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Your ultimate guide to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023

The Fringe is upon us once again: here’s our guide to the world’s biggest arts festival

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

What is the Edinburgh Fringe?

Its full name is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, ie it was conceived as a fringe event to the Edinburgh Festival, aka the Edinburgh International Festival. Both events began life in 1947: the big, government-funded EIF was staging its first edition, and eight theatre companies rocked up into town to capitalise on its presence. The EIF still exists in loosely the same form as it did 76 years ago, but the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – usually just called ‘the Fringe’ – has become much bigger and isn’t really the fringe to anything, with thousands of shows all over the Scottish city each year. While theatre remains a vital component of the Fringe, it’s probably best known for stand-up comedy these days.

When is the Edinburgh Fringe?

The Fringe always officially runs for three weeks, ending with the August bank holiday weekend. Its official dates for 2023 are Friday August 4 to Monday August 28, although many shows have previews from Wednesday August 2 (and relatively few actually run on Monday 28).

Where is the Edinburgh Fringe?

It’s in… Edinburgh, duh. Oh, you want specifics? It takes place at a huge number of venues, ranging from a sprawling former medical school (Summerhall) to a student’s union (Pleasance Dome) to innumerable smaller bars. They are generally concentrated within a fairly small area, though, and the majority of venues are within a 15-minute walk of each other.

How much does it cost?

It varies significantly, but generally tickets top out around £20, with most considerably cheaper (think £12-£15). Seating is also almost never reserved, so you can get the best seats in the house by queuing promptly before a performance. The Fringe has undeniably become a lot more expensive than it used to be, which has led to the rise of the Free Fringe, a largely comedy-based festival-within-a-festival where the shows are indeed free (though you’re encouraged to tip at the end).

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Why should I go?

To have a good time! As the biggest arts festival in the world there is an endless variety of theatre, comedy and more on display, and while there are big names, it’s also a place where legends are made – the likes of Tom Stoppard, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and endless top comedians have sealed their reputations via buzzy Edinburgh runs.

How do I buy tickets?

There is a centralised ticketing system and so you can buy everything via the official Edinburgh Fringe website. Many of the venues will also have their own websites where you can buy a ticket. And all venues are heavily manned by box office staff throughout the day if you want to buy walk-up tickets (which many people do).

Are there any other festivals I can catch in Edinburgh at the same time?

Yes: a lot. As well as the aforementioned Edinburgh International Festival (Aug 4-27) there’s the hugely popular Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (Aug 4-26), which is essentially a series of fancy military parades, plus the Edinburgh International Film Festival (Aug 18-23). You can also enjoy the Edinburgh Art Festival (Aug 11-Aug 27) and the Edinburgh International Book Festival (Aug 12-28).

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