The Edinburgh Fringe Festival attracts over 4 million visitors every August. It brings roughly £260 million to the Scottish economy and in 2014, 299 venues were registered hosting 3,193 different shows.
So it can be quite overwhelming! Especially if you have never been to the Fringe before, probably won’t be going again anytime soon and want to make the most of the time you have.
Well, my good friend, I’m here to help. In 2013, I worked the entire stretch of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at one of the venues. I managed to see countless performances of all genres (…and quality) and got a good insight into what the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is all about. I also went back again in 2015 and I’m going back again this year! And I just can’t wait. I recommend EVERYONE try and go once in their life.
Hopefully, this first-timer’s guide will help take a little of the edge off so you can feel much more confident about leaving Edinburgh feeling accomplished and inspired with all the great shows you’ll see.
A First Timer’s Guide to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
So what the hec is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival anyway?!
The Fringe is literally just a huge, amazing, arts festival! It was established 70 years ago in 1947, after a few years of theatre troupes turning up in Edinburgh simply wanting to get their work out there when big fancy pants theatres wouldn’t accept their non-fancy pants shows. That’s all Fringe is anyway. Defiant, less commercial, do-it-yourself kind of theatre performed by people simply wanting to perform in any venue that will take them. Proper grassroots, pure imaginative stuff!
Edinburgh Fringe Festival venues range from typical stage set-ups to churches, pubs, abandoned buildings and outside spaces. A lot of spaces are empty the rest of the year. Since 1947, the Fringe has grown bigger and more successful. Groups from all over the world come to the Fringe to perform. Some are hoping to get picked up for a tour or representation, some simply want the experience.
The Fringe has spawned a whole range of different festivals in Edinburgh, gob-smackingly named the ‘Edinburgh Festivals.’ Some of these are scheduled at the same time of the Fringe in August so visitors can go to more than one.
Here is just a handful of the most popular around the same time:
- Edinburgh International book Festival
- Edinburgh Art Festival
- Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
- Edinburgh International Festival
- Edinburgh International Film Festival
Working out your budget
When planning your Edinburgh trip, there are a few decisions you need to make. If you know how long you plan on staying in Edinburgh and how much money you have, this will massively help shape your itinerary.
And if you’re a bit strapped for cash, you could book one or two pricier options in advance and then hit up PBH’s Free Fringe or cheap shows for the rest of your time.
However, if you’ve managed to save a bit and don’t mind spending, you are guaranteed to see some great shows! But just keep in mind that even though a show is free, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad show. It’s quite the contrary in many cases.
TOP TIP: Download the Fringe App before you go. Just search ‘Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017’ in your app store. It will not only help you navigate around the hundreds of venues, but it will also tell you which tickets are available at Virgin Money’s Half Price Hut (located on Princes Street) every day.
These change daily and some of my favourite Fringe shows were because of Virgin’s Half Price Hut. So while it may seem like a good idea to book all your tickets ahead of time, you could be missing out on the best shows.
What do you want to see?
Whether you’re a stand-up comedy kind of dude, a drama geek looking for new writing or if you just want to watch bands, all of it and more is at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. As with budgeting, deciding what kind of shows you want to catch will help narrow down your choices.
If you’ve only got time for five shows and you want to see some comedy, a play, a one-person performance, etc. then you know you can’t see all the top comedians because you’ll leave the Fringe feeling like you’ve only experienced a small portion. Plus, I wouldn’t see all the top comedians who tour regularly anyway. Try and seek out performances that you know you will only see at the Fringe.
Keep in mind, the Fringe is a fantastic opportunity to see something you’d never normally see. And hey, if it’s a free show then what have you got to lose?
Types of Venues and Theatres
It would be pointless trying to make a definitive list of all of the venues at the Fringe because there’s just too many and they change every year. During the Fringe, the smallest of pubs can be transformed into a stage.
However, I think it’s worth giving you an overview of the main companies that have venues all over the city. As well as hitting a selection of genres, I think that if you try and see some performances at the top venues then you’re more likely to see a Fringe staple and a show that’s quintessential ‘Fringe.’ Not that there’s anything wrong with watching a bit of improv in a back street pub!
The Whole Fringe Experience
There are hundreds of amazing shows at the Fringe and you will miss most of them. And in their place, you will see some really mediocre crap. But part of the experience of the Fringe is that you really just don’t know what you’re getting. Don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time watching a terrible show… it’s all part of the Fringe experience!
Outside of the theatres, you absolutely must spend some time on the Royal Mile which stretches from St Giles Cathedral and all the way down the High Street. Here is where most of the shows performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival will hand out flyers and put on little skits to entice you to their show. It has such a buzz.
If time allows, walk down as much of the Royal Mile as you can. Even better, be impulsive and watch a show that catches your eye on the Mile!
The BBC is also present at the Edinburgh Festivals and usually set up a little space on Teviot Place which is a nice outdoor area to get a drink. The BBC also give away free tickets to their performances which you can check out here, but unfortunately, the deadline to apply has already passed this year!
Princes Street Gardens
The other main hub of Fringe excitement is Princes Street Gardens where the Virgin Money Half Price Hut is. There are lots of street performers and entertainers to pass the time (including the odd bagpiper!). And if it’s good weather, which sometimes it is (though let’s face it, this is Scotland we’re talking about), the park is the perfect place to spend a relaxing morning before show-hopping for the rest of the day.
Have you ever been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before? Do you have any top tips? Let me know in the comments below!
This article is a reworking of the 2015 article I wrote for GapYear.com. Click here to read the original article.
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