Edinburgh in August?
April 12, 2013 2:58 PM   Subscribe

We are headed to the UK in late July and plan to go to Scotland for about 9 days in early August. I just realized that Edinburgh will be in the midst of its festival season in August and my partner is now thinking maybe it will be unbearably crowded and expensive, and we should avoid it on this trip. Is Edinburgh doable in August if you don't particularly like crowds? Are there ways to lessen the pain?

Tickets are already purchased, so we can't change the dates that we go, but we're only beginning to plan our itinerary (pretty much all we know so far is that we want to spend a few days on the Orkney Islands--history! Vikings! Skara Brae!). The more I read about Edinburgh, the more amazing it sounds (and I wouldn't mind seeing a few Fringe shows), but if we can't get a room or a table in a restaurant, it may be too much hassle. Can crowds at tourist sites be avoided by getting there before they open? Should we stay in Glasgow and do a day trip or two to Edinburgh? Any advice from pros or residents would be much appreciated. Thank you!
posted by WorkingMyWayHome to Travel & Transportation around Edinburgh, Scotland (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I was in Edinburgh during Fringe last year, and loved it. I booked a room two days before I got there in the middle of the festival at a hostel and it was fine. The Royal Mile was crowded, but I spent lots of time outside there and didn't have too much difficulty finding a table or room.

I would HIGHLY recommend spending an afternoon (or better, a day if you can find the time!!) hiking Arthur's seat. It was my favorite part of Edinburgh and was a great way to escape the crowds on the mile. Have a great time and feel free to memail me if you want further details on what I did on my trip!!
posted by snowysoul at 3:03 PM on April 12, 2013

Had the EXACT same problem about four years ago, except we were on our honeymoon. Bottom line is it was fine. We were able to find good accommodations at a relatively reasonable price (though we had to take a bus into the city centre and the room was still kind of expensive, but so what... it WAS festival season, after all) and ate at lots of good restaurants with a little planning - such as making reservations the day before or early the same day. I'm not much of a crowd person either, but it wasn't THAT big of a deal. The Royal Mile was still walkable and enjoyable, but with far more people around at popular hours - not unlike being in NYC or Piiccadilly in London. Put it this way... we went all over the UK & Ireland on that trip and Edinburgh was the highlight, by far. My wife, who hates crowded cities, loved it. So, go and enjoy the most beautiful city in Northern Europe. You'll have a blast.

I am insanely jealous.
posted by Rewind at 3:09 PM on April 12, 2013

I grew up in Edinburgh and spent three consecutive summers there performing at the Fringe. The crowds are doable but walking down the mile and anywhere close to the big venues will be pretty irritating as you will be barraged with flyers. The population quadruples during the festival. However, the best tonic for that is to see some wonderful theatre. I would recommend booking early for a show at the Traverse, plus one or two well regarded pieces at the Pleasance or Bedlam (my fave venue) a comedy act you'd like and one play which some poor actor has given you a free ticket for (even if it's awful). It doesn't take long to get to more tranquil places like Arthur's Seat, the meadows, the water of Leith, Calton Hill, New Town etc. and those places are surprisingly and startlingly quiet compared to the crowds in the Old Town and the Castle. Just a couple of suggestions: book in advance if you want to go to any top restaurants, book your accomodation now and take extra care with your belongings as there are a lot of pickpockets in the city.
posted by dumdidumdum at 3:39 PM on April 12, 2013

I live in Edinburgh, and as a resident you really notice the difference - the city's population doubles (on preview - not quadruples!) during August and the buses are suddenly crowded with people who don't know where they're going or how to pay.

But I actually suspect that if you were visiting from elsewhere you wouldn't particularly notice, outside key locations (eg. Royal Mile, Pleasance). It's certainly no busier during August than Central London is all year round.

For peaceful interludes, seconding Arthur's Seat, or the Botanic Gardens (probably busy-ish), Corstorphine Hill, go to the beach at Portobello or jump on a train out to the quaint seaside town of North Berwick (though that's busy on a sunny weekend... but worth it).
posted by penguin pie at 3:58 PM on April 12, 2013

Oh, also - the first week of the Festival is usually a bit quieter. Second and third are the really crazy ones, fourth is quieter again.
posted by penguin pie at 4:00 PM on April 12, 2013

Fortunate timing for you. The festival is magical. I would certainly go again if given the opportunity.
posted by zagyzebra at 4:41 PM on April 12, 2013

I live there, it is fine, as a relocated Englishman I can tell you that Edinburgh is at its best during the Festival. The crowds are part of the fun as half of them seem to be in stage costume going to or from their shows, queuing for a bus behind Zulu warriors carrying drums and their grocery carrier bags is something that only seems to happen here. I hate it when the Festival ends, the city becomes grey and dour again.

Book accomodation as early as possible (now is good) or get accomodation somewhere you can get to by train, somewhere like North Queenferry in Fife will give you a scenic journey across the Forth and the train will dump you minutes away from all the action.
posted by epo at 2:05 AM on April 13, 2013

Another Edinburgher here - I'd suggest that you're probably better off staying in the city itself rather than getting the train in from somewhere further out. That's simply because if there is one place that really amplifies the busyness of the Festival it is Waverley Station (the train station in the centre of town). It's a great location for a station and you'd only be passing through briefly each time but if you'd rather not be starting and ending your days with an extra helping of crowdedness then it's perhaps better avoided.

Overall though, the crowds really aren't too bad. Yeah, you can get a bit bogged down on the Royal Mile or the Mound but it's usually fairly escapable simply by walking a short distance.
posted by MUD at 12:51 PM on April 13, 2013

Thanks, everybody, for your help--it is much appreciated! We will definitely go to Edinburgh for a few days and are really looking forward to it. It sounds like it will be fine, considering we aren't going to be doing much shopping and love to do outdoorsy things. We'll plan on climbing Arthur's Seat, maybe going to the Zoo (red pandas!), and seeing a few shows, in addition to the Castle and other historic-type stuff. We are working on finalizing plans and will book a hotel soon.

Thank you all for sharing your love of Edinburgh with me. I'm glad I asked the question.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:04 AM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

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