A Local's Guide to Visiting the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
the biggest arts celebration on earth
With the Edinburgh Festival Fringe being only the single biggest celebration of arts and culture on the planet, if you haven’t heard of it, where have you been? Every August, locals and tourists alike revel in the excitement of the Fringe coming to Edinburgh. With an explosive energy of performers from all over the world, for three weeks only, there’s nowhere quite like it on Earth.
Living in Edinburgh as a local, there’s always a weird mix of excitement and anticipation in the air. Along with the slightly nervous undertone of knowing that the city you know and love is about to triple in population. You’ll not get anywhere quicker than snail’s pace for the next three weeks.
Fear not, here’s my guide on how to not only survive the Fringe like a local, but also how to love it - especially those flyers, because there’s a whole load of them coming your way!
accomodation during the edinburgh festival fringe
If you’re planning on visiting Edinburgh for the Fringe, be sure to book in advance. Hotels and Airbnb’s alike get booked up incredibly quickly and often hike their prices for the whole of August. They can become fully booked even six months ahead, so it really does pay to be organised.
Although a city, Edinburgh often feels more like a large town with a big personality. With excellent public transport connections, it’s easy to get anywhere you need to go in the city.
the royal mile
The Royal Mile is the heart of the Fringe. It's where you'll find most street performers, artists and buskers. Walking down the Mile you'll be inundated with flyers and promotions for the festival. If that’s your kind of buzz, the Royal Mile and Cannongate are great options.
Book now: G&V, Royal Mile
Princes Street & George Street
Princes Street and George Street are home to the main shopping districts in the city. This is one of the most central places you can stay, although you can expect to pay more here, you’re in an amazing location.
Book now: Eden Locke, George Street
Haymarket & The West End
A short distance from Princes Street, the West End and Haymarket are towards the more affordable end of the city centre scale. Princes Street is within a 20 minute walk from Haymarket train station, or there are busses every five minutes and the tram to take you there.
Book now: Leonardo Royal Hotel, Haymarket
Leith & The Shore
If you’re looking for a more urban side of Edinburgh, try staying in Leith. One of the most up and coming parts of the city, Leith has an effortlessly cool vibe and is home to some great independent boutiques and coffee shops.
Book now: Malmaison, The Shore
Getting to Edinburgh City Centre
Edinburgh is well connected as a city, with public transport connecting the airport and all major railway stations. Most public transport within the city on the busses and trams run 24 hours during the festival, so you’ll never be short of a ride home.
If you’re getting the bus or tram more than twice a day, be sure to buy a day pass. They cost just £4 and will take you wherever you need to go, on unlimited journeys. All Lothian busses use exact change only at a flat rate charge of £1.70, you don’t need to ask where you want to go, only ‘single’ (£1.70) or ‘day pass’ (£4). This is the same cost for the trams and the day passes are interchangeable between the two.
If you’re coming from the airport, you’ll need to buy your tram or bus airlink ticket in advance as they’re in a different outer-city zone. There’s stations right as you exit at arrivals. You don’t need exact change for this and can pay on card.
Booking trains from elsewhere within the UK is most beneficial done in advance. Purchasing your tickets between 6-12 weeks before can save you up to ⅓ on rail tickets, so with high cost accomodation during the festival, every saving helps. Use National Rail for all trains coming from England and Wales, or Scotrail if you’re travelling within Scotland.
Where to Find the Best Shows
There is always something going on during the Fringe, you'll find most of the shows come alive around 1pm onwards, so take the morning to do some sightseeing. Or if you have children, all the family friendly shows and activities tend to start from 11am onwards.
The Royal Mile is scattered with street performers, ranging from comedy acts, theatre, live music and even a silent disco. Everywhere you turn there will be something happening. The Royal Mile is the busiest hubs of all the streets in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. It's here you'll pick up the most flyers for the shows and really soak up the best of the atmosphere. Though prepared to walk slowly, things don't move too fast there with the amount of people!
Finding the Venues
The biggest venues are generally around the Edinburgh University campus. Here you'll find George Square Bristo Square run by the Underbelly venues. Also here you'll find the Assembly Food Festival for a pit stop and relax in the gardens between shows. Underbelly is one of the biggest contributors to the Fringe Festival, and they're not hard to miss. The giant purple upside down cow tent takes residency at George Square; you'll find other sections of purple around the city hitting at where the rest of the Underbelly venues are. The shows are typically paid for here, but you'll also find some of the best ones.
Experiencing the Fringe on a Budget
Edinburgh on the whole isn't the cheapest, and when you're visiting for the Fringe Festival, unfortunately they do tend to hike up their prices too. If you're wanting to see the festival on a budget, consider stopping at backpacking hostels or renting an Airbnb property. They'll offer a more genuine experience of the city than a hotel, and it offers you the chance to make your own food, keeping costs down.
With over 8,000 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival it can be a bit daunting where to look. The Fringe official website offers loads of great filter options so you can pick out the shows for the date's you're visiting, and by price, or for free. Do note that although shows are listed as free, the performers are here to make a living and a name for themselves, so if you can donate something if is suggested at the end of each show.
Taking a walk down the Royal Mile you'll instantly be hit with lots of opportunities for shows to go and see, so you could easily take things as they come to you. The Three Sisters pub on Cowgate (also known as the FREE Sisters during the festival) is your main spot for free shows. This place is packed at the best of times believe me, but the Fringe is seriously busy. If you're planning to see some shows there make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get through the crowds and ensure you get yourself a seat. The free shows often start queuing for 20-30 minutes before to gain entry, once they're full you will be turned away.
You can use the Fringe app or search Edinburgh Fringe online for performances and information on how to get to venues, as well as any pointers on accessibility and audience ratings.
Read my Edinburgh city guides to discover more about how you can explore this amazing city during your visit to the Fringe.