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7 Fabulous Things To Do In Edinburgh During The Fringe Festival

best things to do in edinburgh uk

Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland and one of the UK’s most populous cities, is a place that feels slightly otherworldly. It’s a student city, a business hub, and a place that is fanatical about sports. In addition to all of this, it may be the most picturesque city in all of the UK, overlooked as it is by a castle on a hill. Every August, it adds to these attractions by hosting the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – seen by many as a comedy festival but packed with attractions that include theatre, dance, music, and street performances. In short, it is an explosion of culture – and there’s something for all tastes.

1. Get serious at the Summerhall Theatre

While for many people, the Edinburgh Festival is inextricably linked with comedy, there is always a lot more than that going on in the city in August. The Summerhall is an excellent place to start if your tastes are avant-garde and rarely catered to by mainstream media. Whether it’s garage-punk concerts or innovative, thought-provoking plays, there’s going to be something here for you. The theatre’s tagline is “Open Doors, Open Minds”; that sums it up pretty well.

Summerhall Theatre

Address: 1 Summerhall, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL

Website: Summerhall Theatre

2. Laugh it all off at the Gilded Balloon

A post shared by Daniel Smith (@olsmiddy) on Jul 28, 2016 at 5:08pm PDT

Edinburgh is a city that takes comedy seriously – well, you know what I mean! So, when a venue gets a reputation for being the most prestigious comedy venue here, you know you’re talking something impressive. The Gilded Balloon runs the festival’s “So You Think You’re Funny?” award, which since the 1980s has been launching comedians to careers in the highest comic echelons of TV and stand-up. Luminaries such as Ed Byrne and Johnny Vegas got early breaks here; or rather, at its old home on Cowgate. The original Gilded Balloon was destroyed by fire in 2002, and its base has now moved to Bristo Square (where, fortunately, the magic keeps happening!).

Gilded Balloon

Address: 13 Bristo Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9AJ

Website: Gilded Balloon

3. Meet Fringe fans and comedians alike at the Pleasance

Pleasance Courtyard
Source: Photo by user Tom Betts used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

It’s no exaggeration to say that, for the duration of the Fringe, Edinburgh becomes the centre of comedy in the UK. Popular panel shows go on hiatus during this time to allow their stars to decamp to Scotland’s first city. When they do, they are likely to end up spending some time in the general area of the Pleasance, a performing arts theatre complex which hosts influential shows and, equally importantly, a beer garden. Spend awhile here, and you will meet comedy royalty. You’ll also pick up a lot of flyers, but it’s the Fringe, so indulge this – go see a show; chances are you’re seeing the first steps of a future legend.

The Pleasance

Address: Pleasance Courtyard, 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9TJ

Website: The Pleasance

4. See something different: the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Source: Photo by user Caroline Maybach used under CC BY-SA 3.0

If you have joined the masses pouring into Edinburgh for the festival, chances are that military bands did not feature anywhere in your thinking. That’s fair enough. The thing about Edinburgh, though, is that doing it right means doing at least one thing you didn’t expect. Hence, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. It’s really not like most marching band events, anyway – and regular guest stints from overseas performers give it a real cultural depth.

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Address: The Tattoo Office, 1-3 Cockburn Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1QB,

Website: Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

5. A whole wide world, Edinburgh-style: visit the Edinburgh Mela

First, a small language lesson. “Mela” is a Sanskrit word meaning “gathering” and that’s what takes place at Leith Links as part of the festival. The Edinburgh Mela has been running and growing since 1995, and involves stages for world music and dance, market stalls including fashion and art and, not least importantly, a culinary tour of the world that alone is worth the journey. Although strongly Asian-influenced, it’s very much a “come one, come all” affair, and you are guaranteed to find something here that is to your taste.

Edinburgh Mela

Address: Leith Links, Edinburgh

Website: Edinburgh Mela

6. Wallet starting to empty? See a show for free

Those used to paying London prices may have a look around Edinburgh and wonder how traders and venues make any money at all, but for other tourists, “doing Edinburgh” can start to get expensive after a few days. In that light, it’s not a bad idea to avail of some of the free shows taking place during the month. As with the main festival, there are music, comedy, dance and theatre shows among others with the blessed advantage that you won’t need to buy tickets. It’s no indicator of low quality – the Free Festival is a chance for some performers who are just starting out to work in front of an audience. Take the opportunity – they may be back next year playing to sold-out arenas.

Edinburgh Free Festival

Address: Various locations

Website: Edinburgh Free Festival

7. Give it a try yourself: try an open mic night!

The ultimate sign that a performer is sinking without trace is when they look out into the heckling, jeering crowd and in a fit of pique, shout “I bet you couldn’t do any better!”. And yet, if we were the ones staring down the barrel of those lights, could we?

If you’re a comedy or music connoisseur, you may well have found yourself idly daydreaming that you’re up there, holding an audience in the palm of your hand. Performing at an open mic evening in Edinburgh during the festival is a white-knuckle ride up there with anything the world’s theme parks can offer. However, a few days into your trip, having seen the weird and wonderful attractions of the Fringe, maybe you’ll find yourself wanting to try? If so, there will be no shortage of opportunities – maybe you’ll be discovered here? Espionage club is just one of many venues that hosts open mic nights during the festival – keep in touch with the free festival providers to find out more.

Open Mic Nights

Address: Espionage, 4, India Buildings, Victoria St, Edinburgh EH1 2EX

Website: Open Mic

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be back in Edinburgh next year...

Antoine on the Fringe
Source: Photo by user Kim Traynor used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Make no mistake, not everything you see in Edinburgh will have your sides splitting nor your heart soaring. There’s no editing suite with live comedy, music, and theatre. But when you see it in the raw, at the most famous fringe festival of it all, you really appreciate the craft of these performers. When you’ve done one Edinburgh Festival, you’ll want to come back every year.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Antonia Kelly is a freelance writer based in Leicester, UK and she enjoys European travel as well as road trips closer to home. Her favourite domestic destinations include Snowdonia and the Brecon...Read more

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