Travel feature: Edinburgh, Scotland

Stunning setting for a huge festival of arts

A city of elegant, winding streets and glorious, yet imposing, gothic architecture, Edinburgh is wonderful to behold.

Both the old town and the 200-year-old new town have world heritage status.

It’s a great city break any time of year, but when you throw the world’s biggest arts festival into the mix, you can’t help but have an amazing time.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival has been in existence since 1948 when a group of theatre companies turned up uninvited to an existing festival and took advantage of the gathering crowds.

Today, thousands of performers take to stages across the city in a celebration of theatre, comedy, cabaret, art and more.

The festival lasts pretty much the whole of August and we headed up on the first weekend – preview-time when many of the shows are cheaper.

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East Coast Trains run an amazingly fast line from London north of the border, and we arrived in Edinburgh a mere four- and-a-bit hours after setting off from King’s Cross.

Sunshine

Despite Olympics-mania reaching fever pitch in London, Edinburgh’s streets were packed with tourists, street performers and comedians handing out flyers for their daily shows – a bit like Covent Garden but spread over a whole city.

We headed straight to George Street, which has been closed to traffic for the duration of the festival. It is temporary home to The Famous Spiegel Terrace – an outdoor drinking venue from the team behind The Famous Spiegeltent venue (a stalwart of the Fringe festival).

People say the weather is a bit iffy in Caledonia, but the streets were bathed in glorious sunshine during our visit and the whole terrace was abuzz with excited people enjoying cocktails and waiting for shows to start.

We headed to the neighbouring Famous Spiegeltent to catch La Clique Royale, which plays at the venue daily at 9.30pm (except Mondays).

Some will be familiar with the La Clique concept from the numerous runs in London, and the Fringe version is more of the spectacular same – bodies, props and even liquids fly through the crowd as an unbelievable succession of dancers, magicians and cabaret acts take to the stage.

The following day was warmer still and, before heading into the chaos of the festival, we took a look round the redeveloped Leith area in the north of the city.

Once known for being a bit tasty – the backdrop for many a scene in Irvine Welsh novels – it’s now a very desirable waterfront neighbourhood.

We found a brilliant little eaterie called Bijou, which had a great concept in that the menu wasn’t split into starters and mains – instead each dish could be ordered in large, medium or bijou size.

At about �20 a head, with wine, port and beer, Bijou is a world away from London prices and I am assured great value even for Edinburgh – especially with a BYOB corkage of �2.50.

Thus replenished, we wandered back into the new town.

One of the great things about the festival is the Free Fringe – hundreds of gratis comedy and theatre shows generally staged in pub back rooms.

We went to the Jekyll and Hyde – a horror movie-themed pub with spooky hidden toilets – and saw the McLough-Hess Monster, made up of Sean McLoughlin and Adam Hess.

These two young comedians had us in stitches with a hilarious hour. They displayed an aplomb that belied their tender years.

Firmly bitten by the comedy bug, we headed straight to the Pleasance Dome for the Fast Fringe, 12 acts rattling off three minutes of their best material.

All the comics involved have full-length shows at the festival and the Fast Fringe is a great way to get a flavour of their acts before buying a ticket to see them.

However, the Fringe is not just about comedy. With this in mind we went to Queen’s Hall to catch Withered Hand.

Charming

This local singer/songwriter is starting to make a bit of noise nationally and, if the crowd’s reaction to his charming set of melodic, indie folk is anything to go by, the rest of 2012 could be a very good few months for him.

I would absolutely have loved to stay in Edinburgh for the duration of the festival and catch a new show every night, but there is so much to see and do, you would still hardly scratch the surface.

Sadly for us there was no chance of that but we hopped on the train on Sunday, tired but satisfied with a wealth of good memories.

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