Looking back on their experiences at Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, Playbill Goes Fringe correspondents Leah Putnam and Margaret Hall have pulled together their top tips based on their mistakes and successes at this year’s event. From how to make the most of seeing both shows and Edinburgh’s sites to navigating the city, read more below to find out how to have a great experience at the world’s largest arts festival.
Mistake: Booking late
“As the world’s largest arts festival, planning to attend Fringe earlier rather than later is very beneficial not only for booking accommodations and making reservations but also for purchasing hot tickets. While a part of the joy of Fringe is discovering a show through word-of-mouth, there are usually a small handful of shows that end up sold-out before August. These shows frequently have notable names attached to them or are highly anticipated after successful runs elsewhere. One such show this year was Hamlet starring Ian McKellen with tickets going on sale months before the festival and selling out well before August. Be sure not to miss out by planning your trip early and keeping an eye on news about productions coming to Edinburgh Fringe starting in the spring.” – Leah Putnam
Must and Mistake: Packing for the terrain but not the weather
“Good walking shoes are important. A full day of taking in the sites and shows can include a lot of walking, going up and down hills and stone staircases, and traversing the city which made me very happy I had packed a pair of comfortable sneakers. In case a rain shower or two comes through, you’ll want to have shoes that will do well on cobblestone streets.
The weather in Edinburgh during August is generally temperate. With temperatures ranging from a cool 50 to 70s during daylight hours, it is best to pack layers for early mornings, late nights, and breezy days as well as sunscreen for days with clear skies and fairly strong sunshine. Be sure to also bring a raincoat and an umbrella—it is Scotland, after all.” – Leah Putnam
Join Putnam on a walk from New Town to Old Town below.
Mistake: Not planning out the day by neighborhood
“In our excitement to take on the festival, we planned our days of shows without accounting for venue location. There were a few days spent hastily walking back and forth between New Town and Old Town across the bridge and over the hill to make the next show on time as we bounced around the city.” – Leah Putnam
“Pick a part of town and plan to see the shows you’re interested in at those venues over the course of the day, or a couple of days. It’ll give you more time to enjoy Edinburgh and all it offers. It’s a hilly, historic city, filled with cobblestone streets and home to old and charming outdoor stone staircases called closes that help pedestrians navigate the city’s varying levels that can become quite busy as Fringe-gets underway. Give yourself breathing room to enjoy each location and level.
Unlike New York or London where an empty taxi seems almost always available, walking is often the fastest and easiest means of navigating the city. By staying in one area for a day, you’ll have more time to explore Edinburgh’s many local shops, coffee spots, pubs, and gelato places that will give you greater exposure to what Edinburgh is like as a city and the personality of each neighborhood.” – Margaret Hall
Must: Take time to explore the city itself
“Edinburgh, both ancient and modern, is home to historic architecture, beautiful gardens, and natural wonders for outdoor lovers. We had a chance to explore Edinburgh castle, built on top of a dormant volcano at the center of the city, and sang with some musicians during a traditional music session in a pub. A morning was spent in the beautiful, historic Writers Museum learning more about Scotland’s famous literary giants Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Walter Scott at the free Writers’ Museum. We listened to bagpipers on the Royal Mile, and tried Scottish fare from haggis and sea buckthorn-flavored gelato to local tea and scotch whisky. As the capital of Scotland since the 15th century, and a bustling trade and cultural center since the Bronze Age, the layers of culture have developed over the city’s millennia-long history.” – Margaret Hall
Check out photos from Hall and Putnam's visit to Edinburgh Castle below:
Mistake: Not making dinner reservations ahead of time
“Edinburgh has a veritable cornucopia of restaurants, and the festival also features an influx of beer gardens and surprisingly good food trucks. With the influx of performers and attendees, many restaurants fill up quickly, making reservations a must-do. Make sure to call a few days in advance when looking for a sit-down between 5 PM and 9 PM.” – Leah Putnam
Must: Go to the Royal Military Tattoo
“It is hard to put into words how soul stirring the Royal Military Tattoo is. From the first soaring note to the final drumbeat, it is a masterclass in music from across the world. The Scottish pipe and drum band brought tears to my eyes, and from that point forward, a wealth of artistry rang out. The lineup changes every year, but my personal favorite was the Swiss Top Secret Drum Corps who performed feats of precision that took my breath away. I found the experience so impactful that I plan on attending the Tattoo any and every time I come to Edinburgh in the future.” – Margaret Hall
Tickets for next year’s Royal Military Tattoo, titled “Stories,” are already on sale.
Watch the US Army Field Band perform "Mambo" from West Side Story below:
Mistake: Not taking more time to eat and sleep
“Fringe and Edinburgh both offer so much to see, explore, and do, that it can be hard to not overbook a schedule. The festival’s energy is really enticing, and it’s easy to get swept up in it. We weren’t the best about keeping consistent eating and sleep schedules. Make sure to set aside time to enjoy a sit-down meal, even if it’s in a pub, at least once a day and try not to book morning shows to follow a late-night cabaret.” – Leah Putnam
Must: Step outside your comfort zone when picking shows
“Everyone has their own tastes, but, one of the great things about the Fringe is how it can push you out of your comfort zone. Take a chance on a show that isn’t your typical genre, or even on a show you know nothing about. Shows rarely run longer than an hour, and tickets are typically cheap, so you aren’t risking a lot when you take the plunge. Who knows, you may discover a new lifelong passion for a form of performance you didn’t even know existed!
While the Fringe began as a theatre festival, it has since grown to include a large variety of performances, including stand-up comedy, circus arts, cabaret, puppetry, magic, improv, and more—try seeing as many different genres as possible during the Festival. Be sure to also check out the boards many of the big venue operators have at their main venues which tell you which shows are selling out. The shows selling out are often fan-favorite returns, debuts that are truly entertaining, and new works with powerful storytelling that festival attendees are spreading the word about through word-of-mouth.” – Margaret Hall
Watch as magician Tom Brace wows Hall and Putnam into attending a family-friendly magic show below: