The Edinburgh Fringe Festival – My Approach
It’s the event that humbles all others. A city-wide carnival that sprawls itself over an entire month and generates laughs, screams and gasps throughout. Always with an indefatigable and relentless dynamism that seems to somehow increase year-on-year. A riot of creativity and passion, forever with a vibrancy and international outlook. It’s Festival time my friends and I’m off to the capital to observe the true impact of this month-long explosion on Scotland’s tourism industry.
I’m writing this with double-sided intent. Firstly, and most obviously, I want to promote Edinburgh and the uniquely impressive Fringe, the biggest performing arts gathering on the planet. Secondly, and in-keeping with my recent musings on over-tourism, I want to raise some awareness of just how crowded Scotland can be. This is the time of year when the city’s population famously doubles in size, when accommodation prices go through the roof, when locals either flee or moan endlessly and when the city’s ancient foundations are stretched to their limits.
I admit, I see the Festival overcrowding as less of an issue than the uncontrolled, downright dangerous goings on in the more rural spots of the Highlands and Islands. This is a major city and it has the infrastructure to absorb a lot of the challenges. But still, visitors should be aware of the flip side to the coin that this invasion presents to the city’s residents….and of what to expect for their own visits.
For every person pointing fingers and ranting about the selfishness and ignorance that swirls around over-tourism, there is another steadfastly maintaining that they are entitled to enjoy themselves guilt free. I get that. I’m someone who strives for balance and, while I am very environmentally-conscious and a passionate believer in sustainability, I also want visitors to Scotland to have fun. That’s why I’ve been doing this all these years.
So, my objective is generally not to dissuade people from activities and destinations and is instead to constructively present advice on how to enjoy your travels in a way that shows respect to, and awareness of, the very special places you are visiting. In Edinburgh’s case, in August:
- Limit your stay to a couple of days.
- Don’t drive in the city. There’s no need whatsoever.
- Stick to official accommodation providers, they are central to the tourism industry’s success.
- Keep your visits to the main hotspots – the Royal Mile, Grassmarket and Princes Street – to a minimum.
- Make your plans and reservations well in advance – if you just show up with a smile it’ll be wiped away sharpish.
- Take an alternative approach to your day itinerary. Get up early (the streets were deserted for me at 6am, see below pics) and schedule in some hotel chill time in early/mid-afternoon when things are at their most frenetic outside.
- Take a moment to reflect on the societal inequality within Edinburgh. Like any other city suffering under years of government austerity, severe poverty exists. And, while money is flowing left, right and centre during Festival, how much of it finds its way into the hands of those that need it most? I’m not going to preach or make specific requests and I’m not going to lay down guilt. Just take a moment or two to reflect on anything, however small, that you may be able to do while in the city to help correct that inequality.
Cannae beat a bit of stand up at the Fringe. Endless comedy shows can be hunted down every day in August as veterans and hopeful novices alike compete for the biggest laughs. I’ve been to some absolute riots and some complete shockers over the years and its always worth having your ear to the ground to help swing you in a certain direction. Try and hunt down that ‘I saw them before they were famous’ performance.
But this year I wanted something a bit different and the Ladyboys of Bangkok is the kind of off-the-chart-bizarre gig that I knew I had to inspect for real at least once in my life. Flamboyance and vibrancy are just two of the first words that spring to mind in general over Festival, with these characters winning first prize in that department. Resembling some sort of circus for the most part, I stumbled in out of the torrential rain and lightning forked skies to be visually attacked by a unique kind of entertainment that lodged somewhere between hilarious and genius. Capturing even my forever-multi-tasking attention throughout, they deliver a recreation of musical favourites in a fashion that leaves you reflecting on how on earth this can be a thing.
As with anything during August in Edinburgh, expect the unexpected. And when it arrives, just roll with it.
The first question many of us as travellers will ask is where to set up camp during this chaos. Many may see the outskirts as an attractive option, choosing to travel into the city. Perfectly valid logic there. But that is likely to limit you to peak-time pavement pounding without the escape clause option of retreating out of sight when the need inevitably arises. Or when the weather suddenly turns apocalyptically bad, as happended with me this week. And being in someone’s armpit on a packed train to Waverly is no-one’s idea of happy holidays.
So, I pitch it another way. Stay in the city centre, paying more admittedly, and take advantage of the placement by visiting the popular spots at quiet times. Have the round-the-clock accessibility to ensure that you’ll get your Festival fill in a day or two before exiting to see more of Scotland.
The stylish Radisson Collection was my base of choice on this occasion. Comfortable, convenient and offering their own restaurant and very friendly staff, urban travellers can’t ask for more. Superbly, they also have an in-house massage service. Magnificent. My approach…..
- Early start taking in the top sights before anyone’s up.
- Excellent mid-morning breakfast at the hotel.
- Back out to explore the less congested areas of New Town Edinburgh.
- Mid-afternoon massage and a cheeky siesta.
- Early cocktails and dinner at in-house Epicurean before the dinner rush.
- Early evening show.
- Sunset moment atop Calton Hill.
- Back to base for an early night.
Aside from a very brief bit of jostling when crossing the Royal Mile, this made for an extremely memorable and almost completely stress-free Festival experience. It can be done, folks.
Although invited to stay at the Radisson as a guest for review purposes, my recommendation on it as a place to stay in Edinburgh is based solely on a very enjoyable recent stay. The massage helped too.
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