As the world’s largest arts festival, The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is one of the most important and entertaining collections of theatre, comedy and performance art in the world. The Edinburgh Fringe is one of my personal highlights of the cultural calendar in the UK, and for anyone looking for a unique and exciting event in August, I simply can’t recommend it enough.
Held in August every year, with most shows happening within walking distance of each other, the fringe plays host to over 20,000 performers from up to 50 different countries. The feel of the city around festival time is a genuinely international, cosmopolitan one with a huge array of activities to suit anyone.
Around and About
Given the incredible flood of tourism that the fringe brings, it’s surprising that you can still find places to stay and get around very easily. The transport links provided by Scotrail are added to during the festival, and the local council even offer discounted parking after 5pm. However, I’ve always found that you still have to queue for most performances, as the organisers do a good job of filling every seat.
The prices for both travel and accommodation vary wildly, with some of the locals offering up their flats for a little extra cash, and a strong car-sharing programme for those on a budget. For those flying in, Edinburgh Airport is just eight miles from the city, while Prestwick (serving Glasgow and the west coast) is just a couple of hours away by train. I often stayed in Glasgow for a majority of the time I’m there, as it’s a very nice, and surprisingly short trip to Edinburgh.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a wonderfully inclusive event, allowing for almost any budget. There are both half-price ticket stalls and free performances available from the Half-Price Hut, an endorsed vendor, so that can be a great way to see as much as possible on a budget. I would recommend hitting the Half-Price Hut at least once per day, as you’ll get some amazing tickets at incredible prices if you visit it enough.
Prices for individual shows vary greatly from about £5 to anything up to £25. However, there is still an emphasis on keeping the costs low. This is, after all, a showcase for performances, so you’re encouraged to see as much as possible.
A Mixed Bag
One important thing to remember about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is that it is almost completely unjuried, meaning that the acts you see are mostly self organised and promoted. This means that as well as the numerous high-quality performances, you run the risk of seeing some poor shows as well. I’ve seen some incredible rubbish on my travels through the fringe, but even those have been worth seeing, if nothing else but for unintended comedy value.
The advice given by the organisers is to see as much as you can, and appreciate the atmosphere as much as the performances. However, I would recommend asking around at shows (or in one of the many queues you’ll be standing in) to see what’s getting the most attention – good or bad.
A Party Town
The population of Edinburgh triples during festival time, and you’ll see the party mood of the place simmer as the fringe gets underway. For the rest of the year Edinburgh has a strong student population, meaning that nightlife to suit all types of partygoer is available, from the boisterous Grassmarket area to the classier George Street. Combined with the wealth of performances on offer, there’s no better time to visit Scotland’s capital than during the fringe.
The Big Names
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been a hotbed of artists, performers and comedians trying to escalate their careers, and draws in thousands of up-and-coming artists. Indeed, some of the biggest stars that made their names there include British greats such as Alan Bennet, Jonathan Miller, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook.
More recently comedians such as Steve Coogan, Lee Evans and Frank Skinner have built careers on the back of strong fringe seasons, and still attend to get back to their roots. As long as you get around as much as possible, it’s very likely that you’ll be seeing the next big star of theatre or comedy on your travels. I’ve seen some greats of modern British Comedy, such as Stewart Lee and Frankie Boyle at fantastic venues, all for prices you couldn’t dream of in London.
The Fringe’s Fringe
Just as the Edinburgh International Festival generated the fringe, the fringe’s growing popularity is generating another class of performer altogether. Given that the costs for the performers are steadily increasing, (as too are the cost of performances) a number of groups and individuals are putting on shows much further out of town. These can be an interesting distraction, but they’re the kind of thing that you have to look out for a little more. I wouldn’t recommend these if you’re new to the fringe, but if you’re really looking for something different, they can be a genuinely unique experience.
There are few more exciting events in Scotland than the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Full of interesting performances and quirky theatre productions, it’s a haven for those looking for a genuinely unique experience on the British Isles. Whether you’re coming for a holiday, or just always fancied going, the fringe is a truly wonderful place to be in August.
About The Author: David Ingram is a veteran of 7 Edinburgh Fringes, and can usually be found at a late night comedy venue trying to catch a glimpse of the next big thing. By day he works for Hunters Marylebone, and by night he blogs about his travels and experiences.
Photo Credits – cc Flickr: #1 martie1swart, #2 Lsieriesglass, #3 Alastair, #4 retrogoth, #5 xlibber