Wednesday, July 15, 2009

First time in Edinburgh? Read this...

The Edinburgh Festival is a wonderful explosion of culture, colour and crowds over the city during August. You may be forgiven for thinking all you have to do is turn up, tune in and enjoy yourself. Whilst that is true to an extent, if you've never been to Edinburgh before - or have, but not for a few years - here are a few tips and hints from a resident to help ease your experience:

  • Edinburgh is a hilly city. You will walk uphill to get to the venue; and you will walk uphill to get back again. Some of the hills (Arthur's Seat, Calton Hill) provide spectacular views and escapes from the crowds, but most of them (The Mound, Dundas Street, et al) merely provide you with a hill. So either come prepared with sensible footwear, or rely on public transport to get you where you need to be (though see point below).

  • Edinburgh is a coastal city, with a rather unique weather system. You will notice this if you go up one of the nice hills and look to the north, where you'll see the Firth of Forth shimmering its silvery way towards the North Sea. Unless the haar has descended, that fog-like gift from said North Sea so beloved of Edinburgh residents, covering all in a blanket of cold, damp, impenetrable greyness. Cold, damp, impenetrable greyness that only the rain rapidly approaching from the west will disperse. So be warned, whilst I wish for 31 days of unbroken sunshine as much as anyone, come suitably armed or be prepared to pay astronomical prices for plastic tartan pac-a-macs.

  • Edinburgh is in the throes of a massive civic 'improvement' scheme, introducing a modern cutting-edge tram network to the city. Or so we're told. In reality, this has reduced large swathes of our roads into building sites and resulted in traffic congestion and travel delays. Fancy a relaxing stroll along Princes Street, gazing up at the splendour of Edinburgh Castle? Too bad, that side of the street's closed. Traffic always gets a bit challenged during Festival time, and I shudder to think how things will turn out this year.

  • Edinburgh has a fantastic public transport system, and hundreds of reliable and friendly bus and taxi drivers (seriously, I know a few). However, the combination of Festival over-population and the tramworks may strain the patience of even the most saintly, so please be kind to any you encounter. If indeed you manage to catch one at all - taxis in particular do become quite a rare species during Festival time.

  • Not everyone in Edinburgh loves the Festival. Hard to believe, I know, but you will likely come across at least three distinct types of anti-festival groups during your visit:
    1. Firstly, there are those that have to go to work. These souls deserve your sympathy, as most of them would dearly love to be swanning around from show to show and drinking in the open air just like you. The looks of sheer hatred they shoot you may persuade you otherwise, but trust me, it's true: I used to be one of them.
    2. Secondly, there are those dear old Edinburgh ladies, who wish for nothing more than to walk slowly from one end of George Street to the other carrying large bags of shopping, muttering about how things used to be better before "all this festival nonsense" started. Best avoided, or at least carefully overtaken.
    3. Lastly, and this is semi-serious, the young and disaffected. Now, Edinburgh is by and large a safe city, but feral packs of youths have been spotted prowling the streets before. They tend to keep away from the main venues, but if you do find yourself close to any, keep your head down and don't say things like "Felicity, what did you make of that emotionally effervescent theatrical tour-de-force we just had the good fortune to witness?" within their earshot. Parts of Trainspotting are based on fact, you know.

  • Edinburgh is full of pubs. Surely a good thing? Yes, and no. On some streets, every second establishment is a pub (and the ones in between are off-licences). And opening hours are extended so much during the Festival, it is possible to drink 24/7 if you so wish. If you are easiliy tempted, you could easily find yourself drunk by breakfast, hungover by lunchtime and refused entry into a show or two for looking dazed and confused by teatime. Remember - all things in moderation....

That's it. Keep the above in mind and you'll be sure to have a fantastic time. I for one love the whole mad ensemble, and I'm looking forward to welcoming you here. Remember to say hello if you see me...


  1. LOL at #2 old ladies and #3 what not to say !!

  2. watch out for the frogs that abide on some of those hills too! I nearly stood on one last time and it wasn't pleasant, I was wearing sandles! Fingers crossed for sunshine!

    PS shameless plug for sketch show Socially Retarded @ The Royal College of Surgeons 6.10pm 7-22

  3. These are very useful tips for first-time Princesses- thanks!