The Edinburgh Festival Fringe started life in 1947 as an accessible alternative to the more highbrow Edinburgh International Festival. Over the years the Fringe has grown to become larger and better known than its more formal cousin: and it has also served as the launch-pad of most of the great names in British comedy.
What is the Fringe? Anything and everything you could possibly imagine. You get a snapshot of what's on offer simply by strolling along the High Street, the upper part of the Royal Mile, while the Fringe is on. Here you find a wide variety of street entertainers including contortionists; acrobats; sword swallowers; fire jugglers; statue-impersonators; musicians; and others. You are also likely to find what must be the largest concentration of unicycles anywhere: you are just left wondering how performers from around the world manage to persuade their airlines to carry them...
Here, too, you start to get an impression of the off-street activity across a huge number of venues from the throng of performers promoting their shows, whether by handing out leaflets, posting them on the advertising poles (which end the festival much wider than they begin it) or through extemporised street theatre designed to attract attention and customers.
A stroll along the High Street is also all you need to begin to appreciate the wonderful atmosphere that pervades Edinburgh through the festival period, much of it down to the activities of those involved in the Fringe. In addition to the images on this page, there is a separate page of Fringe images on view here.
Fringe 2016 will take place from 5 August to 29 August. More information will be available from the official Fringe website. A few statistics about Fringe 2015 give an impression of what the event has now become:
... Fringe 2015 included 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues across the city.
... More than 20,000 performers were on Edinburgh's Fringe stages during Fringe 2015.
... Fringe 2015 welcomed performers from 49 different countries.
... 1,300 shows at Fringe 2015 were world premieres.
... Hundreds of shows at Fringe 2015 were absolutely free.
... £173,172 worth of tickets from 233 shows in 38 venues were made available to children and young people whose circumstances would not normally allow them to participate in cultural activity by Access Fringe Looked After Children.
... In 2015, an estimated 2,298,090 tickets were sold, 5.24% more than the overall number of tickets said to have been issued in 2014.
... The Fringe has a 75% market share of all attendances at Edinburgh's year-round festivals.
Possibly the most sobering of these statistics is that at Fringe 2016 you will have just 25 days to enjoy shows that would take over five years to view in their entirety. You cannot possibly hope to see more than a tiny fraction of what is on offer in the time available, even if you avoid sleeping, eating, drinking or taking in any of the attractions of the other festivals on in the city at the same time.
There are two ways to tackle this. The first is to plan everything rigorously, working your way through programmes and booking tickets well in advance. The second is simply to play it by ear, seeing whatever takes your fancy as you wander the streets of Edinburgh.
The approach you choose is a matter of personality and taste: though you are strongly advised to make sure you book your accommodation as early as possible. Beds in and around Edinburgh can be hard to come by over the Festival period...