Update July 2019
The Festival Fringe in Edinburgh is the biggest Arts festival in the world. There are over 54,000 performances in over 300 venues dotted all over Edinburgh. It gets very busy in August, the population triples and visitors from all over the world descend on the city. It's three weeks of utter chaos and brilliant fun. You could always just turn up and find things to do when you get there but if you like to be prepared then this guide is for you.
The Edinburgh Fringe is a fantastic experience, if it’s not on your bucket list, it should be. It has such a huge variety of acts – comedy, theatre, musicals, performing acts, children’s shows, music, opera, cabaret, and dance. A whole lot of bizarre, eccentric and hilarious performers line the Royal mile and streets around Edinburgh with snippets of their shows to tempt you into the venues. The venues themselves can be anything from a café basement to a gothic church, to world class venues like the Assembly Rooms and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The food in Edinburgh is brilliant anyway but during the Fringe tents pop up and stalls arrive selling food from every corner of the globe. Traffic gets hectic, accommodation fills up months in advance and the streets get crowded. To make sure you enjoy yourself and experience everything a little planning is needed…
A quick history of the Edinburgh Fringe
The Fringe actually began as an alternative, slightly edgier, slightly more underground version of the Edinburgh International Festival. While the International Festival shows were held in the huge, grand, well known venues across the city, eight theatre groups showed up in Edinburgh without an invitation and performed in tiny venues to the already-assembled theatre-loving crowds. This was 1947, two years after the end of the second world war, and it's here the roots of the Fringe today began - the lack of invitations and the use of alternative venues. The name 'Fringe' stemmed from these performers playing 'on the fringe of the official festival'. The late night shows, which the Fringe is so famous for now, began because the newspaper reviewers were only able to review the shows after reviewing the shows from the International festival. Two venues, the Traverse Theatre and the Pleasance were intergral to the founding of the offical Edinburgh Fringe and are still major venues during the Fringe today.
Edinburgh Fringe dates
The Edinburgh Fringe is on for three weeks every August. The exact dates will change but throughout the whole month there is definitely be plenty to see.
A quick but very important note - Please make sure you book your accommodation as far in advance as you can. Accommodation fills up fast, especially in the city centre, usually months in advance. You could stay a little further a field and get the bus or train to the city centre.
Edinburgh Fringe Tickets
When you have decided you want to visit the Fringe in Edinburgh do a little research. The Fringe has a fantastic website which lists every show, as well as the venues, an interactive map and prices. Some of the shows cost money, with tickets ranging from around £4 up to maybe £15 for the well known performers. I would suggest finding maybe one or two you really want to see, buy the tickets in advance on the website, then find other shows to fit around these. There are also hundreds of free shows that don't require tickets so even if you don't book anything in advance you will still find plenty to do while you are there.
If you are looking for accommodation check this blog for the best hostels for solo travellers
How to book Edinburgh Fringe shows
On the Edinburgh Fringe website you can book tickets to some shows from as early as January. Signing up to the website allows you to build a planning calendar, which, with over 3500 shows is pretty vital. You can search for shows, narrowing down your search and save your favourites. The Fringe app is brilliant, I used it this year to visit and it was unbelievably helpful. There is a “Nearby now” tab which makes the whole planning so much easier. When you walk out at the end of a show just press the button and it’ll tell you which shows are starting next and where they are.
How to plan your day
There are plenty of free shows, 2for1 tickets and the Virgin half price hut which releases half price tickets on the day so leave some spare time to see what you can find while your there. A walk up the Royal Mile is a must and you will probably find something you fancy there. As well as the shows make sure you try something a little different like a walking literary tour, a ghost bus ride or a Harry Potter tour. Edinburgh has a fantastic haunted history, the ghost walks and St Mary’s Close are fascinating. Also you might want a bit of peace at some point so try and factor in some time to relax, a walk up Carlton Hill or Arthur’s seat offer the best view of the city, or sit outside for lunch in one of the many cafes on the Royal mile or St James’ Square for a bit of people watching.
What to wear to the Edinburgh Fringe
Comfortable shoes are vital during the fringe, although Edinburgh has quite a compact city centre it is quite hilly and many of the streets are cobbled. Edinburgh has a really good transport network of buses, black cabs and now the new trams which are all easy to use and will get you to each venue but the roads get busy so it's far easier to walk.
Also prepare for the weather, Edinburgh likes to show off its weather and you will most likely see all four seasons in one day. It's unlikely to be cold so a light waterproof jacket folded up in your bag would be handy. An umbrella could be handy, although you could buy one if you need it on the day. Layers are the best idea as you can remove them when the sun decides to shine. Just make sure you are comfortable, you will walk a lot.
If you are visiting Edinburgh with children you may be interested in The best things to do in Edinburgh with kids
Depending on how long you plan to visit for going in large numbers makes it a bit more difficult, trying to find shows which suit everyone is not easy, so plan carefully. The show listings on the website include age limits so if you are bringing kids keep these in mind. The Fringe is absolutely for kids as well, they will really enjoy themselves but make sure you take your time and don’t try to cram too much in. Carry water and snacks in your bag as well, its easier than trying to find a shop without a long queue.
Just remember to take it slow, and have plenty of breaks, and make use of the app! Read more about Edinburgh's Festival Fringe here. Any more tips anyone can think of? Leave a comment below
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