Skip to content


Home arrow How to choose a show
How to choose a show

So you've planned your trip to Edinburgh, booked your tickets and digs, and all that remains is working out which shows you're going to see. But the sheer size and scale of the Festival - which offers over 3,000 different shows in a single year - makes this apparently-simple final step almost uniquely challenging.

Compounding the problem, the biggest of the Festivals, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, has no central artistic direction - and, to be honest, little central quality control. As if that weren't enough, the other nine summer Festivals each have their own programmes, box offices, and web sites.

Many a visitor has resorted to choosing randomly, and many have come away disappointed. But it needn't be like that: with just a little Festival know-how, you can put together a reliable, high-quality, personal programme - which still captures the unprocessed raw spirit that makes the Edinburgh Festival the greatest show on Earth.

Five top hints for choosing shows

Hand showing five fingersThe choice on offer at the Festival can be simply overwhelming, and we have plenty of detailed advice to help you choose that perfect show. But to help you hit the ground running, here are our top five tips for a successful selection at Festival time.

Choosing from reviews

Reading a newspaperThe best way - and certainly the easiest way - to choose a show at the Festival is by letting someone else do it for you. And there's plenty of help on hand: during August Edinburgh attracts a noisy travelling circus of reviewers, who spend endless days locked in claustrophobic venues, producing millions of words on tons of newsprint covering all that the Festival has to offer.

Many are professional critics, who genuinely have seen it all before; none is shy about coming forward with an opinion, and a surprising proportion of their pronouncements are available for free online. The difficulty lies in piecing it all together... but a few straightforward techniques will help you sift through the mound of verbiage, and get straight to what you want to know.

Choosing from programmes

Waiting for reviews is a great strategy for the Fringe, where the choice is mind-blowing and tickets are easy to come by. Edinburgh's other Festivals, though, have smaller programmes and can sell out quickly; it's safer to choose from a listing in advance if your interest lies in the International Festival, books, or jazz and blues. And even on the Fringe, the right approach to programmes can help you find treasures the reviewers simply don't have time to take in.

Previews and variety shows

If you're the type of person who likes to see things for yourself, there are several opportunities to catch short previews of shows once you're here in Edinburgh. Depending on how you do it, they're either free or grouped together into good-value variety shows; either way, you can sample a number of performances before you commit your time and money to a single one.


Flyers on notice boardA fourth, and much-maligned, way to find a good show is through flyering - that is, having a leaflet forced into your hand by a member of the cast or production crew. Walk down the Royal Mile on a busy afternoon, and you'll emerge at the other and with a score of glossy cardboard flyers, each exhorting you to spend your time and money at their particular show.

Daily listings

The Daily GuideWe're waiting for information on the Daily Guide for 2012.  This article was first published in 2009.

With so much to choose from at the Edinburgh Festival, it seems implausible to suggest you might ever be at a loose end. But one way or another, there's always that odd bit of time - between two shows, perhaps, or when you've had your dinner but don't feel like going home - when you'd like to find something to entertain you, right there and then. That's where the Festivals Daily Guide comes in.


Wherever luvvies and journalists come together, a progeny of awards is the inevitable result. The Edinburgh award scene can feel as crowded as the Festival itself, and the competing statuettes clamour for attention with ever more striking names - the Herald Angels, the Golden Cockerel, or the Triumphal Aspidistra (OK, we made the last one up).

Embracing the weird

Finally, no round-up of show choices would be complete without a nod to the Festival's stranger side - that special blend of thespian energy and away-with-the-fairies imagination which you can only find on the Fringe. Year after year, Edinburgh throws up an array of performances which are innovative, distinctive, or just plain weird.


Edinburgh 2013

Coming to the Fringe this year?  We can help you make the most of your time.  Learn about Edinburgh's summer Festivals and plan your visit around the city's major events. 

Find out more >>