Best of Free Edinburgh Fringe for Families

So if you remember back to January, it was my new year’s resolution to go back to Edinburgh Fringe once again this year, except this time (and for the first time ever) do it with the kids in tow.

Me being me, my spreadsheet was out as soon as their brilliant new programme was released online – long before my beloved guide plopped through my letter box. I wasn’t sure what to expect planning a visit with the family. But to my surprise, not only is the programme plentiful, but it goes way beyond simply regurgitating well-loved children’s books to the stage. And what’s more, so much of it is as free as a bird!

Prepare to be amazed! Here’s my pick of free Edinburgh Fringe for families:

Cabaret and Live Music

Dr Frankenstein’s Spooky Disco
Join Dr Frankenstein and friends for a fun-packed hour of dancing and spooking goings-on in this renowned gothic venue. Be warned; the spooky organ music, thunder and lightning effects might prove too scary for some (adults).

Venue 304, Frankenstein Pub, 26 George IV Bridge, EH1 1EN
August 15-29, 12pm for 1hr
Suitable for 2-12

Free Fringe Music
Tempt them in with the promise of the natural history galleries and this celebration of traditional Celtic music and dance from Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales will hopefully make them want to stay! See website for details of each of the free daily performances in this magnificent space.

Venue 179, National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, EH1 1JF
August 6-28, 2pm for 40 mins

Suitable for all ages

Magic and Clowning

Bubble Show with Milkshake and Dr Bubble
A brilliant alternative to spending £9 on The Amazing Bubble Man at Udderbelly, this Australian-Romanian duo have every bubble trick imaginable. There’s big, small and sculpted bubbles, the bubble carousel, the square bubble, smoke bubbles, caterpillar bubbles, tightrope bubbles and bubbles in bubbles. Plus with a bit of magic, you might even get your baby in a bubble!

Venue 272, Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, 139 Cowgate, EH1 1JS
August 3-28, 1.15pm for 1hr

Suitable for children age 3-14

Science Magic
Big tick mum and dad, this one’s as good as them doing their homework! Multi award-winning comedian and scientist Dónal Vaughan shows you the secrets of some of his amazing science tricks using everyday items and (if you’re lucky) you can join in too!

Venue 272, Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, 139 Cowgate, EH1 1JS
August 4-28, 11am for 1hr

Suitable for children age 6+


Van Gogh Find Yourself
One of the few free theatrical performances on offer, Walter de Forest’s one-man show is based on the letters of Vincent and Theo and the memoirs of Vincent’s stay in Auvers-sur-Oise. Get closer to the real struggles of Vincent Van Gogh through this interactive performance, which promises every visitor a portrait! You’ll be grinning from ear to…er…

Venue 415, 
Natural Food Kafe 55 Clerk Street, EH8 9JQ
August 6-9, 11-16, 18-23, 25-27, 2.25pm for 55 mins
Suitable for all ages


Andrew Roper: Superheroes for Kids
Proving just about anything can be adapted for a children’s audience, this show started life as a geek-tastic sci-fi stand-up for grown ups that were keen to fill in any knowledge gaps around their favourite comic book heroes. Now it’s the kids’ turn for some superhero fun. Dads: wear your pants on the outside of your trousers, kids: bring your capes and get involved.

Venue 272, Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, 139 Cowgate, EH1 1JS
August 3-28, 1.30pm for 45 mins

Suitable for children age 5-10

David Green: Celebrity Love Letters
You might have to spend the majority of the show explaining who most of the subjects are (unless perhaps Taylor Swift creeps in there) but they are sure to enjoy the tempo of the love songs, poems and letters. David Green’s first solo outing at the Edinburgh Fringe deconstructs the cult of celebrity – from 90s kids TV presenters to Edwina Currie. It should prove the perfect family giggle.

Venue 239, The Street, 2b Picardy Place, EH1 3JT
August 7-14, 17-27, 2.45pm for 50 mins

Suitable for all ages

Improv & Spoken Word

Back in January, I highlighted the woeful lack of family content as part of the London International Mime Festival and Edinburgh is no exception. One consolation is that at least what’s on offer is under the banner of ‘Pay What You Feel’. Written and performed by Claire Cogan with original music by Jonathan Todd, Bump should inspire little ones into thinking about befriending those noises in the night that give you a fright. More sleep all round zzzzz.

Venue 40, Quaker Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace, EH1 2JL
August 9-13, 1.15pm for 25 mins

Suitable for children age 3-8

The Harry and Chris Show
Having been performing together since their school days, Harry’s Baker’s award-winning words combine with Chris Read’s jazz/pop/funk musical stylings to deliver a show rich in wordplay and songs from their debut EP ‘Whaddyawannado’.

Venue 100, Pilgrim, 3 Robertsons Close, EH1 1LY
August 6-16, 18-27, 1.45pm for 1 hr
Suitable for all ages


The Listen Inn
Award-winning writer and performer Vickie Holden presents three of her favourite stories in 45 minutes storytelling sessions that are packed with fun, music, poetry, lots of laughs and a whole host of characters. A great chance for big and little ones to relax and grab some collective downtime.

Venue 415, Natural Food Kafe 55 Clerk Street, EH8 9JQ
August 6-27, 11.45am for 45 mins
Suitable for children age 0-11

Exhibitions galore!

Far too many to list here and outside of what is going on in the side shows, Edinburgh will be packed to the rafters with free exhibitions across a plethora of venues including mesmerising suspensions by major artists such as Damián Ortega, as well as interesting murals and craft shows.

Are you visiting Edinburgh Fringe with your family?
Tweet me your best picks @pippye and maybe we could tweet up!

New Switch House turns on a more family-friendly Tate

It’s been 12 long years since Tate Modern trustees agreed a new extension to the building, following unprecedented visitor numbers since its opening in 2000. Finally, new Tate Modern complete with its magnificent Switch House extension (designed by Herzog & de Meuron), opens to the public on Friday, yet Arts Aloud was lucky enough to get a cheeky sneak preview for you yesterday.

“But we all loved old Tate Modern!” I hear you say. Very true. So what should we expect from new Tate Modern? Well it’s even more family friendly for a start – music to my ears. Here’s how:

Even more space 

The new Switch House extension has increased the size of Tate Modern by 60%. More space means less stress for visiting parents, (big tick), but the increased space has also transformed the gallery into a variety of exciting new spaces, all designed to bring about more experiential and performance art (which we know are a firm favourite with fidgety younger visitors).

The Wow factor

Right at the top of the new 10-storey Switch House is a free viewing platform with 360 degree views across London, offering uninterrupted views of The Shard, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Walkie-Talkie building, a huge stretch of The Thames. You name it, it’s in this picture-postcard. A brilliant first lesson in London’s fabulous skyline for budding architects.

The Turbine Hall takes centre-stage

Aside from being the space where those visiting with children can take a breather, the Turbine Hall has always been the main event space. Expect to find even more unusual events and encounters here, such as the choral celebration of Tate Modern by 500 people from over 20 choirs this weekend. The addition of the neighbouring ‘Tanks’ at the base of the Switch House makes for a subterranean wonderland dedicated to live art, installation and film.

Galleries, collections and artist rooms

As well as the usual free collections which have been re-hung across the two sites, there are galleries and artist rooms to die for! Galleries with giant spiders (Level 4 – Louise Bourgeois), galleries with beaches and live parrots (Level 3 – Hélio Oiticica), galleries with suspended walk-through pavilions (Level 2 – Cristina Iglesias) and even galleries with real beds! (Level 2 – Ricardo Basbaum). There is also the new Start Gallery – a dedicated space for families and young people offering an introduction to modern and contemporary art. Personally, I was expecting more from this space in which even well-known favourites such as Henri Matisse felt a bit flat. If you weren’t old enough to do the activities and didn’t have a teacher or guide in tow, i’m pretty sure most children would be in and out in five minutes. It is, however, rescued by a brilliant installation by Olafur Eliasson which better supports Tate’s mission to bring art to life for a wider audience.

Have your say at the Tate Exchange 

Generously, the entire 5th floor of the Switch House has been given over to this ‘open experiment’ which will invite over 50 organisations to participate in Tate Modern’s creative process through events and on-site projects. Organisations will range from charities to universities, healthcare trusts and radio stations but all with a view to using art as a way of addressing wider issues in the world and creating a drop-in space for you to share your two-penneth’s worth.

And if this isn’t enough, the gallery is sticking two additional family ‘stakes’ in the ground! Firstly they are inviting 3000 school children from across the UK to preview on Thursday with Bob and Roberta Smith, then they are allowing children and families to completely take over this weekend (18th and 19th June), with choreographer Aya Kobayashi and sound artist Dan Scott encouraging visitors to explore using unique audio soundtracks. There’s also a range of pick-up activities and daily activities and make & do’s such as Paper Aesthetics; a chance to create your own mini model of the new Switch House building, adding to a growing collection over the course of each day.

Without a doubt, new Tate Modern is absolutely magnificent, an assault on the senses and an emporium of arts fun in the broadest sense. It is worth stressing, however, that although the space is very much now the domain of immersive and experiential art forms, there are still some areas where you will need to exercise caution. In the galleries for example, not all of the exhibits are well-marked by restrictive lines (such as Bourgeois’ giant spider) yet you absolutely can’t walk through or under this piece. Confusingly in the neighbouring gallery the suspended pavilion is fair game. This swap and change between ‘come and play’ and ‘stay away’ can make it a nervy navigation for parents, so check in with every gallery attendant on the rules of engagement before you play.

With such a huge space to navigate and lots of impromptu bits going on, you will also need to plan your visit carefully. Tate’s website is comprehensive, but isn’t great for search, so take some time to peruse the £1 map and if you can pick up the handy opening weekend guide (found in Time Out yesterday) then hold onto it tight! One thing is for sure – whether you randomly potter or mission-tick each gallery, new Tate Modern is sure to be an even bigger day out than it ever was before.


New Tate Modern opens to the public on Friday 17th June (10am-10pm) followed by an opening weekend of events and activities. 

Bankside, London SE1 9TG

Admission free, although featured exhibitions carry a charge

See website for details and performance times

To infinity and beyond: Kusama is proving a firm favourite for families

Having driven us dotty with her giant obliteration room in Tate Modern 4 years ago, Yayoi Kusama has chosen to keep things a little more intimate for her latest exhibition which opened last week at the Victoria Miro gallery.

If you’re after colourful paintings abound with eyes, faces and other abstractions, then it’s the Mayfair site you’re after. We were keen, however, to rekindle our romance with pumpkins, having previously fallen in love with their big bronze brothers.

We had to (excitedly) ring the bell to gain entry to the cosy Wharf Road site. Leaving our buggy folded in the small gift shop within Gallery I (where original Kusama ‘souvenirs’ start at £10 for a badge) we headed upstairs starting with the brand new pint-sized and perfectly polished bronze pumpkins. So cute you could just want to collect them up and cuddle them (but please advise against it).

Here we explored the first of three mirrored rooms created especially for this exhibition. For 30 seconds we were treated to infinite black and yellow pumpkins extending from the small space, leaving us desperate to stay for longer and wander the fields and paths that emerged between them.

Back down on the ground floor, a minute in the Chandelier of Grief room provided an odd sensation of falling through the floor, yet my eldest seemed more concerned about our entrapment, than the dazzling lights surrounding us. We steadied ourselves and headed outside into the pretty garden.

The garden – now seemingly extended by the mirrored exterior of Where the Lights in My Heart Go, has been home to Kusama’s Narcissus Garden for some time, yet now this sparkly sensation contributes to throwing light into the holes of infinity room number three, creating a universe of twinkly stars, bursting through a clear night sky.

Our last stop was to follow the staggering staircase up to Gallery II (there is a lift if you need it), home to a host of magnificent infinity nets – canvases which capture the artist’s continued obsession with multiplying dots. Blown away by the detail, my youngest stood uncomfortably close. The gallery attendant was unusually relaxed, but I was keen for her to view it from a greater distance, especially given the work was apparently reminiscent of Kusama’s childhood hallucinations. What better excuse to move her on than to reach the beautifully humble Pumpkin canvas at the end. A fantastic spot to plop down with a scrap of paper or a sketch book and pay homage to Kusama’s lifelong love through her very own work of art.

Although this current exhibition lacks the scale of the original Tate show, its subject and presentation certainly feels right at home in this unpretentious neighbourhood gallery. It’s high impact, it’s bitesize and unbelievably, it’s free – providing a winning combination for visiting families liable to bail at any time. It’s unsurprising that the team at Wharf Road might feel slightly unprepared for the attention they have been receiving from family visitors. Yes, there is no on-site cafe or baby changing facilities, and no step-free access to the upper-tier of Gallery I, but the relaxed expanse of space and friendly team are going out of their way to ensure families enjoy the work of this world class artist, from the infinity rooms and beyond.

Yayoi Kusama is on at all 3 Victoria Miro galleries until 30th July 2016
Open Tues- Saturday 10am-6pm, closed on Sunday, by appointment only on Monday.
Nearest tube Angel or Old Street (note: neither have lift access)
See website for gallery locations
Admission free