Edinburgh Festival Fringe: First-Timer Planning Tips To Maximize Your Visit

The city of Edinburgh is famous for its festivals, but none can match the scale and variety of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Held every summer in August, the Festival Fringe turns the entire city into a stage with the world's best-performing artists.

Some call it The Fringe or The Edinburgh Fringe. However you want to name it, it's an exciting few weeks in Edinburgh, Scotland, that you shouldn't miss.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe-Tips From an Insider

Stumble upon street performances, buy tickets for ballets, or get ready to be part of the show with improv comedy. Millions of visitors make the trek to Edinburgh to be amazed by The Fringe.

I've got the best insider tips for taking advantage of the festival. Make the most of your time in Edinburgh by planning your Fringe itinerary before your trip departure. As a former Fringe performer, I can tell you how to maximize your time to see the biggest festival highlights.

What Is The Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

Man enjoying outdoor performance.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Billed as the World's Largest arts festival, The Fringe takes over the city of Edinburgh, turning almost any area into a performing arts venue. For three weeks, the festival wows audiences with every type of performance – from small and intimate to large stages with curtain calls. There's nothing you can't find.

Unbelievably, The Fringe has been taking place since 1947 and has only grown. It started as a protest against a competing arts festival that was invitation only. The uninvited performers set out to pave The Fringe into what we know today.

Who Can You See at The Fringe?

The Edinburgh Fringe is an open-access festival. Open access means absolutely anyone can perform any show. There is no curation or selection process.

I was a dancer in the ballet Cinderella and traveled from Vermont to perform. Many performers travel worldwide to be a part of The Fringe. Even performers take advantage of attending shows when they aren't performing. It's three weeks of theater 24/7.

What most visitors need to realize is how the open-access effects show quality. Some of the shows will be professional, while others could be amateur. That's some of the fun, though.

Where Does The Edinburgh Fringe Take Place?

Street performances are a big part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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Edinburgh is a huge city, with 317 venues yearly at The Fringe. Well-known acts will have tickets that sell out quickly, while some lesser-known acts will have tickets available right before the performance. Venues range from pubs to actual theaters and everything in between. Street performances and cafes are standard too. There could be upward of a thousand shows taking place throughout the day.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe organization oversees ticketing, city logistics, event spaces, and marketing. They do not vet any performances. So you never know what you'll see at The Fringe. One-third of The Fringe performances are in the comedy category. There's something for everyone – from circus to cabaret and ballet.

My favorite shows involve audience participation! Being a part of The Fringe without being a professional actor is so much fun. It's nice to narrow down what type of show you want to see because it's impossible to know every show The Fringe offers.

How Do You Know What Shows Are Most Popular at The Fringe?

Street performer in Edinburgh.
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When planning your trip to the festival, everyone wants to know what shows will sell out first or the must-see performances. With thousands of choices, almost daily, for three weeks, it's a hard choice.

While narrowing down so many shows is challenging, you must purchase advanced tickets for the most popular shows. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Start with The Fringe website. It updates show lists and allow you to select your favorites with a filter. Check out the categories that interest you the most.
  • After you've chosen your favorites, use the website's event calendar to keep on top of your daily show schedule.
  • Check to see if a performing group comes back yearly to The Fringe. That means they experience popularity at the festival.
  • Follow a performing artist or group on social media. See if they have clips of the show to watch, or previews, before booking your tickets.
  • Consider becoming a member of Friend of the Fringe, which is their exclusive access club. Members receive exclusive offers, like early ticket purchasing. This membership is excellent for big-name shows that sell out quickly. It costs £32 per year.
  • When you're at The Fringe, read the local newspaper or look for online reviews of the shows. Some of the shows perform daily for three weeks. If you see a glowing review, check if tickets are still available for upcoming performances.
  • Divide your itinerary with an 80/20 approach. 80% of the shows you see should be researched with tickets purchased. The other 20% can be fun and spontaneous.

What Shows Require Tickets at The Fringe?

Most of the shows require tickets, even the free ones. That's how they control the size of the audience. The free performances will give the audience the option to donate at the end of it.

Tickets are available starting in January, with every ticketed show available to purchase by mid-June. Even if you miss that June deadline, plenty of street performances are open during the festival.

Tickets do not necessarily guarantee a particular seat in the venue. I recommend arriving well before the show begins. If you need tickets during the festival on the go, download The Fringe mobile app (available for both Apple and Android devices). Tickets purchased on the app must be picked up at the venue box office. Occasionally check the app for discounted ticket offers too.

Packing for a Day at The Fringe

Edinburgh Festival Fringe at night.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Typically, you'll be out exploring the city all day – jumping from one show to the next. Edinburgh is notorious for unpredictable weather. Come prepared with a light raincoat.

Wear comfortable shoes (you may walk on cobblestones) and lightweight layers. A backpack is great for daytime exploring. Some nighttime shows in larger venues have a dress code requirement. It's always best to check in The Fringe app if a show requires dress and tie.

Portable phone chargers are convenient to keep on hand since you'll be referring to the app. Photography is not allowed at indoor venues – just at outdoor street performances.

Where To Stay in Edinburgh for The Festival Fringe

Edinburgh has so many lodging options, from hostels to luxury hotels. Even with all of the available options to pick from, the city books to almost maximum capacity. I recommend booking a hotel as soon as possible.

There are several hotel options near the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a street that is pedestrian-only during the festival. It's filled with street performances.You'll walk out of your hotel and run into a performance! It's a fabulous way to be a part of the action.

Other main areas of the festival include Cowgate, St. Bistro Square, and Princes Street. You will not be able to walk the streets of Edinburgh in August without stumbling upon a performance or someone trying to give you a flyer about one.

The hotel concierge can frequently tell guests about the larger venues, but they won't be a good resource for individual performances. Research where you want to stay according to your budget, look at shows and prepare for a fantastic festival experience. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is unlike anything else in the world!