Congratulations! After years of saying how you really wanted to make it the Edinburgh Fringe, you’ve finally sorted yourself out and you’re headed to Scotland!!
But now what?! There are more than 500 venues, each with a full day of scheduled performances.. There are thousands of shows you could see each day, a whole city to see them in, and a whole city’s worth of conveniently located cocktail and craft beer stalls to slow you down as you do.
The app is great and replaces the need to drag around the encyclopaedia of events that was required in years gone by.
Not only will it give you the list of all events, but it’ll give you the cut down lists of events ‘Nearby Now’, and the list of shows with half-price tickets available; and most importantly it’s a box office in your pocket! Buying tickets in the app does incur a £1.60 booking fee, but ticket collection is then from any of the Box Offices dotted around the city; it’s blissfully queueless!
And one day, who knows, maybe the tickets will even be electronic…
But that’s just part of the ‘how’ of it all, but we’re no closer to the ‘what’ to see.
Pamphleteers: Scourge or Saviour?
Politely ignoring strangers trying to hand us things in public is art form most of us have honed over many years, but at the Fringe you must fight that impulse.
Talk to the Pamphleteers!
Most will be students from the university on their summer break, some will be friends of the performers and many will be the performers themselves!
All of them are fans. (Of culture, at least, if not the individual performers their spruiking.) They’ll be seeing one or two performances each day themselves, so who better to ask what shows you might enjoy?
Watch the Posters
The only thing more ubiquitous than the Pamphleteers are the posters. Every available vertical surface will be advertising shows.
Of course, not all shows can afford advertising, so while pamphleting and word-of-mouth is open for all, the bigger budgeted shows will remind you they’re there at every corner.
Keep an eye out for the posters in main areas, which will be updated as reviews come in throughout the Fringe, so watch out for those with a good crowding of additional four and five stars.
Alright, So Where is Everything?
If you’ve not been to Edinburgh before, the geography is fascinating, but also easily navigable, once you find your bearings.
The whole city is built in the crater of an ancient, enormous volcano, and since the Middle Ages, Edinburgh Castle has sat strategically at the top of a gentle slope in the centre, approachable from a single side, surrounded by precipitous cliffs. That slope is now the Royal Mile, a straight-enough line running down the spine of the promontory from the Castle at the top to the later, more comfortable royal residence at the base: Holyrood Palace.
On either side of the Mile, crowded onto every surface of the promontory, stands the Old Town, full of old buildings and ancient passages, and during the Fringe, the Royal Mile is crowded with street performers and excitement; but it’s now just one of 6 centres, each with their own flavour and managed by different venue promoters.
So what are the other areas?
To the north of the Castle and running parallel to the Mile and the Old Town is the cleverly titled New Town. The main street is George Street where the Victorian-era Assembly Rooms are situated, and, since 1981, the home for the first promotions group:
The venues on George Street still attract more mature audiences for some of the more cerebral Fringe events, however, like each of the venue organisers, Assembly has far outgrown their original spaces, and the acts and spaces they now manage up in the Old Town (such as the imposing Assembly Hall) and in the university quarter beyond host a great range of fun, challenging and exciting performers.
Perpendicular to George Street, connecting the New and Old Towns is The Mound, at the base of which is the Scottish National Gallery and (for the duration of the Fringe) the location of the Half-Price Ticket Hut (which we’ll return to later).
Walking up the steep incline of The Mound will lead you back to the Royal Mile, but if you keep to the perpendicular you’ll cross the Old Town on the George IV Bridge (Edinburgh is full of bridges you don’t know you’re on until you reach an opening to look down over the edge..).
From here you’ll come to Bristo Square, where the second major promoter is headquartered:
2. Gilded Balloon:
The Gilded Balloon was established for the 1986 Fringe, running out of a comedy club of the same name. The original venue was destroyed by fire in 2006, leading them to move to Teviot Row House dominating Bristo Square, where they continue their emphasis on stand-up comedy.
And just two minutes down the hill brings you to Fringe Centre #4: George Square Gardens..
The newest promoter on the scene and most determinedly quirky, Underbelly is familiar to anyone who’s spent a summer in London, as their Udderbelly Festival on Southbank is a reliable venue for comedy, cabaret and burlesque.
Their takeover of George Square Gardens is always a fun event in itself, with artificial meadows creating an enjoyable chill-out area in the shadow of their trademarked, upside-down cow tent.
Recently, Underbelly has spread further down the hill as well, onto The Meadows themselves, where they laid out their Circus Hub this year, including the globe-travelling Spiegeltent.
Lastly, a little to the east of all this (two blocks over, come on, it’s hardly a long walk) is The Pleasance, home to the last of the big four promoters:
Fringe Venue 33 is listed simply as the Pleasance Courtyard, but it’s actually a warren of performance spaces of varying size, spread throughout the Edinburgh University Student Union buildings and beyond (some 27 separate venues in 2018).
The vibe here is a little less touristed, but all the more pleasantly Fringe-ful for that, with lots of native Edinburgers lining up to see big names and break-out acts alike.
But wait! There’s more…
Bonus 5 & 6. PBH Free Fringe/The Free Edinburgh Fringe Festival:
At the Fringe, four world-class, entertainment organisations wooing you with their headline acts could never be enough.
There are two more groups dedicated to putting the best shows in front of you. And…
…All their show’s are free!
These Free Fringe organisers have less muscle when it comes to getting your attention and their venues tend towards the smaller, more unusual style. Combine that with a sense of ‘getting what you pay for’ and the less adventurous festival goer will tend to stick to the main drags.
But don’t short-change yourself. Some of the best shows you’ll see will be the lesser known artists in the less sought out venues (or even the street performers).
NB: think of these shows as pay what you like or pay what you can events. Be sure to have some cash on you to tip (should you feel so inclined)! Because, should that free show be great, the performers are going to appreciate £5 more than your rousing applause.
You get the idea: there’s a ton going one.
Whether you’ve got one day or the whole month to soak up shows, you’re never going to see them all.
Don’t forget that most things will be on again tomorrow or next week. Don’t be afraid to know your pace and stick to it.
And very much don’t forget to leave yourself time to get between venues and that there is no reserved seating, so if you care about having the best seat in the house for performance, you’ll want to start lining up as much as 45 minutes before the start time.
We mentioned discount tickets, and keep your eyes peeled for these!
Pamphleteers will often offer two-for-one vouchers for performances (another reason not to go around ignoring these helpful elves), but the best discounts are available from the Half-Price Hut back at the Scottish National Gallery.
You can see what performances are offering discounted tickets on the app, where they’ll generally release remaining seats up to two hours before the start time (or from 5pm for performances the next morning and early afternoon).
But: as of 2018, while the app can tell you which shows have discounted tickets available, you can only buy half-price tickets in person from the Hut.
No easy in-app purchasing here!
So you may have to drag yourself back down (and back up) The Mound to take advantage.
Nevertheless, there are great deals to be found.
More Ticket Discounts!
Another great option to consider if you need to rein in your spending on tickets is to become a Friend, Close Friend or Best Friend of the Fringe (or a Patron or Angel, if you really want to go all in).
Each of these come with scaled benefits, but easily the most important of which is a number of two-for-one tickets to selected shows.
It’s important to note that not all shows are eligible for the two-for-one prices, but considering the average price of a single ticket is £10, you can see how these memberships will quickly pay for themselves.
- Friend: £35 — 15 2for1 shows
- Close Friend: £70 — 25 2for1 shows
- Best Friend: £160 — Unlimited 2for1 shows
So depending on how long you’re attending the Fringe, how many shows you expect to see (and whether you have a friend to take with you to enjoy the second seat…), you can see how these can be great value.
The range of shows eligible for the deal covers a lot of the things you want to see. For any groups attending the Fringe for five or more days, signing up as a Friend of the Fringe at least will stretch you ticket money a bit further.
If this is all still feeling rather daunting: relax!
Even the most popular shows won’t tend to sell out more than a day-or-two in advance. If you can’t get a ticket for this afternoon, try for tomorrow or the next day.
Most shows will take one day off a week, so be wary of Monday: there’s still plenty on, but bigger shows that have run the whole weekend to take advantage of the tourist influx, will take the Monday as a rest day, so check before assuming you’ll be seeing whatever you want that day.
And, of course, there will be those few big name or one-off performances who may be doing a more limited run. If you’re dead keen to see that famous comedian from TV then be on your toes to grab the tickets as soon as you can, but do so with a word of warning:
The show’s you least expect are the ones that will impress you the most.
Once you’re in the centre of the town, your feet are all you’ll need, so pack your walking shoes.
But if you do need to catch a bus, they’re reliable and inexpensive (at £1.60 a trip). Taxis are available (but less inexpensive) as is Uber, although there are relatively few drivers and surge prices remain in place for pretty much the whole run of the festival.
Where to Eat?
Here you generally can’t go wrong. There are loads of pubs and restaurants to choose from, but the closer to the Royal Mile you are, the more crowded everything is (and the higher you should expect the cost to be).
But, unlike in years gone by, the street food options are increasingly ubiquitous and of a high standard. Enjoy them! Embrace the grab-and-go mentality (and count the number of different ways you can be served haggis).
Haggis Side-note: Don’t fear the haggis. It’s unlikely you’ll ever be presented with a sheep’s stomach. The modern reality is that haggis is just finely-ground mince, spiced and slow-cooked. From there, you’ll find it in sausages, hamburgers or even (and possibly ideally) served as individual little croquettes. It’s quite a dense flavour, but if you like meat, chances are you’ll be at least okay with haggis. And if you don’t like meat, vegetarian haggis is also available, which I’ve heard is also “fine”.
There are Other Festivals?
As we’ve mentioned, the Edinburgh Fringe is not the only festival in town in August.
The Fringe grew (a little parasitically), taking advantage of the crowds coming to town for the Edinburgh International Festival, which was founded in 1947.
This is, in itself, one of the world’s great cultural festivals, and you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you stick solely to the more irreverent, upstart acts of the Fringe.
But even that’s not all…
Like the Fringe, the Literary Festival has spun off into it’s own entity, also taking place in a crowded August.
If you want to take a break from eager amateurs and world-weary professional actors walking the boards, be sure to check out the range of writers passing through Edinburgh in the middle weeks of August each year too, as they take time to discuss their own work, in between samplings of everything else that’s going on in town.
And there’s a TV Festival too!
Generally hosted in the third week of August, there’s always a series of panels, talks, meet-and-greets open to the public that can be an exciting way to see what’s coming and to get to know some of the creatives who are steering the next round of thrills coming to the (not-so-)small screen.
Do you Tattoo?
August in Edinburgh still isn’t done.
If you were hoping for an unobstructed view of the city’s impressive Castle and skyline, you’re dead out of luck, because in August the city is also host to the annual Tattoo and so an 8000 seat grandstand is erected around the Castle Esplanade.
Eyesores aside, the Tattoo is an extra bit of fun in the International Festival, marking the end of each day with an impressive array of massed drums, pipes and ornate military manoeuvring (and a smattering of fireworks).
If you enjoy men (and some women) in various uniforms of the world, walking around to a beat, then this is the event for you!
Tickets will set you back anything from £25 for the most view obscured pleb seats, all the way up to £340 to hang out in the Royal Gallery (royalty not included, although for that price…).
But there is a handy trick: At the end of the Tattoo, the troops all process from the Esplanade down the Royal Mile to the first intersection with Johnson Terrace, so if it’s just the uniforms you’re after (and a touch of rousing marching music!), get yourself to that corner for about 10.30pm and feast your eyes for free!
Still got some concerns? Ask us in the comments below and be sure to come back after you’ve Fringed and let us know what tips you discovered.