If you are serious about live performing arts, The Edinburgh Fringe is the place to be in the month August. It’s essentially a massive theatre and comedy trade show. It’s a great place to see what the “next big thing” will be, especially in Theatre & Comedy. As it’s highly experimental so you will see lots of good and bad stuff, but as long as you are adventurous and keep an open mind, you’re likely to see some of the most innovative theatre you will ever see.
As a visitor to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the past seven years, I thought I would share some things I have learned over the last few years.
This is a map of locations discussed in this blog, just to help get your bearings.
Edinburgh is not a car-friendly city and is very small. Use the fringe as an excuse to eat too much and stretch those legs. You haven’t had the true Edinburgh experience until you’ve inhaled a burger in a pub and then legged it up the hill to try to make your next show! Every time I’ve been to the Fringe, I’ve been by train and I would highly recommend it. It takes about 4.5 hours to get there and East Coast operate the route from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverley. Their website typically sells the cheapest tickets with singles starting from £17. To get the best prices, book your tickets as soon as they go on sale (about 12 weeks in advance).
There is a lot of available accommodation during the Fringe and there are always rooms and beds available. But if you want to stay somewhere decent but within budget, it’s a good idea to book as early as possible (I’ve sometimes booked almost a year in advance). The best budget accommodation always fills up quickly.
None of the hostels I’ve been to in Edinburgh are wonderful, but they are totally adequate if you are only going for weekend and looking for somewhere cheap to stay. Try searching and booking with Hostelworld where you can book hostels, check out customer reviews see a map of the locations of hostels in the area.
I stayed at the Edinburgh branch of the St. Christopher’s Inn Hostel chain a few years ago. The hostel is located extremely centrally – just across the road from Edinburgh Waverley Station and backing onto The Royal Mile. A Continental Breakfast buffet (ie. Toast, Cereal, Coffee, Tea) is included in the cost which comes in handy to set you up for a day of shows. Prices range from £29 – £37 per person, per night.
I have also stayed at Smart City Hostel, located nearer to the Edinburgh University campus and some of the biggest Fringe venues including the “big three venues”; Pleasance, Underbelly and Gilded Balloon. All rooms at this huge hostel are ensuite and it has private as well as dorm rooms. The Hostel has a kitchen for preparing food which can help to keep food costs down. Prices range from £32 – £60 per person, per night.
If you’re planning to stay at the Fringe for at least a week and particularly if there are more than two of you, booking an apartment can be cheaper. Previously, friends have booked with Edinburgh Holiday Accommodation which has worked out well and been reasonably priced. Prices range depending on number of people and number of nights stayed.
Tickets and shows
Tickets to shows are around £5-£15 each and there are also some are free shows from the Free Fringe, which are run on a first-come first-served basis and ask for donations. Tickets can be booked on the Edinburgh Fringe Website, on the Edinburgh Fringe iPhone app or via the Fringe Box Office in person of on their booking line. These can then be collected from The Fringe Box-office on the Royal Mile, The University of Edinburgh Visitors Centre or over in the new town at the Half-Price Hut. Alternatively you can also book in person or on the phones, and collect at the bigger venue box-offices (Pleasance, Underbelly and Gilded Balloon).
Shows run all day from 8am kids shows to late-night comedy showcases starting at 3am. Treat it as an all-you-can-eat arts buffet and go and see as much as you can! The most shows I can deal with in a day is 8, but a friend of mine holds the record at 10 shows all in one day! Just don’t forget to make some time to head to The Royal Mile to see some incredible street theatre (even though you will be mobbed by people flyer-ing for their shows!) If you’re heading up to the festival for the first week, I would advise only booking tickets for your for the first night and for shows you really want to see.
The temptation can be to “book safe” for that Comedian who’s “really funny on telly” – don’t! For the fringe, go and see something/someone different. By all means, read reviews! You can get the free papers from venues (The Skinny, Broadway Baby, take a look at The Scotsman as well as national newspapers like The Stage and The Guardian). Also, talk to people! Venue staff get to see shows at their venues for free and will happily sell tickets to the best show they’ve seen at their venue. Fellow festival-goers will also enthuse about “that incredible show they saw” in cafes and bars. Talk or eavesdrop if you have to!