A First-Timer’s Guide to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

The month of August is like no other in Edinburgh. Thousands of people descend upon Scotland’s capital to attend the largest arts festival in the world: The Fringe Festival. The city transforms into a whimsical fusion of street buskers, pop-up bars, food trucks, raucous nightlife, and an all-round, gigantic street party atmosphere.

This year’s Fringe Festival boasts over 3,000 shows across 294 venues throughout the city. Mainstream headliners, up-and-coming entertainers, and everyone in-between perform shows of every genre: comedy, dance, theatre, circus, live music, cabaret and musicals – to name a few. From the weird to the wacky, to the funny, touching, and downright bizarre, there are literally shows for anyone and everyone.

Between the crowds and the sheer number of things to see and do, August can be an overwhelming time in Edinburgh – but visiting the city during the Fringe Festival is an experience you don’t want to miss!

Edinburgh Fringe Festival - A guide for first-time visitors.

Fringe Basics

What is the Fringe Festival? 

Simply put, it’s the largest arts festival in the world, with over 50,000 performances of more than 3,000 shows held at 294 venues across the city over a three week period. The Fringe Fest is an open-access festival, which means anyone is eligible to register and perform.

When does it take place? 

Every year in August for three weeks – starting on the first Friday of the month, and ending on the last Monday.

This year, it runs from August 5th to the 29th.

Where are the venues? 

All over Edinburgh! There are literally hundreds of venues – everything from traditional theatres to university halls, pubs, churches and pop-up theatres. (Check out the venues map here.)

Some of the larger venues and main hubs of activity include Assembly George Square Gardens, Pleasance Courtyard, Gilded Balloon, and Underbelly.

How much does it cost?

Most shows average between £8 and £15.

How to choose a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Choosing Shows

Deciding what to see can be one of the most difficult and overwhelming aspects of attending the Fringe, so consider the following tips to help narrow down your options.

  • Social media is a great way to see real-time reviews: search the #edfringe and #pickofthefringe hashtags to see what’s popular.
  • Browse reviews from recent audience members on the Fringe Festival website when searching for shows.
  • Fringe performers will often display previews of their shows on The Royal Mile and The Mound, so be sure to stroll around those areas to get a better idea of what’s on offer.
  • Don’t ignore the people handing out flyers on the Royal Mile! Advertising in the Fringe Festival programme is very expensive, so many people will use street marketing as their main means of promotion.

Where to buy tickets for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Buying Tickets

The Fringe Festival Website. The official Fringe website (edfringe.com) is the easiest and most convenient website for browsing shows and booking tickets. (An additional booking fee is charged when using this site.)

The Fringe Box Office. This is the main box office, located on The Royal Mile (180 High Street). You can visit for general information about the festival, purchase and collect tickets, and buy Fringe souvenirs at this location.  

The Fringe App. This app is perfect if you’re wanting to book tickets on the go, and to see a list of the shows on offer each day. You can also use the ‘nearby now’ feature to see what’s happening near your current location. (An additional booking fee is charged when booking through the app.)

Half Price Hut. Visit the Half Price Hut on The Mound for discounted tickets to shows playing that day. The Hut is open for sales and ticket collections starting the second week of the Fringe. (This year, it’s open daily from August 10th – 29th, between 10am and 9pm.)

Ticket Collection Points. Tickets can also be purchased and/or collected from Fringe collection points and a number of venues across the city.

Stretching your budget at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Stretch your budget

Take advantage of free shows. PBH’s Free Fringe has a programme filled entirely with free shows happening every day of the festival. Many venues, such as The Laughing Horse and Paradise Palms, host free shows frequently over the course of the month.

Cheap eats. Pop-up food stalls and trucks can be found all over the city – especially in George Square Gardens, St Andrew Square, and along The Royal Mile – and it’s easy to grab inexpensive street food from these vendors. 

Other budget-friendly restaurants in Old Town include Oink (£4 pulled pork rolls), Piemaker (savoury pies starting around £2), Mosque Kitchen (cheap, authentic Indian food), and The Baked Potato Shop (massive baked potatoes topping with an array of fillings).

Discounted shows. Weekday shows tend to be a bit cheaper than shows on the weekend, and 2-for-1 tickets are often available throughout the first week of the festival. Preview shows are also offered a day or two before the festival officially starts, and they can be up to 50% cheaper.

Tips for attending the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

A few Fringe survival tips

Be prepared for all weather conditions. Despite the fact that the Fringe Fest is held at the height of summer, the weather can be unpredictable, and it’s not uncommon to experience the equivalent of all four seasons within a span of 24 hours!

Book accommodations in advance. Accommodations sell-out quickly in August, and the prices skyrocket during this time. Book as far in advance as possible, and consider alternative accommodation options, such as camping at The Royal Highland Centre, Homestay, Couchsurfing, and student dormitories.

Know where to go to escape the madness. If you need a bit of peace and quiet during the Fringe, head to some off-the-beaten-path spots in city, like Portobello Beach or Blackford Hill.

Are you heading to the Fringe Festival this year?
What tips would you add for Fringe first-timer’s?

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