How to Survive, and Escape from, Edinburgh's Fesivals Edinburgh, Lothian, Scotland, United Kingdom Every year during the month of August Edinburgh comes alive as festival fever hits. Although the Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival in the world, with shows starting every few minutes across the city, in every possible venue (previous venues have ranged from public toilets to moving cars as well as the normal stage), it is only one of many festivals taking place throughout the main festival months. Other attractions such as the Science and Hogmanay festivals happen at other points in the year. August is a busy month with lots to do. This guide will try and guide you through the maze and give you the lowdown on how to survive Edinburgh and the festivals and make the most of them, whatever your budget. Equally as important as survival, it will tell you how to escape them to recover your sanity. There is loads that could be written about the festivals so I've broken them my advice into three areas : Essentials – for everyone Surviving on a Budget – quite self explanatory! Sample The City and Surrounds – The festivals are fantastic, but there is so much more to see so this gives you plenty of non-festival attractions that you could easily ignore! Essentials
- Book accommodation well in advance: Edinburgh's population soars in summer and many people end up staying out of the immediate city centre. It's quite a compact city with good late night bus services, and good travel links so don't worry too much if you're doing this at the last minute.
- Get the brochures: Every festival has a guide. Every venue seems to have their own guide too. Supplement these with daily listings tear off sheets available at the Fringe office on the High Street (The Royal Mile).
- Don't try and see everything!: There were over 1695 shows in 236 venues in 2004 in the Fringe festival alone. And you can't afford it.
- Try something new: Don't be afraid to try an unknown comedian, a new arts group, or something bizarre like The Penis Puppeteers – that's what makes these festivals. Particularly for comedians, you may spend £20 with high expectations of their show and listen to 50 minutes of stuff you've heard on television already.
- Enjoy the atmosphere: Many street performers fill the day at the bottom of The Mound, complemented with free show previews on the Royal Mile. If the sun comes out next to the restaurants, cafes and bars, so do the chairs and tables.
- Keep your hands in your pockets: If you don't you will pop out for a sandwich and come back with a rain forest of flyers, promotional leaflets and brochures.
- Be nice: Remember the locals! If they're short with you, they probably did just pop out for a sandwich. Leave the side of the pavements free – they see the castle every day!
- Enjoy the licensing laws: You're in the UK, but you're in Scotland. Twenty four hour drinking is possible this month! Mix with the night shift and the clubbers in the Penny Black at 5 a.m. opening.
- Sit in the front row of a Fringe comedy show: Even better, get your friend to. The comedians like it when you put your feet on the stage. Americans will particularly appreciate the satire. Just hold onto your beer, or the comedian may 'borrow' it for a disappearing act. If you're going to heckle, be smart with it and don't ruin the show for others – some people can, and will be thrown out, others will become the centre of attention.
- Book the big shows early: The perennial favourites such as the Perrier Awards will be booked up as soon as the tickets go on sale, as will big previews at the Film Festival.
- Attend 'Late and Live': Here you'll see new comics be put through their paces by drunken hecklers, and experienced comics be drunken hecklers to themselves. After the madness, the tables will disappear and you can go dancing. Beware though, it doesn't start until around 1 or 2 a.m.
On a Budget You could easily spend thousands of pounds going to shows, eating out and having a 'couple' of drinks before and after shows. You don't have to spend your round the world budget to enjoy it. Here's how not to…
- Stay for cheap: Camp sites are quite far out of the centre so try staying at student accommodation or some of the excellent hostels in the city centre.
- Buy cheap show tickets: Shows often do previews the week before the official festival starts. Preview shows often sell as two for one and are a bit rough around the edges giving a better laugh. The Scotsman newspaper has two for one deals most days, as does the free Metro newspaper handed out in the centre in the morning and on buses and train stations. The Pleasance often have people selling cheap tickets for the unsold-out shows. Edinburgh's traditional comedy club The Stand pride themselves on having cheaper shows than the mainstream venues.
- Star spot at The Pleasance: Shows start every few minutes at this converted university courtyard providing a buzzing atmosphere. This venue is best on a nice evening and you can often spot big names, sometimes worse for wear.
- Watch street performers: As mentioned earlier go and watch the street performers and show previews. Some are good. Some are just plain bizarre. Remember to contribute to street performers as they have provided some entertainment for you.
Sample The City and Surrounds There is a lot more to Edinburgh than just seeing shows, eating, and drinking, so you should take some time out and let your body recover from last night's excesses. Regularly voted as one of the best cities to live in the world here's just a sample of some escapes you can make in and around the city.
- Edinburgh Castle: This is a fantastic tour you could spend all day in learning about Scottish history and getting great views of the city. You won't have to ask where it is.
- Holyrood Park (Arthur's Seat): You can't miss this as you can see it from almost anywhere in the city centre, and it has to be one of the finest natural city centre parks in the world. The park is situated at the bottom of the Royal Mile leading from the castle, next to the Queen's holiday home Holyrood Palace, and the new controversial Scottish Parliament (infamous for costing £450m over its original £50m estimate). A short walk over the extinct volcano will show you the finest panoramic views over the city to the Pentland Hills, the Firth of Forth the North Sea, and the Scottish Highlands on a clear day. It's a great place to take in the sunrise if you want something different. Just as central is the expanse of The Meadows, providing a quiet haven in the city centre.
- Pentland Hills: This regional park is a short bus ride from the city centre and provides walks from a couple of miles to over twenty, with views across Edinburgh and south the Scottish borders. You could even walk along the Water of Leith from the City Centre and take the bus back, or vice versa. Although some routes are steep in places you don't have to be a mountaineer to tackle these gentle hills.
- Rock Climbing: There are plenty of local outdoor crags but just past the airport lies the world's largest indoor climbing facility near Ratho, offering climbing walls up to 30m high. An aerial adventure park and good cafe and restaurant compliment the climbing.
- Water of Leith: This waterway runs from the Pentland hills through the city to the sea at Leith. One of the nicest areas to access this is from Dean Village or Stockbridge, and you could have a short stroll or walk to the hills or coast.
- Leith: Edinburgh's coastal town, well within the city limits offers a distinct change from the hustle and bustle of the city centre but offers plenty cafes, restaurants and bars to keep you busy if you feel the need.
- Escape to an Island: The Maid of the Forth offers day trips to Incholm Island from South Queensferry.
- Ghost Tour: Escape the revellers, and participate in one of the many nightly ghost tours around the city centre, departing from the Royal Mile at various times late in the evening.
- Glasgow: Often forgotten during the festivals, Glasgow is only 40 miles or a 50 minute train ride from Edinburgh and offers a distinctly different city from Edinburgh with a class of its own.
- The Highlands and Islands: Many tour companies offer day trips to the Highlands and Islands, and you would be doing yourself a favour to take an extra week to do one of the many hop on, hop off tours of Scotland.
Here are some links to help you on your way : www.edinburgh.org The official Edinburgh tourist site www.edinburghfestivals.com The main gateway to all of Edinurgh's festivals throughout the year www.maidoftheforth.co.uk A boat ride from South Queensferry www.scotsman.com The main Edinburgh based national newspaper with daily listings, reviews, and offers www.adventurescotland.com Home of the world's largest indoor climbing facility www.waterofleith.org.uk Information on The Water of Leith running from the hills to the coast through Edinburgh
Darren Craig is an Edinburgh resident keen to write more about Scotland and travel with a particular emphasis on outdoor recreation such as walking, camping, climbing and biking. He can be contacted via his personal webpage at Darrencraig.com.