Surviving the Edinburgh Fringe

How to make life easier for yourself at the Edinburgh Fringe.
1) Plan your trip to Edinburgh in advance. notepadman2

Begin looking at accommodation as early in the year as you can stand it. I’m generally feeling the heady pull of the festival season in the New Year when watching the televised bits on the Hogmanay! The accommodation choices on offer are more diverse and you can usually find somewhere really close to the city centre which saves on public transport and taxis.

The more you visit the festival, the more knowledge you have of what suits you best. For example, a nice place to stay would be that of a place next door to a cafe. A more perfect start to the day you will not find than one that begins with a delicious Scottish breakfast complete with haggis and tatty scones.

If you have difficulty getting about, Edinburgh can be a challenge. The Royal Mile is a bit of a climb from Princes Street and those cobbles can put a strain on your knees. Don’t be put off, with a little bit of early preparation, life can be a lot easier for you. Finding ground level accommodation close to the city centre is difficult but can be achieved with an early start! Many buildings in Edinburgh are several floors tall without a handy lift (elevator) which can be trying at the end of a busy festival day.

The New Town houses generally offer spacious apartments and the journey up to the Royal Mile can be taken care off with a taxi. This has been the best way for us. We stayed around Dean Street (a mile from the Royal Mile) and a walk that turns into a crawl as you transcend the seemingly thousands of stairs of The Mound.

2/ Consider your transport options early on.

If flying up to Edinburgh, look around for the best deals at the same time as you look for accommodation. While you’re in the grips of Edinburgh fever. There’s no escaping the Edinburgh fever; it gets to us all in the end.

3/ Get yourself an Edinburgh Fringe guide. programme
This comes complete with map and handy venue guide. With over two hundred venues and a thousand events running throughout the festival, it helps to have some help navigating the city and this is it. Ensure that your Fringe guide never leaves your side.

This can be either ordered from the Edinburgh Fringe Box Office (published and sent out at the beginning of the June preceding the festival) for a nominal charge which covers the postage of £3.50 (UK), £6.50 (Europe) and £9.50 (outside of Europe). The official programme is free of charge when you get to Edinburgh (if you can endure the wait which some of us find agonising!). For those who celebrate the clicking of the mouse as opposed to the flicking of glossy pages, there is the Official Fringe website which offers as much information as you can consume and much more besides.

4/ Booking your shows in advance. Ticks, crosses and question marks.
This is a good idea in that tickets for the popular shows will not stand around forever. The problem however is that you can’t with a considerable chunk of accuracy predict what is going to be good and what is going to be absolutely awful at this stage. It is when you are actually moving about the festival that the whispers, the rumour mills and the flyers get to you and you discover what you can’t miss and what at all costs you should miss.

“One of the more popular shows in Fringe history was that of Neil Simon’s ‘The Odd Couple’ in 2005. We were glad that we had booked that one in advance the moment we were confronted by an enormous queue of people stretching up to the Royal Mile from the entrance of the Assembly Room venue. Every single performance of the show had sold out almost immediately. We did struggle with the heat of the dusty mid-nineteenth century theatre but the brilliant performances by Bill Bailey and Alan Davies as Oscar and Felix made the sweltering experience hugely worthwhile.”

5/ How to avoid ‘show clash’

It can happen to anybody! You want to go and see this but you want to see that too. The sad truth of it all, is that you can’t be in two places at once! The harsh reality is that show times sometimes do clash and you will find yourself faced with the horrible situation of having to make a choice. What helps ease the pain is to roll up your sleeves and get stuck into a preliminary session of Festival Fringe guide thumbing. Like you would do with your Argos gift catalogue at Christmas, pour yourself a drink and wade through using a thick black marker to scribble a tick, a cross or a question mark for future reference. Show clashing only happens to those who haven’t done their prep.

6/ Try to resist booking too many shows in
You might hear of something really excellent going on at the Fringe but you (being booked to the hilt) cannot squeeze it in with a shoe horn! The worse thing that can happen should such an incredible show appear on the horizon is to discard the tickets of the show you originally booked. Booking in advance is not however always a bad thing!

“It was on our second Fringe that we hungrily booked up loads of shows in advance. This was to turn out to be a great big mistake, the consequences of which were felt on the last night. The very last show, a comedy night we had booked coincided with a knockout sell out show by Mark Little (Joe Mangle in Neighbours). We ignored our inner voices and decided to forfeit the Mark Little one and stay with the comedy night. Instead of going out with a BANG! our Fringe instead fizzled out to the sound of a depressing PHUT! The venue, a moderately sized auditorium housed bodies that if herded together wouldn’t have filled one row. An air of glum depression hung over the audience and proceeded to additionally infect the starring comedians too. As hard as the comedians tried to lift the atmosphere, (the audience could not have been airlifted by the chopper in Black Hawk Down) despite the odd smattering of strained alcohol fuelled hysterics. At the end of the debacle, we wandered free in bewildered silence into the night and back to our apartment. There in continued oddness we threw ourselves into the usual travelling home procedures (randomly stuffing bags and the fearless slam dunking of passports) and hoped to remove the memory of our last sorry show through deep sleep.”

7/ Employ comfy ‘walk-wear’!feet
Okay, we’re not talking Glastonbury here but high fashion isn’t the best clobber for Edinburgh. When in Edinburgh, delicious comfort is the order of the proceedings. Consider the fact that there is a strong possibility that you could be on your feet for the best part of the day. You’ll be dashing tirelessly (hopefully) from one venue to another and traversing all those tricky cobbles for a bit as you enjoy the wonders of several street performances. I wouldn’t swap my flat marshmallow-like comfy sandals for a pair of stylish sling-backs for a hundred pounds!

8/ Think light and think dry.
Light comfy clothes during the summer are the best and a waterproof jacket in case of rain is usually lighter than an umbrella. Keep bags light for easy moving about and reserve supper shopping for when you’ve left the crowds behind. You’ll enjoy the thrills and spills of the festival if you keep yourself unfettered. A bottle of water on you at all times is a must!

9/ Upon arrival, get your bearings mapmancol2
Hopefully, by now, you will have at your side, your Edinburgh Fringe programme (complete with venue guide at the back). If not, procure a map of Edinburgh from somewhere, they have them at the airport, all the stations and newsagents.

Ascertaining your position in relation to the main thoroughfares is good to do. This exercise will enable you to travel about the city with more efficiency and before long you will have memorized all the local watering holes and best routes across to venues. To get you started, here is a suggestion. Look on the map for the Royal Mile, a long cobbled street in the Old Town that is on an incline to the castle with Holyrood at its opposite end. The Royal Mile otherwise known as the High Street is known to be packed with happy crowds, street entertainers, pubs and tourist shops and runs parallel to Princes Street. Princes Street is a busy shopping high street packed with bargain hunters catapulting themselves in and out of all the usual high street stores. Edinburgh’s oldest department store, Jenners is on the corner of Princes Street and St David Street opposite the glorious Royal Botanical Gardens. This shopaholic’s idyll is parallel to George Street in the New Town ( a wide business street flanked with statues and posh shops and also runs parallel to Princes Street). Just off Princes Street, on Waverley Bridge is the entrance to Waverley Railway Station where there is a taxi rank. Opposite here is ultimately the best introduction to the city, the City Tour buses. Here is where the tours begin and end and where your adventure kicks off!

10/ Decisions, decisions, decisions… how to find out what to book up for when you arrive.
It’s a daunting task choosing what to see when there is such a huge programme of events to trawl through.

Once the festival is underway, promotions are in full swing, reviews are hitting the daily local press and you have been canny enough to time your festival visit with the preview shows at the Meadows (normally the second week of the festival), you are in a much better position to judge what shows to book for.

However, it is possible to sample some shows before committing to seeing them. The best opportunity is afforded by “Fringe Sunday”, which is held on the first Sunday of the festival when many companies, 200 estimated for 2006, perform all or part of their show for free on The Meadows. Alternatively, on any day during the festival the pedestrianised area of the High Street around St. Giles Cathedral and the Fringe Office becomes the focal point for theatre companies to hand out flyers, perform scenes from their shows, and attempt to sell tickets.

11/ Booking Tickets
It is possible to book your tickets in a variety of places and via a range of means. You can pop into a booking office, there is the Official Fringe Office for that on the Royal Mile. You can phone though your booking, just have your credit or debit card to hand. Some of the bigger venues have their own box offices such as the Assembly Rooms and the Pleasance. Alternatively you can book your tickets online. Don’t worry if you don’t have your computer to hand for there are Internet cafes dotted about the city including the Grassmarket and easyEverything on Rose Street (the pedestrian walkway parallel to George Street and Princes Street).

At the box offices, prepare yourself for the queues of people ahead of you but don’t worry too much for they generally move pretty quickly. Box offices are generally situated quite close to a cafe or coffee house so spend your queuing time perusing next door’s lunch menu.