FOR three weeks in August, Edinburgh is the best place to be in the world. Every year, Edinburgh hosts a record breaking arts festival, with over 3000 acts coming from all over the globe to take part.
The Fringe Festival has been going on since the 1940s when, in response to the more exclusive International Festival, a group of comedians decided to host their own plays and comedy shows in the back rooms of pubs across the city. What evolved is something that has eclipsed the International Festival and attracts millions of people, breaking records year on year.
The most striking thing about the Fringe is the scale of it. You cannot walk anywhere in the city without passing an act trying to sell their show. In Bristo Square, just outside what is usually the Edinburgh University Students union – is a huge, upside purple cow. The Underbelly is part of the “big four”, which also includes Pleasance Venues, Assembly Venues and the Gilded Balloon. These four venues host the biggest names in comedy as well as a variety of smaller acts. For big names like Dara O’Brien, Mark Watson or Eddie Izzard you might need to book tickets in advance but many acts you can just book on the day.
One of the best things about Edinburgh is that you can see big name acts in small venues at very cheap prices, usually for around £10-£15. Just the Tonic and other venues also have a huge selection of free shows, which is ideal if you’re on a tight budget. If you’re looking for more polished, professional theatre, Summerhall and Traverse have a fantastic array of international companies staging their shows there. Many go on to tour the country, so this is an ideal opportunity to see talented companies when they’re just starting out.
Though it is tempting to see as many shows as you can, don’t exhaust yourself. Make sure you take time to explore the city. Edinburgh is steeped in history; its Old Town and New Town are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites and their famous castle dates back to the 12th Century.
For the duration of the festival, every night the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is held, and at around 9:30 you get a spectacular (and free) fireworks show. If you can stomach the climb, Arthur’s Seat provides a beautiful view over the city and out to Musselburgh Bay. Even better, incorporate it with Hive til Five (an infamously cheap club in Edinburgh) and climb up to see the sun rise over the water.
The Fringe festival can be done on any kind of budget, but if you’re a cash-strapped student I’d advise taking the train up (you can get a return for as cheap as £50 if you book far enough in advance), staying in a hostel (Budget Backpackers at Cowgate offers rooms for upwards of £50 per week) and seeing as many free shows as you can.
My last tip for the Edinburgh Fringe is be prepared. It will rain. You will get cold. You will get wet. Don’t let “summer” fool you; it doesn’t exist in Scotland. Having strong shoes and strong umbrella(s) is a must in this city. Out of the month I was there, it rained almost every day, sometimes all day, sometimes just for ten minutes. But don’t let that get you down – there are plenty of pubs, theatres and castles willing to offer you shelter!