Binge on the Fringe: Edinburgh Fringe Festival Survival


On the last tour in Scotland I couldn’t get anywhere near Fringe Festival, the month long Arts fest that has been going strong for 70 years. All accommodations were booked up that I could afford. My trip to Edinburgh ended up being the week before and after talking to a few residents, realized I would need to book about an year in advance for best lodgings. This is of course if you want to deal with a large European city that has its population swell about three-fold in four weeks. Had to think about that. I lived in San Francisco where this came close to happening every summer. When you live in a large tourist destination, it’s your least favorite time of year. Some stay, some go on their own vacations.

It’s the 70th year, so the festival is gearing up even bigger. This festival is insane. I picked up the program last year and spent an hour or two combing all the acts and theatre performances. It’s packed and overwhelming with something for everyone. I decided I would have to try to make it this year. Now, how do you navigate one of the largest festivals in Europe for your first time and if you only have three days to spare? Research, of course.

Step 1 Book Accommodations Way Ahead
As I said before, last year I just couldn’t get reasonable rooms. Everyone I talked to said book early. Edinburgh is the most expensive of the cities in Scotland I found to spend time in as far as accommodations go. So shopping early is a great choice. You can always adjust later. Other festivals in the UK also require early bookings, and don’t count on camping accommodations as those will have been snagged up, unless you have some traveling companions in the know. You can however book in adjacent towns and ride in on the train, which runs extra trains during August.

Step 2 Enroll on Fringe Website
Most festivals have a website and you should join early. You will get updates to performances as new lineups happen. I am checking in as I heard many popular shows sell out quick. I am not be familiar with many of the performers, but I am only in the city for three days and have to cram. And some US performers do make it to the marathon. I see there is a Fringe society planning group for your visit. Ooo, I have pals.

Looks like I may have to book my train run early ish as well. ScotRail has festival trains for the month, but they may be a bit packed, so better book the to the festival run at least a month out. What a contrast is will be from the tranquility of Skye where I will be coming from.

Did I say marathon? Yes, for the performers and the patrons. Many a US comic has lamented that they survived the Fringe Fest. It’s a month of shows and you may have 2-3 a day to do, and your venues can be spread out. Search for some comedy on Netflicks with Fringe Fest in the title and see what I mean. Get a perspective from a comic, and of course YouTube.

Step 3 Research, Who to See, or How to See Them
Okay, so here is the thing. There are thousands of shows and performers. Many of them trying to make it, new to it, feeling it out. It’s a festival, that means experimentation. You may find some names you are familiar with, but it’s not going to be a headliner affair like you may be used to in your home town. So, how to pick things to go to and not strike out. Go with an open mind. I know I like impromptu theatre. So, I can probably be highly amused regardless. How to do this on a limited budget? Look for free and discount shows. Go during the day. Wait for reviews. Get the App for the Fringe. Sounds like a lot of ways to get overloaded. Most of what I have read has said to wait to find deals when you get there. Keep an eye out for the daily reviews of shows. Talk to a more experienced attendee near you. I plan on interviewing people while there to get their take on the festival.

Step 4 Make Sure Your Accommodation is Really Booked.
Your accommodation should always be booked well ahead in any place you stay, but I have had weird things crop up while traveling overseas and had rooms get overbooked, and computer glitches happen. Confirm you have a booking. If you would like to go but all things are booked up, you can find accommodations in bordering towns and take the train in. Extra transit is provided during this month.

Step 5 Enjoy
With all the craziness of any festival like this, sometimes you need to pull out and decompress. Edinburgh has so many great little spots, courtyards, district areas that you can take a few streets to the left or right and find a smaller space to eat some great Pop-Up restaurant food and just let go for a bit. Making a decision on whether to cram every minute with theatre, dance, music, and all other arts can be and exhausting stimulus. That fear that you may have to choose between 3 things is a bit much for us. Remember, spontaneity can be living in the moment and just breathing.

Prepare for weather. My summer experiences in Edinburgh were that they were very close to San Francisco/Portland weather. Changeable within a day, check your weather app. Bring light rain gear, also suncream and your brelly. Hopefully the performance you are seeing is in shelter.

DOWNLOAD THE APP. As we get closer to August, the festival puts out an App that is very useful for booking and getting up to the minute information. You also have a feature where you can check shows via your location to see what is about to start near your location. You can also purchase tickets via the app. Keep an eye out for this App appearing in July in the Android and Apple Apps stores.



Travel Services Online

Planning your trip? It used to be you went to a travel agent, but now we plan it all online like crazy. Or many of us do. What websites have you used? There are so many, it can be overwhelming. I tried for the first time last year, and plan on sticking with it for the main itinerary planning with supplemental trip planning on other sites. Last year I had bookings for stays on too many separate sites, sometimes directly with hotels. This got to be really annoying when trying to travel, having so many online accounts is already annoying, right. This year I am using a few travel sites just to streamline a bit. No one site is perfect, but here are a few.

Advice. No one travel planning site may fill all of your needs. You may want to compare several of the ones out there by having a few browser windows open and plugging in the same dates for flights. Do this on one of the Bank Holidays if you are planning to travel in Europe, just watch the discounts Watch the airlines. For example, I plugged in my dates on 4 different sites as well as directly to airlines leaving from my local airport. I had up to 6 windows open and found varying prices with differences of $200 to $300 in flights often with the same airlines. Also, I have had feedback from friends that US staying sites like Air BNB don’t necessarily work as well in Europe, mainly in communication with people who let out their flat for example. If someone is not running a service flat for a living or as a profession, you are stuck with their schedule and this can mean meet ups for key exchanges can eat into your trip time. Try to find out in advance when you can get into the apartment if you have cases with you. Hotels have a concierge, service flats do not. Also, allow for travel days, seriously. People pack their stays and don’t think about travel between countries or within can eat up a whole day. Look at the map! as Example

This trip I booked most of my stays here. It’s all in one place, has an app I can travel with, and if you shop around, you can find accommodations that allow you to book months in advance with a pay-when-you get there option. You may get a discount if you shop and book well in advance, but pay attention to cancelation policies. Many allow for zero fees but you have to cancel 30 days in advance. Last year I booked after the new year for July and found many prices had risen. Book on or before Bank Holiday (Dec 26th) if you want good pricing for the new travel season.

However, if you are really on a budget and need to keep it cheap, you may have to combine and use many sites. Not all sites have the same deals or hotels participating. And sometimes they do and you may see different price quotes for the same room. This can be infuriating and well, you will have to pick your battles. If you want to keep track of five separate bookings but you got sweet deals, keep the details in a portable document on your cloud drive for while you are traveling. Many smaller service apartment providers list on one or two sites, but not all. If you can’t find what you want, try another site. – Flights, destinations, hotels and many places let you book with cancellation rates.

Trip Advisor – Things to visit and see, tours, and places to stay

Lonely Planet -Booking and travel planning for places all over the world. Not necessarily the best price, but a good selection

AirBNB – Smaller hosted places to stay. More intimate but plan ahead for checkins can be late in the day

Europe and Festivals, Plan Well in Advance!

Plan your Trip well in advance, like 9 months to a year. Why, well as I discovered last year, I booked stays in Scotland after the new year and many places were full up. Why? Because everyone there knows that the festival season is intense and many UK and Ireland cities have massive music and arts festivals that mean the population swells. Take Edinburgh. The Fringe Fest, a massive festival of culture and arts is in August every year. The town can swell to 3 times it’s normal population. Also, August is still traditional travel period for most of Europe so you should do this regardless. This year I just squeaked in and booked in November.

To see if festivals may impact your travel, because they will, you should see the trains, check out some sites:

Rick Steves

Music Festivals Online

UK Festivals

Travel sites based in Europe may be a good choice if you are taking an extended trip and you will also see plan ticket discounts for small european airlines and ferries. If you book these through a US site, you may not get a good deal on pricing. You need to think like a European if you plan to spend time there, so use the sites they use for travel info and booking of smaller flights.


If you plan on visiting certain cities, just like you do in the US, read their local papers or websites for that city. Research alternative online papers and local living magazines online. You will get an idea of what’s on for the area you are visiting and how it enhances or impacts your stay. Most cities like in the US have festivals and arts functions all year, and this is a great way to experience local culture and communicate with people who really live there. You can also pick up guidebooks before you go and maps, but leave them behind in the hotel room, make notes on your smartphone and go.

Links for European Travel Sites and Airlines

Last Minute – Deals for last minute planners

In Your Pocket

Skyscanner – Flights