How to beat the crowds at the Edinburgh Festival: Take a tent
Every year in August, Edinburgh’s population virtually triples as thousands of visitors converge on the city to celebrate the world’s biggest arts festival.The paved streets of the Old Town overflow with stages, stalls, music and colourful crowds, the Meadows becomes a giant circus and every building with a bit of free space transforms into a makeshift theatre. The atmosphere that crackles through the city during this month-long summer party is electric – you won’t experience anything like it anywhere else on the planet.
But there’s one problem that faces anybody who wants in on the Edinburgh Festival, and that’s finding a place to stay. Unless you book months in advance, almost every hotel in the city will already be full. Guest houses, B&Bs and hostels triple their prices during August, and even crashing in someone’s spare room will set you back four-star prices.
The answer, of course, is to camp. Edinburgh’s green fringes are dotted with quirky campsites, and a growing number of residents lease their gardens to campers through the website campinmygarden.com.
The garden route is perfect for anybody who wants to stay in the thick of the action – but if you prefer conventional camping then Mortonhall Campsite is a little gem. Set in 200 acres of rolling estate lands populated by Highland cattle, this impeccably landscaped site represents the best of both worlds. It sits right on the main bus route into the city centre, and bus number 11 takes around 25 minutes to reach the urban buzz of Princes Street. You can do the rounds of shows and parties during the day, and return to your own secluded rural idyll for a decent night’s sleep (a rare commodity during festival season).
As a long-time fan of the Edinburgh Festival, I’ve learned that the best way to get the most out of the experience is to plan in advance. Any show that’s awarded five stars by the Scotsman at the beginning of August will almost inevitably be sold out for the rest of the month, so it’s essential to book anything with high potential well in advance.
Last year, the must-see was Yaël Farber's Mies Julie – this year, it looks set to be a face-off between David Grieg’s new play The Event and ambitious sci-fi production Leaving Planet Earth. Other shows worth booking for include Hamlet by New York’s Wooster Group and Nirbhaya, the new play by Mies Julie director Yaël Farber. Most of the evening performances wind up while the buses are still running, making it easy to get back to your campsite.
Visiting Edinburgh in August is as much about soaking up the atmosphere as it is seeing the shows. Relax in the beer garden of the famous Three Sisters in Cowgate, watch the world go by from a Grassmarket café, or wander down the Royal Mile to see a line-up of free street shows. One of the best ways to discover theatrical gems that the reviewers haven’t heard about is to talk to the actors handing out flyers – listen politely to their sales spiel, then ask them which other shows they recommend seeing.
For families, the Fringe offers an incredible programme of children’s plays, pantomimes, music and storytelling. If you have the kids in tow then the Children’s Programme at the Book Festival tent is the best place to start your journey of discovery - in the past, it’s played host to some of the world’s top wordsmiths, including Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. Kids are also guaranteed to love the Military Tattoo, which takes place regularly throughout the festival.
Finally, Edinburgh is the perfect starting point for exploring the rest of Scotland. A few days in the Highlands or an island-hopping holiday in the Hebrides is the perfect way to cap off a frenetic festival visit.
The 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe runs from 2nd–26th August, and the International Festival takes place between 9th August and 1st September.
MORTONHALL CARAVAN PARK
38 Mortonhall Gate, Frogston Road East, Edinburgh EH16 6TJ
A campsite situated in parkland yet only 15 minutes from Edinburgh city centre and all the attractions of Scotland's capital - including the festival venues. It's also just over a mile from the longest dry ski slope in Europe. Mortonhall has a welcoming bar and restaurant on the campsite. 200 plus pitches.