(Reuters) - The Edinburgh Fringe Festival swung into exuberant action on Friday as 21,000 performers ranging from street buskers and mimes to top-class singers, actors and cabaret stars set out to entertain in a city whose population doubles in size over the coming month.
The free-spirited Fringe, the Edinburgh International Festival, the International Book Festival, the military tattoo and major art exhibitions combine in the world's biggest annual arts festival.
The Scottish capital, with a population of around 470,000, virtually doubles in size over the coming weeks. The hoteliers association said its 40 members reported that most of the available 145,000 rooms were taken. A report commissioned by Scotland's festivals said they brought some 250 million pounds ($410 million) to the country's economy annually.
Buskers, magicians, acrobats and brightly clad actors promoting their shows crowded Edinburgh's historic Royal Mile in bright sunshine on Friday, after heavy rain the previous day.
The military tattoo, whose pipe bands and military performances expect to attract 220,000 spectators for its three-week run from Friday through to August 27, has spent 16 million pounds on revamping its seating and facilities on the esplanade of the Castle, which dominates the city's skyline.
The 2,542 shows scheduled for this year's Fringe range from one-person events tucked away in back alleys to world-class comedy, theater and song.
Cabaret has returned this year to feature in the programme. There is also a "free Fringe" in which more than 500 shows can be seen without charge.
The Fringe, which started as an adjunct to the International Festival founded in 1947 as an antidote to the austere days after World War Two, has also given many stars of comedy and theater their first break over the years.
Fringe director Kath Mainland said one reason performers flocked to the city was for the chance of catching the eye of impresarios, talent scouts and agents who gather from around the world in the search of new talent and acts.
The International Festival, with a strong Asian theme this year, runs from August 12 to September 4, and the book festival from August 13 to 29.