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An unhealthy mix of pubs, dancing, shows, and exploring has been what has made up my last three weeks and it’s decimated any bit of motivation i’ve had to do anything else. But now that I sit, semi-burned out, I want to tell you all about one of the greatest festivals on Earth. It’s called the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
For those that haven’t heard of it before, it’s the largest arts festival in the world that happens annually. Last year they hosted just under 50,000 shows in three weeks and the one I was at this year may have very well beat that. With something this large, it’s no wonder that you can get caught up in the same whirlwind of events that I was – that’s just how the Fringe works – and for three weeks, it owns you.
Three weeks ago, I moved into a gorgeous palace called the Dalkeith House. There is a lot of history that makes it a fun and somewhat intimidating place to live. Here are a few bullet points:
- 15,000 Soldiers died just outside in battle
- The bill that restored the monarchy was signed in the dining room I’m currently writing this in.
- It was built around an old castle in 1702, so some of the walls are quite thick.
- Witch trials were held downstairs (also apart of the old castle) and people were tortured.
- Queen Elizabeth II and a king stayed here at separate times for a fortnight.
- Where the old nursery used to be upstairs a baby jumped out the window and died. The nurse was so distraught with shame and public hate she hung herself in the nursery a little while later.
- It once guarded the royal jewels that to this day cannot be seen by the public and are rumored to be hidden deep within Edinburgh Castle.
So as you can probably ascertain, it can be a wee bit scary to walk about alone at night! I’ll be staying here for three and a half months to study business and writing, so even though I loved the Fringe, part of me is happy it’s over now and life can settle back down to a quiet Edinburgh pace.
All in all, during the festival, I saw somewhere around thirty shows. Here are some of the most memorable ones to me:
– Shit-Face Shakespeare: The most hilarious show that I saw, it featured a completely drunk actor who tried to act out “Merchant of Venice” with five other performers who had to stick to their own character as he went off to lick fans and insult Geoffrey from Game of Thrones. Every show is different and unique. (paid)
– Spank!: An intense late-night show not for the light of heart. Expect it to last from midnight until three in the morning filled with raucous humor and nudity. I enjoyed the show, but it was a bit intense at points and the crowd who was attending may not be for everyone. They featured eight different comedians, including Piff The Magic Dragon, two short dance parties, and one naked man who danced. (paid)
– Titanic Orchestra: This show boasted John Hannah, the man behind the Ludus in the hit show Spartacus. The acting was some of the best I have ever seen by the entire cast, as hobos deal with their own damaged mental states. (paid)
– The Kenny Newman Show: An improv comedy with an overexcited host who interviews other actors based off fan suggestions. It was hilarious. (free)
– Cosmonaught by Ryan Good: During this performance I was brought onstage for about 45 minutes and became quite close with Ryan. From rocking the drums as he sang to marrying him, it was a hoot. This show is heavy on one person in the audience participating, but Ryan is a great guy and a wonderful performer. His show is based on his knowledge of the past fifty years of Cosmopolitan magazine. Ryan, if you’re reading this, congrats on the new baby my friend! (paid)
– Military Tattoo: The world famous performance of Scottish bagpipes and dancers from around the world is a ticket well worth the price. It reminded me of what you would watch on TV during the opening of the Olympics. (paid)
– The Secret Life of Suitcases: A piece of children’s theatre that follows the story of a puppet who realizes that life isn’t all about work. (paid)
– Battling Superheroes: Three comedians who threw this together to promote their other shows, each choose a new superhero each night and battle it out to see who is top dog. I wanted Squirrel Girl to win (she beats her enemies with friendship!), but Dr. Strange took this one. Even though it seems like it was thrown together last minute, it was funny. (free)
– Leper + Chip: An Irish drama about two crossed lovers is an intense performance to watch. The stage is two highly trained actors dressed in black in front of a white background with lights. It’s fun to watch them create the story. (paid, but I was given free tickets for them in the streets)
– A Pint and a Half: Sadly I caught them at their last performance of this show. It was improv comedy that was based off audience suggestions. It’s quite run of the mill, but they were exceptionally good. (free)
If you haven’t experienced the Fringe before, it can be done cheaply if you’re careful, but it’s easy to splurge. There were definitely times when I saw shows that cost me 20 USD and drank too many expensive beers. Overall though, I’m pretty happy with only spending a few hundred during the whole affair and that’s for my one big “splurge” for the next few months outside of Oktoberfest.
The biggest lesson I learned while walking the streets, is to just let the Fringe take you. It’s smart to plan out a show or two to catch for the day, but during the time in-between, walk the streets and just see what happens. There are people handing out fliers practically shoulder to shoulder and many of those shows are free acts. In fact, the majority of shows I saw were free. You may even get lucky and have one of them hand you tickets to a paid show. That happened to me twice and both acts were wonderful.
An embarrassing mistake I made is that it’s customary to leave a donation after a free performance if you like it, so be prepared to have a few pound coins handy before you go. If you truly don’t like it, no one will glare at you for not donating.
Your average pub and street bar during the festival is going to be pretty expensive. On average a beer will run you just over $6 USD a pop. My favorite drink is Strongbow Darkfruit, which is wildly popular here, and four of those a day pretty much killed my budget. There are some other cheaper tasty drinks you can get depending on what bar you’re in like a Fosters Raddler for $3.80 USD (the cheapest beer I found).
If you go to a club, you may be able to find less expensive drinks on average. I know for a jack and coke it cost me $3 USD, which I thought was pretty reasonable. Although, make sure to do some background into which clubs you go to, not only can some be sketchy, but it may hold a crowd of people who aren’t too keen on Americans, a problem i’ve ran into a few times during my stay here. The last club I went to (The Hive) I had a sweater stolen too!
Eating in this city, especially during the Fringe has its good and bad sides. To start with the bad, it’s pretty common to expect to pay $12 USD or more for a meal, unless your body can withstand cheap deep fried food and chips which costs around $5 USD if you stick to lower end items. On a side note, if you’re in Grassmarket, head to a place called Castle Rocks (I think that’s the name anyway), where they sell deep fried mars bars for two and a half pounds.
Now onto the good side. If you go shopping, you can find super cheap groceries at Lidl, Tesco, or Morrisons. On average you can get away with only spending $30 USD on groceries a week if you have access to a kitchen. Even less if you stick with basics like soup for $.30 USD a can. Even items like burgers you can get for only two or three pounds.
The public busing system here is fantastic. They are all clean, well-labeled, and generally on time or only delayed by a few minutes. You can pick up a one way ride for 1.50 GBP or a day pass for 4 GBP, which is worth it if you plan on taking more than one trip. Chances are you’ll end up having to take a night bus if you’re out late, and those will run you 3.50 GBP every time you take it. The best bet is to go to one of the “Transportation Edinburgh” stores and buy a card if you’re staying for more than a week. It gives you unlimited access on the buses all day and night as well as the trams for 18 GBP per week.
If you plan on traveling to Edinburgh during the Fringe, be prepared to book well in advance, these places go quick. There are loads of nice looking hostels in the city that look like they charge between 20 and 40 GBP a night, more so on the low-end.
There are also plenty of nice B&B’s I saw on the outskirts of town. One of the best parts of this city is there are so many great small towns surrounding it such as Portobello (a hot spot to check out the North Sea) and even where I am, Dalkeith. They are always close to a bus stop that will be able to take you to the Royal Mile so you can get your Fringe on.
A few final tips:
Any time you’re in a crowd of this mass, it’s important to keep your wits about you so you don’t end up in a sticky situation, especially at night. So stay vigilant. It’s a safe city, but bad things can always happen.
Read this post on avoiding pick pockets if you haven’t already. I had my sweater stolen, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to let anyone steal my phone or wallet!
Speaking of phones, there are plenty of spots to get a sim card for your device, especially on Princes Street such as Carphone or 3Store. I forgot to unlock my phone before I went, so I just use the free bus and occasional pub wifi to connect back home and keep it on airplane mode. To text people locally I just got a basic phone and a ten pound plan.
If you’re lost or confused, ask someone who is handing out fliers for help. They face rejection thousands of times a day and need the love. Thank them by taking their flier and if you can, go see their show. These people are generally super friendly and the best part is that they are often the skilled performer you may be seeing later.
Take a walking tour on the history of the Fringe. It was worth the 5 GBP and explained how the Fringe is a rebellion against mainstream entertainment. The one I went on also talked about some of the craziest shows that have ever happened at the Fringe and the ones that were currently going on (such as a city disco walking tour where you dance through the city and City Dash, where you run through the city in a race looking for clues while bad guys try to get you.)
At the end of the Fringe, all I can say is, God I love Scotland.