Visiting Scotland's capital this summer? Make your time and money go a wee bit further with these fun activities that also support good causes
1. Go and see a show
The main Edinburgh festivals (there is more than one you know) the Fringe, International, Artand International Book festivals run throughout August and are all run by organisations that are charities, so technically just by going to a show you are doing your bit. If you really want to feel good about yourself though, keep an eye out for some one-off charity events at each of the festivals, or take in one of the many shows which have special performances that benefit a good cause. Waverley Care is one of the most recognised charities during the festival season. Its bucket shakers (pictured) patrol the grounds of the Fringe’s biggest venue the Pleasance and have done so for the past 25 years. The charity also puts on some great events including a Comedy Gala. Another famous festival cause to look out for is the Amnesty Imprisoned Writers series. This free event is held daily at the Book Festival and sees an array of celebrated writers, playwrights and poets read the writings of imprisoned writers from around the world.
2. Eat in a café with a conscience
Seeing shows is hungry work and we all gotta eat, right? But, if you really want to make a difference, you can eat at one of Edinburgh’s many great not-for-profit cafes and restaurants, run by charities or social enterprises. Perhaps the most famous is the Social Bite sandwich shop. Launched in 2012 it employs people from a homeless background and puts them through its own training academy to help them get back on their feet all the while paying them a wage. It has two venues in the city on Rose Street and Shandwick Place. It shot to fame last year when Hollywood actor George Clooney popped in for a coffee and it’s rumoured Leonardo DiCaprio is planning a visit later this year. Once you have tried Social Bite, why not try one of our other favourite Edinburgh cafés with a conscience.
3. Have a drink in a social enterprise pub
Cafés are great but pubs are even better, aren’t they? TheSouthside Social is a social enterprise selling the full range of alcoholic beverages, as well as offering a bite to eat. Opened last year in the former premises of the Meadow Bar in the city’s Buccleuch Street, the bar serves quality food and drink while supporting the local community. Patrons are served by young people training for a certificate of work readiness who undertake a 19-week training program, a mix between classroom-based training, on-the-job training and work experience. Recently, the company behind the Southside has opened a second great social enterprise bar at Harry’s Bar (pictured) on the city’s Randolph Place – it even has a dance floor at the weekend.
4. Take a walking tour of the city with a guide who used to be homeless
For visitors who want to see as much of Edinburgh as possible but only have limited time, the obvious thing to do is to go on an organised tour. With all the food you’ve been stuffing down at Social Bite and Harry’s Bar, though, you’d might want to consider exchanging an open-top bus for a walking tour. As well as taking you round all the showcase historical landmarks the usual guides offer, Invisible Edinburgh guides, who have all been affected by homelessness, offer some of their own personal insight into Edinburgh’s past, present and future and teach you about the social projects that make the city what it is. These tours are ideal for people who want to head off the beaten track and uncover the real Edinburgh.
5. Find a designer item in a charity shop
Your dad may say shopping is a good walk ruined, but even he would enjoy some of Edinburgh’s best charity shops. They are not all full of naff jumpers and copies of the Da Vinci Code, you know! The city is blessed with some of the best quality charity shops in the country, where you can find everything from vintage designer label clothing to rare books and vinyl. One of the best areas to visit for an afternoon of bargain hunting is Stockbridge. The picturesque suburb to the north of the city has a plethora of specialist stores, particularly on Raeburn Place. One of the most notable is the Shelter shop there, renowned for designer items by the likes of Dior, Burberry, Chanel and Armani. Its manager Pete Jew was even recently named the UK’s top charity shop worker. If clothes aren’t your thing, you could pop in to Shelter’s dedicated book shop next door or, if you are a music lover check out the Oxfam Music shop a little further along the street. It is full of second-hand vinyl, CDs, cassettes and music memorabilia such as posters, magazines and sheet music. Another must visit is Mary’s Living and Giving Shop, created by retail queen Mary Portas it benefits Save the Children and is the only one of its kind outside of London.
6. Visit one of the outdoor markets
If being indoors during the summer isn’t your thing (even in rainy Scotland) then why not shop at one of Edinburgh’s many markets. Our favourite is the St Mary’s Cathedral market which was rebranded as the Tram Stop Market in 2014. Not surprisingly it’s situated at the end of the tram line, just off York Place. Organised by a social enterprise it is popular with local residents and visitors alike due to its city centre location and of course its wide range of hot street food and fresh produce. It is open on Saturdays from 9am to 4pm. Another worth a look during the festival is the socially responsible St John’s Market. Situated in the grounds of St Johns Church at the west end of Princes Street Gardens, it stocks a smorgasbord of artefacts, crafts, artwork, clothing and gifts and is open throughout August.
7. Visit one of the many major attractions
Edinburgh has an abundance of major attractions but what you might not realise is that many are actually charities. Edinburgh Zoo, run by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, is home to the only giant pandas in the UK and is famous for its colony of penguins housed in Europe’s largest outdoor penguin pool. The Royal Yacht Britannia (named Scotland’s best visitor attraction by Visit Scotland) is moored at Ocean Terminal in Leith. Sticking to a royal theme The Royal Botanic Garden, founded in the 17th century, has 31 hectares full of plants from around the world and if you are after something a bit more modern take a trip to Dynamic Earth for an afternoon of science and technology. However, the jewel in the crown has to be Edinburgh Castle (that’s the really old building on top of the big rock at the end of Princes Street), which is run by Historic Environment Scotland. In the evening it is the setting for the world famous Military Tattoo, but during the day you can marvel at the great hall, admire the oldest crown jewels in Britain and see the famous Stone of Destiny, on which British and Scottish monarchs have been enthroned for nearly a millennia. Just don’t forget to cover your ears if you are there for the one o’clock gun.
8. Visit one of the city's world renowned museums or galleries
Edinburgh’s museums and galleries are also major attractions, but we think they deserve their own category here as most of these tourist hotspots are also run by charities. The National Museums of Scotland charity cares for collections of national and international importance, presenting and interpreting them for a broad audience. The charity runs the signature National Museum of Scotland as well as national museums of Flight, Rural Life and the National War Museum, housed within Edinburgh Castle. The National Museum of Scotland (pictured) on Chambers Street has recently re-opened and showcases even more of its collection than ever, so even if you’ve been before it is worth another visit. If you prefer a gallery to a museum then check out the National Galleries.The separate Modern, Portrait and National Gallery are open daily, are free and even have a shuttle bus running between them.
9. Get paddling on the canal
If shopping and sightseeing isn’t your thing and you want to get away from the buzz of the city centre during the festival you don’t have to go far to find good stuff to do that also benefits the community. Bridge 8 Hub is Scotland’s first canal-based outdoor activity centre and has brought adrenaline to the waterways in south-west Edinburgh. It’s a social enterprise and one that we at TFN never grow tired of. Only five miles from Princes Street, it will take you less than half an hour to get there on a bus from town. On offer are a mix of activities including canoeing, kayaking, raft-building, fatyaking, akwakating. There is something for everyone with taster sessions for the unexperienced to more adventurous challenges. If you prefer dry land Bridge 8 Hub also offers archery, mountain biking and a climbing tower.
10. Watch a film in the Edinburgh Filmhouse
Last but not least is this little gem halfway up Lothian Road. When you’re feeling weary of loud, live entertainment nothing beats a bucket of popcorn and a good film. Edinburgh Filmhouse is just the tonic and it’s run by independent cinema run charity, the Filmhouse Cinema. Showing a mixture of films from around the world and throughout the decades, there is something for everyone from crowd pleasers, to family films, obscure arthouse outings or the occassional classic in one o its three screens.The cinema, which also has a good-quality café bar, is home to the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which was held this year in June. Throughout the year, though, keep an eye open for a famous face – the likes of Sean Connery, Martin Scorsese and Kenneth Branagh have all been guests in the past.
Have we missed something or do you have tip to share with our readers? Leave a comment below.