Each August, the Scottish city of Edinburgh hosts five—count ’em, five—major arts and culture festivals dedicated to the performing arts, the visual arts, books, and military bands.
By far the largest event is Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which launched in 1947 as an alternative to the Edinburgh International Festival (itself still going strong), with the offshoot eventually dwarfing the original to become what Playbill describes as “one of the most popular ticketed events in the world.”
The theater magazine reports that in 2023 Edinburgh Fringe hosted more than 3,500 different shows—dramas, musicals, comedy acts, operas, street performances, you name it—from 67 countries and sold over 2.4 million tickets.
And that’s just for Edinburgh Fringe. Note the overlapping dates for 2024’s festivals, each of which will have their own accompanying crowds:
• The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo: August 2–24
• Edinburgh International Festival: August 2–25
• Edinburgh Festival Fringe: August 2–26
• Edinburgh Art Festival: August 9–25
• Edinburgh International Book Festival: August 10–26
Given Edinburgh’s compact size, this yearly explosion of artsy activity causes, as you might imagine, a severe shortage of short-term accommodations in August. Consequently, if you’re planning to attend one of the city’s festivals in 2024, there’s really no such thing as too early when it comes to booking your stay in a hotel, vacation rental, B&B, or hostel.
To help ease the inevitable lodging scarcity next summer, Playbill itself is getting into the housing game, opening a temporary “floating hotel” aboard a chartered cruise ship docked in the port district of Leith, which is about two miles from the central city.
Ambassador Cruise Line’s Ambition vessel will serve as the Playbill FringeShip from August 8–15, 2024, smack dab in the middle of Edinburgh Fringe.
The ship can accommodate up to 1,300 people, who will not only have somewhere to stay during a full week of the festival but will also enjoy “exclusive performances” by Fringe acts in the onboard theater and cabaret lounge. Perhaps most important, round-trip coach service from Leith to downtown Edinburgh is included as well.
Additionally, “Playbill‘s Fringe experts” will be on hand to “point you in the direction of some of the festival’s most exciting shows,” according to the magazine.
Stays start at $225 per day per person—”notably less than the average price paid by Fringe attendees for lodging in 2023,” per Playbill, and the fare covers meals on the ship (if you happen to be on the ship at mealtimes).
Reservations are open now, and Playbill notes that “rooms are selling fast.” Learn more or book a stay at FringeShip.com.
If that doesn’t work for you, and if you’re not able to find conventional lodging because the prices are too high or the rooms are all taken (seriously, start looking now!), all is not lost.
First, you could try looking for rooms outside of Edinburgh. Other than Leith, there’s always Glasgow, connected to Edinburgh by a 1-hour train ride. Course, then you’ll be at the mercy of rail schedules. Trains travel between the two cities frequently during the day, but you’ll probably need to leave Edinburgh around midnight at the latest to catch your ride back to Glasgow, limiting your options for late-night festival festivities.
Festivals Edinburgh, the umbrella organization that helps promote and coordinate the August events, recommends some other creative solutions, such as opting for a bed in a shared dormitory or staying at a local campground, some of which offer “pre-pitched tents” so you don’t have to schlep your shelter through the airport.
If you do put things off and wait till the last minute (why won’t you listen to me??), Time Out advises, among other measures, scouring social media and other online networks for “last-minute dropouts, sublets that fell through, and random rooms that need filling.”
Another helpful planning tool for visiting the U.K.: the just-released Frommer’s England and Scotland, available in paperback and e-book editions.