It's back, baby! The world's largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe, will return to the cobbled streets of the Scottish capital in 2022 to blow out the candles for its 75th birthday.
Following a Covid-enforced cancellation in 2020 and a slimline open-air edition in 2021, the bells, whistles, costumes and comradery of the Fringe proper will once again turn Auld Reekie into one giant entertainment venue.
In a little over three weeks, Edinburgh will play host to a massive 3171 shows from 58 countries across comedy, theater, dance, cabaret, music and near-enough anything loosely described as art and entertainment. Sounds overwhelming, right? Wait until you hear there's audience participation too…
Here's how to get the best out of Edinburgh Fringe 2022 (without being called up on stage).
What is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival?
The Fringe Festival was "established" in 1947 after eight renegade theater troupes gatecrashed the fledgling Edinburgh International Festival having not been asked to perform. Undeterred, they put on their own shows on the “fringes” of the International Festival – hence its name – and vowed to return a year later with more performers.
By 1958 there were enough unofficial performances for the Festival Fringe Society to be created. The event mushroomed, eventually becoming bigger than the Edinburgh International Festival itself, and today you can barely pass a pothole without an ensemble of fire-breathing mime artists popping out with an impromptu musical performance of Hamlet (well, almost).
It’s comedy that steals the spotlight at the Fringe but the 250-or so venues put on everything from circus, cabaret and children’s acts to physical theater, poetry and Polish performance art.
When does the Edinburgh Fringe 2022 start?
The Fringe runs from August 5-29 (with a few sneaky preview curtain-raisers from Aug 3) and happily coincides with five other summer festivals in the city: Edinburgh Art Festival (July 28 to August 28); Edinburgh International Film Festival (August 5-27); Edinburgh International Festival (August 5-28); The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (August 5-29); and Edinburgh International Book Festival (August 12-20).
Sounds busy. How many people attend?
They say that Edinburgh doubles in population during August’s festival season, leapfrogging the likes of Liverpool, Sheffield, Bristol, Glasgow and Leicester in terms of size. We think that’s a bit a of an urban myth, but the city does get packed. More than three million tickets were sold in 2019 – when the Fringe was last held in full – including more than 850,000 tickets snaffled by locals. However, festival-goers usually attend more than one show, so the population doesn’t quite double.
Who’s on the 2022 lineup?
The printed Edinburgh Fringe program is so big that if you unfolded it completely and lay out all the pages next to each other, they would be longer than Hadrian's Wall. Stuffed to the gills from comedic storytellers 1 Ball Show to the absurdist Zach Zucker, its the biggest names from the world of comedy that people hope to see.
Comedians at Edinburgh Fringe 2022 include Scottish offender-in-chief Frankie Boyle, the legendary comic Omid Djalili, Al Murray as the Pub Landlord and Stewart Lee who will perform two different shows this year.
Other rib ticklers in the festival brochure include Reginald D. Hunter, Josie Long, Phil Wang and controversial Scottish wit, Jerry Sadowitz. RuPaul's Drag Race stars Bianca Del Rio and Jinkx Monsoon will also be up on stage. On the more serious side, the fabled English thespian, Sir Ian McKellen, will also put on a performance of Hamlet.
Fetsival-goers can buy the full, printed program from the Fringe Shop at 180 High Street. The Edinburgh Fringe lineup is also available on the official website.
What should I see?
- German comic Henning Wehn will put on this latest two-hour laugh-a-thon at The Queen's Hall (Aug 4-6; Aug 11-13; Aug 18-20; Aug 25-28);
- Former Joke of the Fringe finalist Ivo Graham performs My Future My Clutter at Pleasance Courtyard (Aug 3-28 except Aug 6);
- Standup John Robins (Aug 4-7; Aug 10-14; Aug 17-21; Aug 24-28) at Just Up The Stairs and Aug 23 at Just the Spiegeltent;
- Writer, comic and poet Tim Key (Aug 3-17 at Pleasance Dome; Aug 18-28 at the Pleasance Courtyard);
- The queen of ventriloquism and improv star, Nina Conti, will play the Pleasance Courtyard (Aug 3-28 except Aug 16);
- Fast-witted politic funnyman Nish Kumar will appear at the Gordon Aikman Theatre on Assembly George Square (Aug 22-28);
- Underbelly on Bristo Square will host Irish comic Jason Byrne as he performs a one-man play as his recently departed father, Paddy (Aug 8-28 except 16 & 22).
Is there a Fringe app for 2022?
Financial constraints from the pandemic mean there is no Fringe app this year. However, the full Fringe timetable is available online and includes a ‘Nearby Now’ section for those accessing it via the mobile website once in the city.
Where are the best venues at the Fringe?
There are a whopping 255 venues at the Fringe – from St Giles Cathedral and 17th-century Greyfriars Kirk to a black Routemaster bus turned theater called the Necrobus. If somewhere has room for a show, the Fringe will usually squeeze in an act.
Most of the action takes place in and around the city center, predominantly George Square, Bristo Square, Cowgate and the Royal Mile, which makes it easy to hotfoot between shows. New venues for 2022 include St Andrew Square and St James Quarter.
The most renowned venue promotors are Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly. They are seen as the “Big Four” – with Just the Tonic trying to break their monopoly. Each hosts famous acts and TV names alongside up-and-coming artists on their main stages, as well as several branded venues across Edinburgh.
With seven venues across the city, Assembly is where you’ll catch the likes of Frankie Boyle, Fern Brady and – wait for it – Peppa Pig. As well as the Assembly Hall on the Mound, which also pulls together some ace comedy, circus and dance shows, the group has a cool outdoor hangout in George Square.
You’ll know when you’ve reached the Udderbelly venue on George Square – it’s the massive, upside-down, purple cow. Expect to see funny bunnies like Mark Watson, Rhys Nicholson and Troy Hawke. Underbelly also has another 18 venues across Bristo Square, the Meadows and Cowgate.
Andrew Maxwell, Tara Boland and Basil Brush are among the big ticket names put on by Gilded Balloon this year. Their venues include the National Museum of Scotland, Adam House and a whopping nine performance spaces inside Edinburgh University’s Teviot Row House.
With 27 venues to fill, you’d think you’d come across a duff act or two with Pleasance. But yet again they’ve crammed their calendar full of chuckle royalty like Rosie Holt, Nina Conti and the pun-master Tim Vine.
Other Edinburgh Fringe venues worth checking out include:
The Queen's Hall
During the Fringe this former 19th-century chapel on Clerk Street turns into a comedy hot spot. In 2022, Henning Wehn will perform his latest show, It'll All Come Out In The Wash.
With 20 spaces across the city – including the masonic Roman Eagle Lodge on the Royal Mile – C Venues host forward-thinking theater, innovative cabaret and plenty of decent comedy.
East of the Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, Greenside will take over the historic Riddle's Court in 2022 alongside its usual Nicolson Square and Infirmary Street venues. No line-up as yet, but luminaries like Maggie Smith and Stephen Fry have performed previously.
Are there Fringe events along the Royal Mile?
Absolutely. The city’s infamous cobbled runup to Edinburgh Castle springs into life during the Fringe with street performers, circus acts, dancers, buskers, drag, improv comedians, balloonists, marching bands – heck, just about every kind of live act you can imagine – doing their thing in front of thousands of onlookers along the Royal Mile and Mound Precinct. All Fringe street events are free to watch – but as a busking festival, it’s great if you can gift the performers some coin.
What’s the Free Fringe?
The Free Fringe has one of the most extensive programs at the Fringe with than 300 shows for 2022. While the performance rooms may be slightly more ramshackle (think pub backrooms, tunnels, even tents!) the Free Fringe still features some of the best and brightest comics on the circuit – keep an eye out for surprise bigger names as well.
Each show is either “Free & Unticketed” or “Pay What You Can” and performers pocket 100% of the money. Check out the Free Fringe line-up here.
There’s so much on! How do I pick which Fringe shows to watch?
If you put your back out trying to lift the physical copy of the Edinburgh Fringe Guide, there are plenty of other ways to work out what to see. Twitter is a great way to see what’s hot. Follow your favorite acts and @edfringe or #edfringe for show updates, reviews and recommendations.
It also pays to talk to people: bar staff, those flyering for shows, the mime artists – everyone will have a show to recommend. Box Office staff are the keepers of the keys – cozy up to them for tip-offs on the best shows and under-the-radar, one-off performances.
How do I get Fringe tickets?
You can buy tickets online or straight from the venue box office. All Fringe shows use e-tickets. There is a central fringe office on the Royal Mile that has some cute merch (Fringe-branded umbrella, anyone?) and doubles as an information point and box office for all Fringe shows. You can also buy tickets via the booking line: +44 (0)131 226 0000.
Free shows are typically non-ticketed, you can just rock up and pop some cash in their bucket at the end. Comics are increasingly providing card readers these days too so you can give a contactless donation, kiboshing your own excuse, tightwad.
There is no obligation to pay for a free show, but, if you can, chuck some cash in (“not tipping can cause erectile dsyfunction”, one Fringe comic told us). Even free shows get busy, especially at weekends, so arrive early to guarantee a seat.
If your show is listed as “Pay What You Want”, you can either count it as a free show and try your luck on the door, or buy a ticket at the box office to guarantee a seat – useful if the show regularly sells out.
“Sold out” boards outside the bigger venues highlight the most popular shows, so book ahead where possible, else check the box office for returns (released about 10 minutes prior to show time).
How much do Fringe tickets cost?
Ticket prices start from nothing and go up to around £35. Most shows cost £7-10.
2-for-1 tickets, voucher codes and the Half Price Hut
Looking to score discounted Edinburgh Fringe tickets? A swift Google will reveal a number of discount codes but there are better ways of snagging a super saving.
The Half Price Hut
Located at the Fringe Box Office, just look for the Black Friday-style catfights, the Half Price Hut has thousands of half price tickets on sale each day.
Shoved right at the start of August, often before the festival starts officially, preview shows can be a good way of getting some money off big-name performers before they really hit their stride.
Exactly as the name suggests, some performers run buy one, get one free deals. Use the “Special Pricing” filter on the website to see who’s offering these deals.
Group discounts and family tickets
If you’re in a group of 10 or more, you can often get a 10% discount on shows. Confirm via the Box Office before you book. Family tickets (two adults and two children; or one adult and three under 18s) are available too and can shave a little off the ticket price.
Students, customers with disabilities, OAPs (65+) and under 18s can all receive money off tickets. ID is required.
Where should I stay during the Fringe?
If you want to hear the chuckles from your window, stay around the Old Town near Grassmarket. The New Town and Holyrood are both walkable too, else you could make you way out to Leith (a short bus ride away) if you wish to pay a little less.
However, unless you’ve magically gone back to the 1500s during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots to book a room, the chances of you finding a hotel with vacancies during August is slim – unless you’re being bankrolled by the royal family.
By June, around 85% of the accommodation in and around Edinburgh has all been snapped up, but there are some rooms available at the likes of Malmaison (£297 a night) and the Balmoral Hotel (£790 a night). Even the mid-range hotels like the Holiday Inn Express cost around £277 a night. Ouch.
More affordable lodging options:
- Camping: Nab a pre-erected tent at the Royal Highland Centre. Prices start from £27 a night. You can bring your own tent to save some cash.
- University housing: Edinburgh University Halls Swot up with a stay in student accommodation – this is where many of the performers will bunk up.
- Glasgow: Only an hour by train, Scotland’s second city will have better value options if you don’t mind the journey in.
Where can I escape the madness?
We’re not going to lie: the Fringe can be full on. For a little peace and quiet, head to The Meadows. This green expanse is one of Edinburgh’s best parks and is an oasis of calm compared to the city center (though there are some shows on the Fringes here too).
If you’ve got the energy, the schlep up to Arthur’s Seat feels like a world away with views right over the city and out to the coast. The Botanical Gardens are another peaceful spot worth checking out and if the weather is warm, you may want to go to the sea at either Leith or Portobello Beach, one of the best stretches of sand near the city.
Where’s best to eat during the Fringe?
Street food stalls and pop-up bars spring up all over the city during the Fringe with clusters of huts found near the big venues in Bristo Square, George Square Gardens and along Charles Street. The Pleasance Courtyard is one of the best places to grab a drink and soak up the festival atmosphere.
Elsewhere, fill your belly at Mums, a greasy spoon that uses top-notch ingredients or wander out to trendy Timberyard – not far from Ulster Hall – a warehouse restaurant that does excellent fine dining like monkfish with wild sea kale, jersey royals potatoes and horseradish.
Provided you’re not hungover, the White Horse Oyster & Seafood Bar on the Royal Mile sells incredible seafood small plates, including a £2 happy hour on oysters. If you are hungover, we can recommend Ting Thai Caravan, Thai takeout served in what looks like a New York City loft. For something more hearty head to the Mosque Kitchen where you can get a giant portion of fragrant curry for less than a tenner.
And where should I drink?
For a quiet wine while you digest your intake of culture, Under the Stairs is a hidden bolthole in the city center. Don’t miss stopping by Panda and Sons in New Town either: you enter through the bookcase of a barber shop to reveal a speakeasy selling intriguing cocktails.
If you really want to shake off the Fringe crowds, head down Leith Walk and make a beeline for Joseph Pearce’s for a sloe gin or The Black Fox for craft beer and drool-inducing pizzas. For something more traditional, it’s hard to beat the low-raftered White Hart Inn along Grassmarket or party pub the Beehive Inn.