How to make the most of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

The Edinburgh Fringe can be fun and frustration in equal measures and the trick to emphasising the one over the other is by judiciously pacing your day to embrace the less frenetic side of Edinburgh.

View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill

Explore Edinburgh’s closes

At a time of year when every corner is stage, it’s a good time to take advantage of the Old Town’s system of vennels and closes. No more than a hundred feet off the Royal Mile there are any number of places of interest to explore, including hidden gardens or courtyards that still evoke their medieval past. Even a cemetery stroll to visit the resting place of the great economist Adam Smith can deliver a calm space away from the crowds.

Rummage for antiques

It is fair to say that rain or shine, many Fringe venues are – at best – ‘intimate’ and at worst, fusty sweatboxes. Rather than resort to fanning yourself with surplus fliers or ticket stubs, you might score a lovely antique fan by heading to St Stephen St in Stockbridge and browsing the eclectic range of vintage shops there, interspersed with galleries, gift and jewellery stores and some great places to eat. Again, tranquillity can be almost guaranteed by following the Water of Leith to Duddingston or further along to the Gallery of Modern Art, keeping an eye out for Antony Gormley statues within the flowing waters as you go.

Spot a celebrity

As busy as they are, there are some Fringe venues that deliver high value for people-spotting. Two of the most hospitable are Summerhall and The Pleasance. The key to these is to carve out time to sit and think, (should you overcome the first hurdle of finding a seat) and then watch the passing parade. They are both great places for celebrity bingo, so go with a friend (and it also helps if you can send them to the bar to buy the drinks).

Enjoy an evening show

Go late is another trick. Late shows spill you out into streets far emptier once the daytime crush departs. The street performers are home to bed, or to shows of their own. The leafleters likewise. Then you can pick from traditional pubs to whisky bars – or gin palaces if that’s your fancy. It is cocktail or nightcap time. Some gems are truly hidden – like Panda & Sons in Queen Street, it looks like a barber shop but it isn’t and entry is through a bookcase. Alternatively, Heads & Tales Bar in Rutland Place has two gin stills on the premises and can be a welcoming place at the end of the night.

Edinburgh St Giles

The beauty of Edinburgh is that it holds a wealth of enjoyment within a relatively compact city, and that so much of this beauty is almost hidden in plain sight during the festival. It only takes a decision to duck down a quiet vennel and something unexpected will open up for the visitor. From the heights of Arthur’s Seat to the Botanics or the ruins of Craigmillar Castle, there is peace to be found even among the crowds.

Douglas Walker is Chair of Unique Venues of Edinburgh.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Richard Eldred Hawes says:

    The fringe, a festival made up of a mix of both good and bad , the problem is sorting the wheat from the chaff

  2. shweta Ahuja says:

    fringe Festive celebration in the compact city of Edinburgh where Douglas Walker is Chair of Unique Venues of Edinburgh.

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