50 Tips for 5 Festivals: Plan an amazing Edinburgh Festivals visit

By Dan James, Festivals Edinburgh Blogger in Residence, August 2018

Dan headshot 300x300Welcome to August in Edinburgh, the busiest month in the Festival City's calendar and perhaps one of the craziest, most hectic, and yet most magical experiences you'll ever have...

...but how do you make the most of it?


Here are 50 tips from myself and suggestions from people I met during my month in Edinburgh to help you plan the perfect Edinburgh Festivals visit!

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Tips for planning your Edinburgh Festivals visit

1. Book accommodation in advance

Without a doubt, your biggest ticket item in Edinburgh during August will be your accommodation so secure this as soon as possible, but not so soon you miss out on your favourite celeb. Keep in mind whether you want a hotel, Airbnb or to consider self-catering in the empty student accommodation in the summer months. Accommodation does book up fast hence this being my first tip.

2. Plan your big-ticket items

Whether it's a top-tier ticket at the Royal Military Tattoo or seeing a gig put on by your favourite international artists, these vast productions tend to release their tickets first so you can book these and plan your accommodation around these dates.

3. Pack for all weather

Scotland is a beauty, but even in August, the weather can be unpredictable. You'll be watching shows inside, outside, all kinds of venues, so packing wisely, think layers, comfy shoes and umbrellas, will give you a much more versatile wardrobe to tackle the festivals.

4. Sign up for updates

Don't miss tickets going on sale or programmes being released by signing up for updates. Whether that's via the Edinburgh Festivals newsletter, individual festivals or from your favourite artists or performance groups that may be returning, get those updates straight to your inbox and don't miss out.

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5. Make your travel plans

The population in Edinburgh doubles in August so with all those extra visitors getting train or flight tickets gets harder. As soon as you have your accommodation planned start looking at securing your transport arrangments, so you don't miss out.

6. Don't plan everything in advance, embrace spontaneity

It can be really tempting with so much going on to plan every second of every day out, but unless you only have 24-hours in the city, leave some slots open for spontaneity. Someone will recommend a show, or you'll stumble upon something awesome, and if you have made your plan too detailed, you will end up missing out!

7. Work out your budget

The Festivals can quickly add up if you are eating out twice a day and enjoying countless shows. To make sure you don't come home crying at your bank balance set a realistic budget before leaving so you spread the cash out across your whole visit.

8. Understand the five festivals in August

The lines can get blurred across the festivals so make sure you know what is on offer, so you don't miss out! The Fringe is full of both street events and performances across a huge range of venues, the International Festival is curated and (usually) takes place in the city's largest venues, while the Military Tattoo is the grand spectacle taking place at the huge stands beside Edinburgh Castle. Edinburgh's Book Festival offers countless events and chances to meet your favourite authors and celebrities while the Art Festival includes a whole range of treats from classical paintings to musicians and covers plenty of the city's hidden gems.

9. You can visit last minute

With all this talk of planning, don't panic if you live for the last minute, I've pulled together a handy list of last-minute tips just for you!

10. Extend your Scotland trip

August is a beautiful time to visit Scotland so why not add on a little side trip at the end of your festivals visit? Enjoy a little holiday after the August Festivals and see even more of this gorgeous country.

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Tips for making the most of Edinburgh during the August Festivals

1. The Royal Mile

Be sure to take a trip down The Royal Mile when you are in Edinburgh. Here you'll find a whole buzz of activity from street performers to flyers and posters for the countless events going on. It's packed and hectic but a magic part of the festivals.

2. Explore the Art Festival through its hidden gems

When you have to curate a city, you can get creative, and Edinburgh Art Festival does just that both in its commisions and where they take place. Discover the hidden gems of Edinburgh such as churches on side alleys and usually closed off gardens while taking in the Art Festival

3. Venture outside the City Centre

Don't just limit yourself to the middle of Edinburgh, take in some of the other venues hosting the five festivals. Head to out of town sculpture garden Jupiter Artland while taking in the Art Festival or visit the waterways of Leith where new venues sit away from the main bustle.

4. Enjoy some down moments

If you are planning to spend a few days or longer at the Edinburgh Festivals, then make sure you take some quiet moments to admire the city itself. Adorable Dean Village is a great place to relax with a new read from the Book Festival or venture out to Stockbridge and take in the Botanic Gardens while you recharge.

5. Plan your tourist attractions right

Many of the venues across the city come to life even more during August so if you plan to visit tourist attractions do a little digging. The National Museum of Scotland, for example, may have a Friday Fringe takeover while the castle Esplanade comes alive for the Royal Military Tattoo.

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6. Push your boundaries

If you want to tackle your boundaries and have the confidence, then you can embrace the unknown at the fringe. Events such as Silent Disco tours or immersive interactive experiences might seem awkward at first, but the Festivals are the perfect place to try something new surrounded by people equally s nervous and excited.

7. Be prepared for audience participation

A fair few shows at the Fringe will involve audience participation so if you want to avoid this for any reason ask the staff if it's likely to happen and the best place to sit to avoid it. If you want to dive in, the front row is usually a good starting point!

8. Allow extra time

The streets of Edinburgh get busy during the festivals, and the roads can also get a little crowded so always give yourself some extra time when planning moving between events to ensure you aren't later or running around the whole time.

9. Explore usually closed space

The festivals work hard to bring to life spaces that may not typically be open to the public. Charlotte Square Gardens, home to the Book Festival, is a great example, and Johnston Wildlife Garden was another from this year as part of the Art Festival. Keep an eye on the programmes for the chance to explore these spaces.

10. Soak up the atmosphere

Whatever you do, be sure to leave extra time just to enjoy the moment. Enjoying drinks and food in the buzzing atmosphere is as much part of the festival as the shows.

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Tips for picking what to see at the Edinburgh Festivals

1. Listen to the reviews

If you are visiting later on in the festivals, then there are reviews everywhere. From Twitter to newspapers, or in fact anyone you meet, everyone is a critic so keep your ears open.

2. Ignore the reviews

That said, don't get too hung up on reviews. With so many shows on offer, not everyone will be reviewed, so that cool sounding performance is still well worth giving a shot.

3. Be spontaneous

Listen to people around you, last minute tickets or flyer suggestions and go with the moment. The magic of the August Festivals is embracing spontaneity.

4. Get the apps, photo the flyers

Download the festival apps to help you plan your visit and filter events by your personal tastes and times. If you don't want to carry lots of flyers (and you do want help the environment) simply photograph the flyers that interest you.

5. Be realistic

I spent three weeks enjoying the festivals this year and still didn't see and do everything I wanted. Keep your expectations realistic about how much you can see, that way you won't be disappointed if you miss out on anything.

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6. Look at little venues too

There are some major players when it comes to Fringe venues, but there are also countless little venues too, many part of the Free Fringe. Make sure to give these venues and performers the time of day and don't just focus on the bigger and better known spots.

7. The Book Festival is more than books

The Book Festival offers reading, signings, shows, performances and discussions - it goes beyond the written word, and there are countless cool things to experience here.

8. The Art Festival features all kinds of art

Edinburgh Art Festival has so much to offer, from magic to cooking to music, so make sure you give yourself some time to enjoy the creative side of the city and this extensive programme.

9. The International Festival is a different festival

Those in the know will already be aware that the International Festival was the original festival in Edinburgh, with the Fringe born alongside it. With incredible, captivating theatre, opera, dance and other performances from around the world these tickets are much sought after .

10. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a must do

I've been lucky enough to see this spectacle twice now, and it's certainly a ticket to book in advance. With a cast of over 1000 military and civilian performers from around the world, the show in front of Edinburgh Castle is absolutely incredible.

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Tips for saving money at the Edinburgh Festivals

1. Visit the Fringe Half Price Hut

At the foot of The Mound, between East and West Princes Street Gardens is the Half Price Hut where you can pick up discount same-day and next-day Fringe tickets - well worth visiting to look for bargains.

2. Booking in advance

Sometimes booking in advance can throw up discounts, and if you plan to see plenty of shows it's worth looking into the Supporters or Friends schemes offered by some of the festivals. These often allow you to book in advance and receive a discount on some tickets.

3. Enjoy free events

Whether it's a street performance or part of the Free Fringe, there are plenty of 'free' shows and performances throughout the festival. Likewise, the Art and Book Festivals offer plenty to enjoy without paying a penny.

4. Knowing when to tip or pay

That said, the Free Fringe and Street Performers are still working for our entertainment, so leaving a voluntary contribution is encouraged. Support the artists and give some cash (or you can even use a card).

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5. Ten at Ten

Each morning at the Book Festival the Ten at Ten event sees an author open the day with a 10-minute reading from one of their books. It's free, which author you get is kept secret, and it's an excellent first stop for the day.

6. Bring a packed lunch

If you are going to be in Edinburgh for a while, then you might want to consider bringing lunch in, especially if you are in self-catering accommodation and away from the city centre. With so much going on you don't want to have to slip away but eating out twice a day can quickly add up!

7. Look at alternative accommodation

If you can't find accommodation in the city-centre during your visit, then look to well-connected areas further out, such as Leith, Newington, Morningside, Dalry and Craigleith. The Scottish Youth Hostel Association and student accommodation can also provide very decent private rooms in the summer months sometimes at much more affordable rates.

8. Use public transport

Get to know the great tram and bus networks in the city, not only is this more green than driving or taxis, the pricing is much more affordable for getting around the city, especially if you plan on using a day pass to visit multiple things.

9. Visit at the start of the festivals

Previews, first runs and no reviews mean events and shows are usually cheaper at the beginning of the festival. You might not have someone else's reviews to rely on, but you can often find great bargains during the first few days. 

10. Speak to flyer staff

If you get chatting to someone with the flyers but aren't too sure if you want to buy tickets they might give you a discount code, especially if it's last minute. Likewise, if new shows open during the Fringe (some don't run for the full three weeks), they might offer free or discounted tickets on those opening shows.

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Other handy tips for the Edinburgh Festivals

1. Wear comfy shoes

Nearly everyone I asked said this was their number one tip, so take the advice, you'll be doing lots of travelling on cobbled streets and up and down hills!

2. Make new friends

The festivals bring such a magic and welcoming vibe to an already friendly city. Get chatting to the people you meet at cafes and bars, join them at shows and you might even end up with a holiday invite to Greece as I did!

3. Don't be late

With such a relaxed vibe to the festivals and the seemingly never-ending nights, it's very easy to let time run away from you. While some shows may be forgiving, others, and especially the Book Festival, don't welcome latecomers - so be sure to arrive in plenty of time!

4. Enjoy the food

Edinburgh is a real culinary gem, with lots of great dining options, and even at the street stalls you'll find delicious local and global cuisine so bring your appetite and enjoy the delicious dishes on offer!

5. Consider the environment

At events this size it's up to all of us to consider the environment. Minimise your waste, recycle your rubbish and help keep Edinburgh clean throughout the festivals!

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6. Bring cash

In this card dominated world it's easy to be caught without any cash, but make sure you have some coins and notes with you throughout the festival. While some of the street performers now have contactless payment methods, for some of the free shows throwing some cash in a hat is the only way to thank the talent.

7. Embrace the discussion

As with any creative hub, discussions about subjects that you might not be comfortable with or knowledgeable about will come up. Embrace and get in on these but keep your calm, melting pots of creativity come with melting pots of opinions and being respectful is the name of the Festival City.

8. Visit local businesses and pubs

While it's easy to get caught up in Fringe venues and pop-up gardens, spend some time enjoying many of the fantastic establishments that are a permanent fixture in Edinburgh. Not only do they offer fantastic places to wine and dine, but you can also share your August festival cash around as many local businesses as possible.

9. Be polite and smile

Sometimes the Festival can seem intense, especially after being offered the 500th flyer that day, but try to do it all with a smile, stay polite and remember it's all part of what makes the August Festivals so special.

10. Know how it works and the history

The story behind the International Festival and how the Fringe was born on the sidelines is fascinating, take some time to read up on the history of the events to appreciate how much they have grown and how much many of these performers put themselves, and their incomes on the line to appear at the Festivals. With this extra knowledge, you'll have a much greater appreciation of all that goes into this event.

And lastly, but most importantly, enjoy! I'm sure you'll love the festivals as much as I do because Edinburgh truly is the festival city!

Check out Dan's Edinburgh Adventures during August 2018, and follow along using #DansFestivalCity on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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