Edinburgh played host to the world's biggest cultural celebration this month, but with more than 4,000 events taking place at the Fringe alone, it was hard to know where to start. The BBC scoured the Fringe, International Festival, Book Festival and Art Festival to suggest some starting points.

Dazzling spectacles

From jaw-dropping circus feats to mesmerising modern dance and fantastic physical theatre, Edinburgh is never short of sights to astound you.

This year YouTube cycling sensation Danny MacAskill brought his gravity-defying tricks to Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows for Drop and Roll Live, and the Atomic Saloon Show - described as “Moulin Rouge meets Blazing Saddles and America's Got Talent meets Westworld” got its world premiere at Assembly George Square Gardens.

There was an international feel elsewhere, with French physical comedy Fishbowl arriving at the Pleasance Courtyard after a sold-out European tour; and Belgian dance show FrontX showcasing an ensemble of extraordinary street performers from around the world – including one-legged Iranian-Australian breakdancer Roya the Destroya – at Summerhall.

Contemporary dance was well represented too, with the Scottish premiere of The Chosen, from the acclaimed Company Chordelia, among the many Fringe highlights at Dance Base.

Radical reinventions

All manner of classic plays, books and films were adapted, rebooted and reimagined in Edinburgh this year, in events ranging from one-man shows to theatrical extravaganzas.

In The Crucible, Scottish Ballet turned Arthur Miller’s classic play about the 17th-century Salem witch trials into a gripping narrative ballet. The performances at Edinburgh Playhouse on 3-5 August was among the highlights of the company’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

Scottish Opera premiered US composer Missy Mazzoli’s adaptation of Lars von Trier’s controversial film Breaking the Waves at the King’s Theatre from 21-24 August, and the National Theatre’s Peter Gynt – David Hare’s raucous reboot of Ibsen’s epic play with Scottish actor James McArdle in the title role – came to the Festival Theatre from 1-10 August after receiving rave reviews in London.

Elsewhere, Eddie Izzard: Expectations of Great Expectations saw the comedian and actor showcase his work-in-progress performance of the Dickens novel at Assembly George Square Studios; and in Frankenstein: How to Make a Monster at the Traverse Theatre, the BAC Beatbox Academy took Mary Shelley’s book as the starting point for their tongue-twisting vocal gymnastics.

Stand-out stand-ups

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is synonymous with comedy, having long served as the ultimate proving ground for new talent as well as attracting the biggest names on the circuit.

This year was the usual embarrassment of riches, but among the highlights was Ahir Shah, who has been building an enviable reputation over the past couple of years and was poised to make the leap to panel show ubiquity.

At the same venue, Russian stand-up Olga Koch, one-time computer programming student and daughter of a former Soviet politician, returned with If/Then, “a feminist investigation into what happens when we can't separate love and technology” at Monkey Barrel; and Guilty Feminist podcast regular Alison Spittle staged her new show, Mother of God, at Gilded Balloon Teviot.

At the Pleasance Courtyard, Ciarán Dowd returned with Padre Rodolfo, a follow-up to his spoof-swashbuckler character Don Rodolfo, which bagged him the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Newcomer in 2018; and Michael Odewale - a finalist in last year’s BBC Introducing Radio 4 New Comedy Award - presented #BLACKBEARSMATTER, his take on the world of protest movements.

National treasures

Edinburgh offers a great opportunity to see some of Britain’s best-loved public figures up close.

At the Festival Theatre, Stephen Fry adapted his bestselling book Mythos into a trio of one-man stage shows from 19-25 August, which brought to life the gods, monsters and mortals of ancient Greece.

Two Bake Off favourites appeared at the Book Festival: uber-foodie Prue Leith launched her first recipe book for 25 years and shared some stories on 10 August, and comedian Sue Perkins talked about her book East of Croydon, charting her travels through India and South East Asia for a BBC documentary about the Mekong River, on 20 August.

Beloved actor Ian McKellen celebrated his 80th birthday by performing extracts from his iconic roles, from Lord of the Rings’ Gandalf to Shakespeare, as well as talking about his life and career. He was at Assembly Hall from 22-25 August. And revered Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker presented his experimental new project JARV IS at Leith Theatre on 22 August.

Musical magic

Whatever your taste in music, there was sure to be something to strike a chord in the Scottish capital this month.

The Edinburgh International Festival’s opening event is traditionally a spectacular one, and this year's was no different, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic performing at Tynecastle Park. Led by superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the LA Phil showcased the best of Hollywood - playing themes from Star Wars, Harry Potter, E.T. and many more.

In the somewhat more intimate setting of Summerhall on 25 August, Welsh post-punk Cate Le Bon played music from her Mercury Prize-nominated album Reward. Spoken word sensation Kate Tempest - herself twice a Mercury nominee - brought her poetic rap show to Leith Theatre on 9 August; and you may have seen legendary Scottish indie band Teenage Fanclub a week later at the same venue.

Meanwhile, comic James Acaster bridged the worlds of books, comedy and music when he introduced his memoir Perfect Sound Whatever at the Book Festival on 21 August. It was a love letter to the healing power of music, documenting a year in the wake of a break-up in which he listened only to albums released in 2016.

Big issues

As ever, plenty of Edinburgh shows addressed the major issues of the day - from Brexit and Trump to protest and discrimination.

Performance artist Travis Alabanza created the powerful and unsettling Burgerz show, which was staged at the Traverse, in response to a transphobic street attack. They told The Skinny recently: “In the UK we've had [...] an 81 percent increase in trans hate crime just from last year. When we're dealing with those statistics we need trans theatre to be loud, bold and present.”

Amazon has faced repeated criticism over the working conditions in its giant warehouses, and Fulfilment, at Underbelly, was a puppetry show that explored the price people really pay for next-day delivery. It's based on anonymous testimonies from real workers.

Hip hop artist, writer and social entrepreneur Akala was in conversation at Gilded Balloon Teviot from 2-6 August, discussing his acclaimed memoir Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, and DeRay Mckesson, the US activist who helped bring the Black Lives Matter movement into existence, appeared at the Book Festival on 11 August.

Also at the Book Festival, Stig Abell was joined by novelists Alexander McCall Smith and Kit de Waal on 9 August to discuss some of the era-defining books that featured in the BBC’s new season The Novels that Shaped Our World this autumn.

Amazing art

Beyond the culture you can see on stage, the Edinburgh Art Festival ensured the Scottish capital was also awash with visual art during August.

At Dovecot Studios, ever-popular Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry presented the final stop of Julie Cope’s Grand Tour. The exhibition featured tapestries and artefacts taken from his installation A House for Essex, a 'secular chapel' dedicated to the life of Julie Cope, a typical Essex woman.

The National Galleries hosted a major exhibition of Bridget Riley’s dazzling and compelling abstract paintings, including early works and rarely seen life drawings alongside key pieces from her 70-year career; while the National Museum was home to Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland, which explored how Highland dress and rugged landscapes became synonymous with the nation in art.

Trisha Brown: In Plain Site saw the US choreographer’s striking dance pieces performed across the floating rafts, rich woodlands and sculpted landforms of Jupiter Artland from 9-11 August; while the BBC’s arts editor Will Gompertz returned to the Fringe with Double Art History - The Sequel, a humorous one-man show about the world of contemporary art.

Originally published on The BBC, August 2 2019.