The Fringe: is it just a hairstyle or the best time you will have in Edinburgh?

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Perhaps you have heard of the famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe? Sofia from Greece tells us her opinion of the world’s largest arts festival.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines fringe as the outer or less important part of an area, group, or activity.

The year was 1947. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the Edinburgh International Festival was set up in order to promote and enrich Europe’s cultural life. Not all performers, however, made it to the official selection.

A total of eight theatre groups decided to turn up at the festival, even after being turned down by the committee. They proceeded to perform their plays at non-official Festival venues, ‘on the fringe’ of the Edinburgh International Festival. Since then, many followed and took over, making Edinburgh’s festival “the Fringe” the largest arts festival in the world.

At the time of writing, during these 25 days in August, the Fringe is seeing more than 3,500 shows being performed across different venues all over the city.

What’s Edinburgh like during the Fringe?

For me, Edinburgh is already a vibrant and exciting city. During August, the way it transforms only enhances its liveliness and takes it to a whole new level. Your favourite cafe or bar becomes ‘Venue 217′ and the people walking the streets seem to triple or quadruple as you are approaching the heart of the city. Undoubtedly, the Royal Mile and St Giles’ Cathedral are focal points within the festival but that doesn’t mean that Princes Street, Bistro Square or the Meadows lose any of the action. Food stalls and bars seem to pop up everywhere and the front yard of Surgeons’ Hall becomes a large lounge for people waiting to catch a show in the museums’ galleries.

What I enjoy most is that Edinburgh during the Fringe gets filled with outdoor spaces and places to enjoy a nice bite to eat or just a drink, be it marquees in public parks or simply a pop-up sweet shop with a number of tables everywhere to sit and enjoy.

Mind you, if you are working during the festival or have places you need to go, then you should add an extra 20 minutes travel time. Pedestrian traffic also gets a bit frustrating at times;  but if you let yourself get swept up by the festivities and the surrounding vibe then you are sure to enjoy yourself.

St Giles Cathedral
Enjoying a live show
Meeting the performers

How can I chose a show out of 3,500?!

Now, these are the questions you should be asking yourself. Being the largest festival of its kind in the world, it is home to arts of every genre. Theatre, exhibitions, stand-up comedy, dance, cabaret, circus and many, many street performers flock to the festival each year. Some return every year, others are first timers. Do you or your friends have a passion for the arts? All you need to do is register your show online and have enough money to book a venue. This doesn’t have to be anything grand, you could literally put up your own show in the basement of a cafe if you chose to.

Luckily, to help you choose, the organising committee has come up with different ways to help you attend a show to your liking. Let’s go through them as well as some of my own personal favourite ways of picking a winning performance!

  • Early bird online tickets: If you are one of those people that like to organise and plan in advance, then this is the way for you. Simply search online a few months in advance and purchase your tickets as soon as they come out.
  • Fringe App: Yes, there is a mobile application for the Fringe. You can download it and browse through different shows according to different filters (genre, venue location, accessibility) and book your place.
  • Fringe calendar: If like me, you want to see as many shows as possible, you can make your own personalised online festival calendar after registering on the official website. This way, you are sure not to double book.
  • Fringe inspiration machine: This is exactly what the name suggests. You simply spin the wheel and the machine chooses a random show for you. You can find it near the Galleries on Princes Street or you can opt for the online version.
  • Fringe program: The good old fashioned way, simply pick up a fringe guide from anywhere really.
  • Half price hut: For the indecisive, last minute crowd, a bargain can be found on the Mound. Virgin’s half price hut offers tickets for shows happening on that same day or the morning after.
  • Explore: One of my favourite ways to pick a show is simply by walking down the Royal Mile or going into George Square and picking up flyers. Don’t be afraid of flyers at the Fringe. For me, it is one of the most direct ways and you get a better idea of what the show is about. Don’t be surprised if the person approaching you is the artist, most performers spend the day scouting for people who may want to see their show.

Are shows expensive?

Depends on what you are looking for really. Shows are categorised in three different ways: ticketed, free or PWYW (pay what you want). Tickets start from £5 and then the sky is the limit.

A common phrase used amongst people during the Fringe is ‘Do you want to catch a free show later?’, meaning that you have no idea what you will be watching and it is a gamble honestly. With so many performances during this time, we are spoilt for choice. However, even if you weren’t mad about the show, it is always nice to show your appreciation for the artist’s time and effort and award them with whatever you can afford. Even offering a cake you baked earlier goes a long way!

Art should be accessible and this is one of the principles this ‘outcast fringe’ was built on, so you will find a lot of free exhibitions and shows. There is even a free fringe guide that highlights these for you.


Sofia is from Greece and is studying MSc Wildlife Biology & Conservation at Edinburgh Napier University.

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