Edinburgh Fringe Festival Guide for Students
This Fringe festival guide for students will help you find the cheapest shows and venues without sacrificing quality and entertainment.
Edinburgh hosts seven world-renowned festivals throughout the calendar year, with five of these taking place during the month of August. No matter who you are or what you’re interested in and inspired by, you’ll find something engaging and exciting in Scotland’s capital city at this time of year, whether it’s a comedy drag show, a gallery exhibition, a classical concert, or a live reading by your favourite author.
Students who are a bit strapped for cash will love the Edinburgh Festival Fringe: this celebration of live performance is the largest of its kind in the world, and the shows tend to be highly affordable, as well as exceptionally entertaining.
The Fringe programme doesn’t actually come out until early July, but here are some of the top venues that you should pay a visit to during the festival season. Often, if you’re a student, your best bet is to head to one of these venues and see what’s on that evening: it’s pretty rare that you’ll see a show that isn’t entertaining at the Fringe, so be a bit adventurous.
Check out this Fringe festival guide for students to get the low-down on some of the best venues and most affordable (read: “free”) shows that you can head to during August.
Fringe Festival Guide for Students: Best Venues
George Square, Assembly Rooms & Underbelly GSG Venues
Nestled in the heart of the old town, George Square Gardens plays host to major Assembly and Underbelly venues every year (Assembly and Underbelly are two of the four largest multi-venue operators at the Fringe, with Pleasance and Gilded Balloon being the others).
If you’re overwhelmed by choice on a Fringe night out, head to George Square and ask the ticket sellers which shows they’d recommend. You’ll find a lot of late-night cabarets, magic shows, drag performances, and fresh comedy at this spot, whether you’re entering through the Underbelly or Assembly entrance.
The Teviot, Gilded Ballon
The largest Gilded Balloon venue is also one of the best in the city and is a stone’s throw away from the George Square Fringe site. The Teviot beer garden is a great place to hang out during the day, and there’s plenty of delicious grub on offer from the street food carts that set up shop next to the outdoor bars.
When the Teviot isn’t playing host to a diverse range of entertainment during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it’s one of the best places to hang out as a student, with low drinks prices, a spacious beer garden, and a (relatively) hidden library bar tucked in beside the main entrance to the building.
This venue is just down the hill from Nicolson Street, and is another legendary Fringe location, with its “18 performance spaces” and excellent, eclectic programme of drama, comedy, improvisation, children’s shows, and musical acts.
If you’re visiting the Pleasance Courtyard for a show or a quick beer, you could take a stroll through the neighbouring Holyrood Park or up Arthur’s Seat afterwards. Nearby Fringe venues include Just the Tonic Nucleus, Holyrood Distillery, and the Laughing Horse @ the Brass Monkey.
The Jazz Bar
An iconic venue at the best of times, The Jazz Bar is a tiny yet highly atmospheric basement space on Chambers Street (so you’re right in the heart of the Fringe, and not too far from the street performers on the Royal Mile).
This year, highlights include the incredible 2 AM shows, the AKI Project, and a gorgeous tribute to Nina Simone from Ali Affleck.
This awesome venue hosts a number of shows for PBH’s Free Fringe, a programme that never fails to disappoint (and won’t be a burden on your wallet). Banshee Labyrinth is one of the most exciting spaces to visit during the Fringe, with a number of up-and-coming comedians performing in its spooky Cinema Room throughout August.
Banshee Labyrinth is right next door to Whistlebinkies, which also hosts a number of excellent free shows this year. Stick around to the early hours in Whistlebinkies for some live music and a party atmosphere. Check out Stramash in Cowgate if you’re looking for a Scottish-influenced throwdown.
Previously the location of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Medicine, Summerhall is a “vibrant cultural village” that always hits the spot when it comes to eclectic and inspiring programming during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
This year, highlights of the Summerhall programme include Dance Body, a physical expression of the issues faced by plus-sized dancers, John Hegley’s Biscuit of Destiny, and the thought-provoking Age is a Feeling by Haley McGee.
The Pear Tree
Another staple venue on the Fringe circuit, the Pear Tree hosts a wide variety of excellent free shows during the days throughout August. You can also stick around in the beer garden for vibey live music that continues into the night.
The Counting House is another awesome venue that’s right next door to the Pear Tree, and it includes an atmospheric, cosy pub and several performance spaces. Highlights of the Counting House Free Fringe programme include 60 Minutes About Scotland, Around the World in 60 Minutes, and Best in Class.
The City Café
You’ll find the City Café right in the centre of Edinburgh, on the road down from North Bridge down to Cowgate. It’s a stylish venue that hosts yet more shows from the Free Fringe programme (you’ll have no excuse not to go to some gigs this August, given that so many are free).
The City Café is a lot of fun all year round and is decked out as an old-school American diner like the kind you’d see in Back to the Future or Grease. Keep an eye out for this venue to release its programming in the next few weeks.
Fringe Festival Guide for Students: Top Tips
Don’t over plan or try to fit too much into your itinerary
One of the classic errors that people make when they come to the Fringe is to try to fit too much into their daily schedule. It’s totally fair to book ahead for some shows that you really want to see (especially if they’re popular), but try to leave at least a few hours between each gig so that you have time to wander about the centre of Edinburgh and discover something new that’s completely up your street.
You also don’t want to feel too rushed as you move between booked shows: Edinburgh city centre is small but it’s also very hilly, so you’ll find yourself getting pretty shattered if you’re having to rush from one side of town to the other then back again throughout the day.
Don’t be afraid to go off-piste and explore the fringes of the Fringe
Some of the best and most organic experiences you’ll have at the Fringe come when you’re willing to go with the flow and check out some of the weirder, more niche offerings in the city.
Take a few hours to explore a new area of the city and seek out some hidden, smaller venues that you might not otherwise come across. Make some new friends and head to an impromptu gig, magic show, or drag performance with them. Try a new experience that you wouldn’t otherwise engage with, like a whiskey distillery tour and tasting, an interactive Fawlty Tours dinner experience, or a raucous late-night Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare show.
Check out the free samples and shows
A top tip for other cash-strapped students here: try to figure out the best spots for getting free samples of food and drink throughout the day. You’ll often find free tipples of gin or beer in George Square, and can head to the Royal Mile or the outdoor National Gallery space for some free street performances.
Remember that a lot of the best, most exciting and off-the-wall art, comedy, and entertainment at the Fringe is free, whether at the Free Fringe venues or along the city’s main cobbled streets and open courtyard spaces.
It’s important to note that you should probably give a donation to the artist in question when you go to see a free show. No pressure though: just give as much as you’re comfortable with giving.
Fringe Festival Guide for Students: The Final Thoughts
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest of its kind in the world, and students should take full advantage of the massive variety of shows, performing art pieces, music concerts, and cabaret-style events that are on throughout each and (basically) every day of August.
Don’t forget to check out the other festivals that are taking place during late summer in Scotland’s capital city as well. The Edinburgh International Book Festival is the largest of its kind in the world (notice a theme here?), while the Military Tattoo is a stunning celebration of military music and performances from all across the world.
If this Fringe festival guide for students hasn’t sold you on applying to Edinburgh for university, and you’re still a bit unsure about your top choices for your UCAS application, get in touch with us at A&J Education to book a free consultation and talk through your thinking.