EDINBURGH is not a cheap city at the best of times – last year it was the third most expensive in the UK behind London and Bath - but prices rise during August, when the population doubles with festival-goers, not to mention over 24,000 performers, all of them looking for a cheap bed.
Festival accommodation in Edinburgh is unavoidably expensive and (unless you’re planning to buy magnums of Champagne on a nightly basis) will be your biggest expense. But there are still bargains to be found, and a myriad of ways to save money in other areas: here are a few suggestions...
• At the time of writing there were still rooms to rent on excellent private rental site Air BnB from £25 and a few whole flats starting at £65 per night, but move quickly to snap them up. Gumtree had rooms to let from £180 per week and a few flats for the same price, although average weekly prices for flats were more like £500. Edinburgh University lets out its student accommodation rooms over the summer and prices for the festival period start from £51 per night for a single room in Pollock Halls. Alumni get 15 per cent discount.
• Edinburgh is stuffed with hostels and, if you can still find a bed in them, they’re definitely the cheapest in town, although prices do rise during the festival period. Hostelworld rounds up the main ones, and at the time of writing Caledonian Backpackers had dorm accommodation available in August from £26 per night; Budget Backpackers had private rooms for four available from £40 per night per person and dorm beds from £26, while Royal Mile Backpackers had dorm beds from £29.
• If the best you can do is stay outside the city centre this is no real hardship in Edinburgh as it’s not big and is served by the locally-owned, frequent and reliable Lothian Buses, who will take you anywhere you want to go for £1.50, or for £3.50 buy a Dayticket from the driver that allows unlimited journeys in one day. If you’re in it for the long haul a four week Ridacard gives unlimited journeys for £51, or for one week for £17. Be warned that taxis in Edinburgh are among the most expensive in the UK outside London and they don’t get any cheaper when they’re looping rounding tram works – plus evening tariffs kick in at 6pm.
• Red-Box Noodles is bang in the heart of Fringe-land on West Nicolson Street, a stone’s throw from the concentration of venues around Bristo Square including Assembly George Square, Udderbelly, The Gilded Balloon, Pleasance Dome and the BBC’s Potterrow venue. Build your own dinner by filling a box with your choice of noodles, meat, veg, sauce and extras for the bargain price of just over a fiver – and the portions are huge, saving money on the following morning’s breakfast.
• Hanam’s on Johnston Terrace is right in the thick of the action, just off the Royal Mile and George IV Bridge overlooking Victoria Street, and despite its enviably central location the prices are excellent. Serving authentic Middle Eastern and Kurdish cuisine and voted one of Britain’s top five Middle Eastern restaurants by the Telegraph, tapas-style small dishes start from £3.75 and there are mains for under £10 – plus it’s BYOB, and for another £10 you get a one hour shisha session.
• The cheapest option is, of course, the picnic – head to LIDL on Nicolson Street within striking distance of The Meadows and load up on unfeasibly cheap serrano ham, fruit, German chocolate and award-winning French goats cheese.
• The takeaway baked potato shops on Jeffrey Street and Cockburn Street, both just off the Royal Mile, do a roaring trade in August (and seem to be particularly beloved of comedians and performers), as does the cluster of greasy spoon-style cafés serving breakfast rolls and fry-ups around the foot of the Royal Mile at the crossroads of St Mary’s Street and Jeffrey Street, and for good reason – cheap yet delicious sustenance that you can eat while being entertained by the hoards of exhibitionists on the Mile.
• Oink Hog Roast on Victoria Street (you can’t miss it – it’s the window with the whole roasted pig in it) does no-nonsense pulled pork rolls topped with crackling with your choice of sage and onion, apple sauce, cheese sauce, chilli relish or haggis from just £2.60.
• The Original Mosque Kitchen (the unconnected Mosque Kitchen round the corner on Nicolson Square debates this originality but this one has been there longer and is part of the actual mosque) has become a festival staple - head to Edinburgh Central Mosque at 50 Potterrow and feast on a meal for two for under a tenner in the courtyard round the back. Curries are served on paper plates and served up from school canteen-style basins, the menu is limited, seating is communal and under a tarpaulin but the price is unbeatable, portions are generous, and the food is very good.
• For late night munchies head to Café Piccante chip shop at the top of Broughton Street, affectionately known as ‘techno chippy’ by the locals. It wouldn’t be a trip to Edinburgh without a fish supper slathered in salt and sauce, and at this one you get the entertainment for free thanks to the DJ churning out banging beats and the crowd he attracts – plus you save money on pricey club entry.
• A note on drinking – just about the only way to drink on the cheap in Edinburgh during the festival is to do it in a park, after a trip to an off-licence. For this, we suggest (again) The Meadows. Drink prices in venues tend to be astronomical, so if you insist on a chair to sit on while you imbibe despite your limited means, stick to pubs that are there year-round.
• This year there are no less than 713 free shows at the Fringe across all the genres and the Fringe office can give you details of all of them. The Blind Poet pub, next door to the Pear Tree and its huge beer garden, has been staging its own Free Edinburgh Fringe Festival for ten years, with a wealth of comedy shows for the non-wealthy. The Mound and the Royal Mile are the places to be to see the street performers that are as much a part of the Fringe as anyone on a stage. The Edinburgh International Festival’s closing fireworks on Sunday 1 September are an essential part of the Edinburgh experience – tickets are £12.50 and at time of writing were still available but watch them for free by joining the locals in climbing Calton Hill or congregating in Inverleith Park.
• The Royal Scottish Academy and the Scottish National Gallery on The Mound are a haven in the thick of the festival flurry and entry to both is free. As is entry to the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street, between South Bridge and George IV Bridge, which reopened in 2011 after a £47 million refurbishment, and is a particular godsend if you’re looking for ways to entertain children without forking out for more shows.
• Edinburgh has an embarrassment of green spaces in and around the city centre and a limited budget is a great excuse to make the most of them – kick back and escape festival fever in Princes Street Gardens, up Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park or at the Royal Botanic Gardens, or wander along the Water of Leith from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to The Shore where you can sip a well-earned pint by the water in the (relative) calm of Leith.