7 Step Guide to First-Time Edinburgh Fringe for Families

Last year’s Edinburgh Fringe was momentous for me. Alongside putting together my definitive Best of Free Edinburgh Fringe for Families, for the first time ever since being footloose and child-free, I decided to let my children (aged 5 and 3) in on the fun, organising a week-long break to take in Edinburgh Fringe. I entered into this decision completely accepting that our experience might be unrecognisable from what we’d enjoyed in the past, yet contrary to my assumptions, it was one of the most memorable family holidays we have ever had. It wasn’t, however, without its challenges. What I learned forms an invaluable guide for those visiting this year with children.

1. Book early to avoid bankruptcy

If you’re reading this planning to visit this year, and you haven’t yet booked flights or accommodation, it’s likely you’ve already missed the boat. The cheapest flights are on sale up to a year in advance, but booking in the sale at the end of the year prior, can usually yield good results. We paid approx £400 return for 2 adults and 2 children (including seat selection) from London City to Edinburgh with Flybe. Easyjet and Ryanair also provide affordable alternatives from a range of UK airports, and occasionally British Airways muster up a bargain. Alongside travel, the price of accommodation in Edinburgh can swell by more than 30% during the fringe, with family options limited, depending on how comfy you want to be. Airbnb is obviously a great option, but ensure you’re centrally located or the daily commute could really take its toll. We stayed in Holyrood Aparthotel, just a stone’s throw from The Pleasance, offering all the comfort and services of a hotel (daily cleaning, concierge, safe, free wi-fi, family friendly) but with the flexibility of self catering, saving us on lunches out and evening meals. Our 2 bed apartment with fully equipped kitchen cost approximately £1100 for 5 nights, but there are less glam options from around £850. It was great to have a base to escape when we needed to, and the kids settled in a treat. It was our home from home.

2. Never underestimate the power of planning

If you think you can just rock up, pick up a programme and point and shoot, you’re wrong. Edinburgh’s Fringe programme is immense and unless you take the time and effort to familiarise yourself with what’s on offer for you, you’ll be well and truly bamboozled. Far from sapping the life out of spontaneity, creating an activity wish list by day and time was a brilliant way of wading through the haze. We still embraced so many of the flyers waved in our faces, but it enabled us to be much more nimble. By having plenty of back-up, we never missed anything that we really wanted to see, and there was no confused panic if events were cancelled or didn’t live up to expectations. For planning, the Fringe website has come a long way in terms of usability, with the range of performances well categorised, easy to find and book. There is, however, definitely still some value in rooting through the many pages of the pre-ordered printed programme with a highlighter pen to choose your goals. Similar planning principles should also be applied to any eateries that you are keen to try. Historic Edinburgh’s restaurants and cafés generally lack space, especially during the busy festival season, so always carry a picnic in the day and book ahead for popular dinner venues, such as yummy pizza pick Amarone, beautifully housed in an old banking hall.

3. It’s not all child’s play

When it comes to choosing what to see and do, there’s no right or wrong. Edinburgh has everything from Shakespeare for Kids and science shows, to mad cap magic. There’s even a kids pub quiz! My husband and I did our own shortlist based on what we liked, what the kids might like and what was new and unusual, then we merged it all together. Visiting with children also doesn’t have to mean you’re limited to the children’s shows. There are almost 800 performances classified as ‘U’ or ‘Universally Suitable For All’ with only 131 of these listed as children’s shows. Providing they aren’t in an unsuitable venue (e.g. age restricted pub), don’t stipulate age, are at a time that works for you and aren’t too lengthy for fidgety bottoms, you can seek out something for you all to enjoy. Perhaps (if you need to) pre-book one or two things that you know the kids will love, so that you have some guaranteed big-hitters. For example Les Petits’ First Hippo On The Moon by David Walliams is running for the majority of the festival at The Pleasance, and can be booked in advance through the Edinburgh Fringe website. Bagging a dead-cert might leave the door open for you all to experiment elsewhere.

4. Free, can be stress free

The beauty of ‘free’ is the right to bail at any time, without loss of money or more importantly, loss of face! This year’s programme has well over 100 free performances, activities and events under the ‘U’ classification, 17 of which are children’s shows. The PBH Free Fringe is a great place to start, as is the Free Festival, yielding everything from children’s theatre such as Blue Bird, Ceilidh Kids dance lessons for children and adults and the (almost) educational Science Magic. There’s also free fringe music every day in the glass-roofed hall of the National Museum of Scotland, plus don’t miss its stunning views from the recently refurbished roof terrace. Virgin Money’s Fringe on the Royal Mile is also a brilliant place to watch free previews of hundreds of Fringe shows, making it a great place to discover gems beyond the children’s programme.

5. Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day

You might be on holiday and you might be at Edinburgh, but avoid the temptation to pack out your agenda more than you’d ever dream of at home. Try to cluster your activities into one or two neighbourhoods, to avoid trawling back and forth across the city (as we did when we were child-free). This is where your wish list from Step 2 will serve you well, giving you a chance to stroll and take impromptu stops, exploring the many hidden gems of this beautiful city. There are also some great hubs that you can head to if you’re at a loose end, such as The Pleasance Courtyard, where there’s always craft activities on offer for visiting children.

6. Be prepared to ditch the buggy

Although the Georgian New Town is more accessible, the Medieval Old Town causes havoc with any stroller, with parents having to endure the stress of busy, narrow pavements, whilst little ones experience bone-shaker sensations generated by the prevalence of historic cobbles. Laden with an almost unusable buggy board and having not brought along a toddler-carrier, we had to resort to carrying our youngest quite a bit. Yet another great reason to be realistic with your daily quest.

7. Take a Break

If you’ve made it here to Step no. 7, you should have done everything you need to sit back and relax, as much as you can when on holiday with children.  As with any city break (especially this one during festival time) it’s busy and it’s hectic, and it can take its toll, especially on very young family members. The good news is that Edinburgh’s parks are plentiful. Whether the wilds of Holyrood Park (the gateway to King Arthur’s Seat) or the brilliant children’s playground at The Meadows, there’s plenty of break-out space for children of all ages to let loose. Less than an hour from the city by bus, beautiful beaches are also abound, such as the swathes of beach-combing sand at Portobello. This Victorian seaside suburb has bags of character, pretty beachfront cafés and more recently, a few chichi shops, making it a great option for an escape. Once at the beach, all that remains is to give yourself a huge pat on the back for clawing back your old life, whilst introducing your children to one of the everlasting giants of the arts scene.

Edinburgh Fringe runs from the 4th to 28th August. 

Share your Edinburgh highs and lows this summer by tagging me on Instagram or Twitter and as they say in Scotland; Whit’s fur ye’ll no go past ye, or whatever is meant to happen to you, will happen to you! Good luck and happy hols!

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School’s Out: 6 arts activities here for the whole summer

Can you believe we’re a week into the school holidays already? If like us, you’re suffering a severe lack of forward planning and the dates of your desired fun aren’t quite matching up, here’s 6 arts activities that you can enjoy pretty much anytime over the next few weeks and beyond. Perfect for odd days, dog days and down days…

Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love

Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XX
Until 29th August 2016
Admission Free (Fees apply to specific shows)
Aside from ticketed family shows on offer such as Air Play or nearby London Wonderground’s Jungle Book, there are still plenty of free activities for the drop-in visitor to enjoy. This year Jeppe Hein (creator of the magnificent water installation Appearing Rooms) has devised some artistic reinventions of the park bench. In the spirit of the festival, Modified Social Benches challenges the amount of space that people feel necessary to set between themselves and others when sitting and aims to make the art of sitting a more cosy (or conscious) exercise. As well as his glorious fountains, these unusual benches will be on-site for the whole of the summer, along with the ever-popular riverfront beach and of course the opportunity for little ones to marvel at the world-famous skatepark and spectacular street art that skirts this, one of London’s finest promenades.

Edinburgh Fringe 
Various venues across Edinburgh
5th August to 29th August 2016
See website for details of admission fees
It’s little more than a week to go until the largest arts festival in the world takes over the Scottish capital and this year’s family programme seems bigger, broader and better than ever. But just because you don’t live in Edinburgh or have plans to travel up for the festival, it doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on all that’s on offer. Famed for being a test-bed for new artistic talent, so many of the fantastic shows featuring as part of the programme can be found touring the rest of the UK – either before or after their Edinburgh stint. Check in with your local theatre to see what’s new in August and beyond. Due in London from the end of August, Upswing’s Bedtime Stories, for example, is sure to be one of Edinburgh’s best summer exports!


The BFG Dream Jars Trail 

Various locations across London 
Until 31st August 2016
Admission Free
It wouldn’t be summer without a charity art trail now would it? We never tire of these trails as a fantastic way to explore London, entertain the kids and raise awareness of some very worthy charities. This summer, as Steven Spielberg’s magnificent cinematic production graces our screens, an accompanying Dream Jar Trail is taking over the city – bringing to life the dream stories of well-known celebrities and artists, through the ‘splendiferous’ sculptures contained in every one of the 50 jars. There are 4 different trails to follow, taking in some of the most interesting areas of town and at the end of the summer the jars will be auctioned off to raise money for Save the Children, as well as Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity.

Serpentine Pavilion and Summer Houses
Serpentine Galleries, Kensington Gardens, London W2 3XA
Until 9th October 2016
Admission Free
The annual Serpentine Pavilion arrived in Kensington Gardens last month, this year featuring four magnificent Summer House friends. This year’s commissions contain the work of architects who have yet to build a permanent building here in the UK and visitors can enjoy their unusual offer of shade for the entire summer holiday and long into the autumn. Find out more about our recent visit. The galleries are also hosting a family weekend on 20th August.

The Playground Project
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, South Shore Road, Gateshead NE8 3BA
Until 30th October 2016
Admission Free
Like most of the UK’s major arts institutions, Baltic is continuing its regular family programme over the holidays but this summer’s must-see exhibition steps outside the comfort zone of these controlled activities. Celebrating a bygone era of children’s playgrounds which until the 1980’s provided an opportunity to explore away from watchful eyes, the centrepiece of The Playground Project is the now (almost) defunked Lozziwurm. Designed in the 1970s by Swiss sculptor Yvan Pestalozzi, this tangle of pipes reinstates the freedoms originally intended by architects and urban designers before an army of risk averse authorities took over, and by doing so poses some serious questions about how far today’s health and safety precautions are stifling our children’s ability to take risks.

London Bridge City Summer Festival 
More London Riverside complex between London Bridge & Tower Bridge
Until 31st October 2016
Admission Free
It might have started under the damp squib of June’s relentless rain, but this free festival is back this year bigger and longer than before. Aside from the grown up activities of an evening, there are plenty of public participation activities such as Massaoke – the live band singalong sensation, a Jitter-Bug competition and a plethora of live new music to enjoy, especially during the Rio Olympics in August. Running concurrently is Revealed 2016, a summer-long series of art installations across the area, which launches with free performances, workshops and music in Potters Fields Park. Don’t miss the family day on Saturday 30th July which includes a host of circus performances and craft activities.

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+


Theatre

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


Comedy

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

Bump
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


Storytelling

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!

Would families give Edinburgh Fringe a rave review?

The Journey: Interactive installation on Grassmarket

The Journey: Interactive installation on Grassmarket

I’ve just returned from the opening weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe, but contrary to my Arts Aloud mission, I actually decided this year to go child-free. Aside from it being a fantastic opportunity for myself and my husband to spend some well-earned time alone, we did also have it in mind that it might be worth scoping it out for a possible return next year with the kids in tow.

As the largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Fringe promises an ‘open-access festival’, a festival that contains something for absolutely everyone, fuelled by the creativity of the many individuals who have poured their passion into their work, and brought it to the city to share with the millions of people who attend each year.

As we leapt from venue to venue, mixing up superb theatre with live music, unusual dance and movement with close-to-the-bone comedy, we realised that above all else, it certainly wouldn’t be possible to embrace the fringe with the same intensity that we had been doing. With two children under 5, it’s unlikely that we would want to fill the day with more than one or two ‘appointments to see’, but volume aside, I wondered, could we still ‘experience’ the Fringe in the same way, if the children had come along with us?

This year’s Fringe boasts well over 100 shows that are specifically for children, whether re-telling of family favourites or original work. In addition, the rest of the schedule is well sign-posted with icons comparable to film classifications, designed to indicate audience suitability, and providing parents with enough information for them to decide whether to expose their children to some of the more grown-up aspects of the Fringe. Although we thought that this was a great idea, we did have some reservations about how you can enforce the recommended ratings, particularly with regard to some of the more improvised aspects of comedy and theatre. It is also worth considering the very real lack of access to some of the venues involved; particularly in the Old Town with its narrow passageways and steep winding staircases, typical of the buildings that populate Edinburgh’s historic centre.

In spite of this, I was given several reminders that one of the most attractive things about the Fringe for families, is that it exists far beyond the pages of the directory listings and the seated shows. It’s live on the streets of Edinburgh, in every corner of the city that you visit, providing hundreds of alternative activities that bring the festival to life and create some welcome opportunities to take a break from the schedule and to kick-back and relax.

Courtesy of a range of brand sponsors, St. Andrew’s Square Gardens, is one of many of the city squares that have been transformed into a relaxed social space; awash with deck chairs and food stalls, live (but unimposing) music and even table football and ping-pong. For those who prefer to keep moving, the West End Fair was a really interesting space for a stroll, featuring hundreds of makers, artists and designers exhibiting their latest creations, and the Fringe Schools Poster Exhibition at the Museum of Childhood was a great way to inspire enthusiastic scribblers through the work of other young artists.

At Grassmarket, a historic marketplace just a stone’s throw from a whole host of Fringe venues, we chanced upon a really exciting piece of interactive installation by Diana Bell, with Daniel Balanescu and Helen Edwards. The Journey asks passers-by to share something about their life, where they come from or where they were going by picking up a small wooden house, and adding it to the installation, wherever they felt it should feature. Older children were really enjoying sharing stories of their home-towns, whilst the younger ones loved walking in and out of this imaginary village that was emerging from the pavement, moving houses around and making it their own.

In addition, even the Festival stalwart The Pleasance decided to get in on the family friendly act this year by adding a ‘kidzone’ to their already popular courtyard. And all of this before you even consider that Edinburgh is a world-class city, and like any world-class city, it is home to an abundance of year-round sights and activities suitable for families.

Where better to start than Edinburgh’s imposing Castle, which can be seen from pretty much anywhere in the city, and is a gift to the imagination of every young visitor. Leading down from the castle, at any time of year, it would be impossible to walk the cobbles of the Royal Mile without stopping to watch a busker, an acrobat or a magician, in the same way not a single visitor could pass the adorable and infamous Greyfriars Bobby, without stopping to rub his now gold and shiny nose! Add in Edinburgh Zoo, the Botanic Gardens and the hundreds of museums and galleries where kids can get hands on, and you should have exhausted children, happy parents and a good night sleep for all! And yes, it might be more difficult to do too much in the evening, but like us, it might be worth considering teaming up with friends and taking it in turns to continue the fun late into the night.

All things considered, I would say our plans to return to the Edinburgh Fringe with the children are firmly hatched, and I look forward to hearing from anybody who might have already put my plan for next year into action.

In the meantime, on the 16th August the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Society and Starcatchers, are hosting ‘Breaking Down Barriers’, a conversation to explore why early years arts are important and consider how they can make the Fringe more accessible for babies, toddlers and their adults. Sadly, I will not be in Edinburgh for this event, but I urge anyone who might be in Edinburgh at this time, with or without their children to go along, join the debate and share some of the outcomes with me. I am in contact with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Society and hope to be able to publish the minutes from this meeting here on Arts Aloud.

Until then, my self-indulgent top 3 from the Fringe this year are as follows:
1) Shame – Highly original production of spoken word, contemporary dance and hip-hop theatre exploring some of the shameful aspects and experiences of the creator’s life.
2) #MeetandTweet – Heart-warming story of Twitter’s influence on people and friendship, and a social experiment that turned into a global phenomenon.
3) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – If like me you found the film a little too weird and intense, then you will love this fantastic re-telling of a journey to the heart of the American Dream.

The Edinburgh Fringe runs from the 1st – 25th August.