Edinburgh expert Shawna Law
Edinburgh is often affectionately referred to as “Auld Reekie” originating from days when coal and peat fires were commonplace in the city and smoke would hang over the city like a fog. Thankfully, it’s no longer the case that the colder months are blighted by this, and it’s a great time to explore the city. When Zopa got in touch to create a sustainable winter guide to Edinburgh on a budget, I was thrilled as the city never fails to impress throughout the seasons and winter is no exception.
The winter months may bring shorter days and chillier temperatures but there are several benefits to visiting in the winter months such as witnessing fiery sunsets over the capital and enjoying magnificent vistas that are often obscured by foliage. So, bundle up in your warmest attire and let’s head out for a cosy, fun, sustainable and budget friendly day in the Scottish capital.
1. Hula Juice Bar 103-105 West Bow (£15.30)
Sitting on one of Edinburgh’s most photogenic and historic streets, Victoria Street, Hula Juice Bar is a delightful place to stop for a morning coffee or brunch. The environmentally-conscious café offers a range of healthy dishes that’ll boost your immune system against winter colds, as well as be a breakfast to remember. As well as being a plastic-free zone, Hula Juice Bar supports fellow independent businesses such as Machina Espresso which is roasted in Edinburgh and Eteaket Tea.
Pictured: Hula Juice Bar’s Acai Bowl (£7.65) and Maca Nana Bowl (£7.65)
2. Second-hand and Vintage Shopping Grassmarket & West Port
Duck inside to avoid the cold and take advantage of Edinburgh’s vibrant second-hand and vintage scene. If you enjoy second-hand shopping there’s a lovely collection of vintage clothing shops near the Grassmarket. Almost directly across from Hula Juice Bar is Armstrongs Vintage, one of the UK's oldest and most loved vintage clothing stores. The playfully decorated vintage store is a cornucopia of vintage treasures and it’s easy to get lost amongst the rails of woollen knits and retro shirts.
Continuing along to West Port, you'll find Godiva Boutique, a sustainable clothing store stocking ethical brands and second-hand gems; Herman Brown, a beautifully curated vintage boutique; and Carnivàle Vintage which stocks clothing from the Victorian era to the 1990s. Along the way, you’ll also pass a few second-hand bookshops such as Peter Bell Books, Armchair Books, and Edinburgh Books which are well worth a visit too.
As you leave Armstrongs Vintage and make your way to West Port, keep an eye out for a set of steps called The Vennel. The Vennel boasts one of the most picturesque views of Edinburgh Castle.
3. The Meadows
Wrap up warm for a pre-lunch stroll around the Meadows. With almost half of the city classed as green space, Edinburgh is known as the greenest city in the UK so I couldn’t resist including one of its ‘landmark’ parks. The Meadows is a lush green open space spread out over roughly 58-acres with tree-lined paths crisscrossing through it and magnificent views over to Arthur’s Seat.
4. Union of Genius 8 Forrest Road (£5)
Afterwards head to Scotland’s first soup café, Union of Genius, to warm up. The cosy café offers a daily-changing menu of soups ranging from classics such as "Just Good Lentil” to more adventurous options like "Haggis & Puy Lentil” and “Jamaican Me Crazy”. If soups aren’t for you there’s also salads and chilli dishes to choose from.
Union of Genius is also very well-known for their environmentally-friendly and ethical practices through designing a reuse and recycle reward program where customers are encouraged to bring their own soup container to earn points for a free soup or pay-it-forward to someone in need, using plant-based and compostable takeaway packaging, composting their kitchen waste and supporting fellow small Edinburgh businesses.
As you can imagine, the café is extremely popular with locals so I’d suggest going as soon as they open or after the lunchtime rush to get a table.
Pictured: Oh So Chic(pea) Soup with Olive Bread
5. The National Museum of Scotland Chambers Street (Free/Ticketed Exhibitions)
The National Museum of Scotland is the largest museum in Edinburgh and is well-loved by locals and visitors alike. It’s a wonderful place to visit throughout the year but when the temperatures begin to drop and the weather turns ‘dreich’ (a Scottish word for wet, cold or gloomy weather), the museum’s seven floors and various exhibitions make it the perfect place to spend an afternoon.
Due to its size, you may only manage to see a small portion of the museum but a few places to keep in mind are the Grand Gallery, The Millennium Clock Tower, the Tower extension, Natural World Gallery, and Roof Terrace. Beyond excelling in its role as a museum, The National Museum of Scotland has also been awarded the 'Gold' level as a Green Tourism Visitor Attraction!
6. Union Brew Lab 6-8 South College Street (£3.30)
Before we head on to our last stop of the day, I’d recommend grabbing a takeaway coffee or hot chocolate to keep you warm. There are a host of wonderful coffee shops near the National Museum of Scotland, one being Union Brew Lab. The coffee shop is part of Union Coffee who has incorporated environmental practices into the daily running of their business through using biodegradable and compostable takeaway cups, investing in more environmentally-friendly roasters (which saved 7.5 tonnes of CO2 in 2020) and winning a Gold Recycler Award.
If you're visiting during December, it’s well worth popping into the University of Edinburgh's historic Old College Quad, which is just beside Union Brew Lab, to see its beautiful annual Christmas tree.
Pictured: Hot Chocolate
7. A Sunset Walk Up Calton Hill
Unfortunately, the arrival of winter does mean shorter days but, thankfully, you don’t need to venture far to enjoy panoramic views over Edinburgh. Calton Hill is just a short distance from the National Museum of Scotland and you’ll hopefully reach it in time for sunset – a spectacular experience. Out of Edinburgh’s seven hills, Calton Hill is one of the smallest and most easily accessible yet the hill still affords you panoramic views of the city centre as well as views over the Firth of Forth to Fife. The hill is also home to The Lookout restaurant which boasts spectacular views over Princes Street and is known for using the best, local ingredients to create seasonal dishes.
Castle Street Christmas Market Castle Street from 26th November to 23rd December 10am to 6pm
If you're visiting during the festive period and don't want to end your day just yet, head along Princes Street to the Castle Street Christmas Market. It's the perfect place to find a Christmas present for a loved one as the market is home to a range of independent makers and designers who will showcase beautiful handcrafted products. There's also food and drink stalls!
Well, that concludes our sustainable, budget-friendly day out in Edinburgh, I hope you enjoyed the tour and have a great time exploring Edinburgh this winter!
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