The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the biggest and (in my totally un-biased opinion) the best Fringe Festivals in the world. It takes place every year in August, lasts the whole month, and showcases somewhere in the region of 3,800 acts consisting of 50,000 performers.
Assuming every act lasts around an hour, it’d take you 159 days to see them all. And that’s if you didn’t sleep or take a single break…
Wait, what?! But there’s only 30 days in the Fringe!!
Exactly. So if you’re visiting for a day, a week, or the whole month, you’ll want to maximise your time at the Fringe. Especially if you’re an escape room enthusiast, because I won’t let you visit Edinburgh without trying out some of our escape rooms whilst you’re here too. I’m serious.
Since moving to Edinburgh I’ve lived through 2 Fringe Festivals, and before that I’d visited a few times for a show or two. The festival does change every year, but there are a few things that happen in Edinburgh all year round you may wish to take advantage of whilst you’re visiting. In this article, I’ll mention a few shows which I’ve seen return year on year, and a few things which are permanent features of Edinburgh. I’ll also mention a few to avoid (and why), so that hopefully (as an escape room enthusiast) you can make the most of your time here.
The Best Escape Rooms in Edinburgh
There are three Do Not Miss companies in Edinburgh:
In number one position is “Case Closed” which is easily one of the best in the whole UK. But what makes it so special? It’s a 90 minute room in the heart of Edinburgh. So far, fairly normal. There’s no “escape”, and your currency is information: instead of unlocking doors and running away, you succeed by filling out reports to your superintendent, and if your information is correct you may proceed. It’s about as realistic as it gets to solving a real case – think blood spatter analysis, forensics, and guns. Furthermore, there are no leader boards or ‘escape times’, no, you’re supposed to take your time and enjoy it rather than worry about beating a score. It has a spectacular ending which I’m still buzzing about days later. It’s also designed and created by an enthusiast. You can tell the difference between an escape room for profit, and escape room born out of absolute passion and love. Case Closed is the latter.
In second place, and located in the very heart of the Edinburgh Fringe is The Anatomist by Escape the Past.
Escape The Past have created an incredible game combining Edinburgh’s dark history with an exhilarating escape room. Our team of five were completely immersed in our surroundings, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that the room was designed by Chris Wood, an Edinburgh University History graduate and Zahra Chaudhri, a doctor. The attention to detail is seriously impressive and offers a full sensory experience, which is a rare find.
And in third place, for us, is the company “Locked In“. Which room? Honestly, any of them available for booking, but I’m partial to “The Secret Lab”, pictured below. It’s a challenging room for up to 10 players featuring lots and lots of cells. According to the website:
“The lab known as the Kensie Research Lab or the ‘Secret Lab’ was a marvel of the 70’s with technology that no one could ever imagine. It contained the very best equipment money could buy and a group of scientists whose work would go down in history. The genius in charge of the lab was Dr. Lyall Kensie, a brilliant bio-chemist, specialising in virus’ and disease. His experiments were groundbreaking, his ideas were radical but not everything played out how he had hoped.”
The Best Outdoor Scavenger Hunts in Edinburgh
But before you go and book all the escape rooms… I should drop a little reminder that the Edinburgh Fringe takes place in August. The one month of the year where it’s least likely to rain. So why not get your puzzle fix and make the most of the beautiful Edinburgh outdoors at the same time?
Edinburgh Treasure Hunts
In first place position is Edinburgh Treasure Hunts.
One of the most, if not THE most loved treasure hunt company in Edinburgh is the aptly named “Edinburgh Treasure Hunts“. A solo-run and operated business by your incredibly awesome host Sabi who, as a part-time tour guide, is an expert in all things Edinburgh. The company is also one of the first to start running games of this kind with many of their trails being well over 5 years old and host to thousands and thousands of players over the years. Not only cool credentials, but their experiences are just really, really, really good. My favourite is the Pirates Quest.
Mystery Guides is a company based out of Portsmouth. They’ve got that small, independent feel, and you can tell the creator really loves what he does. Fast forward a few years from their foundation and now Mystery Trails has setup popular trails in many, if not most major cities around the UK. Luckily for us, one of those trails is in Edinburgh.
The format of a Mystery Guide is fairly straightforward. With your order you’ll receive a physical, printed clue book. These books are lovingly illustrated and come packed with puzzles that guide you around the city. With each new puzzle section, there’s a snippet of map showing you where to go next, the actual clue to be solved, and then a snippet of story. In our case, this was in the form of diary entries. Many clues also had local information about the history of the area, or useful tidbits about local businesses / street names / and fun facts.
Edinburgh Fringe Exclusives to Look Out For
Now, these may or may not be running on whatever year you’re planning an Edinburgh Fringe visit – so take these with a pinch of salt. But, if you’re overwhelmed by the 3,800 shows on offer, here are some things you might wish to start with.
Every year, company called Darkfield sets up a collection of shipping containers where a performance takes place entirely in the dark. Now, I’ve never booked it. Honestly? I’m too scared. But everyone who ever has says they love it. And by “everyone” I mean all my escape room enthuasiast friends. So it’s probably well worth checking out.
Welcome to DARKFIELD. We hope you enjoy your stay. Eulogy is a surreal, otherworldly journey through a dreamlike, labyrinthine hotel that exists entirely in your mind. Performed in complete darkness over 35 minutes, this intense and exhilarating ride uses binaural sound and speech recognition technology to deceive the senses and transport audience members through rooms, down corridors and into the bowels of this strange and not altogether comfortable hotel. How your dream unfolds is, in part, up to you. However, make sure you don’t volunteer to become the subject of the eulogy every guest is preparing to deliver.
Darkfield experiences are actually run all over the world, not just at the Edinburgh Fringe, so the chances are if you can’t make it out here to Edinburgh – you’ll be able to book something a little closer to home.
That’s right, THE Punchdrunk. Quite often they run a show (or two) at the Edinburgh Fringe, or the Edinburgh International Festival which runs at the same time. In 2023, they ran show called the “Lost Lending Library” aimed at children, to wild success.
At 314 floors high and with 78 spiral side departments, The Lost Lending Library houses the largest collection of books and stories in the world. Books of all sizes and colours are crammed together on its shelves, stories bursting into life from their covers. Inside one department is a trainee library guardian weighed down with responsibility. They need your help to learn how to believe in themselves, and appreciate their own unique talents.
Whether they’ll be returning in the future or not, Punchdrunk is the first name I search when each year’s new Edinburgh Fringe line-up is announced.
Agent November (Miss)
Agent November is a regular face at the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s the only real ‘escape room’ experience taking place at the Fringe – consisting of a part outdoor puzzle trail, part tabletop escape room. There are a few experiences on offer, and they run on the hour, ever hour. Don’t get me wrong, we’re big fans of Agent November, but sadly this is probably on my Fringe ‘miss list’. The main down-side being that they do public bookings of up to 10 people per slot which crowded around a tiny briefcase means you definitely do not get your money’s worth at £20 per person.
The GottaGo Room? (Miss)
In 2023 at the Edinburgh Fringe there was a promising looking show called “The GottaGo Room: An Escaping-a-Room Thingy“:
Escape rooms: everyone’s favourite activity to do when you’re going to a birthday party hosted by a virgin or when your company is forcing you to go under the threat of contract termination. Escape rooms famously simulate everyone’s favourite real-life feelings of being stuck in a room with a bunch of strangers, being forced to do puzzles, and having thoughts that if something goes slightly wrong you might die. How are you going to figure out how to escape The GottaGo Room? Here’s a hint: try to solve the clues!
…Unfortunately it was one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I booked tickets with Rebecca, another writer here at The Escape Roomer and we both agreed it missed the mark. It felt like a student performance by a troupe of chaotic individuals none of whom has ever actually been to an escape room. The ‘puzzles’ were odd and imbalanced – an extremely hard maths puzzle next to an incredibly easy spot the difference and an awkward ‘everyone in the audience stand in a circle and hold hands’ that I still don’t really get. We really try not to be negative here on The Escape Roomer, but if they make a return for 2024 or beyond, I’d recommend skipping.