Edinburgh Festival Tips From a Local

Saturday, 4 August 2012
Bit of a random post from me, but as an Edinburgher I feel it's my duty to impart my wisdom :)  

image c/o guardian.co.uk

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival kicked off yesterday, and as I've lived in/near Edinburgh all of my life I thought I'd offer some advice for those of you who may be visiting our fair city this August.  So here's some tips on how to get the most from your Edinburgh Fringe experience:

Buying Tickets

> The Virgin Money Half Price Ticket Hut at the bottom of the Mound (just next to the National Gallery) is great if you don't have a firm idea of what you want to see - just pop along and see what's on offer that day.

> Be careful when buying tickets online, make doubly sure that you've selected the right dates as you can't exchange or get a refund (last year I made the mistake of buying tickets for the same show twice and ended up £20 out of pocket!).

> Edfringe have released a new smartphone app this year where you can buy tickets for shows - I haven't bought anything from it yet but I've been playing about and am impressed so far, looks great and is really easy to use.

Seeing a Show

> There is so much on offer at the Fringe Festival that it can be quite difficult to decide which shows to go see.  While it can be tempting to only go see "high profile" acts, or people you've heard of before, one of the best things about the festival is also going to see totally random shows on a whim - sure there's a risk you might end up at some thing completely crap, but in all the years I've been going to the festival I think I've only been to one show where I came out thinking "well that was a waste of money" (I won't name names!).  So be brave, pick some unknowns and you might end up discovering something amazing!

>The Edinburgh Comedy Gala is held near the end of the festival each year and is a 3 hour show featuring around 20 comedians from the fringe (ranging from the big names you'll know from TV, to comedy rising stars).  I've been to this for the past few years and it's always a really good night - at around £30 a ticket it's also a good way of seeing lots of comedians on a budget, plus it's all for charity!  

>This is a bit of a cheeky plug, but if you're looking for a show that combines school days, first loves and the sound of the 70's then check out the musical And They Played Shang-a-Lang at The Stand 3 on York Place, featuring none other than my wee sis! :)

> Comedy tastes can vary widely so it can be hard to give tips on which comedians to see, but here's a few people I've enjoyed seeing in recent years:  Terry Alderton, Jim Jeffries, Tom Deacon, Russell Kane, Nathan Caton, Josie Long, and Carl Donnelly.

> Whilst Scotland isn't generally known for being that warm, and this summer has been no exception, one place that you can guarantee some heat is a fringe festival venue.  Seriously, some of these rooms can get ridiculously hot and stuffy, even with aircon in place.  Bearing that in mind I'd recommend wearing layers so you can peel off a cardigan/jumper if you get too hot, and keep a bottle of water in your bag (or you know...bring a nice ice cold plastic cup of beer/cider from the bar :) )

> Be aware that a lot of venues won't let you in if you're late (we were 5 minutes late for a show last year due to our bus getting stuck in traffic and we weren't allowed in) so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to a venue.  Some comedy shows do allow latecomers (usually says so on the ticket) but depending on the comedian you may then find yourself being heckled, so arrive late at your own risk :) 

> This is probably an obvious one, but don't sit in the front row of a comedy show unless you are willing to participate!  I've been to so many shows where the comedian has tried to engage in conversation with the front row and people have just not been up for it at all - it makes for uncomfortable viewing!

Getting Around

> Edinburgh has a really good bus service in Lothian Buses (I do moan about them sometimes, but when you visit other cities you really realise how good we have it here!).  The current ticket prices are below - if you're planning on getting a lot of buses during your stay though then you're better off going for a pass or a book of tickets as it works out cheaper than buying a ticket each day.  If you're just buying single/day tickets on the bus please note that the buses don't give change, so make sure you have the correct money ready (notes and coins accepted).
  • Single (one journey, any duration) - £1.40 adult and 70p child (5-15, under 5's are free)
  • Day Ticket (unlimited travel for one day) £3.50 adult and £2 child
  • Book of 20 Singles* - £28 adult and £14 child
  • 1 Week Ridacard* - £17 adult, £13 student, £9 child
  • 4 Week Ridacard* - £51 adult, £40 student, £29 child
*You can purchase these at Travelshops on Hanover Street or Waverley Bridge

> Lothian Buses also have a great bus tracker smartphone app (see details on their website) which should help you work out which bus you need to get, and it also lets you track when the bus is due at each stop - so handy!

> North Bridge and George IV Bridge tend to get really busy in the evening due to coaches taking people to the tattoo every night, so bear this in mind if you're getting a bus up to George Square/the Pleasance at about 6/7ish as you're likely to face lengthy delays.  To be honest you're best to just walk if you're going between the city centre and the main festival venues, it's not that far and (providing it's not raining!) you get to see more of our pretty city.

>If you're buying tickets for back to back shows be aware of the location of each venue, as you might not have enough time to get from one place to the other.  Some places might sound like they are right next to each other when in fact they aren't - for example Pleasance Dome is about a 5/10 minute walk from Pleasance Courtyard and all of the other "Pleasance" named venues.

Food & Drink

>Pleasance Courtyard, where you'll find most of the Pleasance venues, is a great place for just hanging out, having a drink, and soaking up the festival atmosphere.  Although please note that it's incredibly busy at peak show times (e.g 6-9pm) so expect long queues at the bar!

>The Spiegeltent at Bristo Square is normally the place to be, particularly for post-work drinks on a Friday, and luckily for me this year it's been moved to George Street (nice and handy for my Hanover Street office!).  Sitting right outside the Assembly Rooms venue this will be another good place to hang out/have a drink before or after a show.  

> The places mentioned above have various vans/food stalls where you can grab a quick bite to eat, if you're looking for a proper sit down meal though then here's some restaurant tips for places near the main festival venues:

  • Mum's on Forrest Road is a great little restaurant serving proper homemade comfort food like sausage and mash, macaroni cheese, fish and chips, and steak pie.  Oh and they also do the best milkshakes in the world! They don't take reservations during August but we've never had to wait that long for a table.  Well worth a visit.  

  • Kebab Mahal - my old flatmate used to rave about this place, and one of the guys from work hasn't stopped banging on about it in weeks so I think we can assume it is good!  It's also just a few steps away from the main Bristo Square venues so perfect for a late night kebab/curry!

  • 56 North looks like quite a studenty type bar but I went last year for lunch one day and the food was really good (awesome burgers!).  Oh and they do cocktails, so big thumbs up from me!  

  • Cafe Anduluz is a great Spanish tapas place on George Street - so if you're at the Assembly Rooms for a show or doing a spot of shopping in town then I'd recommend giving this place a try for lunch or dinner.

Hopefully some of those tips were useful for you - if you have any other questions about the festival or Edinburgh in general feel free to leave them in the comments and I'll try my best to help answer them.  Edinburgh is a fantastic city all year round but it gets proper exciting at festival time, so if you are coming for a visit I'm sure you'll have an awesome time!

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