Exploring the fringe
A look into what Edinburgh’s most famous festival has to offer
Published: Aug 28, 2015 05:03 AM Updated: Aug 29, 2015 06:02 PM

A statue in Edinburgh Photo: Xu Liuliu/GT

A performer promotes his troupe's play on the streets of Edinburgh. Photo: Xu Liuliu/GT

A view of Edinburgh Castle Photo: Xu Liuliu/GT

Every summer, the Scottish city of Edinburgh becomes a Mecca for drama enthusiasts as the city's month-long Fringe festival makes its appearance. The festival was especially attractive this year as around 3,000 dramas from all over the world from the Far East to America and even Africa could be found in the city. 

Through the efforts of a number of Chinese stage directors the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has gained increasing popularity in China as it has become known by more and more people, including myself.

An admirer of what Edinburgh has been able to accomplish, Beijing has even held its own fringe festival since 2008.

Sitting on the train from London's King's Cross Station, I recalled my memories of the past few Beijing Fringe Festivals, as well as some of the memorable performances from Edinburgh that came to China from time to time like the Gecko Theatre's Overcoat and Missing. The more than four-hour trip to Edinburgh Waverly Station left me plenty of time to plan my trip while appreciating the grasslands and flowers in Scotland from my window. 

Actually, you really don't need to plan your trip in too much detail because Edinburgh isn't that big of a city, at least not compared to the gigantic Chinese capital. Princes Street divides the city into two main parts: Old Town, which is dominated by the iconic Edinburgh Castle, and New Town.

Two things that most travelers like to do during the festival is watch plays and hang out. However, it's pretty much impossible to watch all 3,000 of the dramas taking place in the more than 250 venues throughout the city. The first thing you need is a free Fringe brochure, which you can get at Fringe box offices or venues. Of course in this day and age of the mobile Internet, the most convenient way to find what you want is to download the Edinburgh Festival Fringe app, which lets you find performances that interest you and pay for tickets. 

Searching for excitement

Leaving my luggage at the boarding school where I was staying 50 kilometers north of the city, I had to take a one-hour bus trip back to the city. I'm so poor! I guess just because something is free doesn't mean it's good.

Even when the festival hasn't roared into the city, the iconic Royal Mile - streets forming the main thoroughfare in Old Town - is crowded with countless tourists. With the festival in full swing, I found that the streets were so crowded it made it hard to appreciate all the promotional activities troupes were putting on to advertise their plays.

The charm of the Edinburgh Fringe lies in the close interaction between each performance's cast and the audiences. From director to actors, everyone in the troupe hands out flyers to promote their performances. Some will even stage mini-performances on the street to give passers-by a taste of what they offer. I had a blast taking pictures with these actors and actresses dressed up as Gothic-styled monsters to time-traveling Japanese samurai. 

Even planning with the utmost efficiency, most people can only see four to five dramas at most in the 12 hour period, from 10 in the morning to 10 at night, that plays are shown each day. The Royal Mile is a crucial staging area for theater managers as well as theater enthusiasts, the former don't want to leave any seats empty, while the latter don't want to waste time watching some boring show. Of course the most interesting shows tend to have the biggest crowds.

Hanging out in the sun

August is summer time in Edinburgh. In my experience, summer is supposed to be filled with hot sunny days that just make you sweat. But Edinburgh showed me something different as the weather ranged from sunny to rainy and even a downright cold. No wonder I saw so many people dressed so differently, from young ladies wearing hot pants to elderly local gentlemen wearing kilts and woolen jackets. 

I even saw one tourist wearing a leather jacket, which shocked me at first. But I quickly came to understand the need for thicker clothing after a chilly rain left me regretting my decision to pack only T-shirts. In the end I can only agree with what it says on the festival's official website: "There's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes."

But sun does visit the town from time to time and locals seem to be very fond of having drinks outside. Once my friend Judy and I waited outside a bar not far from the Playhouse to experience drinks as locals do. But we had to give up after an hour of waiting for a table and instead moved to a table inside. It was only three in the afternoon but the bar was already crowded. 

Museums and more

One of the biggest benefits of traveling in the UK is the free museum visits. Edinburgh was no exception. The Scottish National Gallery and the National Museum of Scotland are two places you have to visit even if you are on a tight schedule. They are only a 10- to 20-minute walk  from the center of the city.

Shopping is also widely available. Many high-end shops and cheap clothing brands are located along Princes Street. I recommend leaving an entire afternoon free to visit all the shops.

Rules of thumb


There are various trains from London to Edinburgh. You can find what you need after you arrive at King's Cross station.


Hotels are unbelievably expensive during the festival. As the official accommodation partner of 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Airbnb has become the recommended way for travelers to book accommodations. If you are on a limited budget and don't want to waste time commuting like I did, then you might want to try picking a bed in a convenient hostel.


I know it may hurt many's feelings, but I have to say you'd be better off just eating haggis without asking what it is or how it is made. Besides local food you can also find many types of cuisine from Italian to Asian dishes like Chinese hot pot and Japanese sushi.