Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2012: A cultural escape, on a budget
When it comes to a holiday, or weekend city escapes, places that come to mind might be Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, or Stockholm – places closer to home don’t tend to cross your mind. But culturally, for half a century, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has dominated the city with street art, comedy and music, every August for three weeks.
But won’t this cost just as much as going abroad? Well, dependent on your extravagance, possibly, but to explore a culture capital that doesn’t involve long flights, extra insurance, airport transfer and so on, perhaps staying closer to home is a really feasible option. Particularly when Edinburgh transforms into such a spectacle 24/7 – it’s definitely worth checking out just to say you have, regardless.
If you plan your trip a few months in advance, you can book a train from King’s Cross from around £15-£20 (single) on East Coast. It’s cheaper to book two singles there and back. Or if you have time and can entertain yourself for nine hours or so then there is always the option of the Megabus, which in advance can cost as little as £1.
If you have a little more to spare, easyJet do flights to Edinburgh from £27.99 from Heathrow or Gatwick and this tends to be standard whether you book a week before or months in advance.
Where to stay
Prices rocket in hotels over the Fringe, purely because they can. Here it’s all about advanced booking or sussing out hostels. Using a renowned comparison website like HostelBooker, which also provides a map view, you can focus in on where you’d rather stay in relation to landmarks and venues. The Cowgate Tourist Hostel (for example) on Cowgate, with a three-night minimum stay for one person sharing a dorm, totals just £11.85 a night, or a private room is £32.00 a night. This doesn’t include meals, but being on a main central point of the city (on the same road as the E4 Underbelly) with food easily accessible and reasonably priced, this won’t be too much of a problem.
If you book in advance though and have a little bit more to spend, there is a Travelodge and Holiday Inn Express near the Royal Mile and Cowgate which are also close to venues like C Venues, Pleasance Courtyard and the Underbelly. The beauty of Edinburgh is that everything is within walking distance.
Where to go
The popular venues of Edinburgh include the Pleasance Courtyard, the Underbelly, the Udderbelly, Assembly Festival, the C Venues, Gilded Balloon, the BBC Tent, the Spaces. All charge around £10 a ticket, but if you’re a student you can get discount on all tickets at a concession rate. Use this!
C Venues offer a deal, in which you purchase a minimum of five shows and receive an “iCmore” card that enables you to get a ten-percent discount on their bars and on tickets as well.
The best thing to do is pick up a free map (available from hotel receptions), hit the Royal Mile and be bombarded by flyers and taster performances live on the street, and wait for offers and ticket deals direct from casts and companies. If you hit the Fringe in the first week (usually around the 6th-7th August), previews tend to be 2-4-1 so this already slashes ticket prices down.
There is also the Edinburgh Free Fringe. This year, it was hosted in the huge courtyard of The Three (cleverly changed to ‘free) Sisters pub on Cowgate, and this is just a selection of sub venues and companies performing and entertaining for free. Also new companies with their first performances ever at the Fringe will sometimes decide to sell it as free to boost audiences and establish themselves purely on reviews and star ratings. A highlight for me was a company called Lead Pencil (@LeadPencilUK) who are London-based and performed in The Fiddlers Elbow with a casual, confident approach that was genuinely hilarious without being vulgar.
Late-night comedians will usually advertise free gigs via flyering, banking on boozed-up custom to come into various back-rooms in bars and pubs. This works. Comedy group Four Screws Loose (@FourScrewsLoose) played last year for free in the back-room of a pub on Cowgate – and due to the response, they are now performing in Assembly Square charging £8-£10 a ticket and have performed on BBC Radio 1 and are now favourites of Reveal magazine. Don’t worry about free Fringe shows not being up to scratch; they are usually upcoming little gems and just depend on your laughs for encouragement.
Where to drink
Drinking and partying is a big part of the Fringe. Most clubs are celebrating their sudden surge of custom, so door entry is either minimal or free. And every night (yes, including Mondays) is a party night.
Look out for cocktail deals! The Frankenstein Bar on George IV Bridge offer, Monday-Wednesday, a cocktail list of £3.95 per cocktail – and they’re good. The Long Island Ice Tea is, for the price, very strong too.
Bars which are a little further walk out from city central match your efforts of strolling there for five minutes longer – you can buy vodka Red Bulls in The Chanter Pub on Bread Street for around £2.00. A pitcher of Pimm’s is about £7.95 and then again if you’re the lucky owner of a student card you get an extra 15 percent off of that price. And it’s buzzing!
Drinking in Edinburgh, bars stay open until around 5am over Fringe weeks. And because you’re drinking with poor performers and companies who are sharing flats with ten to 20 people for the month, no one is dressed up to the nines so you’re saving on make-up and washing! I’ve seen people in clubs in wellies – and that’s perfectly OK and part of the fun.
Where to eat
Firstly, Scottish Fudge is a must-try. Royal Mile’s Fudge Kitchen provides genuine free fudge testers and they are simply to die for. Do it.
Quirky coffee shops like Black Medicine Co on the Royal Mile win in the coffee and sandwich stakes. They are reasonably-priced, nourishing food suitable for the bizarre weather tendencies of Scotland (well, the UK in general) and a very personable company.
The best fish and chips would have to be at The City Restaurant on Nicholson Street. Eat-in is £7.50 and portion sizes are not stingy in the slightest. Also, their haggis fritters for £3.50 are perfectly crisp and tasty. They do a haggis main now too, and I can guarantee it’s worth it.
And we all know, if you’re in Scotland you have to try haggis!
So: the Edinburgh Fringe. Performances start from around 10am in the morning and end latest 3.30am. It is a jam-packed cultural experience that is worth considering next summer.
PS: pack a brolly.
All venue information can be found on the official Fringe website.