How to experience the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on a budget
Hopping from show to show, catching the buzz in a pop-up beer garden, spotting your favourite comedian/children's TV star/D list celebrity on Princes Street: the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is worth every penny. All those tickets and meals out don't come cheap though, so if you're Fringing frugally this August, arm yourself with these insider tips to stretch your Edinburgh festival budget that wee bit further...
But first, a few essentials:
When is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?
This year's Fringe Festival dates are 5th to 29th August 2016.
Where can I buy tickets for Edinburgh shows?
Head over to the official Edinburgh Fringe website, to browse shows, book tickets and get info on all the festival venues in Edinburgh. For more on booking and collecting tickets as well other Edinburgh Festival survival tips, check out our rookie's guide to the Fringe.
How can I save money at Edinburgh Fringe?
Read on for ten top tips on sticking to your Edinburgh budget...
1. Swap your Edinburgh hotel for halls
A good budget alternative to staying in the Balmoral is to rent out a room in Edinburgh's university campus accommodation during the festival. Ok, so they might not be quite on a par, but the students are on holiday and halls are empty, so the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier and Heriot-Watt University offer clean and functional guest rooms at a fraction of the cost compared with regular hotels. A big group of you heading to the festival? Unis will often let out whole apartments for up to six people while the Fringe is in full-swing, often handily located near the city centre and guaranteeing a lot more freedom than hotel curfews. Try the McDonald Road residence, less than half an hour’s walk from the shops on Princes Street with access to kitchen facilities and high speed WiFi. What about the rather swish Pollock Halls, next to Holyrood Park, for a B&B style stay from £58.50* during August? If you must stay in a hotel in Edinburgh, look for those in the districts outside the city centre, such as Leith, Bruntsfield and Portobello, or check out our top tips for fancier accommodation.
2. Hang out at the Half Price Hut
Any Fringe veteran knows that the Half Price Hut is place to go if your budget is low - or if you've got no shows lined up for that afternoon or evening. Find this last-minute box office near the National Gallery of Scotland at The Mound Precinct, and check the real-time ticket boards to see what bargains you could grab on the day. Alternatively, join in with the fun of the Fringe and simply book a random show or try something new. It's not every day you get to see some avant-garde puppetry or outlandish Edinburgh theatre for the bargain price of £4.50!
3. Bag a bargain Fringe ticket
Doing the Fringe on a budget is all about getting your timing right. The first weekend of the festival (usually the first weekend of August) is when to come for 2 for 1 tickets to a plethora of shows in Edinburgh, from classical opera to your favourite up-and-coming comedians. Look for the 2 for 1 symbol as you comb the Fringe programme or search on the website. Also watch out for the preview shows during the week running up to the start of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe; these are usually discounted or half price, as performers test out their acts on audiences before the crowds descend. This period can be slightly quieter in Edinburgh as well, so you might find yourself swapping tips with locals in the know, rather than queuing down the street for tickets.
4. Stay with friends in Edinburgh
Ok, not all of us are lucky enough to know someone with a beautiful Edinburgh tenement flat, but have you really exhausted your whole list of friends (and your friends' friends)? Scrap that British reserve and ask around to see if anyone will lend you their spare room/couch/camp bed for a long weekend. Edinburgh residents know how pricey things can get in August, so chances are, even someone you only vaguely know through a work colleague will take pity on you. If not, try house-sharing initiatives like Couch Surfing - a great option if you're travelling up for the Fringe on your own. Buy your new-found friends a nice meal or tickets to a show to say thank you, and you'll still have saved pounds on the price of Edinburgh accommodation.
5. Discover the Free Festival
Sure, free shows can be a bit of a minefield, but finding real talent amongst these donation-only performances happens more often than you think. There are actually several 'free fringes' run by different promoters, including PBH's Free Fringe and the Laughing Horse Edinburgh Comedy Festival, aka the Free Festival. The concept stays true to the original spirit of the Fringe, by cutting out the spiralling venue costs that often bar the way for performers who are just starting out. This in turn means no charge for audiences apart from an optional collection at the end. If you didn't like the show, you don't have to pay. You could spend your entire Edinburgh break revelling in the atmosphere but spending zero on Edinburgh Fringe tickets. So take a chance on that unknown dance troupe from Bristol or support some low-budget student theatre - this is how the stars of the future are discovered.
6. Become a Fringe reviewer
This one takes a bit more effort, but stick with us. Fancy seeing a load of Edinburgh shows for free, in return for doing a hundred-word write-up for each one in a local magazine? It's by no means a shoo-in - you'll need to apply for the job a couple of months in advance, sort out your own accommodation and most publications require at least some published writing experience online or in print. However, respected local guide ThreeWeeks have also ran a kind of journalist's summer camp in the past, wherein they train you up as a Edinburgh Fringe reviewer, let you loose on the festival and maybe even invite you to a media party or two - check the website for the relaunch of this programme. There are plenty of other websites and publications popping up every year, and depending on your availability and funds, you could review for the whole month or just do it as a (rather intense) working holiday for a week. A great option for students wanting to gain summer work experience, or anyone who just loves a good freebie!
7. Plan your Edinburgh food budget
This may seem like a fanciful notion once you're spied the menu at the Witchery Restaurant next to the castle, but it's definitely possible to stick to a sensible food budget in Edinburgh. Try South Bridge and around Nicholson Square for cheap and easy takeaway places on your way to venues like Pleasance Courtyard, such as The Pie Maker and super-fresh pan-Asian noodles at Red Box. Don't miss a plate of tasty curry for under a fiver at cheap and cheerful Mosque Kitchen, close to the Bristo Square and George Square venues. If you're renting an apartment on the leafy Southside of the city, grab yourself some picnic ingredients from upmarket local store Margiottas in Marchmont and head to The Meadows park to enjoy - hopefully - some seasonal weather. You'll notice the locals whip out a disposable barbecue and a pack of sausages at the first sign of sunshine, so join in the tradition, just double-check the notices at either end of the park to find out where it's ok to light up the coals. See more of our foodie recommendations in our guide to Edinburgh's best places to eat and drink.
8. Stay in Glasgow
Booking your Edinburgh festival break in another city might sound a little absent-minded, but Edinburgh's bigger, bolder sister has plenty to offer culture vultures and getting to shows in Edinburgh from Glasgow is not as cumbersome as you may think - it's only an hour away on the train. You can get much better deals on city centre accommodation, and even take a couple of days out of the festival madness to visit Kelvingrove Museum and its park, or hit the Charles Rennie Mackintosh trail and splash all that money you've saved on hotel bills with a delectable afternoon tea at the Willow Tea Rooms. Read our bar, restaurant and nightclub guide to make the most of Glasgow's famous nightlife while you're here!
9. Find a cheap pint
Not as hard as it sounds. Yes, even refined Edinburgh has its own Wetherspoons; The Standing Order on George Street is a low-cost haven in the midst of the trendy cocktail bars and tourist pubs of New Town. Cheaper student bars and pubs are rife on the Cowgate, beneath the Royal Mile, and most double as Fringe venues, so you can while away a beer-fuelled afternoon here. Looking for a post-show party? Try free-entry venues like Espionage or Banshee Labyrinth, a Gothic pub-cum-music-venue of the sort you can only find in Edinburgh, complete with a pool room in a cave and plenty of comfy corner booths where you can hide away from show promoters at any time of day. Draw up a drinking itinerary for your Edinburgh trip, with our round-up of classic Edinburgh pubs.
10. Look out for deals
And finally, it's worth doing a bit of advanced planning to save money in Edinburgh. As well as sites like Groupon, look out for Itison, the local Scottish deals website offering online discount vouchers for things like restaurants, hotel stays and attractions so you can allow yourself that extra treat or trip round Holyrood Palace to round off your weekend.
Planning your Edinburgh trip? There's more to see than festival shows...
Princes Street is Edinburgh’s busiest shopping street, but it also holds a lot of history and plenty more besides the many high street retailers.
Whether it be capturing the excitement of the summer festivals or finding that perfect vantage point to see the sunset – there are plenty of beautiful places around this gorgeous city.
Not coming up for the festival? Find out which Edinburgh attractions you shouldn't miss if you're passing through the Scottish capital.
*Published May 2016. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.