Ahh, that time of year again already. I love and hate the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in equal measure. August has such an amazing atmosphere, and it’s so great having it all on my doorstep. But on the other hand, sometimes I would just like to be able to walk to Sainsbury’s without it taking three times as long as usual and getting weighed down by a hundred flyers in the process. Nonetheless, I do enjoy a bit of festival fun and over the last few summers I’ve come to learn which bits to embrace and which bits to avoid altogether.
1. Do Some Planning
Grab yourself one of the huge festival programmes before you visit (often available in Waterstones stores or local theatres, or can be ordered online), and arm yourself with some of those sticky note tabs. Some people like to just go with the flow but I think at least a little bit of advanced planning is always a good idea. I like to colour co-ordinate my sticky tabs into three categories. Firstly, things I definitely want to see – these are shows I want to book tickets for in advance to make sure I’ll definitely be there. Next are the things I’d quite like to see, but I wouldn’t be heartbroken if I didn’t get round to it – I probably wouldn’t book these until the day of/day before the show (see next tip). Finally, I’d put a tab on a few things that sound interesting and I’d go to see if I had a spare hour and was in the right place – again, I wouldn’t bother booking these as there’s only a small chance I’d ever get round to seeing them. This system always gives me a good idea of what’s on that interests me, but I’m not too tied down and am free to see things as and when I’m able to. It also means you won’t miss anything you’d really love to see, but leaves you plenty of time to see additional things which have been recommended to you etc. Although, if you’re only here for a day or two, it might be easier to have a quick browse of the Fringe website instead!
2. Be Selective With Bookings
Some of the more famous acts and hyped-up shows can sell out fast, so if you want to see any of those definitely book your tickets in advance. But for everything else, you can usually get good deals by waiting until the last minute. People handing out flyers in the street are usually the bane of my life, but they actually can be quite useful sometimes with half price or 2-for-1 deals on tickets an hour or two before the show. They often hang out near to the venue they’re flyering for before the show, so have a wander round there before making your way to the box office to buy tickets. Most acts do 20+ shows over the festival, so if it does happen to be sold out that night, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get tickets for another night instead! Tickets also tend to be quite a bit cheaper on the first few days of the festival and slightly cheaper on weekdays, plus most offer concession prices if you’re a student.
3. Go to a Variety of Shows
Whilst it is good to see famous comedians (you’ll probably already know what they’re like, so will know that you’ll enjoy the show), don’t forget about the lesser-known acts. One of my favourite shows from last year was a musical about Dracula with songs set to the tune of Lady Gaga and Barry Manilow; the venue only held about 30 people, and three actors played all the parts. It was completely bizarre but totally appealed to my sense of humour and I enjoyed it so much more than some of the bigger acts I’d seen. I’d never heard of the show or the actors before, but just went because I loved the sound of the blurb in the programme, and I’m so glad I did! Keep an eye out on Twitter for word-of-mouth recommendations, and make sure you’re following @edfringe to stay up to date. There are always a few shows that start off the festival being completely unknown, and by the end they’re a roaring success with sold-out shows and rave reviews. I would, however, tend to avoid free shows. There can be the occasional good one, but on the whole I’m of the opinion that they’re free for a reason, having sat through my fair share of cringe-inducing freebies. If you happen to be in the pub whilst there’s a free show going on, by all means stick around and you might enjoy it, but I wouldn’t bother going out of my way to go to one.
4.Make the Most of Edinburgh
You could quite easily come to the festival, not go to a single show, and still have an amazing time. Obviously I would recommend seeing at least one or two shows, but make the most of the rest of Edinburgh too. The atmosphere is completely unique and the whole place feels like it’s constantly on the go, it really does become a city that never sleeps for four weeks of the year. Most of the clubs stay open until 5am, and a lot of pubs stay open later than usual too. Beer gardens seem to pop up everywhere, and you could quite easily spend the whole day nibbling food from street vendors and sipping cider in the sunshine. You can’t walk anywhere in the city centre without seeing a street performer or spontaneous outdoor show, so even a trip to the shops has a festival-y feel. Speaking of walking, definitely take some comfortable shoes with you as you’ll no doubt be using them a lot. Edinburgh is a fairly small city and most of the festival venues are pretty close together, so walking is the easiest way to get around. The buses are pretty great (£1.50 for a single journey anywhere, £3.50 for unlimited all day travel on Lothian Buses), especially if you’re staying further out of the centre, but you’ll probably end up walking everywhere anyway. P.S. check out my City Guide posts for more things to do and see in Edinburgh.
5. Check Out the Other Festivals
When I say “festival”, I’m usually referring to the Fringe, which is the most well-known festival and includes mostly comedy and theatre events. But there are plenty of other festivals going on in Edinburgh during August too. Have a look at the Edinburgh Festivals website for a list of different festivals throughout the year. During the summer you can catch events at the likes of the Film Festival, Art Festival, International Festival, Fashion Festival, Book Festival, and the Military Tattoo as well. The dates for these festivals are usually different to the Fringe, so make sure to check in advance if they’ll be on whilst you’re visiting.
Are you going to the festival this year? Any top tips to share?