Tips for tackling the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

By Amy Jane Smith, Marketing Officer

Street performances during Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Photo via the Fringe Facebook.

Street performances during Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Photo via the Fringe Facebook.

As much as I love my job, there’s nothing quite like a week off work: turning on the out-of-office and escaping from it all. Except I didn’t quite get away from the world of theatre this time, because I headed up to the world’s largest arts festival: the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

As a theatre fan, the Fringe is one of my favourite places to be, not just for the shows but the whole atmosphere of it. There’s just no place like it.

This year there are 49497 performances of 3193 shows in 299 venues across Edinburgh. Those numbers encapsulate the epic scale of the festival, and could make for a potentially daunting first visit: where do you start?

Last week was my fourth Fringe trip, and while it’s still pretty exhausting (eight shows in one day being a personal record), I’ve learned how to make the most of the time – seeing a variety of shows without wearing myself out completely.

So, with that in mind, here’s some tips…

If you’re not going

Grace Savage in The Paper Birds' Blind. Photo by Richard Davenport. At Edinburgh Fringe Festival, then The Marlowe Studio on 15 and 16 October.

Grace Savage in The Paper Birds’ Blind. Photo by Richard Davenport.

It seems a bit of an odd one to start with but we just wanted to let you know, whether you’re at the festival or not, that Edinburgh will be making its way to Canterbury. In our 150-seat venue, The Marlowe Studio, we’ll be presenting the best of the festival.

The Paper Birds’ Blind, a one-woman show starring UK beat-boxing champion Grace Savage, will be here 15 and 16 October. Bridget Christie is currently selling out her new show but last year’s Edinburgh Comedy Award-winning A Bic For Her is with us on 30 September. New show Sara Pascoe VS History is currently receiving rave reviews and will be with us on 9 December. (Bridget and Sara are both mentioned in The Guardian’s list of unmissable stand-ups.)

So if any of these are on your list of shows to see at Edinburgh, save them for when you get home and see something else! (Alternatively if you won’t be around, definitely see them there.) To let the festival fun continue, our new Studio brochure comes out later this month but many of our shows are on sale now.

What to see

One of this year's highlights: Theatre Ad Infinitum's Light. Photo by Alex Brenner.

One of this year’s highlights: Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Light. Photo by Alex Brenner.

One of the joys of the Fringe is the variety of work presented. Seeing several shows in a day means you’re more able to try something new, so venture into genres that you wouldn’t usually.

In terms of choosing what to see, I pore over the Fringe brochure when it comes out – circling things that really appeal to me and then making a bit of a shortlist. Then in Edinburgh, the brochure is abandoned in favour of the Edinburgh Fringe app – with chronological listings for each genre.

Follow publications via social media for lists of what to see (eg from The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner) alongside reviews as they come in. Also search #EdFringe on Twitter to see what people are raving about.

If you do want some personal recommendations, I’ve written a blogpost on my top five must-see shows (out of the 26 we saw).

Plan but be flexible

A familiar site during Edinburgh Fringe Festival: many, many posters. Image via Huffington Post.

A familiar site during Edinburgh Fringe Festival: many, many posters. Image via Huffington Post.

If you really want to see something, book it. This is especially important at this stage of the festival when reviews and first awards are out. It’s also good to have a shortlist of things which you know you’d like to see, but I wouldn’t plan out every single day ahead of time.

Part of the fun is being flyered, talking to people about what they’ve seen and just being a bit spontaneous. One of the best things we saw was simply because we had some time and clicked the ‘nearby now’ section on the Edinburgh Fringe app.

Working to a budget

It’s easy to over-spend on shows, food and drink when you’re in the festival mood but it’s also easy to save money if you put some thought into it.

Too late for this year, but the first Monday and Tuesday of August most shows have 2 for 1 offers so this will save you a lot of money. Throughout the festival there is the Virgin UK Half Price Hut on The Mound. You can check the Edinburgh Fringe app and website to see which shows are on offer that day before heading down there.

There are also 825 free shows at the Fringe this year. There’s some really quality stuff out there, and you get the wonderful feeling of finding a hidden gem without paying a penny (except the optional but encouraged post-show donation).

Where to eat

There’s so many great places to eat, but one definite recommendation would be The Mosque Kitchen on the grounds of the Edinburgh Central Mosque – a two minute walk from Pleasance Dome. We had two different vegetable curries with rice for £4.50, which is a wonderfully ridiculous price for good food. Close by on Potterrow is The Potting Shed – lovely reasonably priced food served in a friendly and quirky setting.

For casual street food with good sharing options try The Assembly George Square Gardens.

What to take

People aren’t lying when they say it rains in Edinburgh. I don’t know why they would, but it really, really does. Even when the weather is nice, it’s changeable – so take an umbrella, a waterproof jacket, sensible shoes and then layers.

With hectic days it’s easy to eat at odd times or get hungry so take snacks with you to have on the go, and a water bottle to re-fill.

If your smart phones are as ridiculous, and your festival days as long, as ours – then take a charger out with you to charge at a venue or pub (as long as they don’t mind).

Getting around the city

Get inspired and/or delayed on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. Photo via Edinburgh Fringe Facebook.

Get inspired and/or delayed on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Photo via Edinburgh Fringe Facebook.

When planning a show, whether in advance or on the day, work out where you’re going and leave enough time. It sounds obvious but it’s easy to be over-ambitious when wanting to fit everything in, and the venues can be really spread out across this incredibly hilly city. It’s easy to be fooled too by venues with multiple sites, so do double check this.

It’s only £3.50 for a day ticket on the bus, so that’s worth doing if you’ll be staying out of town and getting across the city during the day. Without getting to know local bus timetables, the maps app on any smart phone will work out the best route for you.

And if you do need to get somewhere fast, do not walk down the Royal Mile…

Seeing Edinburgh

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh. Image via Visit Scotland.

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh. Image via Visit Scotland.

You’ll naturally see a lot of the city just through getting to shows, but if you can – take some time to visit Arthurt’s Seat. I’ve never climbed it (we were a tad unprepared), but we did get to spend some time there. The views, even from nearby rocks, are stunning – taking in the whole city and a seaview too.

Also the random pubs with music coming from inside – check them out. A brilliant night was had last year in a pub full of locals and a different atmosphere – reminding us we were in fact in bonny Scotland, not just a random theatrical utopia!


What have you seen at the Edinburgh Fringe this year? Let us know any recommendations or tips that you have!

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