in Scotland for proof of how awesome they are.

mountains road scotland highlands glencoe clouds - scaled

Back to the lecture, which was about the most serious science event that we attended during our Science Festival tour. It was a fascinating talk all about the importance of mountains, how we can use them as indicators of things like climate change, and what the world is doing to help preserve and conserve them. Lots of data, lots of facts, all presented brilliantly by a man who clearly knew his stuff.

Edinburgh International Science Festival Mountains lecture

Sure, sitting in a lecture hall watching a presentation isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but my point is, the Science Festival really does cover all its bases when it comes to interests!

Tiny Homes

I lived in a three man tent for a year in Australia. And by three man, I mean, if you stacked them on top of each other, you might have fit three people in there. That experience taught me that we might not *need* a lot of room to live in, but heck, it sure is nice.

Tiny home Edinburgh International Science Festival

Still, I do appreciate great design, maximising the use of space, and the practical realities of our ever growing population. Plus the fact that some people really want to live in a really small space, whilst not eschewing all the trappings of modern civilisation like you might in say, a tent.

Scott Monument view from Tiny Home Edinburgh International Science Festival

Enter the Tiny Home. This is a movement to make homes that are, er, tiny. They make excellent use of space, are often portable, and obviously, are rather efficient in terms of heating. In disaster scenarios, there are also some models that can be flat packed and assembled in minutes.

Tiny homes Edinburgh International Science Festival

The purpose of all this rambling about Tiny Homes, is that there was an outdoor exhibit on Tiny Homes, slap bang in the center of Edinburgh. This was very popular, with a variety of Tiny Homes on display that we could explore. Which we did. I’m still not convinced I want to downsize that much, but I do very much appreciate how clever the interior designers are!

Playing with Wind

From the Tiny Home Exhibit, we wandered through the streets of Edinburgh (never a chore) until we got to the National Museum of Scotland. This is a fantastic museum to visit anyway, but was made a bit more sciencey during the festival thanks to some interactive exhibits.

Edinburgh International Science Festival

Jess had a go with the wind simulator, where a fan blows air on you and you have to estimate the wind strength. This, it turned out, was somewhat harder than it might seem.

Edinburgh International Science Festival wind tunnel 2

There was some science involved of course – after failing to predict the strength of the wind to any degree of accuracy, we then learnt how much energy a wind farm could generate were the air moving at that speed. It turned out, quite a lot.

Science Flavored Beer

Now then. Onto the really exciting stuff. There’s a micro-brewery in Edinburgh called Barney’s Beer, based in a building called Summerhall, which does a special edition beer just for the Science Festival. So, you can see just how serious this festival is, to have its own beer. The beer in question is called Binary Star, and we dropped in to the brewery to meet Barney himself, who talked us through the making of the beer.

Barneys Beer Edinburgh International Science Festival

Admittedly, this isn’t on the standard calendar of events, but you can definitely drop into the bar at Summerhall, splendidly named the Royal Dick, (which also serves excellent food), and drink some of it. And to be honest, that’s the main thing, right?

Food Royal Dick Pub Edinburgh

Uncanny Valley

Back to the stuff that’s aimed at kids! One of Edinburgh’s annual festivals is the Imaginate Festival, a festival of the performing arts for children and young people. The Imaginate team partnered up with the Edinburgh Science Festival to put together a show called “Uncanny Valley”, an interactive show which aims to explore the line between human beings and robots, and see how blurry it can be.

Imaginate Uncanny Valley Edinburgh International Science Festival

This show was sold out on every day it was on, so rather than see it, we had a backstage chat with some of the actors involved, who put on a mini show for us. It was, to put it mildly, rather entrancing stuff, particularly “OKAY” the robot, who was both delightful and hilarious at the same time. If you’ve got kids, I would suggest that the Imaginate Festival should definitely be on your list!

Wine

And, finally, the last stop of our Science Festival adventure. Well, almost. We’ve got a cocktail tasting session coming up too, but Jess is going to be telling you about that. The last one I’m going to tell you about is this, our evening titled “Adventures in Viticulture”.

Which included wine tasting. What’s not to love?

Wine tasting  Edinburgh International Science Festival

Strictly aimed at adults, this event also took place in Summerhall, and featured three guest speakers, each with a unique perspective on wine and vineyards – a wine seller, an expert in the technology of wine growing, and a chap who is trying (currently, not hugely successfully) to grow wine in Scotland.

I have to say, it was this last chap who was particularly hilarious, taking us through his adventures in trying to make drinkable wine in what could best be described as a challenging climate. He freely admitted that he’d not had any success as yet, but his enthusiasm didn’t appear to be dampened one bit by such minor details as producing nothing drinkable.

Wine tasting Edinburgh International Science Festival

And that pretty much summarises our experience at the Edinburgh Science Festival. Now, let’s ask ourselves the question:

Is the Edinburgh International Science Festival For You?

Yes.

Ok, I should probably elaborate a bit. With hundreds of events to choose from, there really is going to be something you’ll enjoy. There are family friendly events, adult themed events, events aimed at kids that grown-ups are also going to enjoy, events if you’re really interested in serious science… the list goes on!

Edinburgh International Science Festival Summerhall

 

The Essentials

Planning on visiting the Edinburgh International Science Festival? Here are some things to know:

  • The Edinburgh Science Festival runs annually at the end of March and beginning of April. For dates, check the official website
  • Some events are free, but many are ticketed and have an associated price. They tend to sell out, so it’s advisable to book in advance. You can book online, by phone or in person, and there are usually early bird discounts as well as the usual concessions. Find out more at the booking information page.
  • Events take place all across the city, at a variety of venues. Edinburgh is a very walkable city, so you usually won’t have more than a half hour walk, but if that’s too much, Edinburgh has an excellent public transport network, as well as Uber and traditional taxis.
  • If you’re planning on staying in Edinburgh, find the best hotel deals here.
  • Looking for more to do in Edinburgh? Read my post on the Essential Sights in Edinburgh!
  • And of course, don't forget to check out Jess's post on the Edinburgh International Science Festival, which also has a lot of detail on the other festivals in Edinburgh!

And that’s it! Have you ever visited the Edinburgh Science Festival, or would you consider doing so in the future? Let us know in the comments below”

Note: We were invited to experience the Edinburgh Science Festival in partnership with Visit Scotland and Festivals Edinburgh, who arranged our transport, event entry fees and expenses, in return for us sharing our thoughts here. All those thoughts remain our own. Check out our code of ethics for more on who we work with.




Liked this post? Here's something related: