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Five I-can’t-believe-it’s-free things to do at the Edinburgh festivals

Written by
malcolm jack

One of the most common criticisms you’ll hear of the Edinburgh festivals is the damage a visit is liable to inflict on your bank balance. It’s true that you can be grossly overcharged for accommodation, food, and some event ticket prices among other things. And don’t even talk to us about the price of a soapy pint of mass-produced lager. But if you know where to go and what to do, you can just as easily spend a whole August day in Auld Reekie entertaining yourself at no cost whatsoever, such are the preponderance of free things happening around the city during festival time. Here’s a handful of suggestions to get you started.

Investigate the fringe of the Fringe at the Free Fringe

Get back to the grassroots outsider spirit of the Fringe with the variety of volunteer promoted shows presented by PBH’s Free Fringe at different venues around the city. Set up 20 years ago as an antidote to unreasonable hire charges for venues and high ticket prices for the public, they charge nothing for their shows spanning comedy, theatre, music and much more, save for a voluntary donation in a bucket at the end. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of very unremarkable stuff to sift through, but surefire hits too, including London-based Danish comedian and podcaster Sofie Hagen (Liquid Room Annexe, August 6-28, 7.50pm), who charmed the pants off crowds and critics alike last year with her show about being a teenage Westlife obsessive, eventually walking off with the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Newcomer.

Various venues, dates and times.

Watch Street Cinema shorts at the Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival

Just when you though Edinburgh in August was festival-saturated, along comes a brand new festival celebrating the crossover between entertainment and technology, the Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival. Parked on George Street, the EDEF’s Picturehouse Travelling Cinema is an articulated lorry with a 100-seat cinema. Hop aboard to watch a free, rolling programme of short films, as well as paid-for features. Edinburgh International Film Festival and Glasgow Short Film Festival have had a hand in the programming, so expect lots of good stuff.

George Street, August 12-24.

Be part of a live audience with BBC at the Edinburgh Festivals

The Beeb pitch up at a brand new Edinburgh festivals site this year in the picturesque grounds of George Heriot’s School, not far from the Fringe heart of Bristo Square, to promote a programme of comedy, music, interviews and more, much of it tied-in with live broadcasts across the BBC TV and radio channels spectrum. Events are all free but ticketed on a first-come first served basis. Many are booked-out already, but there are always extra opportunities to gain access. There’s a daily ticket giveaway on site every morning, and five minutes before any given event begins, any remaining seats that haven’t yet been taken up by ticket-holders will be opened up to people who don’t have a ticket.

George Heriot’s School, August 6-26,

Listen to live music and spoken word performances at Unbound

Every year Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Unbound series of free drop-in evening events at The Spiegeltent in Charlotte Square help roll back the boundaries of what live performance at a literary festival is all about. Just pitch up, grab a pint, find a seat and sit back and enjoy a couple of hours of word-play, music, laughs and expecting the unexpected. Each night has a different host, ranging from Stanley Odd to Neu! Reekie, Roddy Woomble, Born To Be Wide, Vic Galloway, Liz Lochhead and the Hazey Janes and many more.

The Spiegeltent, Charlotte Square, August 14-29, 9pm-11pm.

Go out with a bang at the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert

Unless you want the best possible view from the Ross Theatre or Princes Street Gardens, in which case you’ll have to buy tickets, this traditional end-of-festivals blowout is free by default to the best quarter-of-a-million or so people who spectate from near and far every year. The pyrotechnics, launched from on and around Castle Rock as specially choreographed by international fireworks artists Pyrovision, explode high in the Edinburgh sky in time with stirring orchestral music from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, which is broadcast live on the radio. The soundtrack will this year comprise excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Shostakovich’s Festive Overture. Choice viewing spots include Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat, The Meadows, Inverleith Park or any city centre rooftop you can scramble your way up on to (safety first now, people).

Ross Theatre and Princes St Gardens, August 29, 9.30pm.

Don't mind splashing the cash? Check our pick of the best theatre shows at the Fringe.

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