Traversing Edinburgh's Fringe Festival With Kids
Find family-friendly tips for traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland.
Consider yourself very lucky if you’re heading to Edinburgh’s annual Fringe Festival. The fest runs from Aug 4–28. This year the art and performance festival celebrates its 70th anniversary. Every year the festival gets bigger and better, and 2017 promises to be no different.
The Fringe Fest is not just for kids. Edinburgh is a very family-friendly city, and so is its most popular annual event. Not all shows and performances are for all ages, but there are certainly many kid-friendly shows that may turn out to be the highlight of your trip. Peruse the Fringe website or program guide and you’ll find an assortment of music, magic, science, dance, animation, ballet, etc. Here's a sampling of some interactive shows for kids: Baby Loves Disco - a family dance party; the Bubble Show where every kid goes inside a bubble; a traditional Scottish dancing workshop; Opera for Bambinos - for the 6- to 18-month-old crowd. For older kids, you’ll find ghost tours and an interactive video-game comedy show.
Download the Fringe app. You can buy your tickets from the app and it’ll make planning much easier. Ticket prices range depending on performance. There are plenty of free shows for kids. On the website or from the app, you can search shows via date, price and age group, so you should be able to find something within your timeframe and budget. Some free shows do require tickets due to space limitations, so check the program guide.
If you do pick up a program guide, mark the key page that explains what all the codes and icons mean. It can be a little confusing. Each show listing is color coded and will give a list of performance dates, venue, length, genre, accessibility, etc. Kid-friendly shows are listed in green. Age group will be indicated by a U-shape green icon. And also listed will be whether there are two-for-one ticket offerings.
To get the two-for-one ticket deals, go to the Virgin Money Half-Price hut located at the Mound Precinct, in front of the National Galleries off Princes Street. Family-friendly street performances happen daily during the festival at the Mound Precinct and on High Street between Cockburn and George IV Bridge Streets. There is also an arts and crafts market at each of these locations.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo performs at the same time as the Fringe. Huge viewing stands are set up in front of Edinburgh Castle for a spectacular presentation by British military bands and military bands from all around the world. The performances are only in the evening, so it might be too late for the little ones. But the grand pomp and circumstance may leave older kids in awe. Tickets to the Military Tattoo sell out fast, so if you’re interested, book your tickets as soon as possible, prices start at 25 pounds each.
If you go by the Fringe Shop – it's a permanent fixture located at 180 High Street – buy the kids a Fringe chocolate bar. In true Willy Wonka style, 70 of the specially-made chocolate bars contain prize tickets (not sure if they’re golden or another color). Prizes include free hotel stays, meals and gift cards.
The city buses, Lothian, have special passes for the Fringe attendees. A family of five – two adults and up to three kids – can get a day pass for just 8 pounds 50 pence. Even if you’re not seeing the shows, that’s a great deal. Look into this if you’re heading out to see the Royal Yacht Britannia.
Edinburgh’s Old City is very hilly, many alleyways connect the different levels with steep sets of stairs. Lots of Fringe shows won’t admit latecomers, so, if you’re heading to a show, make sure to leave yourself and little ones plenty of time to climb what could be a three- to four-story staircase. On the map the venue may look as if it’s only a block or two away, but you need to consider the climb as well.
Dress for any type of weather. Edinburgh can go from warm and sunny to rainy and chilly in a matter of minutes. (This also make Scotland a great place to see rainbows.) Dress in layers and/or wrap a sweater around your waist.
Non-Fringe Things To Do With Kids (Besides the Castle)
If the weather does turn nasty, duck into the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street and George IV Bridge. The museum is free (as are all national museums in the United Kingdom - yay!) and there numerous exhibits the kids will enjoy. They’ll find dinosaurs in the natural history section and interactive games in the science and technology area. If you don’t mind a touch of macabre, make sure to see the Millennium clock tower chime at the top of the hour.
Another Edinburgh must-do for kids is Camera Obscura located on High Street, about 100 yards below Edinburgh Castle. Camera Obscura is an electric light show, science experiment, optical illusion and a magic show all under one roof. With six floors of hands-on exhibits, the whole family will be wowed and share a lot of laughs. A day ticket allows re-entry, so if your teens want to go back in the evening, there’s a pub a few doors down where the parents can enjoy some local music and a pint of Scottish ale.
If the kids need to time to run around, take them down to Princes Street Gardens. There is a large ferris wheel and at the west end of the park, by The Parish Church of St. Cuthbert, is a playground and a carousel.
Introduce your kids to the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the most loyal terrier dog in history. Legend has it that when Bobby’s master died, Bobby sat at his gravesite for 14 years waiting for him to return. When Bobby finally passed away, he was rewarded for his loyalty by being buried next to his master in Greyfriar’s Cemetery. The popular story is a famous children’s book and is available in many gifts shops in Edinburgh. A statue of Greyfriars Bobby sits near the cemetery at the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge by the National Museum of Scotland. Kids can rub Bobby’s nose for good luck.