Fringe festivals today combine an offbeat vibe with some of the best arts and entertainment shows. Most fringe festivals originated as alternative events to major, often exclusive, arts festivals in cities across the globe, offering a chance for anyone to perform or put on a show.
Over the last fifty years, festivals such as the renowned Edinburgh Fringe have become common, but nowhere more so than in Europe. With many to choose from, here is just a selection of what’s on offer throughout the continent.
Europe`s Best Fringe Festivals
The biggest and best-known fringe remains Edinburgh’s – in a city that’s home to as many as 20 different festivals every year. In August, Scotland’s capital becomes a mêlée of arts performers and crew members of all kinds, not to mention the crowds that flood the city to watch the shows.
The streets themselves become arenas, flyers are handed out in their millions and the atmosphere is electric from morning until night for a whole month of celebration. Wading through the throngs on the Royal Mile while stilt-walkers and buskers compete for attention from every corner remains an essential part of the experience.
In much the same spirit, Dublin launched its own September fringe festival back in the early 90s, the biggest of its kind in Ireland. Self-styled as a ‘platform’ for the best of contemporary dance, theatre and music currently touring the world, Dublin’s Absolut Fringe is also about exposing burgeoning local talent.
With everything from experimental theatre to Irish folk music with a contemporary twist, this autumn festival is hot on the heels of Edinburgh in every sense.
Across the channel, Amsterdam has its own fringe which lasts 10 days from the end of August to the beginning of September. It’s already gaining a reputation for edgy, offbeat content and is worth going for the high-energy opening party or any of the Fringe FUEL master classes for performers if you’re a budding participant. Helpfully, around half of the programme is either performed in English or can be understood whatever your language.
In the somewhat warmer climes of the Mediterranean, Athens Fringe Live is Greece’s answer to the grassroots festival. This festival is more concerned with the social aspect and has been described as a multi-disciplinary, multimedia network akin to Facebook or Twitter.
Using artistic exchange and celebration as a force for positive change, Fringe Live emphasises this philosophy of interaction rather than the comedy stand-up that Edinburgh now leans towards. So alongside the programme of physical theatre and exhibitions, social and volunteer events also form the core of what this festival is about.
In Hungary’s cultural centre Budapest, the fringe spirit has created a sideline to the more traditional Budapest Spring festival. Taking place in April, Budapest Fringe crams a wealth of underground talent and upcoming performers into the last three days of the ‘core’ festival. The fringe festival is centred on Pest Broadway in the inner part of the city east of the River Danube.
Though mostly a showcase for the local arts scene, the fringe here encompasses everything from Hungarian belly dancing to imports such as Irish dance and Afro-inspired music.
With some of Europe’s best fringe festivals timed so that they follow on from each other, it might be worth seeing a few in a row.
See Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Dublin over the course of a few weeks in the late summer and you could do most of the journey by road and ferry, but don`t set off without a route planner if you’re taking the car. Central and southern Europe is home to many more festivals in places such as Prague and Naples so if you’re going on a road trip don’t forget to get European breakdown.
(photo credit: 1)