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Edinburgh Festivals on a budget...

VisitScotlandEstherVisitScotlandEsther Administrator, Moderator, VisitScotland Staff
edited August 2016 in Events and festivals

It's festival time in Edinburgh, and for me that means taking a week off to see as many shows as possible (I think I went to about 40 last year, but it's easy to lose count!). Over the last 10 years I've developed a few tactics to make my money go further and get the most out of the festival month.

Copyright VisitScotland / Kenny Lam, all rights reserved

1. Free street performances

During the Festivals the Royal Mile fills up with street performers, and so does the space by the National Galleries on The Mound. You can join the crowd and see everything from musicians to jugglers, contortionists and magicians. There's always audience participation. Many Fringe shows also do slots on a temporary stage on the Royal Mile, as a kind of advert, with several troupes taking the stage back-to-back.

2. Strategic lurking

Many promoters will offer 2 for 1 tickets to their Fringe shows if they want to fill a venue. If you have a few free hours, sit in the Pleasance Courtyard or in the bars at Bristo Square. You're especially likely to be offered bargain tickets if a show is expecting critics or reviewers, or if it's a week night when fewer people are out and about (I've received free ones this way too).

3. Digital lurking

You can also do some digital lurking. Keep an eye on the social media feeds and apps from the Festivals and local media, and you'll often find extra dates, cheap tickets or exclusive events that don't appear in official programmes.

People to follow on Twitter:

4. Free shows at the Book Festival

The Book Festival could keep you occupied for the whole of your time in Edinburgh, and many of its events sell out quickly. On most nights during the Book Festival, from 9-11pm there's a free show in the Charlotte Square Spiegeltent called Jura Unbound

Last year I saw Arctic poets, story-tellers and fabulous world music from Inuit musicians. The show has the air of a cabaret, with tables in front of the stage and booths at the back. It's different every night, playing on the themes of the wider Book Festival, and you don't need a ticket (but if you arrive late there may not be any seats!). There's a bar and last year I was plied with free whisky, from their sponsors, Jura. This is also a good way to get a taster of the other shows on offer, so that you can be sure you're picking performers you'll love.

5. Friends of the Fringe

If like me you're planning a full-on festival binge, and intend to see as many shows as you can, you might consider joining Friends of the Fringe. You can sign up for £30, and are then entitled to 2 for 1 tickets for up to 15 shows (2 per show). There are other tiers of membership which give you a greater number of 2 for 1 tickets, with up to six tickets per show.

This is especially good if you have large group - you could even split the cost of the membership between you. I saved a lot of money last year. As a friend you can also save time by skipping the queues for tickets with priority box office (very satisfying!).


  • VisitScotlandEstherVisitScotlandEsther Administrator, Moderator, VisitScotland Staff
    edited July 2017

    6. Half Price Hut

    For the second half of the Fringe, the Virgin Money Half Price Hut helps to bolster attendance to shows by offering half price tickets. It's usually located just outside the art galleries on The Mound, and is always a good place to scoop up a bargain.

    7. "Free Fringe"

    Just as the international festival spawned the Fringe, a number of small-scale satellite festivals have sprung up alongside the official Fringe. These usually take place in smaller spaces, like the basements or back rooms of pubs, converted into temporary venues. There's no charge to get into these performances, but some are ticketed, so you may need to turn up early on the day to be sure you'll get in.

    On the way out, the performers shake a bucket at you for donations, and you can give as much or as little as you like. I've seen some fabulous stuff this way, though be prepared for one or two experimental and less experienced performances. In recent years, however, many bigger names have started to do two or even three shows a day, with one of their performances in the free fringe during the morning or afternoon as a kind of trailer for their other appearances. I've often gone to an official Fringe show after a taster at a free event.

    Free programmes include:

    You'll find paper programmes for the free festivals in almost every pub in the centre of Edinburgh, especially in the Old Town, in the area of the Royal Mile.

    8. Edinburgh Art Festival

    Edinburgh Art Festival runs from the end of July to the end of August, with a wide range of exhibitions, performances, commissions and events - many of which are free - and some great paid stuff too. This is a good way to spend a day at the festivals if your friends have bailed or you have an afternoon to yourself.

    Dazzle ship, part of the Edinburgh Art Festival

    9. Spot the stars


    People I've seen in the wild during recent years include: Phil Jupitus (about five times... I think he was following me); Jo Brand; Susan Boyle; Paul Merton; Simon Amstell; Nina Conti; Sue Perkins; Nicholas Parsons, and Will Self. An excellent place for celeb spotting is the upstairs bar in the Assembly Rooms, as is the smaller outdoor bar towards the back of the Pleasance (down the steps).

    The great art is to observe the famous person without appearing to notice them, or even better to register their presence but pretend to be too cool to care. Hours of fun.

    10. Opening and closing celebrations of the International Festival

    Each year, the Edinburgh International Festival ends with a fireworks extraveganza, even bigger than the one at New Year. The display is synchronised to live music provided by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and lasts for about 45 minutes.

    While paid tickets are available for an enclosed area of Princes Street Gardens, you can see and hear the concert from lots of vantage points in Edinburgh, including Calton Hill and North Bridge. The concert goes out live over the radio, so even if you're quite far from the gardens, you can still get the combined effect.

    Have I missed anything? Does anyone else have tips for getting the most out of the Edinburgh Festivals?

  • VisitScotAnnieroseVisitScotAnnierose Member, Administrator, Moderator
    edited August 2016
    Hey Festival fans! On Sunday, the Standard Life opening event, Deep Time will officially launch this year's Edinburgh International Festival. If you missed out on tickets, don't worry! You can watch a live stream of the event. 

    Don't forget to share your pictures using #DeepTime!
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  • How about staying in Stirling (accommodation about 2/3rds the price) and taking the train down in the morning? Takes just under an hour
  • OutandaboutElaineOutandaboutElaine Member ✭✭✭
    Friends have been raving about James Acaster and Jason Byrne.   :)  Has anyone been to see either of them? or any other comedians or shows you would recommend?
  • hanoverhenhanoverhen Member
    Spent my daughter's hen weekend at The Fringe last weekend and all 15 of us would thoroughly recommend Grant Buse in The Late Night Sexy Show at the Gilded Balloon Teviot
  • VisitScotlandJulieVisitScotlandJulie Member, Moderator, VisitScotland Staff
    The BBC Garden on Lauriston Place, in the grounds of the spectacular George Heriot's school.

    Also the BBC has just released additional tickets for some of its fully booked (free) events if you go along on the day.

  • VisitScotlandNikkiVisitScotlandNikki Member, VisitScotland Staff
    Went to see the Wedding Reception last night at the George Hotel - it's an immersive, dining experience so not only do you get comedy, but you also get a two course meal and cake in a lovely setting! Definitely my kind of show!

    Has anybody else tried a show like this before? 
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