I don’t often do this but as this post gets quite a few hits at this time of year and as the information that I provided is four years old (although still relevant) you might also be interested in an updated version with some costings by Claire Harding of money.co.uk – don’t go there yet though, read my bit first 🙂 and don’t forget, there is still an awful lot of The Fringe that is free or very cheap, just relax and go with the flow and I’ll probably see you there this year…
As the Scottish capital prepares itself for this years three week celebration of The Arts and The Guardian publishes its guide to “How to save money at the Edinburgh Festival” I proffer my own well-honed guide to a Yorkshireman (a Scot who’s lost his wallet) enjoying one or more days at the wonderful celebration that is “The Fringe”…
One Day Visit
We’ll assume that you are driving to Edinburgh for if you are arriving by train then you need no further guidance, Waverley Station is probably as central as central can be. Parking the car in Edinburgh during the Festival period is either impossible or very very expensive given that you’ll be looking to spend eight or more hours and will probably forget all about time while you’re there – park instead just out of town at the Ocean Terminal shopping mall in Leith, its free, enough said, and the twenty minute bus ride into the centre of Edinburgh is frequent (every 10 mins or so) and cheap (£1.20 last year), and who knows, the city tram link may even be finished by now – no brainer really.
(Late edit – erase reference to the tram system until next year)
Multiple Day Visits
Your accommodation is going to be the most expensive part of your trip and if you haven’t booked it yet then, well, good luck – again try Leith and one of the nationwide chains of “Inns” or “Lodges” especially the ones with free parking but expect to pay full whack during the Festival period, I paid £120 a night for the Holiday Inn Express in Leith a few years ago, outrageous I know but with free parking and a bus stop within ten paces of the front door and a bus every ten minutes then getting into Edinburgh was no hardship.
Rule number one – don’t go with an agenda
Rule number two – don’t pre-purchase a programme, they are free and plentiful when you get there
Rule number three – don’t plan any shows and be prepared to see some duff ones
Rule number four – find this years location for the half price show booth
Your day should follow a delightful ramble of unprepared-ness and total flexibilty in your pursuit of the free or very cheap – first thing to note is that the Royal Mile (or High Street) is the place to be for free stuff, its easy to spend all day wandering this area and perusing the dozens of mini-stages that are handed over to various performers on fifteen minute rotations throughout the day, wander back and forth until you see a performance that you may like, take one of the leaflets that will invariably be pushed into your hands and make a note to look for them at the half price booth.
While staying in your hotel you should have already picked up your complimentary copy of “The Scotsman” and will have secreted its pull-out guide to that days performances about your person, each and every day The Scotsman lists everything that is happening in the city and it takes at least four sheets of closely types broadsheet to list in chronological order – for your lunchtime entertainment have a look at the many free comedy shows that are performed in many pubs in the centre, each comedian doing fifteen or so minutes in an attempt to get you to book their show, spending an hour watching four comedians for free while enjoying a lunchtime pint is one of lifes luxuries.
Head for the half price booth with the leaflets you have garnered from the streets and stand there a while perusing the rotating illuminated signs advising you of that days special offers – the way it works is that the venues or the performers rarely sell out for the duration, there are thousands of performances during the three week period and each venue has six to ten performances on throughout the day, the half price booth acts as a bucket shop for those performers who need to flog some tickets urgently – ok sometimes its because they are crap, but sitting in a dingy cellar under a railway arch with three other people watching one of Jonothan Ross’s “Four puffs and a piano” trying desperately to make a show from an assortment of Howard Keel and Shirley Bassey hits while the four of us who had each paid £2 to watch him politely applauded was a highlight of my week there, especially when he smiled at me.
You stand there at the half price booth and wait for your choice of show to appear on the illuminated board, or simply do what I did some days – just choose anything at random and fill your day with four or five shows where you haven’t a clue what is going to happen, it was in this way that I managed to find myself in the audience of a show called “Woody Sez”, a celebration of the songs of Woody Guthrie which managed to bring a lump to the throat and get a largely British audience to stand at the end and belt out several choruses of “This land is my land”, except for me of course for I do not subscribe to audience participation, really, I’m the miserable bastard at the back still sitting down in all of these venues.
The half price booth changed its location last year so you may have to search around for it but its quite big so ask around and don’t just be looking for a little wooden box – its a big well organised mobile office. Its also worth noting that most of the venues also handle their own same-day cheap sales so have a wander around the city and do some browsing – get the official Fringe programme and follow the map.
Rule Five – don’t expect to see shows by “famous names”, they don’t do enough shows and they are usually sold out
Rule Six – Don’t pay more than five or six pounds to see anything
Don’t ever lose sight of the fact that all of the thousands of entertainers who descend on Edinburgh for the three weeks are doing so at their own expense, they have paid to travel there, they are paying for accommodation while they are they, they have paid to rent their 40 minute slot in the theatre/cellar bar/street and they pay a subscription to The Fringe organisers to publicise their efforts, and on top of all of that most are trying to be professional entertainers and actually make a living out of this, they all need supporting (even with half price tickets) in exactly the same way that the “names” who appear for one night only do (I’m looking at you Ricky Gervais) – have a read of Alan Carr’s biography and how much of a loss he made at his first Fringe’s.
Also don’t hesitate to venture outside your comfort zone, the joy of buying random half price tickets just to fill in a time slot without having a clue what it is you’re going to see is that you will often unearth a gem – I once bought a ticket to see someone called Guy Pratt in an “audience discussion”, sounds terrible doesn’t it, you’re walking into a darkened room with a low vaulted ceiling to listen to someone talk to you for forty minutes and you haven’t a clue who he is or what he’s going to talk about, all you know is that the ticket only cost you £4 and its raining outside so you’re winning from the start.
Turned out that Guy Pratt is the well known bass player from Pink Floyd (not so well known to me I must admit) and the forty minutes that he spent talking to me and about a dozen other people were not long enough by a long margin, tales of his tours with the Floyd and of studio sessions playing on some of Michael Jacksons albums just poured from his lips and he never got around to picking up one of his guitars and giving us a tune – fascinating stuff.
The Festival is a great day/several day’s out, you will not find yourself repeating things from day to day, you could wander back and forth up and down the Royal Mile for five days and still not repeat your experiences or you could lock yourself inside any of the venues for five days and still not see a repeat performance, and be entertained for eight hours a day.
I recommend it to the house.