Edinburgh’s population doubles during August as thousands of performers, tourists and festival workers play their part in one of the best cultural events on the planet.
Locals like me are getting prepared too. Either by moving out of town for the month (while lucratively renting out our homes), or getting organised and psyched up to be a part of the celebrations.
This is an incredibly exciting time to visit the city – so embrace the madness and be ready to be ‘performed at’ and ‘flyered’ to within an inch of of your life while walking down the street.
Once armed with the programmes for the Edinburgh Fringe, Assembly Rooms, Gilded Balloon, the Edinburgh International Festival, Underbelly, Traverse, Summerhall and the FreeFringe – to name but a few – you can then begin trawling through the many thousands of shows to decide what to see.
Now you’ve selected you’re 5-star show and secured your tickets, the inevitable accompanying lunch and day out with friends can be constructed around the main event.
So to assist you with your Festival planning, here are a few wee tips for doing the Edinburgh Festivals on a budget or in style.
Where to stay in Edinburgh?
Like any world-class event, there’s a great demand for Edinburgh festival accommodation during August – but prices are high and availability is low. So here are some options:
1. Stay outside the city centre
Not only are these some of the city’s most pleasant neighbourhoods, but you’ll still be within a short walk or bus journey of all the action. Properties in this bracket include:
- Best Western Braid Hills Hotel in Morningside
- Best Western Bruntsfield Hotel in Bruntsfield
- Channings Hotel in Comely Bank
- Royal Ettrick Hotel in Merchiston
- The Dunstane and the Holiday Inn Edinburgh which sit just to the west of the city centre.
2. Choose city centre student accommodation
This is one of the best value options, whether staying for a weekend or the entire duration of the Festival period.
Today’s halls of residence are a world away from the pokey single rooms with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities that you might envisage. Nowadays much student accommodation is purpose built with the intention of operating as a hotel in the summer months, with comfy king-size double beds, lovely en-suites and private kitchens.
Properties such as Citylivein and Edinburgh First offer a wide variety of options from studios to apartments with two to six bedrooms.
Where to stay near Edinburgh?
Getting out of town completely means you could make decent savings on a hotel near Edinburgh.
Just over 20 miles north-west of Edinburgh, Falkirk is less than an hour away by train or car. It’s in the Forth Valley, near the meeting point of Union and Forth & Clyde canals (make sure you take a ride on the impressive Falkirk Wheel – see image above).
You could also explore sites like the ancient Antonine Wall or the rather more modern Helix area with the gigantic Kelpies.
Between Falkirk and Edinburgh sits Linlithgow, arguably one of Scotland’s most historic places to stay.
The town is home to Linlithgow Palace, which dates back to the 15th century, and some of Scotland’s oldest pubs.
The biggest city in Scotland, Glasgow, is only just over an hour from Edinburgh by train, and is also home to one of the UK’s most exciting arts and music scenes.
Getting around Edinburgh
Edinburgh is a bit like a village. It feels pretty safe, it’s easy to find your way around. Much of the festival action concentrated into a few key areas within easy walking distance of each other, so transport is often not required.
When it is, for example when the heavens open and the famous ‘four seasons in one day’ weather occurs, then Edinburgh has a superb public transport network.
- Buses cost just £1.60 for a single journey and £4 for a day ticket allowing as many journeys as you like (note: buses in Edinburgh don’t give change so having the exact money ready before you get on will save the embarrassment of holding up a bus full of passengers).
- There is a reliable night bus service on all key routes too.
- Links from Edinburgh Airport to the city are well served with the AirLink bus service and the tram.
- Black taxis are readily available but with inflated festival pricing and heavy traffic congestion you often end up paying a pretty sum to go a few yards at a time.
- Better value alternatives are services like Uber or local private hire firms that offer 20% off all pre-booked fares.
Where to eat in Edinburgh?
Get a copy of ‘The List 2016 Eating & Drinking Guide’ if you can – it’s a useful way to find decent places to eat and drink. Edinburgh’s got a lot of those.
Shows are performed in all manner locations from church halls to pubs, from inside elevators and the back of taxis.
Around these pop-up venues are “Festival hubs”, temporary pop-up areas serving food and drink. These include:
- The Pleasance
- George Square Gardens
- George Street
- St. Andrews Square
- the Mound and Royal Mile.
Many pubs that are normally open until 1am can extend their opening times until 3am, likewise venues normally open until 3am can extend opening to 5am.
This can make for insanely long nights out with daylight journeys home.
What shows to see in Edinburgh?
There are so many shows on that it can be very hard to decide what to go to see. Here are some tips:
- Have a look at reviews from previous years and other Fringe festivals like Adelaide and Montreal, and see what shows have been 5-star sell-outs.
- See what shows are free: sites like freefestival.co.uk and freefringe.org.uk will have more information.
- The Virgin Money Half Price Hut on the Mound opens from 10th August 2016 and is well worth a look for half price tickets
- Big name comedians ‘off the telly’ all head to Edinburgh to boost their coffers and tend to be in the larger venues with bigger ticket prices. These familiar faces are a relatively safe bet but sometimes you can catch someone, a little less well established, doing a more intimate venue.
Take a waterproof that can be compressed into a pouch and popped away in a bag. You may very well encounter one of those days where the rain is off and on repeatedly – sometimes up to half a dozen times in one afternoon.
Failing that, overpriced ill-fitting ponchos are available from every tourist shop.
Most of all have fun and make the most of the time you have in the city!
Inspired to visit the festival?
Also our guide has different ways to see the city – including some of the best Edinburgh walking tours.
You’ll also find tickets to some of the biggest stars of the Fringe in our Comedy section. We’re sponsoring the world-famous Edinburgh Comedy Awards in 2016, and will be showcasing the winners and nominees at the Lyric Theatre, London throughout October.
Are you a festival veteran?
We’d love to hear your tips about visiting the city during the full on festival season.
Tell us by leaving a comment below.