We just got back from our third year in a row at The Fringe Festival Edinburgh. As big fans of comedy, it’s been an annual treat for us to head up to Scotland and discover new comedians, acts and craziness and this year was no difference. We’ve never written about our experiences before, so thought it might we worth sharing with you what makes a great Edinburgh trip and perhaps recommend a few people to go and see in the last week.
Getting to Edinburgh
As some of our regular readers will know, we’re London-based which is great for us as there’s a direct train that runs every hour to Edinburgh from Kings Cross railway station. We can’t advise enough that you need to book in advance impossible for this as it gets very busy during festival season – to the point where you may to stand on the train the whole way for four and a half hours!
We always book in advance direct with East Coast Rail who run the service as you can choose your seats and even check the prices to see if it’s worth upgrading to first-class, which sometimes it is. For the past two years we’ve managed to get an upgrade on the way up for just £10 extra, which when you think of the cost you may pay for wireless Internet or for on-board train food, is actually quite a bargain. The total cost per ticket this year for us was £150 return with first-class on the way and standard class on the way back.
We have stayed in some crazy places, but none so strange as the The ‘Kocoons’ at Harvieston Huts. At just £40 per night, it’s a budget way to do Edinburgh, although you do need a car as the site is on a stately home some ten miles outside of the city centre. All you need to bring is a sleeping bag and usually camping equipment as you stay in little wooden huts with bunks and solar fairy lights which are surprisingly warm! It’s a shame that the ones we stayed in a couple of years ago were on a slope as one of us kept falling out of bed at some point in the night!
For the past two years, we have stayed at Edinburgh Pearl Apartments which are luxury flats dotted around the city. We have managed to secure for six people up to eight weeks before, however leave it any later and you won’t have so much luck as these book pretty quicker the closer to August it gets. We managed to book a six person apartment this year that was split into two rooms – one with two single and a double bed squeezed in which can sleep four people and one with a double bed that can sleep two. Maybe the four person room was a little cosy but it meant that people didn’t need to make up camp beds.
What to See at The Fringe
So the main reason that we head to Edinburgh every year is to visit the The Edinburgh Festival Fringe a.k.a The Fringe. It is the world’s largest arts festival, with the 2012 event spanning 25 days (usually over August) totalling over 2,695 shows from 47 countries in 279 venues. We head there mainly to see comedy and music but there’s every type of performance art that you can think of, from theatre, poetry, street theatre, experimental performance, sketches, burlesque and puppetry.
The festival have produced a smart phone app for the past few years which we couldn’t recommend enough. You can have a browse through before you get to Edinburgh and bookmark the shows you think you might like and you can even book tickets via the app too. There are collection points all over Edinburgh that you can then pick your paid-for tickets up from without hassle.
This year we had the foresight to book tickets for Stewart Lee‘s new show ‘Much a Stew About Nothing’ quite a few weeks in advance as it was fully sold out by the time The fringe started. He put a very intimate show on in The Stand to about 200 of us and tested new material for his upcoming TV show out on us. It was really smart and filled with the usual mocking that Stewart Lee likes to save for certain public figures when on stage.
It’s also highly recommended for you to seek out free comedy at The Fringe (see www.freefringe.com) as this is a great way to see and support up and coming comedians and performers. It also means that you won’t be paying £10 or more for a show each time, although the performers will stand with a bucket at the end and ask for you to contribute a small something. When they are just as good (if not better) than some of the paid acts that you can go and see, then it’s totally worth it being a patron of the arts and you’ll get a warm and fuzzy feeling inside when leaving a crisp fiver or tenner when you’ve really enjoyed the show.
We did see a couple of dud acts this year and must admit that we ducked out early to avoid the bucket. It’s totally up to you as taste is relative so we’ll leave you to make your own judgements about what you’ll like or not. We do however have a couple of recommendations…
Uncle Henry’s Happy Hour – 10.15pm at The Dram House
Cassette Boy and DJ Rubbish – 12.30am at The Pleasance Dome (Thurs-Sun)
Larry Dean – 11.15pm at Laughing Horse @ Meadow Bar
Sam Avery – 7.45pm at Opium, Cowgate
What About Edinburgh?
Well we can’t recommend Edinburgh as a place to visit without encouraging you to visit Edinburgh Castle, walk up the Royal Mile, talk and trot around the back streets of Cowgate on one of the many ghost tours that run in the city, walk up to Arthur’s Seat if you’re feeling fit enough, hit up one of the amazing galleries or go and munch at one of the many pop-up food stalls that appear during the festival. There are quite a few cool bars and restaurants that you can go to when the festival isn’t on too but it’s best to avoid the city centre and head down to Grassmarket or anywhere that isn’t on the Royal Mile as you’ll be fed the usual chain-retract food of Bella Italia and Pizza Express that you can find in any town throughout the UK.
If you have decided to drive to Edinburgh, then we cannot recommend enough driving about 9 miles west of the city up to The Forth Bridge. It connects Edinburgh with Fife, built in 1883, took 7 years to complete, cost the lives of 98 men and nearly 58,000 tonnes and used 10 times as much metal as the Eiffel Tower. We headed up there when we drove a few years ago and it was well worth the trip, driving over and under it.
What Makes a Great Fringe?
What makes a great Fringe Festival is taking friends with you, not planning too much in advance, taking recommendations from others (and there are so many people flyering that you’ll be spoilt for choice), taking some time out to seek the real Edinburgh and taking flat shoes. You’ll thank us for that top tip! Edinburgh is full of step slopes and stairs and isn’t the time or place to show off your new platform boots or heels!
Thanks for reading our guide to Edinburgh. Maybe you have some top tips about the city that you want to share? We go every year, so would love to hear them if you write in the comments section below and also let us know what you thought of our tips too!