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