What We Saw At The Edinburgh Fringe, The Planet's Largest theatre And Comedy Festival

Edinburgh FringeThe Scotsman Hotel building in Edinburgh.

Photo: Jim Edwards / BI

Every August, the entire city of Edinburgh, Scotland, gets completely taken over by the Fringe Festival, the largest arts event on the planet. It’s also probably the largest standup comedy festival.This year, there were 1,857,202 tickets sold for 42,096 performances of 2,695 shows in 279 venues. (And that’s not counting the free shows, of which there are 814.)

The festival, heavily sponsored by alcohol brands such as Foster’s and Deuchars, injects about £140 million into the Scottish economy annually. It’s virtually impossible to get a hotel room in Edinburgh in August if you haven’t booked months ahead.

We went for the last week of the Fringe and had a heck of a time. Here’s what we saw.

The festival completely takes over the entire city. Edinburgh's main shopping thoroughfare, George Street, is blocked off to car traffic. This is a temporary set of women's bathrooms erected in the middle of the road.

By the beginning of August, every free space in Edinburgh becomes plastered in posters advertising Fringe events, most of which are comedy or alternative theatre acts. It's impossible to see everything, and the best shows sell out ahead of time.

That requires planning. Here's the spreadsheet that my group of eight friends used to book their shows. We began work on our Fringe schedule back in February. Each show costs between £6 and £15. We saw about 23 shows in six days.

Hotels in Edinburgh are fully booked all month, so we rented two apartments between eight of us. It worked out to about £50 per person per night. This is the Georgian/neo-classical townhouse four of us stayed in.

The other four of us were in this modern flat ...

... which had a nice 4th floor balcony.

Both apartments had Peter Pan chimneypot views, which are typical in Edinburgh.

It can feel as if every building in the city has been turned into a venue for the Fringe. This is the biggest venue, the Assembly Rooms on the Mound. The biggest acts play here, such as comedian Marcus Brigstocke.

This is the stage at The Stand, possibly the most important comedy venue in Europe. It's a tiny basement pub that fits only 160 people. A single successful gig at The Stand can get you your own show on the BBC.

There are plenty of other strange environments to see acts in, however. This is the Pleasance Dome, which serves as the Edinburgh University student centre outside festival time.

Or you can see a show inside this giant, upside down, inflatable purple cow.

Or visit The Underbelly, a set of caverns underneath a bridge ...

Or this old church on the Northern side of the city ...

Perhaps you'd rather see something inside this Harry Potter-style castle?

Or this Harry Potter-style castle? (Which is actually the inside of the Assembly Rooms on the Mound.)

There are lots of interesting people to meet during the Fringe. Like these women, who were promoting a burlesque act on the Royal Mile.

Or this guy with a severed head on a plate.

Or this woman, who painted herself blue to promote her show.

These goths were also promoting a show.

Attending the Fringe can be thirsty work, but Edinburgh has an inventive and exotic collection of places to get a drink. This is the doorman to the trendy Hotel Missoni.

The Missoni has a lengthy cocktail list.

As does Treacle, a 1980s-anime themed bar in the New Town district.

You can get a beer outdoors inside this tent at the Pleasance Courtyard ...

Or inside this wooden hut with a fireplace at the Hotel du Vin ...

The Hotel du Vin also has a chandelier made out of wine glasses.

Perhaps you fancy something more traditional, like the Beehive Pub on the Grassmarket.

Our favourite is this place, The Dome (yes another venue called the Dome). Wait 'til you see what it's like inside ...

Not bad.

Edinburgh is expensive. Accommodation cost me £355, show tickets totaled up at £169, and that was before meals, drinks and airline tickets. This is my empty wallet.

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