Lonely Planet top 500: Edinburgh Fringe is UK’s star attraction

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Performers flock from all over the world, occupying every inch of Old Town’s cobbled streets. From stand-up comedians to poets, and musicians to mime artists, festival season is stitched firmly into the fabric of the capital.

Whether you’re a first-time tourist or a slightly jaded local, there is no escaping the fact that there’s is nothing quite like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – which has today been named the UK’s star attraction.

The festival, which last year comprised of an incredible 3,548 different shows across 317 venues, has come top in a newly-ranked list of the 500 “most memorable, surprising and compelling experiences”, compiled by Lonely Planet. 

The Fringe earned its place at the top spot because, according to the travel guide publisher, it “floods the city with art, and nowhere beats it for spectacle or scale”.

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A snippet of its entry reads: “Whatever the time of day, an acrobat, trapeze artist, contortionist or tried-and-tested bagpiping busker will be pleased to entertain you. Simply step through the looking glass and prepare to be dazzled by the greatest show of arts and culture on Earth.”

The British Museum, described as “the envy of the world”, came in second, with the “timeless and unrepeatable” Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland concluding the top three.

There are two other Scottish entries in the top 20 – Glencoe in is 17th place, while Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh ranks 19th – while no fewer than 67 of the country’s attractions made the complete list of 500, including the North Coast 500 (no. 37), Skye’s Fairy Pools (no. 41) and Shetland’s annual Viking celebration Up Helly Aa (no. 109)

Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, last night described the accolade as a “true testament to the creativity, energy and imagination that Fringe artists and audiences bring to Edinburgh each year”.

She added: What makes the Fringe so special is that everyone with a story to tell is welcome, and with a record 63 countries represented on stage this year and nearly 1,000 shows from Scotland, this year’s festival is playing host to a truly unique combination of homegrown and international talent. The Fringe is a real celebration of Edinburgh and the people that make it.”

For the first time, attractions in the UK’s four constituent countries were ranked in order of their brilliance to create the Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist”. 

The mammoth list was compiled after Lonely Planet painstakingly listed every highlight from the UK guidebooks. Every sight, tourist attraction and appearance that captured their writers’ attention over the years were included. 

Staff based at the firm’s London HQ, alongside 20 leading figures in the country’s travel sector, were asked to reveal their favourite spots and experiences before voting began. With hundreds of votes cast, each of the 500 experiences were given a score.

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“Lonely Planet’s Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist brings together the UK’s most compelling sights and experiences, ranging from world-class museums and giant cathedrals to rollicking festivals, inky lochs and tiny pubs,” the company’s Tom Hall explained. “We’re thrilled to name the world’s largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the UK’s top experience. It’s one of the most exciting and diverse destinations on the planet.”

Scotland’s contributions to the new travel guide also delighted tourism bosses.

Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of national tourist agency VisitScotland, said: “Scotland is home to many amazing experiences so it’s no surprise they feature prominently in Lonely Planet’s Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist. They are year-round activities that traverse the length and breadth of the country and we hope the guide will prove a catalyst for visitors to get out and explore the regions and create unique and thrilling experiences of their own.

He added: “Tourism is vital to the Scottish economy, reaching every corner of the country, creating jobs and bringing economic and social change. Accolades like this highlight Scotland as a world-class destination however it is imperative that we don’t become complacent. We need to continue to create must-see experiences, events and attractions that continue to inspire travellers and keep up with the ever-changing demands of visitors.”

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