Every August, Edinburgh puts on the biggest arts festival in the world, known as The Fringe, and since this year’s starts very soon (August 5th) I thought I’d mention it. The festival is pretty fantastic, really, with singing, dancing, theatre, comedy and much more including some very entertaining street performers. Even if you don’t have tickets to see any of the evening shows, you can walk up and down the Royal Mile enjoying the dozens of street acts then find a place in one of the crowded pubs or restaurants – it’s quite likely that you’ll get a mini-performance here too as acts go around promoting their shows with songs and short versions of their plays. So don’t be freaked out if the guy next to you buying a pint suddenly jumps up on the bar and starts singing opera. Really, it happens. But it’s things like this that make The Fringe what it is, at least to me. This isn’t about being an exclusive set of events, only accessible to those who can nab the right tickets at the right time, it’s about the whole city living and breathing art of all kinds for a month every year.
I’ve attended the festival a few times myself. I saw a shortened, small cast versian of ‘A Chorus Line’ my first time there, I’ve seen singers, a man juggle basketballs while ride a unicycle and plenty of comedians. I once saw a guy swallow a massive sword…yummy.
In a place like Edinburgh, especially when everyone is feeling so friendly (except maybe the odd local who now has to fight the swelling crowds) it’s definitely true that the more people you talk to the better. The Scots are a very friendly, chatty group of people (okay, I’m biased, my entire family is Scottish) and they’ll be happy to share what they know with you. Sometimes they’re happy to share with you even if you don’t ask. I once got roped into a conversation about one woman’s husband’s diet whilst in a queue at the supermarket as she described to me why it was that she had to buy so many cans of sweetcorn (hubby’s favourite).
Edinburgh is a beautiful city any time of year, although the atmosphere around The Fringe is quite special. The Royal Mile is the main high street, and a walk from one end to the other is a great experience even when it’s not flooded with street dancers. At one end is Edinburgh Castle – a beautiful structure that deserves a whole day to itself to explore properly. The first evidence of people living in what is now that castle go back to BC times, and the earliest mention of a fortress is around 600 AD. So…it’s pretty old. There are countless rooms to explore within the walls and an enormous history that can really suck you in. Plus at 1pm every day (except Sundays) you can see the master gunner fire the gun, something that’s been happening for 150 years now. And there’s a dog cemetery where regimental mascot dogs and officer’s dogs are buried that I think is great.
At the other end of The Royal Mile, if you take a walk, you’ll find the Scottish Parliament building. Unfortunately, I am not its biggest fan. While it is certainly a statement in modern architecture…I think it’s rather ugly. I think it bothers me more because it sits so near such a fantastic, ancient creation that is stunning to look at.
There is a lot more to do in Edinburgh, and I think it is a place you really need to visit at least twice – once in August to experience The Fringe, and once when things are quieter to see how great the city is without the crowds.
I do quickly have to mention the underground streets. Edinburgh is quite unusual in that the current city and streets that you walk on are built on top of old streets…the stories of the buried streets have become quite the tourist attraction and are now filled with ghost stories of the past residents, but despite the spectacle it is quite something to see this whole other world beneath the pavement…