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The Edinburgh Fringe is one of my favourite times of the year. The city is always special to visit, but during the fringe, there’s a special dose of magic, as artists, comedians, actors, writers and their audiences gather to celebrate the world’s biggest festival of arts. It runs for 25 days every August, featuring more then 3,000 shows, 50,000 performances and 300 venues. The programme includes theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, circus, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, music and spoken word, with comedy being the biggest section. It’s an overwhelming amount of options and after three years attending the festival, I think I have a few good tips to share about how to get the best out of the Edinburgh Fringe.
1. Pick up the ‘big four’ programme
When you flick through the Edinburgh Fringe programme, filled with hundreds of acts, it can be daunting to know where to begin. While it can be fun to peruse the whole thing or just pick out a few that catch your eye, a good shortcut is to also pick up a copy of the ‘big four’ programme, which only lists shows at the biggest venues, the Pleasance, Underbelly, Gilded Balloon and Assembly. All four of these venues are known for having a great programme of events, so your chance of picking something good is pretty high. That said, some of the best shows we’ve seen have been at venues other than these, so it’s also worth exploring others as well – especially some of the more quirky options like Bob’s Blunder Bus, which takes place on the top floor of a double-decker bus!
2. Book tickets for the popular shows as soon as possible
Some of the big name acts book up incredibly quickly, so if you have your heart set on seeing something, be sure to book it as soon as the programme is announced. The best way to do this is by keeping an eye on the Fringe’s social media, which will announce when booking goes live.
3. Plan your schedule – or not!
There are few different ways you can do the Fringe. One year, we went at the last-minute and booked everything on the the fly. This year, we booked most things in advance, but then left a few slots free to fill with things that caught our eye while there. There’s no right way to do it, but if there are shows you really want to see then the wise thing would be to book those in advance as even if they’re not super popular now, they may still sell out, especially if they get good reviews. I personally favour the way we did it this year as, with a bit of research, we ended up booking some brilliant shows. We definitely had more ‘misses’ the year we didn’t plan it (but still had a great time).
4. Read the round-ups and recommendations
Most of the shows I booked in advance this year were things that I had read about in the media, mainly the Guardian, the Scotsman and Time Out. Despite enjoying comedy, I don’t know a lot about it, so it was good to find out which comedians were already well reviewed or tipped for big things. Some of the brilliant acts we saw this year because of that included Ahir Shar, Hannah Gadsby, Sarah Schaefer and Fin Taylor.
5. Be careful of timings and distance
There are around 300 venues at the Fringe, spread across the city, so be careful with the timings of the events you book. You don’t want to only leave 15 minutes in-between performances that will actually take 30 minutes to get to. Most places don’t permit latecomers, so it’s not worth the risk. Also leave some time to eat!
6. Pay for the free Fringe
Lots of the performances at the Fringe are free, but you have to bear in mind that the performers are paying to be there so, if you enjoy the show, don’t be mean and hide your pounds. They deserve to be paid.
7. Keep some slots free
Although I’ve said I like to book some shows in advance, I also think it’s a good idea to leave some time free so you can book shows that catch your eye or are recommended while you’re there. When you book in advance, you won’t have the benefit of reviews to read, but once there, if you get there a few days in, reviews will start to appear and you can take your pick from the best.
8. Enjoy the food and vibes!
Even if you’re not going to any of the shows at the Assembly or Gilded Balloon, do head over to that area as there are some great food trucks, plus the Assembly George Square Garden is a great place to spend some time, soaking up the festival vibes.
5. Go to a showcase
Steve and I tend to mostly go to comedy shows as that’s where our interest lies, but we also enjoy going to at least one of the showcases, which feature a selection of excerpts from shows across the Fringe. This year, we went to Melvyn Stutter’s Pick of the Fringe which, on the day we went, included some theatre, spoken word, cabaret, comedy and music. It’s a great way to get a taste of what else is happening at the Fringe, and perhaps get some inspiration for booking a full show.
6. Book your accommodation early
Accommodation in Edinburgh during the Fringe is expensive, no matter where you stay. A hotel that would normally cost £100 per night will likely treble to £300. Your best bet for getting a good deal is to book as early as possible. And also try some of the more budget options. This year we stayed at the Hub by Premier Inn. It’s an upgraded, trendier version of the standard Premier Inn with an emphasis on good design and tech. Everything in the room – from the lights to the ‘do not disturb’ sign – is controlled via an electronic panel next to your bed. I was really impressed by the quality and comfort of the whole place.
Disclosure: We were invited to stay at the Hub by Premier Inn, but all views and opinions are genuine. It was already on my list of places to try after a friend recommended it. I’d definitely go back.
All photos of the festival © Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society