24 hours in Edinburgh: How to spend a day and night at the Fringe
With the Fringe in full swing, it can be tricky to choose between everything that’s on offer, especially if you have limited time to enjoy the festivities.
With this in mind, Milo McLaughlin suggests an agreeable itinerary, with a good balance between enjoying the August atmosphere, getting fed and watered, and seeing some of the best shows at this year’s Festival according to the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday’s team of respected critics.
So, you’re in Edinburgh and you’ve got 24 hours free to enjoy the Fringe, either as a visitor or as a native with a rare day off from work.
You’re ready and raring to go, but the last thing you want to do is wander around aimlessly and miss the best shows. Instead, you need to get into the Jack Bauer mindset – time is ticking away and there’s not a moment to be lost! (Don’t worry, unlike the fictional character played by Keifer Sutherland in 24, you don’t have to waterboard anyone).
The good news is that some of the best, four or five star-rated shows still have tickets available – if you move fast.
A day at the Fringe is best begun in a leisurely manner. The more youthful, or young at heart will want to ramp up the levels of enjoyment gradually during the day to reach a spectacular (and perhaps drunken) crescendo in the early hours of the next morning. The older and wearier will want to be in bed by 10pm with a cup of Horlicks, and so can ignore the ‘after-hours’ suggestions. Either way, a hearty brunch can be had at Porto & Fi on the Mound, which opens at 10am.
This is a very busy part of town, so you can get a good taste of the atmosphere right away and keep an eye on any queues to our next destination (which is practically next door), whilst tucking into delicious eggs benedict or the traditional Scots porridge followed by a big chunk of cake and tea/coffee, all of which will set you up nicely for the day ahead.
Note that you can’t make reservations at this branch so you’ll want to get there in good time – Porto & Fi also have a branch in Newhaven near the shore if you want to avoid the crowds, but you’ll need to get there earlier if you want to get into town for the next scheduled event (it opens at 8am).
Midday: Avenue Q, Assembly Hall
Jack Bauer never had to deal with endless queues and streets packed with ambling Fringe-goers and over-enthusiastic flyer-merchants, and if he did he probably would have got very annoyed and the terrorists would probably have won. You, however, do have to deal with these complications during your 24-hour Fringe mission, so if you want to go to some of the more popular shows, you need to build in plenty of time in between them for getting to and from the venues. This is meant to be fun, remember, and we don’t want to end up rushing about and feeling lightheaded.
Luckily, if we’ve managed to get our breakfast on the Mound, we are perfectly placed for our next location. It’s not every day you can go and see an acclaimed Broadway show at midday, and whilst this production of Avenue Q is a pared-down version of the Broadway hit, it is still very much worth seeing according to its five star Scotsman review.
Alternative early afternoon options
If you can’t quite face two hours in the company of a bunch of unruly, crude singing puppets this early in the day, you could do a lot worse than attend a recording of Amnesty’s Secret Comedy Podcast at the Underbelly, Bristo Square at 1pm (one hour) . Or for something a little more artsy you could check out Banksy: The Room in the Elephant (4 stars) over at The Pleasance, examining the unintended effect of high profile street art on those who live on the streets, also at 1pm (55 minutes).
Things have got off to a fine start, but I don’t want you getting all cranky. Now’s a good time to grab some food and drink and refuel for the late afternoon session. It’s wise to forego fine dining at this stage and head to George Square Gardens where there are a number of decent food carts serving a wide variety of grub, and you can also grab a coffee from the nearby Brew Lab pop-up coffee bar at BBC@Potterrow or head to their popular permanent residence at South College Street.
Late Afternoon – Red Bastard vs Gyles Brandreth
This is a great time to ramp things up with some great, critically acclaimed shows that still, inexplicably, have tickets left (at the time of publication). If you’re feeling particularly brave you might want to enter the five-star rated lair of the Red Bastard, undoubtedly one of the most talked-about and feared shows this year (16:40, 70 minutes).
On the other end of the comedy scale, but no less acclaimed is Gyles Brandreth, unfairly seen as a bit of a comedy dinosaur by cruel, sneering young hipsters, but actually the only other comedy show this year so far to earn the full five star treatment (16:20, one hour).
Again, there are some good alternatives to these top-rated comedy shows. For a more dramatic option, why not check out the theatrical adaptation of Stephen King’s short story which also spawned the much-loved film, The Shawshank Redemption (16:50, 95 minutes).
For those who are running on a slightly later schedule, or who preferred to linger longer over lunch/coffee, another must-see, five-star rated show this year is the frenetic Blam! (17:55- 1 hour 15 minutes).
Crikey! The day is moving along at a fair old clip, and most of us will only have seen two shows! Worry not, for many delights await you during the rest of the evening. Remember, we’re focusing on quality rather than quantity here. It’s all about the journey, not the destination. So – you might want to grab some food and drink again now. If you’ve managed to resist the lure of alcohol so far, maybe grab a beer at one of the many pop-up venues around town. Or you could head to the Mosque Kitchen at Nicolson Square who do a very good, reasonably priced “curry in a hurry” without any fuss.
If you prefer posher fare and are happy to spend a couple of hours away from the festival hubbub, Restaurant Mark Greenaway does a very reasonable early evening pre-theatre market menu (you will need to call ahead to reserve/check times).
You’ve spent most of the day eating and drinking by now so it’s time to get serious and prioritise the main shows of the night. Feral at Summerhall, (20:00, 50 minutes) comes highly recommend, and if you’ve not had your fill of puppets behaving badly, there’s Henson’s alternative puppet-up – uncensored! (times vary, 50 minutes).
The Fringe comes into its own late at night, with both performers and audiences becoming increasingly merry (for obvious reasons). Nocturnal options include the acclaimed Set List (Pleasance Dome, 23:00, one hour) which challenges top comedians to improvise on a set topic, the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society (The Stand, 23:30, 2:30) the sensory experience of Dinner is Swerved (23:30, two hours – tickets selling out fast!), dancing and party tunes atHot Dub Time Machine at Underbelly Bristo Square (00:15, two hours 30 minutes) or the infamously messy Late n Live at Gilded Balloon Teviot (1am, four hours).
So there you have it. 24 hours of fun and frolics, and you’re all tucked up in (someone’s) bed by 5:30am. Give it a few hours and you’ll be ready to do it all over again…
• For more foodie tips, check out our Edinburgh Restaurants Guide