What is The Fringe?
The Fringe is the single biggest celebration of arts and culture on the planet. It has been held in the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh, since its creation in 1947. Every August for three weeks (2nd – 26th August) performers including street performers, comedians and musicians head to Edinburgh to put on their individual or collective shows.
How do I get to The Fringe?
Visitors travelling up from south of the Scottish Border can access Edinburgh easily through the A1 and M6 motorways. Our journey time from the Midlands was just over 5 hours. We would highly advise leaving early to beat any potential traffic, especially if travelling via the busier M6 onto M75/M8 route.
In our opinion, the A1 is far better in terms of traffic and scenery. The beautiful stretch around Dunbar features the Lothian Coastal Path with stunning views across the North Sea on a clear day.
If you are travelling from further afield, the main airport in Edinburgh is just 15 minutes away from the city centre by train (Edinburgh Gateway) and also easily accessible by bus and tram. Full information on how to get to and from the airport can be found here https://www.edinburghairport.com/transport-links
The main train station in Edinburgh is Edinburgh Waverley which is right in the centre of the festival.
Where can I stay?
With over 53,000 performances across over 3,000 shows in 300 venues – there’s a lot of competition for accommodation in Edinburgh during the Fringe.
Fear not however, there are great options available in the city centre with good prices to those who book at the earliest possible opportunity. The prices, due to the popularity of the festival, do come at a premium however. Expect to pay around £130-180 on average per night for anything above three stars.
We chose to book late and got ourselves a 4 star hotel in South Queensferry at The Dakota. A 17 minute train ride away from the city centre, this was a great option situated by the picturesque Forth Bridge. Staying outside of the city centre can also be a lot more calming away from all the crowds.
Nearby towns and cities are also a good strategy to check out, especially as many of them have good transport links to Edinburgh. A train from Glasgow will generally take around 45 minutes – 1 hour and run until just before midnight for the return journey. Megabus also operate a good service between Edinburgh and Glasgow generally at fair prices.
How do I go about seeing a show?
Any pre-booked tickets can be collected from the various collection points listed on the Fringe website, we collected ours from the machines at Waverley train station using the card that we purchased the tickets with. A simple swipe and the tickets just print out for all the shows booked.
The great news is that a lot of the shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe are free of charge. This means that you can happily turn up at most shows, take a seat and enjoy watching a comedian or show that you may never have heard of or seen before.
For ticketed shows, usually for bigger names such as Frank Skinner or Al Murray, the prices are very decent. Many comedians will use Edinburgh as an opportunity to test new material ahead of stand-up tours later in the year. Our tickets to watch the impressionists ‘Dead Ringers’ and comedian Frank Skinner were £17 per person for each show.
The hardest part of actually seeing a show can be deciding who or what to see. Many comedians will hand out flyers prior to their shows outside the venue. This can be a great opportunity to roll the dice and check out an act that you may never have thought to go and see. Generally the shows last for around an hour in duration.
The Edinburgh Fringe website is a really useful tool when trying to narrow down your choice of shows. We would highly recommend compiling a shortlist or itinerary of shows that take your fancy. This really helped us get our timings right between the venues to ensure that we got to see everything that we wanted to see.
Many shows, as mentioned earlier, are free or on a ‘PWYW’ basis (Pay What You Want). This means that you have the option at the end to give what you thought that the show was worth. Many comedians will hold bucket collections at the end of the show and contactless donations are also available for those who have no spare change to give.
What is there to eat?
Edinburgh is blessed with a whole range of superb restaurants. You can eat anything from Michelin Star food at The Kitchin in Leith to superb street food all across the city.
Hopping from venue to venue, street food was our go-to when it came to eating in the city. Small villages are set up in places like Princes Street consisting of bars and street traders. A stall specialising in halloumi fries were the most popular during our visit to Princes Street.
George Square Gardens also has a street food set up. Perfect if you are visiting either students or venues around the area. One of the best street food areas that we found had little more than two stalls.
Gladstone Court, tucked away off Canongate, is home to The Haggis Box. A small hut dishing up Scotland’s national dish – Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. The haggis here costs £6 with the option of whisky and mustard sauce for £1 more. 100% worth the extra investment.
Other great places to eat include ‘Oink’ who have branches at Victoria Street, Hanover Street and Canongate. Oink specialise in hog roast sandwiches complete with various different sauces, haggis stuffing and some of the best crackling that you’ll ever eat.
Another Scottish delicacy to try, although not for the diet conscious, is a deep fried mars bar. A speciality in the local chip shops, it’s a huge whack of calories to keep you marching up those steep hills. A mars bar is dipped in batter and deep fried until gooey and delicious – we loved it and highly recommend that you give it a go.
What are the venues like?
The venues all vary in size and capacity. Many are simply rooms with chairs and a stage in the basement of a bar or above a pub. This allows for an intimate setting where it is simply just the crowd and the comedian. Pure comedy.
Unlike at Leicester Comedy Festival, we found that the venues were air conditioned a lot better. This provides a welcome relief for those performing in hot and sweaty rooms with the audience also being far more comfortable.
It’s highly advisable to arrive at your selected venue in good time. Many of the more popular shows involve a queue and many are on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. Sometimes it isn’t obvious where the show is taking place within the venue but normally there are Fringe staff on hand to advise or staff at the venue behind the bar that you can ask.
What are the best bits?
The buzz and the atmosphere at The Fringe is something truly unique. Everyone is out to have a great time and enjoy the beautiful city of Edinburgh. The street performers on The Royal Mile and at the bottom of Victoria Street provide a great way to enjoy a few minutes just standing and admiring while soaking in the atmosphere.
Finding the next big thing when it comes to comedy has long been a trademark of the Fringe. Many hopeful acts perform their sets with a view to being discovered and making it big. You could be watching the next Lee Evans or Peter Kay in any random venue.
The level of talent at The Fringe is very high indeed. We were amazed by the performances down the streets and in the bars and pubs. The mixed bill shows are a great way to see many acts perform a few minutes in the same show.
What are the not so good bits?
As with every major event, where there are crowds there will be opportunists. Keep your belongings safe and try to stay alert throughout your visit to deter pickpockets. Generally there is a really good police presence in the main areas such as The Royal Mile.
Some of the organisation can be a bit hectic at times. Some pubs advertise shows but don’t disclose which room they are taking place in. This can be problematic when two shows are taking place at the same time. It’s definitely best to check with either the Fringe staff or the bar staff at the venue.
The crowds throughout the day are all in good spirits and there are rarely any incidents. However, as the night goes on and the alcohol begins to flow evermore, there can be a change in atmosphere. Stay safe and always have a plan B for getting back to your accommodation if you plan to stay out late.
What essentials should I bring with me?
As my Scottish grandma used to say “If you don’t like the weather in Scotland, just wait five minutes”. This is scarily accurate. On day one we had tropical conditions in the afternoon with bright sunshine and then a torrential downpour of rain.
Even though it may be August, take a rainproof jacket, preferably with a hood. Umbrellas are also a good investment. If you arrive without an umbrella, I can strongly recommend Primark as a place to purchase a good one for £4 to get you through the festival.
Comfortable shoes are also a must. Edinburgh is famous for its steep hills and rough cobbled streets in places. This is also a great opportunity to work off all those chips and deep fried mars bars!
A map is also a useful tool as Edinburgh can be a maze of streets, often on different levels. A good mobile maps app such as Google Maps is handy for navigating your way between the venues. Leave plenty of time to get around.