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Its never too early to start planning a trip to the Edinburgh Festival. The world’s largest Arts Festival takes over this Scottish capital for three weeks every August and is always a sellout. Its a joyous celebration of pretty much every creative genre, a chance to witness genius and insanity! Prepare to be inspired, uplifted, maybe shocked and, above all, have a really good laugh. Here are my tips for getting the best out of a visit…
Book accommodation as early as possible
If you can forward plan, you are best advised to book your accommodation as early as possible. This year, we decided to go for a weekend in mid August – I started looking for accommodation around November and was shocked to find most of the best B+B’s and hotels already fully booked. In the end, we opted for an AirBnB and happily struck gold with our choice of a delightful family home in the lovely neighbourhood of Morningside. Our charming host, Honor, shared with me that she literally only rents out her 3 spare rooms for two weeks of Festival – such is the demand for rooms in the city during the EdFringe its a good earner and many local residents do the same. Staying slightly further out of the centre proved to be a bonus. The accommodation was cheaper, transport in to the centre was a doddle with a 2 bus routes literally at the end of the road and Morningside is awash with fabulous coffee shops.
What, how, when to book shows
With over 50,000 performances of some 3000 shows taking place in just shy of 300 venues, the sheer scale of the Edinburgh Festival can seem daunting. You do have to accept that if you only have a few days, whichever way you tackle it, you are only going to be able to experience a tiny fraction of what is on offer.
The first thing to watch out for is the launch of the Edinburgh Festival programme in early June. Of course all the details are online on the EdFringe website but also sign up to receive a copy of the Festival brochure by post. It is the size of a phone book but is great to just flick through and get initial ideas.
Naturally, famous name performers tend to sell out more quickly so, if there are any you know you want to catch, the ‘book early’ mantra applies. You can book online via the website and have the tickets sent to you in advance or pick them up at one of the many automated ticket booths. Well known names and shows with more lavish staging will command higher ticket prices but the price is a very rough indicator of the quality of the show. For an average ticket price of £10-£15 you’d expect to see something quite decent.
Word of mouth
Often its the free, cheaper and seemingly more obscure shows can come up trumps. The EdFringe is a hotbed of experimentation and originality and there is nothing more exciting than witnessing the emergence of new talent. Once the Edinburgh Festival is underway you can of course track the reviews in the press but one of the best ways to uncover the gems is simply to chat to anyone and everyone you meet. Most of the shows have unallocated seating so you will spend quite a bit of time in queues. More often than not, the opening topic of conversation is ‘what have you seen that you’d recommend?’.
Strike a balance
My advice would be to take a 50/50 approach – pre book perhaps two or three shows each day but then take some chances with the rest of your time. You need to pace yourself, back to back shows can be exhausting. More than 5 in a day could prove too much. Not only does it take time to find your way between venues but you also need time to absorb what you’ve seen before dashing off for your next entertainment fix. The free EdFringe App is an invaluable tool for organising your time – put all the shows you’ve booked or would like to see in to the Planner and it will give you a great overview of your day as well as help you work out the logistics. If you find yourself at a loose end, you can also use the app to instantly find out what’s on at any venue or simply what’s closest to wherever you happen to be.
Most likely much of your downtime will involve food and drink. Neither is a problem in Edinburgh with endless choices of coffee shops, bars and restaurants. For top end restaurants advance reservations are essential, but many will operate a no reservations policy during the Festival. To avoid standing in line, its a question of being flexible about when and where you eat. In addition to the city’s usual offerings, there are also loads of pop up bars, food trucks and street markets. Pubs often also double up as music venues so there’s every chance of additional free entertainment while you sup. There’s really no danger of going hungry or thirsty in Edinburgh.
Enjoy the city itself
Aside from all the wonderful entertainment the EdFringe provides, the city itself is, of course, magnificent. Many of the historic city squares and buildings become entertainment hubs for the duration of the Festival and the world renowned Royal Mile leading up the Castle is the beating heart of it all. Every day it is packed with street artists and buskers as well as promoters from all the different shows, pressing flyers in to your hand and giving free taster performances. It’s a show in itself just to wander along and take it all in.
If you do find yourself with a few hours to spare, take the (fairly strenuous) hike up to Arthur’s Seat. Its a welcome escape from the crowded streets and your reward will be wonderful panoramic views back down to they city, and the bonus of the walk back down through beautiful Holyrood Park and past the Scottish Parliament Building.
For more information visit www.edfringe.com
Still photos in video © Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society