My Guide to Surviving the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August
My Guide to Surviving the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August
by David Wheater of Tours of Edinburgh
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is one of my favourite times of the year in Edinburgh. It's the largest arts festival in the world and sells more tickets every year than the World Cup which is pretty amazing!
This year I set myself a challenge to film some of the brilliant street performers along the Royal Mile and visit a few of the main festival venues along the way - all in just 24hrs! I hope it gives you a small flavour of the festival and what an exciting place Edinburgh is during the month of August.
There are in fact around twelve major festivals held in Edinburgh every year, but the most well known and biggest are undoubtedly the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (EFF).
Both these Edinburgh festivals run for around 3 weeks in August and together form the largest arts festival in the world. For the month of August, Edinburgh is the place to be for some of the biggest names in comedy, theatre and dance, along with some sensational street performances and acts from those trying to hit the big time. With children's plays, theatre, exhibitions, events, comedy and musicals on offer, in hundreds of venues throughout the city, there's a show for everybody.
The two festivals have always run alongside each other, since 1947, and together form the largest arts festival in the world. In 2016 there were a staggering 50,266 performances in the Fringe with over 31,000 participants and 2,475,143 tickets issued!
Essentially, the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) is "invitation only" and hosts the more formal, large and prestigious international events in opera, classical music, theatre and dance, while the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (EFF) is a more informal, spontaneous arts festival for up and coming artists to make a name for themselves. The wonderful thing about the Fringe is its open access policy - anyone can take part without being pre-vetted or selected. Countless comedians, actors and performers have got their first big break at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, including John Cleese, Rowan Atkinson, Jude Law, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Derek Jacobi, Eddie Izzard, Graham Norton, Billy Connolly, John Bishop and Al Murray to name but a very few!
Shows and acts are incredibly diverse and range from large, formal theatre productions and orchestras to the genuinely weird and whacky. The streets in and around the Royal Mile are always full of unusual free acts and street theatre, and venues can range from large theatres to private flats and even a public toilet!
As the festival fringe can be a pretty busy and chaotic place - with thousands of performances going on all over the city, it's important to pace yourself and choose shows wisely. With this in mind, here's a few of my top tips for getting the most out of the Edinburgh Festival. If you'd like me to take you around the best of the festival please do get in touch and I'll put together a special tour for you. Enjoy!
Get a Map and Your Bearings
Edinburgh may be a small city, but you will get lost if you don't get your bearings. Purchase a good street map of Edinburgh before you arrive and find out where all the main Fringe venues are in relation to where you're staying. The Festival Fringe programme itself usually has a good map of the city and venues inside the back cover.
Bring Suitable Clothes
It may be summer in Edinburgh and one of its sunniest months, but this is still Scotland and you need to come prepared for the Scottish weather. A lightweight rain-proof jacket with hood is ideal, as are good comfortable walking shoes to cope with all those cobbled streets and steep climbs.
Download the Edinburgh Festival Fringe App
The official Fringe App is a great way to find out what's on, buy tickets and keep track of all your booked Fringe shows. It's available to download for iPhone and Android at www.edfringe.com/learn/news-and-events/download-2017-fringe-app.
Have a Strict 'Festival Plan' but Don't Overfill Your Days
It's essential to book the shows you really want to see before your arrive in Edinburgh, as the most popular festival shows sell out quickly. However, don't over-book as the festival is a spontaneous and varied event and you must set aside time to 'go with the flow' and stumble across the hidden gems of the fringe.
Vary What You See
It's easy to stick with what you know and like, but you really would be missing the whole point of the festival, which brings together diverse acts from all over the world. You never know what you might like unless you challenge yourself a little. Step out of your comfort zone and let the festival spirit guide you to new discoveries.
Find the Taxi Ranks
It's late, you're tired and you just want to get home - but so does everybody else. Work out where your nearest taxi rank is in relation to your venue and get home quicker.
Talk to the Taxi Drivers
Yes - really! Taxi Drivers will have been ferrying around performers and organisers long before you arrive and will have heard who's in town and what's hot and what's not. They are close to the buzz and can be a mine of good information and hot tips!
Ask About the Returns List at the Box Office
Tickets for previously sold-out shows can become available on the day of the show from people who don't show up to collect them (which is surprisingly often). Go to the box office early on the day of the show and ask if there's a returns queue or list which you can join.
Don't be Afraid to Just Turn Up at Restaurants
Edinburgh is a frenetic place during the festival and many who pre-book tables get distracted and don't turn up. This can be a real headache for restaurants, but an opportunity for you! Most will be glad to fill up empty tables - just ask!
Talk to Everyone
At the Fringe Festival, the buzz is what it's all about, so pick up information from fellow festival goers. Don't be swayed too much by the big budgets and big venues of some productions; the chances are that the best stuff will be happening off your radar down some Edinburgh close you never even knew existed.
Half Price Shows and Two-for-One Tickets - Virgin Money Half-Price Hut
It can get very expensive if you're seeing a lot of shows, so do look out for the ticket deals. The Virgin Money Half-Price Hut is located by the National Gallery of Scotland on The Mound Precinct and offers tickets at a 50 per cent discount.
Don't Miss the Free Preview Performances
Deciding what to go and see can be bewildering. The answer is to catch the free previews performed every day at 12 ʻperformance spacesʼ along the High Street between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. There's also plenty of free ʻstreet theatreʼ at The Mound Precinct, by the Virgin Money Half-Price Hut.
Many street performers make their living from donations made at the end of performances. If you've enjoyed their show, please do give them a few coins (preferably large ones & notes!) at the end of their shows. To be the best festival in the world we need to encourage performers to come back every year. It simply wouldn't be the same without them.
Pace Yourself - Less is More
Don't go crazy and book hundreds of shows. You have to accept that it's impossible to see everything and you'll just exhaust yourself trying. Remember that the Festival is to be savoured and enjoyed and is therefore best consumed at a sensible pace. Decide what you really can't miss and forget the rest - there's always next year.
Useful Edinburgh Festival Websites
Edinburgh is a very busy place in August and accommodation can be difficult to find. Remember to book early!
Travel to Edinburgh
- National Rail Enquiries - nationalrail.co.uk
- East coast trains - www.virgintrainseastcoast.com
- ScotRail - scotrail.co.uk
- TransPennine Express - tpexpress.co.uk
- Traveline Scotland - travelinescotland.com
- Transport Direct - transportdirect.info
Travel in Edinburgh
- Lothian Buses - lothianbuses.com
- Edinburgh Trams - edinburghtrams.com
- First Bus - firstgroup.com
Edinburgh Eating Out
If you'd like to join me on a special Tour of Edinburgh, during the Edinburgh festival, please Email me or telephone me on 07400 705 357.