A guide to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

How to negotiate, survive and make the absolute most of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

For the month of August, Edinburgh transforms into one gigantic party where silly meets surreal, profound meets profane and hilarity meets hedonism. Everywhere you turn there are stand-up comedians performing in car parks, performance art in phone booths and adaptations of Shakespeare in every pub’s back room. Without proper preparation and your wits about you, you can either burn out too quickly or get lost in a haze of shows and street theatre and not manage to see anything you really wanted to. We’re here to give you the essential tips you need to Fringe like a pro.

Plan ahead. Subscribe to the Fringe mailing list, follow the official social media accounts and get your hands on the programme as early as you can. The big tickets will sell out quickly so if you want get in, you’ve got to be quick off the mark. Tickets go on sale from early February online and once the full programme is announced (usually early June), you can also buy them over the phone (+44 (0)131 226 0000) or in person at 180 High Street (if you live in Edinburgh).

Be bold. So, you’ve come to the Fringe because you’re a huge fan of stand-up comedy? Great, this is the best place for you. But don’t limit yourself. Variety is the spice of life, as they say. Try everything that sounds interesting. You could end up watching The Evil Dead 2 reimagined via the songs of Elvis Presley or Knightmare live. But don’t go to just anything. There’s a very fine balance to be struck between quantity and quality.

Dress warm. Not to sound like your mother or anything but you’re in Scotland. Yes, it’s August, but that doesn’t make it not Scotland. Make sure you’re prepared for anything (especially rain) and wear comfortable shoes. The Old Town has as many cobbles as the Fringe has comedians and you don’t want to negotiate them in high heels while rushing to your next show.

Manage your time sensibly. The population of Edinburgh doubles during the Fringe festival, so that’s a lot of people to navigate while walking between shows. You should generally allow about 30 to 45 minutes to get from one venue to the next, as trying to rush through the crowds will ruin your enjoyment of the festival. Allow time to eat and time to sit somewhere and relax with a drink – it’s also important to digest and chat about what you’ve just seen before moving on to the next show. If there are two shows you want to see and it’ll be tight getting from one to the other, be brutal and choose one. You don’t want to spend the last ten minutes of something good checking your watch.

Abandon your old concepts of time. Fringe time is different from normal time, which will probably bend your poor brain after you’ve had a few pints. Our days start at 00:00AM and finish at 11:59PM. Fringe days start at 05:00AM and finish at 4:59AM. So, if your ticket says that your show is on at 1:30AM on Friday, it’s really on at 1:30AM on Saturday. Confused? Just try to think of it as Friday night and it doesn’t become Saturday until you go to sleep and wake up again.

Just because it’s free doesn’t mean nobody would pay for it. There are plenty of free shows around during the Fringe and many newbies make the mistake in assuming the free ones are all rubbish, like that one-man show your uncle keeps threatening to write or the amateur improv group your friend joined on a dare. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Exploring the list of free events can turn up some unexpected gems. Also keep an eye out for deals on the other shows. It’s always worth stopping by the Virgin Money Half-Price to see what you can pick up for a bargain.

Roam the Royal Mile. It’ll take a while, but this pedestrianised street in Edinburgh’s Old Town becomes something of a gigantic billboard for Fringe shows. Costumed performers try to out-perform each other to get you to take a flyer for their show, which in itself is a form of entertainment. Take a flyer when you’re offered one, it’s less likely to be for free gym membership or all the ingredients to make delicious meals at home and more likely to lead you to something unexpectedly brilliant. There are also plenty of bizarre performance artists doing their thing, so allow a bit of time to explore what’s going on.

Keep your energy levels up. Don’t forget to eat. Days can be long, especially if you’re starting early and then partying until late. Consult our list of affordable restaurants in Edinburgh, if you need some suggestions to help you refuel without blowing your budget.

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