After living in Scotland since 2013, I finally made my way around to Edinburgh in August, when no less than six of the city’s twelve (!) annual festivals rock every last stage the city has to offer and, if necessary, build their own. The Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe, the Book Festival, the Art Festival, the Military Tattoo and the Edinburgh Mela all happen within four weeks and I will be in the city twice to report from different events from across the festivals. With over 1,000 shows per day to choose from, this will be quite a challenge…

Today is Day 2 of my first trip, and together with my friend, who’s exploring the festivals with me, I collected a list of helpful tips, so you can get the best out of your own festival experience in Edinburgh. Maybe you are already here, planning a trip later this month, or finally realising, that a spontaneous visit to Edinburgh has been long overdue – take note of these ten pieces of advice, and nothing should go wrong.

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1) Plan accommodation in time

During the festival season – not to mix up with the festive season, but actually just as celebratory – the entire city fills up with people and on top of the castle-craving tourists the streets burst with artsy geeks and performers from all over Scotland and the world; everybody is drawn to Edinburgh during that time. You can imagine that hostels, hotel rooms, B&Bs and private rentals sell out quickly, so sorting out accommodation for your stay as early as possible is highly recommended! (I’m aware that it might be a little late for that…) We booked two dorm beds at Smart City Hostel, which we have written about before here, because it’s super central (just off the Royal Mile), offers great value pub food and its bar is a magnet for locals and visitors alike. The hostel’s event space is also a venue of Fringe Festival, so if you are looking for a constant flow of all kinds of people this is a safe bet! The hostel is also surrounded by cool bars, pubs and clubs, without the rooms suffering from too much noise – going out during the festival is a must!

2) Don’t risk it

If there is a certain show you are dying to see, get your tickets in advance. Many shows are on more than once, some even daily, but there still are a few which sell out either way. However, don’t despair if a show is indeed fully booked, as you can still try to get return tickets on the day at the venue and chances to succeed this way are really good.

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3) Be open to new stuff

As much as you can plan ahead and look out for specific things you already know you’ll like, the immense diversity of the program is just too good to ignore. Talk to people on the streets and bars about their recommendations, take flyers on the go, go to events across all festivals and most importantly, give everything a chance.

After two days in Edinburgh we have already seen feminist performance theatre, stand-up comedy, dance, theatre, parties, a crossover between classical music and a video installation, a poetry slam and, of course, roller derby. All of those were just following recommendations, and so far it was so worth it!

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4) Use the Fringe App

If you have an iPhone or iPad you can download the free Fringe App (unfortunately it’s not available on Android, and doesn’t list the other festivals, but it’s an amazing tool anyway). My favorite feature is called ‘Nearby Now’ which shows all events happening nearby you now (duh). You can choose categories and genres, or simply walk to the next-best venue and check out what’s happening. It’s a great way to discover unexpected gems and try new things without the necessity to skim through the program or make decisions on your own. Great for indecisive people like me!

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5) Go to showcases & show previews

Another great way to find out about interesting shows, is to go to (free) showcases where several artists give you a little taster (around 10 minutes) of their own show. They use these sessions to advertise their main show and if you like that, you can take a flyer to check them out later or on another day. If you are into comedy, or want to get into comedy, I can recommend the Camden Comedy Free Lunchtime Showcase which is on every day and introduces 4-5 comedians in an hour. We’ve already made a list of who else to see – no. 1: Robin Morgan.

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Along the Royal Mile, there are a ton of little open stages where artists are showcasing previews from their programs as well. Seeing that the masses of people on the street will stop you from hurrying past them anyways, you might as well pick up their flyer and check out when and where they are on.

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6) Check out the free shows

As with every festival, going to a lot of shows can ruin your bank account in very little time. Although, at least you have the comfort that you spent your money on a good cause, you may still be happy to hear that there are over 800 free shows, exhibitions and events to choose from across the Edinburgh Festivals.

The shows are first come, first serve, so arrive there in good time (30 minutes before) and prepare to donate some money in the end if you liked the show. The artists get the venues for free, but obviously have to take care of travel, accommodation and food themselves, so every last pound can help.

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7) Go with the flow

I’m sure you can tell by now, the Edinburgh Festivals are as much about planning as about making spontaneous decisions and just go with the flow. Are you bumping into a silent disco? Grab some headphones and join in. Have you overheard somebody talking about this amazing party? Tap their shoulder and ask where it’s at. Did you see a good-looking guy perform a preview on the Royal Mile? Obviously, go see his show and chose a seat in the front row. The best things at Fringe come as a surprise, so put on your explorer’s hat and dig in.

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8) Prepare for long days

With so much going on, it can easily happen that you spend an entire day walking from venue to venue, and show to show without a break. Comfy shoes are a must not just because of that, but also because of the medieval cobbled lanes of Edinburgh’s Old Town, where a lot of the venues are located. Also, bring a bottle of water or ask for tap water at venues, it will keep you hydrated and awake. Many venues have free WiFi so you can check for directions or recommendations, and tweet about your favorite discoveries.

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9) Be an early bird

To avoid disappointments when it comes to free shows and other events with free-seating, do plan in a little extra time to arrive at the venue early. Sometimes there are 100 seats, sometimes only 20; and who wants to sit in the far end or behind a pillar? Some performers will also either start a little early, or just extend their performance, so good things might happen before the official start time.

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10) Take a break

Finally, taking in so many impressions on the streets and in actual shows is really exhausting. I can tell that after just two days of navigating on the bursting sidewalks and carefully listening to artists from all over the world, I need a little break. I’m sure you will feel the same eventually, so here are a few ideas: climb a hill, maybe Arthur’s Seat; have a pint at a pub; order a massive hummus falafel at Palmyra for take out and have a picnic at Nicolson Square Gardens (great value!); or even take a nap back in your room – which is what I will do just now!

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If you are interested in more recommendations or simply want to follow along the shows I’m seeing while I’m in Edinburgh, feel free to follow us on Twitter, where I’m reporting and commenting live. You can also find even more  of my tips for Edinburgh right here.

Many thanks to Edinburgh Festival City & Smart City Hostel for supporting my trips to Edinburgh.

All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.