"Make the Fringe guide your bible - it lists shows, venues, dates and prices, and has an all-important map to boot."
Street performance, theatre, comedy and dance: now in its 64th year, Edinburgh's Fringe has everything from leading showbiz names to small-scale school productions. For three glorious weeks from 6-30 August, the Scottish capital is taken over by more than 18,000 performers. Across 265 venues - everywhere from international conference centres to the backrooms of backstreet pubs - 2,200 shows take place, each eager for your patronage. It all adds up to a unique experience where no two days are ever the same. Here's how to get the most out of the Fringe...
What to see
Make the Fringe guide your bible - it lists shows, venues, dates and prices, and has an all-important map to boot. The free guide is easy to come across in the city, but order ahead from the Fringe website from June to start planning in advance.
Part and parcel of the Fringe is taking a punt, so be brave. If you tend to watch comedy, why not check out a straight play or a musical? If you're a theatre buff, see what the dance or comedy shows have to offer. At best, you'll find an amazing new show and, at worst, you've only lost an hour or so and a few quid (Fringe tickets range roughly from free to £15).
Word of mouth becomes gold, and an already-friendly city is made even more so by people swapping tips. Read newspaper reviews and book tickets based on those with a 4- or 5-star rating and you won't be disappointed - although you shouldn't write off those with less positive reviews either.
Where to go
The whole city comes alive during the festival, with street theatre and performers on every corner, and leaflets for performances being thrust at you left, right and centre. Of the 256 venues, it can be hard to know where to begin. However, here are the stalwarts, each offering a range of theatre, comedy and the unexpected...
With caves, caverns and a giant upside-down purple cow, Underbelly is one of the quirkiest of the Fringe venues and has some of the coolest bars for in-between shows.
Pleasance Courtyard and Dome
Keep your eyes peeled for big name performers milling around these venues, which hosts many of the top billings.
One of Edinburgh University's student union buildings is commandeered for use, providing both big halls and cosy mini-venues aplenty.
Assembly Rooms and Hall
Iconic Edinburgh locations of The Mound and George Street play host to the Assembly venues which promise some of the best theatre you're likely
to see on or off the Fringe.
What to eat
Veggies and vegans should head to Henderson's on Hanover Street - renowned for a tasty, innovative range of salads and hot dishes. If you fancy something spicy, the Mosque Kitchen takes up residence at the Pleasance Dome bar for award-winning curry in a hurry. Fajita fans will love Viva Mexico on Cockburn Street, close to Waverley station. For drinking and cabaret, try the Spiegel Garden in George Square Gardens, or there's the Underbelly bar with its buzzy festival vibe.
Hotels and hostels can get booked up quickly, so keep an eye on last minute accommodation websites for good deals. Also, visit the Fringe website where local landlords list rooms and properties available for short-term stays while university students are away for the summer.
0131 226 0026
Sarah Millican's debut show in 2008 won her the If.Comedy award for Best Newcomer. Here she shares her top tips on getting the best out of the fest.
What to see
'The problem with performing at the fringe is that there's a time slot of shows that I never get to see. Two I hope I don't clash with this year are the first shows from writer Andrew Collins and comedian Michael Legge. One I do clash with but I know will be fab is Gary Delaney. He's the funniest man I know.'
'Compared to most comedians, I am alarmingly dull. I like at least seven hours' sleep and I hardly drink. If I'm stressed, I am much more likely to hurl myself at a cake shop, and cake hangovers usually consist of a 20-minute guilt trip.'
'Leave gaps between shows! There's nothing worse than turning up at a show in a hot little room, sweaty from the run between venues (OK, brisk walk, shut up). Also, don't forget to eat. It's easy to cram in an extra show, then wonder why you feel a bit faint!'
'The Fringe is the most stressful time of the year for us, and when you have a hard day, you need some form of release. Some people drink. I wear a comedy moustache. For the last two years, that's what has helped me through some tough days...'
Sarah will be performing at 8.20pm at The Stand Comedy Club, every night from 6-30 August.
The 2009 festival in numbers:
1,859,235 tickets sold
18,901 performers from 60 countries
37 per cent of shows were world premiere performances
465 shows were absolutely free
While you're there
It's not just the Fringe taking place in Edinburgh during August...
29 July to 5 September, edinburghartfestival.com
6-28 August, edintattoo.co.uk
13 August to 5 September, eif.co.uk
International Book festival
14-30 August, edbookfest.co.uk
The best of the fests
Edinburgh is not the only place with an abundance of festival treats this year. Here are more ideas across the network
Go by train: Leeds
When: 27-29 August
What: One of the UK's most popular music festivals, Leeds annually hosts some of the biggest names in alternative music. This year's line-up includes Arcade Fire, rock legends Guns N' Roses and the newly re-formed Libertines, making it a top weekend you won't want to miss.
Scarborough Jazz Festival
Go by train: Scarborough
When: 24-26 September
What: The perfect place to catch a wide variety of world jazz, the Scarborough Jazz festival is now entering its fifth year. Located in the Spa complex overlooking the sea, it combines fantastic views and world-class performances.
Liverpool Summer Pops Festival
Go by train: Liverpool
When: 1-31 July
What: Summer Pops Festival celebrates a decade this year, and is an event not to be missed. Hosted in the iconic Echo Arena, there's guaranteed to be an electric atmosphere night after night. There's something for everyone during this month-long festival, including Brit favourites Status Quo and Rod Stewart.
Go by train: Penrith
When: 30 July to 1 August
What: Set in the spectacular Lake District, Kendal Calling has a unique, intimate quality. More popular every year, 2010 has yet another unmissable line-up and includes the likes of Calvin Harris, The Futureheads and OK Go.
Go by train: Manchester
When: 27-30 August
What: As a city whose social scene and party atmosphere is legendary, Manchester's celebration of gay pride is no different and promises a fantastic and frivolous time for all. Check out the parade as 70 floats boogie their way through the city streets!