Skip to content


Edinburgh city profile | city data
  • The city’s major Festivals are collectively one of the biggest ticketed events in the world
  • A recent public consultation process, ‘Desire Lines,’ identified an enabling approach to the city’s cultural provision as a fundamental requirement for on-going development and success
  • Culture is one of the pillars of a City Region Deal bid for regional devolution that, if successful, will bring significant infrastructure investment to Edinburgh and 5 partner local authorities in the south east of Scotland

City data: Key facts

  • Geographical area: 263 sq. km
  • Total population: 492,680
  • Percentage of total national population living in the city: 9.2%
  • Education level – percentage with degree level or higher: 56.30%
  • GDP (PPP) million: $26,612
  • Percentage creative industries employment: 4.20%

Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital, and its second most populous city. Since the 12th century Edinburgh Castle has stood on the dramatic crag of Castle Rock, and around it grew up the city’s architecturally striking, densely settled Old Town.

By the 15th century Edinburgh had become the capital of Scotland and it remains today a leading centre of learning, known for its advanced educational system and medical and scientific skills and research. The Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century was shaped by leading thinkers such as David Hume and Adam Smith, and during this period the neo-classical New Town was built. Together with the Old Town it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today Edinburgh is a city of just under 500,000 people. It has been shaped neither by the heavy industry of Glasgow nor the oil wealth of Aberdeen, but by it’s core role as a business, cultural, learning and scientific centre as well as Scotland’s political capital. Six out of the top 10 most visited attractions in Scotland during 2015 are based in Edinburgh. Its population is growing rapidly, projected to increase by 24% between 2015 and 2037. The workforce is amongst the most educated in the UK, with 55% holding a degree level qualification.

At the centre of Edinburgh’s cultural life are its major Festivals, which take place annually. An international cultural brand, the Festivals and their cultural context of strong year round activity and events, place this relatively small city on the world stage. Taken together the festivals are one of the biggest ticketed events in the world, selling almost 2.3 million tickets for 50,000 events in 2015. In a 2016 study on the economic impact of Edinburgh’s major festivals was estimated at £280 million. This represented a 19% increase on the previous figure reported in 2010.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe began as an unofficial fringe event to the first Edinburgh International Festival in 1947. It is the largest Fringe Festival in the world. It remains open, meaning that anyone can participate, with any type of event. 2017 will be celebrated as the 70th Anniversary Year of Edinburgh as the Festival City.

Edinburgh is also a city with a strong year-round cultural offer. Its live music scene, exclusive of the Festivals, is worth £40m per year. It is also home to three National Galleries, Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum of Scotland, and the National War Museum

During the recent development of a new Culture Plan, the city carried out an extensive consultation process, culminating in the major public element managed by the cultural sector itself, and drawing over 600 active participants. This public process, ‘Desire Lines,’ identified five key aspirations for making Edinburgh a culturally successful city, including greater partnership working, investing in artist development, and taking an enabling approach to cultural regulation and provision.

Public budget pressures mean that the city must find at least £148m in annual recurring savings by 2019/20. This of course impacts on the resources available to festivals and events in the city.

New funding opportunities may be provided by the aforementioned City Region Deal. Edinburgh and five neighbouring local authorities have come together to bid for regional funding from the Scottish and UK governments. If successful this would result in a substantial infrastructure investment programme. Culture is one of the three key pillars of the bid, highlighting its strategic importance to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is home to the Scottish Parliament which was established in 1999. This represented the first time that law making powers were given to Scotland since 1707. The Scottish Parliament gathered further worldwide attention in 2014 during the referendum on Scottish independence. Although the Scottish people narrowly voted against leaving the United Kingdom, the recent ‘Brexit’ vote – in which Scotland voted to remain in the European Union, unlike the UK voting pattern as a whole – has highlighted Scotland’s sense of identity and perspective in an international context.

Edinburgh is a centre of Scottish culture. Its Festivals are known internationally, making a massive contribution to the city’s cultural life and its popularity as a tourist destination. Although the cultural and economic impact of recent political developments remain to be seen, it is clear that they offer Edinburgh the opportunity to reshape and reimagine its identities as a Scottish, UK and European city.