By Imogen Sarre and Spencer Rust
There are many reasons to become addicted to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Repeat attenders are drawn back year after year to its buzz, its celebratory attitude to innovation, and the life-affirming spirit of communality it fosters.
We're pretty sure that the extraordinary variety of shows and talent on offer would turn any first timer into a lifelong devotee, but we're also aware that attempting to navigate the Fringe without insider knowledge can seem a tad overwhelming to the uninitiated.
So, here are our top tips about what to expect from the Festival and how best to plan for it. (If you want advice about what to see and do when you're up there, check out our Edinburgh Fringe Top Tips blog post.)
The Festival runs for just shy of a month, from 4th to 28th August 2017.
Benefits of going at the start
of the Festival:
- Shows often have cheaper tickets for their first few performances and there are lots of 2 for 1 offers flapping around.
- You're more likely to get into high quality shows at this point in the Fringe because the Edinburgh reviews haven't come out yet, and lots of shows do pre-Edinburgh stints so if you're a review-dependent you should be able to get a sense of quality from those.
- What some of the shows might lack in polished finesse, performers will make up with high energy and infectious optimism.
Benefits of going mid-way
through the Fringe:
- Productions are generally more assured at this point in the Fringe. The greatest number of different shows will be on at this point (only some come up for the full month).
- Reviews will be making appearances on flyers and you can start pulling together people's recommendations.
Benefits of going at the end of the Festival:
- You'll be able to get a really good overview of what's good to go and see. Often it's the more sure-fire productions that get reviewed early on, so using reviews that don't appear until a little later means you could discover some real gems of shows.
- There's a final hurrah of energy as everyone does everything they've been meaning to do all month, knowing that they're shortly to be heading back home to civilisation, proper meat-and-two-veg meals, and their own bedroom.
If you live close, you could pack a fair amount in over just one day - but you'd have to plan, plan, plan. And get up early. And leave late. Not recommended to be honest. Even just staying overnight will transform your trip.
Intense but productive:
Three days and three nights is a pretty optimum length of time. It's short enough that you can feasibly go all out while you're there - with five shows a day and trips out each night - but also pack enough in to feel that you've properly done' the Fringe that year.
A week gives you ample time to really become comfortable at the Fringe, and means you don't have to rush around like a headless chicken, panicking that you'll miss out on stuff. It also means that you can investigate some other parts of Edinburgh at your leisure without sacrificing the shows you're desperate to see.
The full month:
The full Fringe experience is really quite special. Seeing it from its very start through to the end gives you a weird sense of ownership over, and affection for, this multi-faceted beast, even as it strips away every ounce of sanity and reduces you to a quivering, over-emotional, simply-shattered wreck. Who knew cobbles, flyers, umbrellas, tea, custard creams and the Fringe brochure could be invested with such a great deal of emotional significance?
Staying with friends:
This is (sort of) the dream. If you have any connection at all to thesps who are up for the month, this is the occasion to use and abuse. There is no shame in asking to cotch on their floor, as long as you come laden with goodies and an easy going acceptance of discomfort and sleepless nights. Best to come prepared though: Edinburgh performing flats can become quite the cess-pit of random sleeping bodies, flyers and encrusted spaghetti pans. It's not the most restful option, but it is a fun way to get a good insight into the madness of what it's like to be a performer at the Fringe.
Edinburgh University has a number of halls of residence in which you can stay during the Festival. Clean and basic, these are about half an hour by bus away from the centre of town, but are a cheaper alternative to hostels or hotels.
There are some of these in the surrounding area. They're a bit further out but there are night buses and things so you should be able to get back fine after a long day's show-seeing. It'll be cheaper and quieter, and as well as travelling flexibility adds a nice bit of eccentricity to your trip.
If you're going up for a week at a time, or the full month, you should be able to rent a flat. This can be the cheapest option if you stuff it choc a block with people, and definitely the most fun. Don't underestimate how tiring the Fringe is, nor how truly glorious it is to be able to chill out with a cuppa and a hobnob on a sofa. These get booked up quickly, so I would encourage mass emailing a lot of people and hoping one of them comes good.
Hotels and hostels:
There are lots of these, but the cheaper and nicer ones do get booked up super fast, so get your skates on.
Surprise surprise, the more in advance you book your tickets, the cheaper they shall be. Travelling options include:
The Megabus: A bumpy and uncomfortable ride that takes a full day or night if coming from London, but is cheap enough to ensure it'll be jam packed.
Carshare: This is becoming all the rage. A more civilised version of hitchhiking, you can connect to car drivers via multiple websites. A contribution to petrol costs is required.
Driving: Parking issues should not be under-estimated though.
Train: This is fabulously speedy and comfortable, if pricey (even with discounts). It also gives you ample time to do all that last minute show research you've had on your To Do List for far too long. In the month of August ScotRail run additional services across the central belt, giving more options to out of town visitors.
Flying. The higher end option, though I'm not convinced you save that much time compared to the train.
The best tip I can give you for this is to make sure you don't pack while it's hot outside. Just like you should never go food shopping on an empty stomach (there's no knowing what mental products you'll purchase) sunny weather has a habit of turning all our best practical intentions into glittery sleeveless tops and heels. The key things to bear in mind when considering clothing/footwear is if it will be useful for Warmth, in the Wet, and while Walking. If not, discard. Every year, Edinburgh manages to defy the definition of summer and if you're under-prepared it can be a little grisly.
So, what to take with you:
- Umbrella. Yes. It rains.
- Cag in a bag. Sod any attempt at glamour; it's easily transportable, light-weight and what you'll really really want.
- Good shoes. This means waterproof, sturdy enough to cope with the cobbles, and so comfortable that you can walk in them for hours on end. (NB: ideally also not so hideously functional that you will cringe going out in them).
- Jumpers that don't get horribly wet and heavy if damp, are easy to take off and carry about if you enter an over-crowded steamy pub, but that can keep out most Arctic weather conditions. And trousers. Don't even think bare legs. If you're curious about what constitutes appropriate theatre attire, we've got everything you need to know right here.
- Money: more than you thought.
- And, if you're super organised: thermos flask; tupperware for packed lunches; envelope for all the flyers you'll be given; a water bottle; suncream for the brief spurts of sunshiny brilliance that delight in seeking out the unprotected nose.
Now that (presumably entirely thanks to the trusty aid of these handy Edinburgh Festival planning hints) you've negotiated the Edinburgh Festival pre-planning packing conundrums and accomodatory nightmares, it's time to work out what to do while you're up there. You're in luck: there's a whole other guide for exactly this kind of shizzle: check out our Guide to Edinburgh Fringe Venues and our Edinburgh Fringe Top Tips blog post.