When we moved to Scotland just over 2 years ago, I had heard something about the “Royal Tattoo” and how it was this crazy big show of bagpipers and performers that only takes place in August at the Edinburgh castle and I realllly wanted to go. But there was about 2 weeks left of the show and the mark up on tickets/available dates were sure to make that impossible.
To top it off, when my mother was going through my dad’s office after he passed away, she found a file on Scotland that he had started for a trip they had been planning to take. On a sheet of yellow legal paper (typical Ray fashion) was the word TATTOO. Obviously, it had to be done. So we had planned my mother and her friend Pat were coming to visit in August and we would start the journey in Edinburgh. (It helps that in the summer there is a direct Chicago to Edinburgh flight). But when my mom came last year I never blogged about her trip. I was a bit overrun with things (also never blogged about my 2 weeks in Croatia…it’s coming I swear!): mainly visitors and vacations. And despite the fact that I’ve been a less than stellar blogger lately…I’m attempting to make up for it. So here’s a little combo post about why you should totally visit Edinburgh in August.
When my mom and friend came, the 3 of us had the place (a really fabulous and ridiculously expensive Air bnb) to ourselves for Friday and E came down on Saturday for Tattoo. This past weekend, E and I went down to Edinburgh for my birthday weekend getaway and stayed at The Carlton Hotel. Both really nice…but you should know, ridiculously expensive in August. Why?
Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Aka The Fringe.
The Fringe is the world’s largest art’s festival. It spans for the entire month of August. In 2015, there were over 50,000 performances of over 3,300 shows at 313 different venues. They say the city doubles in size during this month not only with tourists (to see the shows, but also to try and see summer in Scotland) but with all those performers as well.
Last year, I didn’t try to tackle any Fringe shows with my mother and her friend. I’m sure I could have, but there was a lot of the city to see, catching up, etc. It would have made it all a bit more rushed. And in hindsight, I agree with that decision since I knew nothing about Fringe. Now I’ve come back from 6 shows over the course of <48 hours and I think I have my wits about me and would be able to lead the charge for a weekend excursion back. (Which I totally am going to plan for my birthday again next year with some friends). So here are my tips for Fringe.
Fringe for Virgins
- You can buy tickets the day of, 5 minutes before a show starts (or even possibly be given them for free), but I recommend doing some research and seeking out shows you want to see, and buying those tickets in advance- that you can do online.
- Shows are split into categories: Cabaret and Variety, Children’s Shows, Comedy, Dance/Physical Theater/Circus, Events, Exhibitions, Music, Musicals and Operas, Spoken Word, and Theater…though one show might be in several categories. They all have a suggested age and a blurb about them.
- Sometimes you read a blurb and are really interested in it, and then you go to the show and it is nothing what you expected.
- At the Fringe website, you can sort by date, narrow by time of day, and by category. It’s really very handy in planning a weekend.
- Unless it’s something very highly recommended and publicized, you can buy tickets the week of. There was one (small) show I had wanted to see that was sold out 3 days in advance. And then there was one larger one that was written up in a few publications as the Best of Fringe 2016 that was sold out at least a week in advance.
- You can’t print tickets at home, but you just pop into one of the many ticket-printing centers, swipe your credit card, and all the tickets you’ve purchased come out at once.
- If you’re planning on seeing quite a few shows, definitely pull up the venues on a map. Edinburgh is very walkable, but if you only have 30 mins to get from one show in the Meadows to another show on the North Side of the city…you’re not going to make it without a taxi.
- Speaking of, there is Uber in Edinburgh. Not a big deal for Americans…a very big deal coming from Aberdeen.
- There is no assigned seating. And even though we were never early to queue, and actually dead last a couple times, there are really no bad seats.
- There are no bad seats because the venues are TINY. You will be sitting arm pressed against hot fleshy arm at every venue. It’s Scotland so it’s never warm out, but underneath your sweater or jacket, have something cool on because the venues are hot. And take off your outer layer as you sit down because you won’t have the room to do it mid-show.
- Shows are generally an hour. We went to one that was 90 minutes. I really wish it ended at 60 minutes. Make sure you really are keen on it if you see it’s 90 minutes.
- Some shows really might not let you in if you’re late…generally shows start 2-3 mins late, so a small buffer window. But if you arrive RIGHT on time, you’ll be fine. And no one looks down upon you if you’re clearly late because you stopped at the bar first.
- There are bars at every venue (pretty much) and you can always bring drinks in. I actually didn’t think the drinks were overpriced compared to something like Taste of Chicago.
- At one show, the comedian (that I really enjoyed), asked for money at the end. But she referred to some people buying tickets. Which led me to believe a lot of people got in for free. But then I felt weird not giving money because I loved her…but also had paid about £13 per ticket. Just know this can happen, but in 6 shows, only one asked for tips at the end.
- For dining: unless you’re planning on going to places that are strictly no reservation (El Cartel, Ting Thai Caravan), you need to make reservations. Our plans got slightly shuffled around and were originally going to do El Cartel for dinner, but did them for lunch instead. So for dinner Saturday night we went with the only place we could walk into, which was less than good tapas. Thankfully, it wasn’t our last meal on earth.
- If you’re going to eat at the aforementioned no-reservation places, pad in lots of time to wait. Or better yet, go at an off time. For lunch at El Cartel, they open at noon and we were there at 12:15, which is early for lunch. But we had gotten up and ran 6 miles that morning so it was a late breakfast for us and we beat the crows and were seated right away. The next day, the same thing where we showed up for a late breakfast (11:30) and managed to get seated right away and beat the lunch rush.
My tops 3 (of 6) performances that I saw at Fringe this year was:
2nd runner up: Amelia Ryan: Lady Liberty (Cabaret and Variety/Comedy)
1st runner up: Andrea Hubert: Week (Stand-Up/Story Telling)
1st place: Love, Lies and Taxidermy (new writing/comedy)
If I had more days I would go see the other performances in the same venues as Love, Lies & Taxidermy – most of which have the same cast. Really cool venue, really liked what they did. Had actually wanted to see Every Brilliant Thing (done by them as well) but it was sold out! Alas…
As previously mentioned, in conjunction with Fringe Festival is the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Also only taking place in August, dubbed as the “World’s Greatest Show.” And I have to say…. it’s pretty great. With the magnificent background of the Edinburgh castle, more bagpipes than you can shake a stick at, a supremely choreographed routine that has a different theme each year, representations of many different nations, as well as different kinds of musicians, dancers, and performers, topped off with a stunning fireworks display…. it’s incredible.
So if you’re questioning if Tattoo is worth it? The answer is definitely yes! My advice would be to buy tickets as soon as humanly possible to get good seats at a fair price. Though there aren’t any truly bad seats…if you’re not in the Royal Gallery or Premier Seats (we weren’t) you just don’t want to be tucked in a corner, or too low so that you can’t see the whole scope of the arena. Even though we bought tickets months out, a lot of the good seats were sold out the night we wanted to go. I compared scalper-like sites but I found that if I bought directly through the Tattoo, paying a little extra for the ceilidh package, I actually got a better seat for less money than buying a normal ticket from Tattoo or a ticket from a third party. Bonus, we went to the ceilidh afterward, which provided one drink and quite a lot of food included, and my mother and her friend got to watch and learn some traditional dances. It was definitely worth is.