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Fire jugglers and midnight shows: A guide to planning your Edinburgh Festivals trip

Christopher Wilson-Elmes Profile Image

Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

The Fringe Festival is one of the biggest comedy and arts events in the world and we’d happily bet that it’s the tightest fit for its host city, as thousands of people flood to Edinburgh for weeks of unbridled fun and creativity. And that’s just the performers. Here’s our guide to navigating the cobbled roads and vertiginous steps of Edinburgh and finding your way to a Fringe Festival full of fun.

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It’s not one festival actually, it’s three

The first thing to be aware of is that are three different festivals that take place in August in Edinburgh. The Edinburgh International Festival was founded in 1947 and is officially the oldest of the three. The second, The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, was unofficially founded in the same year, after several theatre companies turned up uninvited to the main festival and made do with whatever venues they could find. Over the years, the latter became the Fringe, the alternative arts and comedy behemoth it now is, which in turn led to the creation of the third festival. The Free Fringe is a reaction to how the main fringe (if you’re still following this) had become in some people’s eyes, too formalised and expensive. So being in Edinburgh in August now means being able to go from Verdi in the grandeur of Mcewan Hall, to heart-stopping circus acts in the big tops on the Meadows or raucous stand-up comedy in a basement, via a street full of fire jugglers. And you should definitely try all three.

Brace yourself and book accommodation early

To the dismay of many locals, the festivals fill the city to the rafters. Every hotel, B&B, self-catering apartment, spare bedroom and sofa seems to have people sleeping on it or in it. This makes accommodation expensive and scarce, so it’s worth planning ahead and being ready to pay a little more than you would at other times of the year. Get ahead of the game with our Edinburgh places to stay.

Where to base yourself

You needn’t worry too much about being central. Edinburgh is a small city and as long as you aren’t out in the Pentlands or over the bridge to Fife, you should be fine to walk or take a quick bus to the heart of the action. Bear in mind though, that walking times will be lengthened by the crowds, who have often stopped to see if a street performer will finally stop talking and force themselves through a burning hula hoop while riding a unicycle.

Featured places to stay in Edinburgh

Apartment on Cheyne Street

Edinburgh

  • From £150 p/n
  • Self-catering
  • 1 room for 2

Garden Apartment, St Bernard's Crescent

Stockbridge, Edinburgh

  • From £225 p/n
  • Self-catering
  • 2 rooms for 4

St Stephen Street Apartment

Edinburgh

  • From £95 p/n
  • Self-catering
  • 2 rooms for 4

Key Fringe Festival dates

Runs from 4-28 August 2023

First batch of shows confirmed and bookable – 16 Febuary

Second batch of show dates released – 30 March

Third batch – 11 May

Full programme release – 8 June

Book some time, leave some time

It’s worth picking a couple of shows you really want to see and booking them, of course, but you should also leave some time for spontaneity. Not only can dashing from show to show make them all blur into one, but you miss out on opportunities to pick up great deals. Tickets are often available at half price for shows starting on the same day as you’re buying them, and the opening weekend sometimes has preview prices which can tempt you to try new things. It also means you can wander into Free Fringe events and take your chances, which can be decidedly hit and miss, but great fun.

Choosing your shows

Reviews for shows will start coming out months before the event itself and in the case of the Fringe you can keep an eye on the snippets on their website as they begin to release lineups and dates in early February. When you arrive, get hold of the programmes for all three events, then settle in with a coffee somewhere and go to work. If you fancy trying out some new comedians and don’t mind being up late, then get yourself a ticket for Best of the Fest when you’re in town. It’s held every night at around 11pm/midnight in The Assembly Hall and features a range of standups doing short samples of their shows. Apparently, the comedians hate it, but it’s a fun way to choose your main show for the following day.

Explore our collection of special places to stay in Edinburgh > 

Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

Chris is our in-house copywriter, with a flair for turning rough notes and travel tales into enticing articles. Raised in a tiny Wiltshire village, he was desperate to travel and has backpacked all over the world. Closer to home, he finds himself happiest in the most remote and rural places he can find, preferably with a host of animals to speak to, some waves to be smashed about in and the promise of a good pint somewhere in his future.
View more articles by this author

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