It’s August, which means that Edinburgh has now been officially and wholly taken over by the madness of the Edinburgh Fringe. The Fringe is a month long, city-wide festival that overtakes the whole of the city every single year. It is part of one gigantic arts and culture celebration that is made up of multiple festivals which run in sync with each other. The Fringe is the most well known among them, the others being the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh International Film Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh Art Festival, Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
The beauty of these coinciding festivals is the organised chaos that they collectively produce. The whole city explodes with creativity, quirkiness and the carnivalesque, displaying the best from each of the arts, from the amateur and emerging to the well-known, star-studded names in the business. These festivals draw huge crowds to the Scottish capital each year, with visitors coming from all over the world to enjoy the craziness. As a result, around this time each year, prices skyrocket. It can cost hundreds of pounds simply to stay over for a weekend, with travel in and out of the city from around the UK also peaking. It’s not surprising then, that many opt to go to the Fringe for only one day, not even staying overnight.
With the variety that the Fringe and the other coinciding festivals offer, there is literally something for everyone. There are two forms of attack when going to the Fringe for just one day. Either you choose a specific day you’re going to go on and plan it ahead of time so that you can fit in as many events as possible, or you take a more spontaneous, relaxed approach.
I favour the spontaneous approach, especially if it’s your first time at the Fringe. Turning your trip to the Edinburgh Fringe into a military operation draws away from the very spirit of the festival. Read on to find out how to have a great time at the Fringe without micro-planning every second of your day.
Firstly, get into Edinburgh as early as possible, ideally before or at 9am. This allows you to get your bearings and go for breakfast to store up some energy for the day. Head towards Stockbridge where you’ll find plenty of quaint little cafes where you can sit and enjoy a hearty breakfast. I’d recommend The Pantry, near the photographic Circus Lane, where they serve a delicious and filling breakfast.
After refreshing yourself, head back to Princes Street to the Half Price Hut located at the Mound Precinct for 10am. The Half Price Hut offers discounted tickets to performances on that day and for the following morning, as well as a serving as a collection point for purchased tickets. If you’re going for a spontaneous approach to your day at the Fringe, it’s a great place to pick up a bargain for last minute shows. Try to have an idea of what type of events you’d like to see before hand as there is normally a lot on offer and the staff cannot help you decide as they have to remain impartial (click here for the list of Fringe events). Try pick two or three events for the day, all that are different. Normally shows are around an hour long so space them out as you need to factor in time to eat as well as navigate around the city. Maybe pick one for the morning, one for early afternoon and one for late afternoon or early evening before your train home. Go for a mixture, choosing at least one show that is a random or spontaneous choice – half the fun is seeing and trying new things, be brave!
Once you’ve bought your tickets or collected them, get exploring! In between shows you should definitely head up the Royal Mile to get a feel for the festival atmosphere. This street will be rammed packed with visitors, street performers and people giving out flyers left right and centre. A lot of the street performers and flyers will be about shows being performed that day, many of them free, so make sure you take the time to watch a few and see if there is anything else you’d like to see in between your shows. Don’t forget to explore the offshoot streets off the Royal Mile, walk into the Scottish tourist shops where there will be plenty of fudge samples to try and of course see Edinburgh Castle!
For lunch, make your way down to Grassmarket via Victoria Street, where you can buy food on the go from the local market or head to some of the local cafes like the famous Elephant House Cafe (where J K Rowling wrote Harry Potter over cups of coffee) or the popular Lovecrumbs. Before or in-between your afternoon shows, make sure you explore the main hubs of the different festivals. If you love music, head to George Square which houses the heart of the Underbelly At Edinburgh Fringe where a lot of the music events perform. There are also loads of pop-up bars and food stalls with live music that are great to sit and soak up the festival atmosphere.
Love books? Head to Charlotte Square Gardens where the Edinburgh International Book Festival is housed, complete with two well-stocked independent bookshops and three cafes – perfect for a sit down with a cuppa to enjoy a newly purchased book. Maybe even get a book signed by an author or join in with a discussion!
Art Fanatic? Check out some of the best art on display as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, from their takeovers of the capital’s leading art venues to pop up exhibitions of new artists throughout the city. You could even attend on an Art Late session, which are special events in venues throughout the city that happen every Thursday evening during August, that includes live music, performances, artist talks and tours.
After your final show of the day, catch some dinner in one of the many restaurants in Edinburgh’s New Town, particularly down the lovely Rose Street. Before making your leave of this beautiful city, why not watch one of the Best of the Fest films run by the Edinburgh International Film Festival for £8. Or listen to some live music while sipping on a cold drink at one of Edinburgh’s many live music bars and pubs, such as the Pear Tree. If you are able to stay in Edinburgh late enough, take a walk up to Calton Hill. It’s iconic view of Edinburgh offers the perfect spot to watch night fall upon the city. If you are there late enough, you’ll get a great view of the fireworks from the Military Tattoo that is performed every night Monday-Saturday at the castle.
After a day crammed with the sights and sounds of the Fringe and the rest of Edinburgh’s festivals, head back to Waverley Station with a smile on your face and your feet in need of a sit down, excited to do it all over again next year!