The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with over 3,000 shows. This year, Playbill will be going to Edinburgh in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along with us this spring and summer as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!
During the month of August, Edinburgh, Scotland turns into a major cultural hub. The city plays host not only to the world’s largest arts festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but also the Royal Military Tattoo, Edinburgh International, the Book Festival, and even a couple of others. As reported by The Scotsman, over four million people flocked to the city in August of 2019. That’s nearly eight times the capital’s population of half a million. So where do they all stay?
In previous years, this has meant that attending the Fringe, whether as a performer or an audience member, has certainly meant planning a trip well in advance. Booking lodging was often difficult and expensive by springtime in the past. The availability and affordability of accommodations has been a growing concern in recent years. And further pressures may be on the horizon for the festival in 2024. Originally meant to be introduced last year, the Scottish government is looking to regulate short-stay rentals by turning the city into a short-term lets control area. Any entire property that is not a host’s primary residence will have to receive planning permission to operate as a short-term let with only a few exceptions.
Once short-term lets are granted planning permission, they will have to be licensed upon meeting mandatory safety requirements; meeting those requirements is at the owners’ expense. Other changes are maximum occupancy levels and the banning of short-term lets in tenements and other shared-door buildings. But after lobbying by several entities including The Fringe Society, the government granted a six-month extension on the deadline to October 1, 2023 for already-operating hosts which has given this year’s festival some breathing room. Unfortunately, new hosts were not eligible to the extension.
Here’s what that means: a large percentage of Airbnbs have to reapply for permission, and there are many that will not be granted it. For a city facing large festival crowds every summer that already fill Edinburgh’s capacity to the brim and put demand at a premium, the supply has been cut. For artists wanting to present at the festival, accommodation was the number one barrier artists identified for The Fringe Society which could keep them from participating.
There’s a number of other factors also at play as outlined by The Fringe Society. Edinburgh is already struggling to provide adequate housing to all of its citizens while, like places worldwide, it feels the pressure of the cost-of-living crisis and provides sanctuary to refugees. As visitors turn more and more to affordable options such as Airbnbs, the competition for that housing has made it increasingly more difficult for performers and festival workers. It’s estimated that every night of the peak season in August, 25,400 beds are needed.
Searching for solutions is underway by many, with The Fringe Society continuing to lobby alongside other festivals and invested parties for an exemption period during the height of the city’s summer season. The organization is also looking into gap-closing solutions with resourceful accommodation ideas such as working with schools, colleges, and universities on using housing, in addition to exploring alternate concepts that include ships, tents, yurts, and vacant shops. Outside of housing within Edinburgh, improvements to transportation into the city center from outside the capital are being explored to increase how far out visitors, performers, and the like can stay with reasonable access to the festival on a daily basis.
For those looking to stay in Edinburgh during August, the best policy is to book as early as possible. While accommodations for this year are already tight, those looking to attend the festival in 2024 would not be remiss in researching and booking accommodations a year or more out as the measures currently being discussed by the Scottish Parliament are currently set to go into effect in full this fall.
While the festival really adds to the atmosphere of Edinburgh across the entire city, those who don’t mind commuting into the neighborhoods of Old Town and New Town should look into neighborhoods and lodging options accessible via the city’s tram and bus systems. The main company for the public buses is Lothian, and they run 24 hours a day whereas the trams generally stop running around 11 PM and do not resume until about 5:30 AM. An extension of the line to the city’s port in Leith has been under construction since 2019 and is scheduled to be completed this spring.
So, where can you stay? Here are just a few starting points to help plan your trip:
- Look into Edinburgh's 167 hotels (as of 2019) which range from the boutique to the familiar.
- If you're someone who enjoys the thought of having access to a kitchen or kitchenette for coffee in bed or a midnight snack, looking at options on Airbnb and Vrbo might be more your speed.
- Interested in getting to interface a little more with the locals? Look into bed and breakfasts.
- Traveling with a group of friends and plan to be out and about as much as possible? Check out the city's hostels for a way to stay together for a better price.
- For performers trying to find affordable lodgings, The Fringe Society works with Theatre Digs Booker to provide options via a portal. Many artists also turn to Facebook groups to share information about lodgings they are finding.
- It’s worth also looking into the incredible nearby cities and towns of Scotland that have trains to Edinburgh. For instance, nearby Glasgow is only 1 hour and 15 minutes away by train for £15 round-trip.
But again, our best advice is start planning as soon as possible.