We had our first taste of a world class fringe festival a few years ago when we lived in Edmonton. In August of every year, it is the host to North America’s largest festival of theatre arts and culture. We lived there 4 years and only took in the sights, sounds and shows once. However, we had so much fun that one time that when I heard Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest in the world, it immediately went on our Scottish Bucket List. And like any fringe festival, there are things you don’t expect to see, hear or do.
What is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?
It’s a large arts and culture festival where performers from around the world show their talents over three weeks in August in Scotland’s capital. This year there are over 3000 different acts performing in over 300 different venues across the city. Performances are categorised into Cabaret/Variety, Children’s Shows, Comedy, Dance/Circus, Music, Operas, Spoken Word and Theatre. Most performances are ticketed but some are free or “pay-what-you-want”. Visitors, locals and performers take over the Royal Mile in the centre of Edinburgh’s Old Town as well as other spots around the city. It’s a feast for the eyes and non-stop entertainment and fun.
Tips for a Great Edinburgh Fringe Festival Weekend
- Book accommodations ahead of time and expect to pay more than usual. Or just stay in the outskirts of the city centre in an AirBnb like we did. Since we planned this trip on short notice, we were happy to find an AirBnb host with a spare bedroom. We stayed past Dean Village, about a 20 minute bus ride to the city centre. Buses were frequent enough and cost only £1.20 each way. Twice we even just walked the 30 minutes into the city and took an Uber back at night. All in, it was cheaper than staying right in the city or pay for parking.
- Ask for show recommendations and do some research. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with so many choices given the number of performances. I asked friend and fellow blogger, Lauren, what she liked and I also did some Google searching to find out which shows were getting attention. We also flipped through the Free Guide and just picked things that looked interesting.
- Ticket purchases. We bought tickets to shows directly from the Box Office on High Street. But there is also the Virgin Money Half Price hut where you can find cheaper tickets and some venues sell tickets just before the show.
- Buy the Friends of the Fringe membership. For £30, I bought this membership that gave us 2-for-1 pricing to some shows. Since most of the shows I had picked anyway fell under this scheme, this was a no-brainer that saved us about £50… more than making up for the cost of the membership.
- Use the Fringe App. The app helped us stay organized and planned out our two days. I also used it to bookmark shows I was interested in seeing. You can also buy tickets on the app and then pick them up at designated ticket pickup windows.
- Arrive to the show early. Since seats are not assigned, we found arriving at the venue about 10-15 min before the start of the show ensured we were near the front of the line and got the best pick of seats. However, venues are so small you almost always have a good view.
- Be Spontaneous. The App has a great feature that allows you to see what’s on “Nearby Now”. So we while we only bought tickets to a few shows, we left a few gaps in the day to be spontaneous and pop into a show that we just happened to come across.
- Keep your eyes open. There are buskers and performers giving previews of their shows. People handing out fliers and even free tickets. Billboards are posted up everywhere. You may serendipitously come across your favourite show with no planning whatsoever!
- Edinburgh is walkable but venues are spread out. We had to hightail it from one end of the city to another for a performance because we didn’t realize the distance ahead of time.
Things I Didn’t Expect from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
- Sing “My vagina is 8 miles wide…” with the rest of the audience. Lauren recommended the cabaret variety show Lady Liberty by Australian, Amelia Ryan. She has incredible vocals and a knack for getting the crowd to participate. David was picked out to go on stage with two others and I was mildly embarrassed for him (and me!) The show was all about the pursuit of liberty in all aspects of life and left us with her catchy tune “My vagina is 8 miles wide” for the rest of the night.
- Hear such personal stories. The comedies we picked still came with personal stories of heartache, deception and abuse. All the Things I Lied About was one of them. We enjoyed the powerful one-woman performance at a cool venue called the Roundabout. It later prompted some meaningful conversation of the little white lies we all tell each other to make our lives easier.
- Laugh along with a Canadian Engineer turned Stand-up comic. It was a refreshing change to hear a Canadian accent among all the Scottish/English/Australian ones. Peter White was hilarious and joked about the pitfalls of being a straight white male in today’s society. And he swears, it’s not a racist show. But he too turned all deep and meaningful at the end. BONUS: We saw a giant wasp fly right before our faces and land on an audience member’s ear. He inevitably became part of the comedy. So random.
- See the silhouette of a man’s balls. After the first day sitting in on comedies, we decided to spice it up a bit and pick a few dance numbers. I.S: All Night Long by Don Gnu was listed as Dance/Physical Theatre performed by three men in hand-knit socks and sandals. Their slapstick comedy and jackass stunts kept us laughing and jumping in our seats with anticipation. There was some nudity as well and a strategically placed 2×12 plank that actually wasn’t strategically placed enough. Aside from that, the show was impressive. The dancing, singing and use of props and physicality was something I’d never seen before. I would go out of my way to see these guys again. Check out their trailer for the show (balls not included).
- Witness world class dancing. The dance performance, Lost in Complete by Complete Dance Crew was simply amazing. Just five incredibly talented guys from around the world, moving their bodies in ways unimaginable to music for 30 minutes. All of a sudden, I wanted to take up dancing.
- Cringe at some truly awful puns. Who doesn’t love a good pun? And you have to admire a guy with oversized eyebrows dressed in a low-grade superhero’s costume taking suggestions from the audience to fuel his one-man pun act. For 60 minutes, we enduring some clever, funny one-liners filled with puns. But not without some roll-your-eyes, cringe-worthy ones that made you laugh and shake your head at the same time. It was brilliant. Watch his video here to see what I mean.
- Sit in the audience thinking “Are we in the right show?” There was one show that we didn’t enjoy out of the seven we saw and that’s not a bad record. Wonderman sounded interesting based on the description but we were lost from the start. We had no idea what was going on in this piece of theatre based on Roald Dahl’s short stories for adults. I think we would have enjoyed it more and understood all the references and nuances had we been familiar with the short stories themselves. Either way, the performers were talented and impressive to watch. We just didn’t understand the story.
- Getting poured on. People say: “If you don’t like the weather in Scotland, wait 5 minutes.” And “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” We experienced it all this weekend. From heavy rains and overcast skies, to sunny bright sunshine and peeling away layers in the heat! I really need to invest in a good umbrella for this Scottish rain.
- Fireworks. I did not expect to see fireworks. So when I heard the large bangs going off and streams of light in the distance, I was instantly disappointed I didn’t know about this. The fireworks are part of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo which we will go to next year. But had I known, we could have parked ourselves near Edinburgh castle for a free light show.
- Colour and Liveliness. Coming from Aberdeen, where I complain all the time that it is grey, Edinburgh was such a nice change of scenery. We felt instantly uplifted, surrounded by the cosmopolitan city buzz even despite the weather. Pedestrian streets, coloured buildings, unique boutique shops and cafes. We wished we could live there instead but c’est la vie. And since it’s only a 2.5hr drive away, we’ll be back to explore more of the city and its attractions.
If you ever have the chance to support local arts and culture or perhaps even attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, just go for it. You’ll never know what you’ll come across.