Quick and Fun Things to Do Between Edinburgh Fringe Shows

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Posters on Board Near Gilded Balloon and Underbelly

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is nearly upon us for another year – where does the time go? In fact, time is all too precious when you’re at the Fringe, and it can feel as though you need to be a logistics expert to pack as much into your day as possible.

However, taking a breather in between shows doesn’t have to involve lurking in the nearest Starbucks. Those tiny bits of free time can be maximised by doing something fun, unusual and also cheap.

Teviot Place Turkish restaurant overlooking George Square with colourful decor
Not all restaurants have a view of a giant purple cow.

Dine student-style in Southside – 30 mins

Nearby venues: Underbelly Med Quad (V302), BBC@Potterow (V25), Assembly George Square Theatre (V8).

Fuel up before showtime with a meal at one of the student-friendly – read budget-friendly – cafes lining the streets nearby. Enjoy a liquid lunch of a different kind at Union of Genius (8 Forrest Road), the city’s first soup cafe, which serves six monthly seasonal options and a range of daily specials, alongside gorgeous artisan bread and coffee.Most of its menu is gluten-free and vegan too, and even the packaging is compostable.

For a different setting, head to Olly Bongo’s (1 Teviot Place) – the rubbish name means many people overlook this place, but it’s a cosy and affordable place to eat between shows. I normally go for baklava and a huge pot of Turkish coffee, but there’s a full Turkish and British menu to enjoy.

Find your new favourite book seller – 30 minutes

Nearby venues: St John’s (V202) for Old Town Bookshop, Dragonfly (V63) for Armchair Books, Laughing Horse @ The Blind Poet (V271) for Word Power.

There are plenty of quirky bookshops close to Fringe venues – not surprising when you consider Edinburgh is ‘the city of literature’. The Old Town Bookshop (8 Victoria Street) is an antique book lover’s dream, whilst Armchair Books (72-74 West Port) sells itself with descriptions like this: ‘ Our overburdened shelves groan like masts in a squall, our threadbare and quasi-oriental rugs may distractingly catch the eye or foot’. Yes please.

Alternatively, visit the very independent Word Power (43-45 West Nicholson Street), which is acting as a venue in itself. Leave enough browsing time: you’ll need it.

Beautiful souvenirs and gifts on sale in Edinburgh boutique on Cockburn Street.
Nautical but nice gifts in Old Town Context.

Discover all things Scottish, retro and quirky – 10 mins

Nearby venues: The Jinglin’ Geordie (V242), The Inn on the Mile (V258), Appletree Writers at the Whole Works (V344).

The super-friendly Old Town Context (42-44 Cockburn Street) is one of my favourite shops in Edinburgh. It’s a great hunting ground for souvenirs, but also for treating yourself.

Expect to find anything from ships in bottles and gorgeous clocks to quirky Scottish postcards, mugs and prints by much-loved illustrator Iain McIntosh, whose subjects include Alexander McCall Smith, the Proclaimers and the art of the deep-fried Mars Bar. Oh, and just try to resist the tempting sweet-studded chocolate bars handmade in Kinross by Laura’s Chocolates.

Explore Calton Hill – 30 minutes

Nearby venues: Cafe Camino (V65), Gilded Balloon at the Edinburgh Playhouse (V59Bb), Thistle King James Hotel (V438).

It might not have the prestige of Arthur’s Seat (a massive dormant volcano that’s a few miles’ walk from the city centre), but Calton Hill boasts some fantastic views and is less of a trek, so it’s easy to fit in between shows. You may also recognise it from the film One Day.

Look out for key sights like the acropolis, the two observatories and Nelson’s monument – all good subjects for Instagram shots, and with their own interesting back-stories. If you’re lucky enough to see the Festival Fireworks at the end of August, this is the place to be, giving a great vantage point for the night’s entertainment.

Ethical coffee shop in Edinburgh which employs homeless people - interior view with world map seen here
Social Bite has strong ethics and stands out from other cafes on Rose Street.

Buy a suspended coffee for a stranger – 5 mins

Nearby venues: Chiquito (V294), Royal Over-Seas League (V19), Spotlites (V278).

Help brighten the day of someone less fortunate with this scheme at Edinburgh’s Social Bite cafe (131 Rose Street, also 89 Shandwick Place). All you have to do is pay the server for a suspended coffee or snack as well as your own order. Then they print off a receipt for a homeless person to redeem their free Fairtrade coffee, sandwich or soup, donated by you.

It takes very little thought or time, but makes stopping for a cuppa that bit more worthwhile. 25% of Social Bite’s staff were formerly homeless, and the company’s aim is to fund social projects with any profits from its four stores.

Support local farmers and food businesses – 20 minutes

Nearby venues: Traverse Theatre (V15), artSpace@StMarks (V125), Silk (V444).

Every Saturday between 9am-2pm you can catch a local food market just moments from the Royal Mile and Princes Street. Castle Terrace plays host to growers, farmers, brewers and bakers selling seasonal produce, many with an organic or ethical twist. Grab some fresh ingredients to cook up a storm in self-catering accommodation, or pick up a quick lunch if you’re staying in a hotel or hostel.

Knitwear and soap are also on sale here, so leave some room in your suitcase for hauling things home. If you can’t catch the market, head to the Valvona & Crolla Scottish Food Hall in Jenner’s Department Store (owned by House of Fraser), on Princes Street, for a flavour of local food.

Historic quote about promises seen on wall in Scotland near Holyrood
One of the memorable quotes inscribed in stone slabs in front of the Scottish Parliament.

Give your verdict on the Scottish Parliamentary Building – 10 minutes

Nearby venues: Our Dynamic Earth (V315), Kilderkin (V227), Acheson House (V351).

It was almost as controversial as the tram network in terms of budget, time and project management (erm, a three year delay and a cost of over £400 million…) but the Scottish Parliament’s relatively new home has won several architecture awards since its opening in 2004. Designed by Spanish architect Enric Miralles, the building was dreamt up to mirror Arthur’s Seat and the rocky volcanic landscape of the city; it also uses renewable energy.

You can take free themed tours on non-sitting days – check the Visit Parliament website for details – and there’s a free exhibition of Michael Peto’s political photography until 22nd August. But when time is tight during the Edinburgh Fringe, just check out the views and read the inspirational quotes carved into Scottish stone on the Canongate Wall.

Do you have a suggestion to add to the list? Let me know.