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WhatsOnStage's Edinburgh Fringe survival guide

Surviving the Edinburgh Fringe as a participant or punter with body and mind intact is no mean feat, but here are our top tips to help you

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The Royal Mile, Edinburgh 2011
© Laura Suarez

Plan ahead

It sounds obvious, but at the world's largest arts festival, forward planning is of the essence. Order the 390-page Fringe Programme in advance (or view it online) and try to book the popular shows early, taking advantage of 2-for-1 and preview deals where possible. However, be aware that booking on the telephone or online comes with a charge of 90p per ticket (to a maximum of £5.40), so it pays to book in bulk, or if you can to do it in person at the EdFringe box office (located next to the Fringe Shop at 180 High Street).

Don't over-plan

Having said this, you should leave enough flexibility in your schedule for spontaneous discoveries. As soon as word of mouth gets going in the first week you'll want to check out some of the shows generating buzz - many of which you might not have thought twice about from the programme alone.

Theme your Fringe

To add a bit of focus to the myriad of shows on offer, consider setting yourself a challenge to see productions dealing with a certain theme. Options this year include Scottish independence (including I'm With The Band at Traverse and Al Murray's independence-themed pub quiz at the Gilded Balloon) and the current financial crisis (Economy of Thought at Assembly George Square and Bedding Out at Pleasance Hunt and Darton Cafe, to name but two options).

Don't forget the other festivals

Despite its size, the Fringe is just one of a host of other festivals happening in Edinburgh over the summer. Not least of these is the Edinburgh International Festival, which is the reason the Fringe began in the first place. This year's EIF (running from 9 August to 1 September) is themed around the relationship between art and technology, and includes a Samuel Beckett festival-within-a-festival. Meanwhile, this year's Book Festival (10-26 August) includes appearances by Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Antonia Fraser, Edna O'Brien, Ian Rankin and Neil Gaiman. See our Edinburgh timeline for an overview of key dates.

Travel (and stay) off-peak

If your schedule allows, travelling to Edinburgh mid-week rather than at the weekend will save you a fair (/fare) amount. Also, if you're willing to stay on the outskirts of the city rather than in the centre, you'll find much better deals on accomodation. Visit festivalbeds.co.uk for a detailed index of B&Bs available during the Fringe.

Watch compilation shows for inspiration

Many shows in the programme feature a medley of Fringe performers - particularly on the comedy front. Late 'n' Live at the Gilded Balloon is the most well-known, but other options include Spank at the Underbelly and Best of the Fest at Assembly Hall. All offer a great, fun way to trial performers before you commit to spending an hour in their company.

A street performer in Edinburgh, 2010
© Kaysgeog

Try the Free Fringe

The Free Fringe began in 1996 and has grown steadily over the years. The 2013 programme features 460 shows on 51 stages, with a rich mix of comedy, theatre, cabaret and music. And that's not to mention the veritable army of street performers entertaining crowds across the capital. Click here for more info on the Free Fringe, and remember to tip generously when you discover a gem.

Don't fear the flyerers

Yes, we admit that walking down the Royal Mile - otherwise known as the flyer gauntlet - can become an endurance test after a few days, but remember this rag-tag bunch of performers and hands-for-hire are only trying to get bums on seats. Turn it to your advantage by asking them for ticket deals (you'll often land a freebie) and mine their knowledge for recommendations; most will at least be able to tell you the 'hot ticket' in their venue (besides their own, of course).

Snack in style

Edinburgh is awash with good places to grab a bite, be it the legendary baked potato shop just off the Mile, which dishes out portions bigger than your head, or curry emporium Mosque Kitchen in Nicholson Square. You can also pick up delicious burgers on the Udderbelly Pasture, grab a pie at the almighty Pie Maker on South Bridge, or kick back with a cuppa at the ever-reliable Gilded Balloon cafe.

Get involved

Edinburgh is no place to be a shrinking violet. You more you put in, the more you get out. Many shows rely on enthusiastic audience participation, and if you're one of only a handful (or even the only one), don't hold back. Laugh loudly, heckle hilariously, clap climactically and, most importantly, enjoy yourself!

See also: Mark Fisher's guide to what makes a good Fringe show


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