The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest multi-arts festival in the world. The event is held at various venues throughout the city for three weeks in August every year.
Discover exactly what it’s like to visit Scotland’s biggest event in this complete guide which includes an overview and handy visiting advice.
Edinburgh is home to the world’s biggest annual multi-arts event which has been running consecutively since its inception in 1947.
Originally created as an alternative to the already-popular Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe has grown in strength each year to the point where the annual figures can only be described as astonishing.
Over 25 days there’s an average of 50,000 performances of more than 3,500 different shows, held in over 300 different venues which are enjoyed by upwards of half a million visitors.
An incredible 3 million tickets were purchased in 2019 with the total ticket sales amounting to a whopping £4 million.
The Fringe is an absolute riot of colour and sound and you’d need a fun bypass to not enjoy yourself at the event. A combination of street artists and paid venues create an absolutely electric atmosphere and you’ll find all age groups from 8 to 80 enjoying the shows on offer.
One thing to be aware of if you’ve never been before is that some of the shows are a bit hit-or-miss so you never know what the quality is going to be like until you’re actually sitting in the audience.
To my mind though, that’s what the Fringe is all about, and being able to watch emerging talent is what makes it such a special event.
1: The cream of the UK’s artistic talent can be seen at the Fringe and many of the UK’s top comedians had their first big breaks at the event. You never know who’s going to be there one year to the next.
2: Many of the shows are free. Check out The Royal Mile for an almost constant stream of street artists.
3: The atmosphere is always amazing at the Fringe. It’s very family-friendly but it’s also a great event for couples and groups.
1: Go to the Virgin Money Half-Price Hut on The Mound to find cheap 2-for-1 tickets. In addition, Fringe Friends can buy discounted tickets at the Friend’s Exclusive Box office on the High Street (Royal Mile) next to the Fringe shop.
2: Book your accommodation well in advance. Edinburgh’s hotels sell out quickly during the festival. Tips to secure cheap rooms are listed further down the page.
3: The Fringe isn’t the only big summer event that happens in Edinburgh. The Royal Highland Show is Scotland’s biggest farming and agricultural show and has been staged every year in the city since 1822.
While there have been complaints in recent years that the festival is becoming too commercial with rapidly skyrocketing ticket prices, there is a counter-movement by many performers who now provide free shows.
Many of these are held along the main streets of The Royal Mile as well as ‘pay what you want’ shows where attendees are simply asked to make a donation of their choice at the end of the performance.
One of the reasons the festival continues to be so popular is that unlike many similar events there’s no selection committee to decide which acts can or can’t be shown, so anyone with any type of artistic skill can participate in either paid or unpaid events.
This has led to many performers getting their first big break in Edinburgh before moving on to nationwide stardom.
Art in all its forms can be found at this event with categories including theatre, comedy, dance, circus, cabaret, music, opera and spoken word performed by a variety of artists from complete amateur beginners to world-famous professionals.
Notable performers who’ve had their big breaks at the Edinburgh Fringe include Rowan Atkinson, Eddie Izzard, Tim Minchin and Billy Connolly, while big stars like Ricky Gervais, Mike Myers and Steve Coogan have also had their time on stage.
Although events are held all over the city during Fringe month, there are four main venues that are big enough to hold the tens of thousands of visitors who descend on the city in August.
These are the Assembly Hall on The Mound, The Gilded Baloon in Bristo Square, The Pleasance located at both The Pleasance and Bristo Square, and Underbelly which is situated on both George Square and in The Cowgate.
But not all acts are held in traditional venues and there have been performances held in swimming pools, public toilets and even in the performer’s own homes!
Veteran Fringe-goers are wise enough to check out the EdFringe website before leaving home to decide which shows to see and where to see them.
Top-Tip: If you’re in Edinburgh check out the Half-Price Hut outside the National Gallery before you buy your ticket as you’ll often find 2-for-1 shows when they’re trying to drum up a bigger audience.
With some full-price tickets costing around £20 per person it’s one of the few chances you’ll get to shave a few quid off the cost of attending the festival.
Discover more places to visit in Edinburgh with: The Best Places to Visit in Edinburgh – Ultimate Visitor Guide.
Things to do
Experience the Street Performances: The Royal Mile is transformed into a bustling hub of live performances during the Fringe Festival. From jugglers to magicians, comedians to physical theatre performers, it’s a kaleidoscope of creativity that you can dip into at any time, and it’s completely free! Be prepared though, these performers often draw large crowds so you’ll need to get there early for a good view.
Attend a Spoken Word Show: The Fringe is renowned for its spoken word performances. These can range from romantic poetry readings to children’s storytelling sessions, from monologues to rap battles. The performances are often intense and personal and many shows are themed, offering a curated journey through a particular subject or emotion.
Explore the Comedy Shows: The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is particularly famous for its comedy shows. Many well-known comedians have kick-started their careers there, and you’ll find everything from stand-up to improv and sketch shows to character comedy. With so much choice you’re sure to find something that tickles your funny bone whether you prefer dark humour, satire, or good old-fashioned slapstick.
Join a Walking Tour: The city of Edinburgh is as much a part of the Fringe experience as the performances themselves, so make the most of your visit by joining a walking tour to uncover the city’s rich history and stunning architecture. Some tours even have a Fringe twist, incorporating elements of theatre or comedy into the tour itself.
Participate in a Workshop: Many performers and artists hold workshops during the Fringe. These can cover a wide range of disciplines from acting and writing to juggling and magic. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn a new skill or perhaps delve deeper into an existing interest. Plus, you’ll get to meet like-minded people and maybe even spark a new creative passion.
World’s Largest Arts Festival: The Edinburgh Fringe Festival holds the title of the largest arts festival in the world. It was founded in 1947, and every August it transforms Scotland’s capital into a hub of creativity and culture with thousands of shows across hundreds of venues.
Open Access Philosophy: Unlike other arts festivals, the Fringe follows an open access philosophy. This means that anyone with a story to tell and a venue to perform can participate.
International Participation: The Fringe is a truly global event. Performers from 63 countries take part in the festival, showcasing a rich tapestry of cultures and arts from all corners of the world.
Famous Faces: Many famous faces have honed their talents at the Fringe. Comedians such as Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, and Hugh Laurie, and actors like Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, all had early performances at the festival.
Free Shows: Every year, there are hundreds of free shows available at the Fringe. This makes the festival accessible to a wider audience, who can enjoy world-class performances without breaking the bank.
Economic Impact: The Edinburgh Fringe Festival has a huge economic impact. In 2019, it was estimated to have generated approximately £1 billion for the Scottish economy.
Environmental Commitment: The Fringe is committed to reducing its environmental impact. In recent years, it has launched various initiatives to promote sustainability, including digital ticketing and encouraging venues to reduce their use of single-use plastics.
Edinburgh has a world-leading bus and tram network thanks to the services provided by Lothian buses, with cheap public transport available on clean, well-maintained vehicles.
The bus network extends right through Edinburgh and out to the surrounding areas, while the trams provide a fast mode of transport from over 14km from the airport into the city centre.
Visit Transport For Edinburgh for more information on Edinburgh’s Trams and buses or download the Transport for Edinburgh App. To help you find your way around the bus network more quickly you can get real-time information on the web and on your smartphone.
To find out when your bus is due go to:
- Kick-Ass Hostels in Edinburgh offer fun and friendly mixed and female-only dorms in the centre of the city with views looking out across to Edinburgh Castle. Rooms in a mixed dorm can be had for only £18 while a private twin room costs around £50 per night.
- High Street Hostel is located less than a mile from the city centre and is the city’s original backpackers hostel. Close to all the attractions of Edinburgh, High Street Hostel features a great social room and has prices starting at £10 for a bed in a mixed dorm room.
- Edinburgh Backpackers Hostel has over 150 beds in dormitories and double, twin and single rooms less than a mile from the city centre across four separate buildings. A basic single private room can be had for as little as £25 depending on the time of year you visit.
- St. Christopher’s Edinburgh is a hostel nestled right in the heart of the Old Town and features free Wi-Fi, free breakfast and free city walking tours. There’s an on-site bar and bistro, and prices for a bed in a mixed dorm start at a reasonable £13 per night.
- Cowgate Tourist Hostel is one of the few 2-star hostels in the city and has a selection of mixed dorms and private rooms. Located in the Cowgate area in the heart of Edinburgh, prices for a budget twin room start at around £50 for 1 night.
Frequently asked questions
How do I get to Edinburgh?
Why is it called the Edinburgh Fringe?
Before the Fringe became the world’s biggest arts festival, Edinburgh staged the Edinburgh International Festival.
In 1947, 8 theatre companies arrived at the EIF uninvited and decided to stage their own event on the outskirts of the official festival, otherwise known as the EIF’s ‘fringe’.
When the theatre companies returned in the following years the name ‘fringe’ stuck. Today, Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival showcases more than 55,000 performances of over 3,500 different shows in 300+ venues.
What happens at the Edinburgh Fringe?
The Edinburgh Fringe is the world’s largest and most diverse celebration of art and culture. The event is held annually in August throughout Edinburgh and attracts artists and visitors from across the globe.
Events include traditional and modern dance, music, comedy, magic, circus, and many other art forms.
How expensive is the Edinburgh Fringe?
Prices for tickets for the Edinburgh Fringe vary, with some shows selling tickets for around £5 per adult and others selling tickets at £25+ per adult.
The price increases dramatically if the artist is well known or has been successful at the Fringe in previous years.
It is possible to see some shows for free (especially street shows on The Royal Mile) which usually ask for a donation at the end. Some shows held inside venues are voluntary donation only.
Paid shows are often cheaper a few hours before the show is due to be held – see the Half Price Hut in Princes Street for updates.
Food and drink at venues during the Fringe is generally 10-20% more expensive than at other times of the year.
Expect to pay around £100 per adult for a full day and evening of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, plus another £30+ for food and drinks.