Six of the best free things to do in Edinburgh this winter

Planning to visit the Scottish capital for Hogmanay celebrations on 31 December? Why not come earlier and spend more time in Edinburgh exploring its fantastic array of free attractions this winter? Plus, what is already a beautiful city is even more alluring when bathed in winter sunshine, dusted with frost and buzzing with festive spirit.

National Galleries of Scotland

Not one, not two, not even three but FOUR buildings across Edinburgh house an astounding collection of art and are all well worth a visit. And, aside from certain paid-for exhibitions, they’re all free admission. Princes Street in the city centre is where you head to see iconic works from the Masters of 14th – 18th century European art at the National; then stroll over to the National Portrait Gallery nearby, before ending the day at the Modern gallery, which is set across two buildings in a magnificent sculpture park.

Why go this winter? Obviously for the art…but there’s also free live music ranging from Gaelic to opera on certain dates in November at the National; drop-in easel sketching workshops at the Portrait; or lectures and talks on subjects such as surrealism at the Modern.

The National Museum of Scotland

Seven levels of spectacular exhibitions await you at this fascinating free attraction in Edinburgh’s picturesque Old Town. The museum is packed with intriguing displays and insights into science and technology, fashion, the natural world and art and design that will keep you busy all day. Gain a wonderful insight into Scotland from prehistory to the present day in its must-visit Scottish Galleries.

Why go this winter? Fascinated by science? Every Saturday between 13 October – 26 January 2019 is Science Saturday, meaning specialist talks, hands-on activities and science demonstrations. Music fans should investigate its Rip It Up – The Story of Scottish Pop exhibition until 25 November and put its new exhibition Robots, launching on 18 January, in the diary.

Royal Botanic Gardens

Proving that gardens are not just for summer, visitors can appreciate the gorgeous winter landscape of these gardens, which are split across three themes and stretch across an impressive 70 acres. Discover seasonal flora and fauna as well as modern sculptures and installations dotted throughout. There is a fee for the Victorian glass houses but if you don’t want to spend any money, you can still admire the exterior of this stunning piece of architecture.

Why go this winter? Check out the fascinating Botanic Cottage on one of its Open Doors Days for an insight into its history and usage (5 October – 7 December). Travelling with your family? Bring them along to a weekend of nature discovery and grow young ones’ understanding of the environment (8 – 9 December).

Stand Up Comedy Club

Edinburgh is a world leader on the comedy stage, thanks to its brilliant Fringe Festival that takes place every August, which hosts plenty of comedy shows that won’t break the bank. But you can still get laughs aplenty – and find free events – throughout the year at the excellent Stand Up Comedy Club.

Why go this winter? Head to the club on a Sunday through November and December to enjoy its long-running, improvised comedy show – and it won’t cost you a penny! Resident comedians Stu and Garry take on the audiences’ suggestions and create comedy, so the show is very much for everyone.

Calton Hill

Pack your camera because a walk up Calton Hill, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will result in some of the best views of Edinburgh. Aside from the remarkable vistas over the city, this is also where you’ll find some of Scotland’s legendary monuments, including Nelson’s Monument and the National Monument. It’s also home to the Royal Observatory, which has a visitor centre to explore and which also hosts public events such as astronomy evenings.

Why go this winter? Catch the sunrise from its summit too – the beauty of a winter sunrise is it is a little later, which means not such an early start to the day!

Window shopping

Even if you don’t want to splurge the cash, Edinburgh’s lovely shops and markets are worth exploring just for a spot of window shopping. From Princes Street to the Farmers’ Market, the pretty boutiques and uniquely Scottish stores, there’s plenty to explore to gather inspiration for your wish list.

Why go this winter? Come 16 November (until 5 January 2019) the East Princes Street Gardens will be alive with festive stalls, twinkling lights and delicious food as the annual Christmas Market gets underway. Be there for 18 November for Light Night, where choirs from across Scotland will perform and the Christmas Tree on the Mound will be lit as part of the Light Night switch on.

Back with a bang! Where to celebrate Bonfire Night in Britain

If you’re travelling in Britain on or around 5 November, you’ll have the chance to experience something uniquely British – Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night, where fireworks light up the skies and huge bonfires are lit. It’s a tradition stretching back centuries, celebrating the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Many British towns and cities host their own events; here’s where you can expect to find some of the most spectacular fireworks displays in 2018.

Alexandra Palace Fireworks Festival, London

There’ll be guaranteed ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ at one of the biggest and most impressive fireworks displays in the UK, held at north London’s Alexandra Palace (affectionately known as Ally Pally) between 2 – 3 November. There’ll also be plenty more to enjoy than the fireworks and the bonfire; ice-skating sessions at its rink – plus a special Ice Disco for after the main fireworks’ display – a laser show prior to the fireworks, a huge German Bier Keller taking over Ally Pally’s Great Hall, live music, circus performances of high-wire walking, plus tasty treats at the Street Food and Craft Beer village. All of this with the added bonus of incredible panoramic views over the London skyline.

Battle Bonfire and Fireworks Display, East Sussex, south England

Said to be the town where Guy Fawkes sourced his gunpowder, Battle in East Sussex (around two hours from London) understandably puts on a fabulous free, non-ticketed event. Hosted by the Battle Bonfire Boyes, the day (3 November in 2018) begins with the ringing of the church bells and a children’s procession, that leads to a competition for the best fancy dress and the best Guy (the effigy created to put on the bonfire). By 6pm the Guy is taken up the High Street to kickstart another procession that ends at the bonfire and a fabulous fireworks display commences.

Fireworks at the Fort, Segedunum Roman Fort, Wallsend, north-east England

The night sky over north-east England’s River Tyne will be lit up with multi-coloured fireworks on 2 November when the event kicks off at Segedunum, a major site on Hadrian’s Wall. The beauty of celebrating Bonfire Night at this location is the chance to explore the museum exhibits at the Fort first, the most excavated fort along World Heritage Site Hadrian’s Wall. It has a fantastic interactive museum (free entry after 4pm on the day), plus a full-scale reconstruction of a bath house and a section of the Wall. Catch fabulous views of Hadrian’s Wall from its 35-metre high viewing tower, which, for the first time this year, will be the offering exclusive, limited number, VIP seats for the fireworks display.

Sparks in the Park, Cardiff, south Wales

This annual event is attended by around 20,000 people making it one of Wales’ biggest and best firework displays. At Cardiff’s Bute Park on 3 November, a huge bonfire will be lit, with an earlier fireworks’ show taking place for young children before the main event later in the evening. There’s plenty to occupy visitors before then, with food stalls, fairground attractions and live entertainment.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, central England

This fireworks’ extravaganza takes place in its gardens of one of England’s most beautiful stately homes over the course of two nights, on 2 and 3 November. The lighting of the bonfire kicks off proceedings, followed by a children’s fireworks display and culminates with the grand finale fireworks display. Wrap up warm and explore the grounds for live music, circus performances, dancing and feasts of hog roasts and mulled cider. This year guests can also buy tickets to a two-course dinner in Chatsworth’s Cavendish restaurant before entry to the bonfire and fireworks event.

Lewes Bonfire Night, East Sussex, south-east England

Probably one of the quirkiest celebrations of Bonfire Night, the 5 November will see the return of this remarkable festival in the tranquil town of Lewes on England’s south coast. Six separate Lewes Bonfire Societies, including visiting bonfire societies from all over Sussex, celebrate Guy Fawkes Night across various parts of the town, each with their own fireworks, traditions and up to 30 processions, which then all come together through the streets of Lewes. It’s quite the spectacle.

The Tar Barrels of Ottery St Mary, Devon, south England

You can’t get a better example of the charm of English eccentricity than this…the Tar Barrel tradition, which is centuries older and began after the Gunpowder Plot. The event started with the townspeople of Devon town Ottery St Mary rolling burning barrels down the streets on 5 November, which then progressed to the current tradition of people carrying full-sized, lit tar barrels through the streets instead! This year the event takes place on 4 November (as 5 November falls on a Sunday) and this pyrotechnic wonder is accompanied by a fireworks’ display and bonfire.

Tartantastic Fireworks Extravaganza Show, Edinburgh, Scotland

Charity Scottish Love in Action is hosting three Tartantastic Fireworks Extravaganza Shows, huge family-friendly fundraising events, the first on 2 November, the next two on 4 November. Not only are visitors treated to a large-scale fireworks display, there will also be traditional Scottish music from pipe bands as well as a performance by the Fire Circus theatre and enough food stalls to satisfy all hungry stomachs. This year there are a limited number of VIP tickets available, which includes access to the VIP lounge and refreshments.

 

TASTE October 2018

9 lovely local craft beers and where to try them

9 lovely local craft beers and where to try them

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Microgapping in Sussex

Microgapping in Cumbria

Microgapping in Cumbria

9 reasons to visit Scotland’s islands in autumn and winter

With more than 790 offshore islands (around 95 are inhabited), Scotland is a perfect destination for island hopping. We show you why those islands should be on your must-visit list this autumn and winter.

  1. Incredible scenery

Scotland’s islands are home to dramatic coastlines, scenic white beaches, rugged mountain-scapes, heather-clad moorland and tranquil inland lochs; now picture these enhanced by the russet reds and golden yellows of autumn or mountains dusted with snow in winter and be prepared for your images to receive hundreds of likes on Instagram. Did you know that the far north islands of Orkney and the Shetlands are also the best places to see Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, in the UK? Outstanding displays of light dance across the sky and, thanks to long periods of darkness and clear nights, the best times of year to experience these phenomena are autumn and winter.

  1. One word – whisky

The region of Argyll & The Isles off the west coast of Scotland is home to 23 inhabited islands, and on the Isle of Islay alone there are eight whisky distilleries to visit, with a ninth, the Ardnahoe Distillery, scheduled to open in 2018. Book onto a tour of one of these distilleries (be sure to check late season opening times), to experience the peaty, smoky flavour of the whisky that the island is famed for. The Laphroaig distillery, for example, offers a ‘Water to Whisky Experience’, an extensive 4.5 hour tour that includes everything from a distillery tour, a peat experience, a visit to the distilleries water source and, of course, a taste from a selection of casks before bottling your favourite.

  1. Cultural highlights

Autumn and winter are fantastic times to catch quirky festivals and top cultural events. Scottish Opera, for example, takes four singers and a pianist on the road to the Isle of Lewis in autumn months, bringing operatic highlights to all corners of Scotland. And probably one of the most unusual festivals is Shetland’s Up Helly Aa, which reflects the island’s Viking influence. Every January (29 January in 2019), this large-scale fire festival celebrates Shetland’s history. A dragon ship, which takes months to build, is set on fire, followed by processions and much merrymaking.

  1. Captivating castles

Scotland has castles galore – and the cooler months are a great time to explore. On the Isle of Skye, visit the magnificent Highland estate and home of the Clan Donald at the Armadale Castle, Gardens and Museum, which has announced it will stay open during autumn and winter from Wednesdays to Sundays until December, a perfect opportunity to enjoy its beautiful gardens during the changing seasons. And, on the Isle of Lewis, if castle accommodation is your style, after exploring the Victorian-era Lews Castle in the island’s main town of Stornoway, which remains open in the autumn and winter in the afternoons, you can check in to one of its luxury self-catering apartments; the castle also has its very own whisky bar.

  1. Witness winter solstice

Orkney’s coastline is one of beautiful sandy beaches and is strewn with majestic cliffs and sea stacks, including the famous imposing natural structure of the Old Man of Hoy. But you’ll also find a very spiritual island, holding celebrations for the Winter Solstice. Join in these celebrations at the island’s Neolithic monument, the Standing Stones of Stenness, on 23 December in 2018.

  1. Encounter even more Neolithic wonders

Explore the ancient wonder of the Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis, which date back 5,000 years. And one of the must-sees on a trip to Orkney is Skara Brae, the 5,000-year-old village that is regarded as the best-preserved Neolithic site in western Europe. It forms part of the Heart of Orkney Neolithic sites, along with Maeshowe, a chambered tomb, the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar. Visit the ancient capital of Orkney, Kirkwall, where you can explore the Viking Cathedral.

  1. Wildlife wonders

Jura is one of the most gloriously wild places to visit in Scotland. Don’t forget your camera or phone as this is the place to spot wild deer; there are more than 5,000 of them on this narrow island, which is inhabited by only 200 people. Fondly known as ‘Eagle Island’, the Isle of Mull is one of the best places in Scotland to spot both golden eagles and white-tailed sea eagles, while Islay is famous for winter-migrating birds.

  1. Awesome adventures

Whatever the season, a fantastic way to experience an island is by safari. On the Isle of Arran, Mogabout Arran Safari offers a bird of prey and forest adventure, exploring the mountainous and woodland areas of the island in a 4x4, taking you to some spectacular natural points before the chance to meet and learn to handle birds of prey.

  1. You’ll avoid the crowds

There’s no doubt that avoiding peak high season on the islands means better availability and lower costs; and it’s a great opportunity to mix with the locals! And remember, as the Scots say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes!

Getting there:

There are daily flights to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen, and three ferry points of entry too travelling from the mainland.

There are several daily flights from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Shetland, as well as ferries between Aberdeen and the main town of Lerwick every day, year-round.

Fly to Orkney from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Shetland.

Ferries travel from the western mainland (around 2.5-3 hours’ drive from Edinburgh or Glasgow) out to the Argyll & The Isles on a frequent basis.

There are two ferry services serving the Isle of Arran, from Ardrossan on the mainland to Brodick on the island. Ardrossan is a 45-minute drive from Glasgow.

 

The Magic Is Back – Mary Poppins Returns!

It's been 53 years since the original Mary Poppins popped onto our screens with her magical bag and flying umbrella. And, at the end of this year, she's back – played by Emily Blunt – to visit the grown-up Banks children, now in 1935, in the Disney musical sequel Mary Poppins Returns, where London is once again a star of the story. Here’s how to have your very own magical Mary Poppins experience in the capital that’s, as our favourite nanny would say, practically perfect in every way.

                                         

Lights, camera, action

Discover behind-the-scenes stories from the new film and details from the original Mary Poppins books and film on the new Brit Movies Mary Poppins tour, launching in 2019, which will take you through the streets of London and the locations used in Mary Poppins Returns. The two-hour walking tour, which is family friendly, will take in famous landmarks that you’ll recognise from the original movie and that have appeared in the sequel’s trailer, such as St Paul’s Cathedral, one of the most impressive examples of cathedral architecture in the country. Another filming location was by Buckingham Palace – its magnificent state rooms are open to visitors for ten weeks each summer –  as was outside the Bank of England. While this isn’t open to tours, check out its fascinating Bank of England Museum.

Stop by the house where it all began

We wouldn’t have the films if it wasn’t for the original books created by Australian-born author P.L. Travers who spent most of her life in England, which was where she created her unforgettable character. She wrote a series of eight books on the magical nanny at 50 Smith Street in Chelsea, which earlier this year was commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. P.L. Travers lived here for 17 years and the house is said to have inspired the look of the Banks’ family home in the original movie.

 

Enjoy a spoonful of sugar

You’ll get much more than just one spoonful of sugary treats at this creative and delicious afternoon tea at Aqua Shard. Launched to coincide with the relaunch of the five original Mary Poppins classic books, this afternoon tea of nostalgic sweets and savouries is available until April 2019…and it’s all so enchanting. The menu is a gilt gold framed mirror menu – the mirror is a recurring symbol throughout the books – and tea is delivered on a custom-made tea stand with an umbrella on top and silver booted feet below – with crockery designed with Mary Shepard’s original illustrations of Mary Poppins. Feast on homemade scones with jam and clotted cream (which you’ll find in Mary’s carpet bag); miniature crumpets; two bespoke teas ‘Mary’s Tea’ and ‘Bert’s Tea’; unique sweet treats such as Mary Poppins’ very own hat with a black ‘Cherry Tree Lane’ mousse covered in dark chocolate, and Fairground Candy Floss. Order champagne with the tea and be charmed by the kite that flies from the champagne flute before adding ‘medicine’ to the glass, with the choice of three homemade liqueurs. It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

 

Go fly a kite!

The trailer from Mary Poppins Returns includes a spot of kite-flying – which will have you humming Let’s Go Fly A Kite! from the original movie in no time. Of course, you can fly a kite across many of London’s green spaces, but if you want to fly your kite against the backdrop of the celebrated London skyline, head up to the top of Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath, north London. Primrose Hill near Regent’s Park also affords spectacular views over the capital; the top of this hill is one of six protected viewpoints in London.

Step onto London’s rooftops
Bert took Mary Poppins up to the rooftops of London to show her the view of the capital through the eyes of a chimney sweep but you can gaze over the capital’s magnificent skyline in a far more sophisticated manner. London has many rooftop bars with panoramic vistas over the capital’s rooftops. Try out the Rumpus Room on floor 12 of South Bank’s Mondrian Hotel for its awesome view of St Paul’s Cathedral; the Radio Rooftop Bar at ME London for 360 degree views of the capital; or The Rooftop St James’ overlooking Trafalgar Square and ideal for all weathers thanks to  its retractable roof.

Order a bespoke umbrella

What is Mary Poppins’ favourite mode of transport? Flying in by umbrella of course! While owning a flying umbrella is just a dream, you can have your own bespoke brolly created at one of London’s historic establishments of fine craftsmanship. James Smith and Sons, just off Regent Street, has been designing and making high-end umbrellas (think handles of exquisitely carved wood) since 1830, while Fox Umbrellas has been creating beautiful bespoke umbrellas since 1868.

 

Book tickets to see Mary Poppins in the West End

Once you’ve watched the sequel, you’ll be inspired by all things Mary Poppins…and it’s recently been confirmed that Mary Poppins will return to the West End at Prince Edward Theatre in Autumn 2019! Booking for the show – a joint production between Cameron Mackintosh and Disney Theatrical Productions – opens in January 2019 and will star Zizi Strallen, who will step back into Mary’s shoes having played the role in the international tour.

 

 

 

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