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.

48 Hours in… Dundee

Dundee is one of the best destinations in Europe to visit in 2018 according to Lonely Planet and there are myriad of reasons why this Scottish city – just over an hour by train from Edinburgh on Scotland’s east coast – deserves this accolade. Its ever-growing cultural scene, the redevelopment of its historic waterfront, the stunning V&A Dundee due to open this September, a variety of art and design galleries, a diverse range of bars and restaurants, a thrilling music and events scene and the fact it was named as the UK’s first UNESCO City of Design… the list goes on!

 

Time to check in

From boutique to budget, the range of accommodation in Dundee is expanding, with more than 1,200 hotel beds expected to be ready by the end of 2018.

Joining hotels such as Malmaison, APEX, Holiday Inn Express and the recently opened Hampton by Hilton is a new Hotel Indigo, which will reopen in a former jute mill. This 102-bedroom hotel with 12 junior suites is scheduled to open in August. Dundee’s new train station is also due to open this summer following a £14m renovation, with a 120-bed Sleeperz hotel above it, opening on 9 July. Close to the station on the waterfront, the refurbished Premier Inn has also reopened with an additional 60 bedrooms.

 

Day One

09:00 BE THE FIRST TO VISIT A WORLD-CLASS ATTRACTION

One of the world’s most anticipated cultural attractions will open its doors to the public on 15 September. The magnificent Kengo Kuma-designed V&A Dundee is Scotland’s first design museum and will be home to the country’s design heritage, fascinating exhibitions, as well as permanent galleries and exciting features. The opening exhibition will be Ocean Liners: Speed and Style, which will delve into the history of these powerful steamships.

 

11:00 CHANNEL YOUR INNER PIRATE

Head out onto the River Tay with Pirate Boats and join an exhilarating one-hour boat trip that brings the history of the city to life. You’ll board in beautiful Broughty Ferry, just a ten-minute drive from the city centre, and take in sights along the revamped waterfront, including Broughty Castle and the new V&A building. If you’re there between May and September, you may also be joined for the ride by some dolphins.

 

13:00 LUNCH WITH COCKTAILS ON THE SIDE

Did you know that Dundee is the original home of marmalade (a citrus fruit preserve, commonly made from oranges)? It seems only fitting that you head to independent café Avery & Co and order a Marmalade Mojito served in a Mackays Dundee marmalade jar to go with lunch. This eaterie has an excellent vegan menu alongside meat feasts such as Korean pulled pork and homemade burgers with roast garlic mayo.

 

15:00 EXPLORE THE CITY’S SOCIAL HERITAGE

Head to the Verdant Works – a refurbished jute mill (jute is a natural fibre) – to discover the absorbing story of Dundee’s industrial textile heritage and social history. Within is the Jute Museum and its range of interactive hands-on activities, and then head to High Mill, which was recently restored and now houses an original and working Boulton & Watt steam engine. It’s then worth jumping in a taxi for the five-minute drive to RRS Discovery at Discovery Point to experience what life was like in the Antarctic with Captain Scott and his crew.

 

17:00 TASTE THE LOCAL SPIRITS
Time for a gin and tonic! Local distiller Verdant Spirits, the first distillery in Dundee for 200 years, and which won Scottish Gin of the Year in 2017, has plans to open a gin school and visitor centre ready for summer 2018.

 

19:30 DINE AT THE HOTTEST NEW RESTAURANT

Brassica restaurant, bar and bakery only threw open its doors to customers in June, so it’s one of the hottest eateries in town. The restaurant has taken over one of the old vault spaces in the ground of the city’s historic Caird Hall building, overlooking the waterfront, and all its produce is sourced within a 50-mile radius of Dundee. Make sure you check out its Champagne and Gin Menu, which lists many local Scottish gins.

 

21:00 BE SPOOKED WITH SPINE-CHILLING TALES

Be brave… and listen to spooky tales of the city’s sometimes gruesome past on a tour with Dark Dundee. These walking tours take you through stories of the city’s past, via places such as HM Frigate Unicorn, and The Howff, a 16th-century graveyard in the city centre.

 

DAY TWO

09:00 EMBARK ON AN ARTISTIC TRAIL

Wander through eight open-gallery spaces that are home to art, history and environment exhibitions at The McManus: Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum. In addition to the permanent displays, there is a changing programme of exhibitions and events throughout the year. New exhibition Bash Street’s Back, celebrating the iconic comic Beano’s 80th birthday and charting Dundee’s role in comic book history, is open until October – it’s a fantastic example of British popular culture through the decades.

 

11:00 For an example of the city’s contemporary art inventory, head to the DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts). Converted from an old brick warehouse it combines art galleries, print studio, two cinemas, and a shop with a café and restaurant. If you’re in town before the end of the summer, catch the first major European show of work by acclaimed American artist Eve Fowler. Entitled what a slight. what a sound. what a universal shudder, it’s at DCA until 26 August.

 

13:00 DINE AMONG ARTWORKS

After a morning filled with artistic experiences, where better to stop for lunch than Gallery 48, a contemporary art gallery space with a tapas restaurant and gin bar that showcases art work, often from the neighbouring University of Dundee’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design.

 

15:00 TAKE A GUIDED CULTURAL TOUR

Behind the Scenes Dundee is a guided walking tour developed by Creative Dundee and Dundee Contemporary Arts, which takes you backstage to see how the city’s cultural venues work. You’ll also visit public art, creative studios and independent shops. An alternative way to see the city is with Run the Sights. Combine a run with a guided exploration of some of the city’s most interesting and beautiful locations.

 

17:00 EXPERIENCE A UNIQUE ART TRAIL

Dundee’s first street-art project covers the city’s hidden lanes and corners; the idea is to encourage people to explore parts of the city that wouldn’t feature on a usual walking trail. It has matched up unloved doorways with street artists, who have then created a unique piece of street art in a forgotten place. Called Open Close, the trail is available to download online.

 

19:30 FINE-DINING FEAST

Contemporary Scottish food is served up alongside gorgeous views over the sand dunes to Tentsmuir Forest at fine-dining restaurant The Tayberry, in the area of Broughty Ferry. Award-winning chef-proprietor Adam Newth has created an innovative and mouth-watering menu comprising delicacies such as risotto of brown crab with avocado ice-cream and pan-roast cod with sweetcorn bhajis.

 

21:00 HIT THE NIGHTLIFE

Dundee has some fantastic bars to end the evening in. New to the bar scene is King of Islington on Union Street, fast gaining a reputation for quality cocktails and a huge selection of rum; or try out Draffens, Dundee’s speakeasy bar located inside a former department store on Couttie’s Wynd, one of Dundee’s old cobbled lanes.

 

Getting there: Dundee is just under 1.5 hours by train from Edinburgh, 1 ¾ hours from Glasgow and you can take the Caledonian Sleeper train from London overnight (it takes just under seven hours).

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