The best free and cheap things to do in Glasgow and Edinburgh
Visit a library, go for a walk, bake a cake or see some cheap theatre
Beat the January blues with these guaranteed pick-me-ups, suggested by our writers and some friends of The List. They’re all free, or cost just a few quid, so you’ll come out of winter with your bank balance intact and a smile on your face
Bake a cake
Forget Mr Kipling, it is possible to make a fantastic cake for tea with friends from pretty much what you have in the house. Finish that jam and make a Victoria sponge. For a chocolate and orange cake all you need is half a jar of marmalade and some cocoa powder. Why not polenta and lemon? Or raisins and one parsnip makes a war-time special.
Domenico del Priore, owner of Cookie café, Glasgow
Take a treasure hunt
If you think you’ve seen it all in your city, put your knowledge to the test with a Huntfun treasure hunt. For £4.99, families or groups of friends can equip themselves with a booklet of questions, maps and clues, then set off around Glasgow or Edinburgh on an expedition. Hunts can be purchased online or bought from selected shops, and how long they take is up to you. Dive through it in two hours, or break it up with pit stops at eateries along the way. www.huntfun.co.uk (Kelly Apter)
Bag a cheap theatre seat
As part of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Reveal season at the Traverse, patrons can enjoy some new writing for next to nothing. A double bill of short works in progress, Love Letters to the Public Transport System by Molly Taylor and Count Me In by Gary McNair, take place in Traverse 2 from Wed 2 to Sat 5 Mar. The Traverse also regularly stages rehearsed readings of new plays with audiences paying what they can. Next up is Martin Travers’ Roman Bridge, Fri 18 & Sat 19 Mar, 8.30pm. www.traverse.co.uk.
At the Royal Lyceum the List-sponsored First Look Friday takes place on the first Friday of the run with all tickets a snip at £5. The next FLF show is a preview of Stellar Quines’ The Age of Arousal on Fri 18 Feb at 7.45pm. Tickets from www.lyceum.org.uk (Allan Radcliffe)
Get fit for free
Get fit while making a contribution. Join a conservation project and help with cleaning beaches, clearing overgrown beauty spots, planting trees and building walls – all while burning off that figgy pudding. Glasgow residents can join the National Trust for Scotland Glasgow Group Conservation Volunteers, for a small membership fee, with the bonus of free entry to all National Trust places of interest in Scotland (www.glasgowgreener.org.uk). In the east, the Edinburgh University society The Dirty Weekenders meet for projects at 10am on Sundays outside the Pleasance Sport Centre and at the Auld Hoose pub at 10pm Thursdays. dirty.eusa.ed.ac.uk (Barbara Adams)
See The Tron strip off
Launched last year, Tron Stripped is an initiative to showcase original productions that are ‘stripped back’ to their bare essentials. There’s no compromise on quality, though: the next offering is a revival of Charles Dyer’s comedy Staircase, a bittersweet comedy about two men who have been running a hairdresser’s shop for 20 years, starring Benny Young and the theatre’s artistic director Andy Arnold. Ticket prices start at a mere £7. www.tron.co.uk (Allan Radcliffe)
Volunteer at the GFT
Recently, I began working as a volunteer at the Glasgow Film Theatre. I’ve joined the large team of cinema lovers who work one night a week as ushers in return for as many free films as they can fathom. Not only is it a lovely place to work and a way of supporting one of Glasgow’s great not-for-profit cultural institutions, but it also just about means I can entertain myself (and one guest per week) for free, whenever I happen to have some free time.
Ellie Harrison, artist and founder of the Bring Back British Rail campaign
Update your apps
Fight back against mundanity using the power of the iPhone. You can get a much-needed, laughter-fuelled release of endorphins from US satirical news outlet The Onion, whose free app for iPhone and Android dispenses choice headlines such as ‘Fully Validated Kanye West Retires to Quiet Farm in Iowa’. Also entertaining is FML Official (FML standing for ‘Fuck My Life’), a schadenfreude-satisfying app devoted to the worst misfortunes to befall other people. Lastly, pretend you’ve got a cameo in Tron: Legacy with the iDaft 2 app, which puts you in control of the vocoder for DIY versions of Daft Punk tracks ‘Harder Better Faster Stronger’ and ‘Technologic’. List insider tip: do this with a serious face and people will think you’re reading work emails. All apps are free and available for iPhone and Android. (Jonny Ensall)
Blow your own trumpet
Fancy developing your musical side? Both Glasgow and Edinburgh have Freecycle schemes in operation (see www.uk.freecycle.org for details), so pick yourself up a cheap/free unwanted instrument, then haste yourself along to Glasgow’s Blochestra (Bloc Bar, 117 Bath Street, contact email@example.com) to play for free in a hotch potch (but surprisingly tuneful) rock ensemble every Monday night. In Edinburgh give bric-a-brac haven Le Chariot Express (47 South Clerk Street) a try for a long-lost instrument, as well as almost anything else you’d care to find.
Covet a cupcake
There has been a noticeable craze for these little treats over the last few years, and it’s easy to see why: cupcakes provide an instant pick-me-up for just a few pounds and pence. Glasgow fans should head to Cupcake (70 Bell Street) where prices start from £2 for a basic individual cupcake. In Edinburgh visit the newly opened Bibi’s Bakery (37 Hanover Street) where it’s £1.50 for a single cupcake.
Take the sea air
When I’m feeling glum I like to get in the car and drive out to the sea. My absolute favourite spot is driving up and down the hilly, windy roads to Pennan in the north east of Scotland. It’s such a beautiful little fishing village, with a harbour and cliffs surrounding the tiny, brightly painted cottages. You can park the car at one end of the village and then walk along the beach to the other end. On a good day the light is very special there, and I always find that the seaside breeze blows all your troubles away.
By Donna Wilson, designer
Join a secret society
Ceremonial handshakes, bottom-spanking initiations and goat sacrifices – secret societies offer so much more than the pub quiz. Edinburgh has a particularly seamy history of clandestine clubs, yet Professor Richard Wiseman and Dr Peter Lamont, gentleman psychologists and magicians, have revived the tradition to expand minds. With the audience maintaining anonymity behind masks, the Edinburgh Secret Society has delivered talks on telepathy, improving sleep patterns and how to transform a tablecloth into a chicken. Inevitably, they’re reluctant to discuss February’s events beyond the expanding club exploring ‘the darker side of the human psyche’, suggesting you join the mailing list at www.edinburghsecretsociety.co.uk. In Glasgow meanwhile, artists of every indiscipline will gather monthly to showcase new ideas and drink at The Not So Secret Society from Wed 16 Feb (www.rhymeswithpurple.net/secret). (Jay Richardson)
Indulge some cheap chuckles
Everyone loves to laugh. FACT. Whether it be at puns, dirty jokes, slapstick or people claiming that Justin Bieber is a good musician with talent. We like to laugh. Which is why The Stand Comedy Club’s £2 Red Raw nights are brilliant. Eight new comics, a great host and a brilliant headliner. It’s a complete bargain. Most of the best Scottish comedian started at Red Raw – why not go see a legend before he or she knows it?
Red Raw, The Stand, Edinburgh, Mondays; The Stand, Glasgow, Tuesdays.
By Daniel Sloss, comedian
Quaff some vino
Wine tasting: incredibly pretentious pass-time for the tweed-wearing classes, or a good excuse to swallow as much alcohol as possible? Either way, you can find out yourself for very low cost. In Edinburgh WoodWinters Wines and Whiskies (91 Newington Road, 667 2760) holds tasting sessions starting from only £5. For Glasgow wine-lovers, visit Cross Stobs Bottle Shop (2 Grahamston Road, Barrhead, 881 7194) for their £5 wine-tasting nights. Complete a form online (www.crossstobsbottleshop.co.uk) or phone to book your place. (Barbara Adams)
Buy a bargain box set
Seeing some miserable sods being put through the emotional wringer can be the perfect way to cheer yourself up. Season one of HBO’s latest epic In Treatment (£19.99) is, like the best therapy, well worth the investment. Gabriel Byrne plays charming shrink Dr Paul Weston, who helps a variety of lost souls including a suicidal gymnast, tormented fighter pilot and warring couple. There’s more low-cost sit-down pleasures to be had with the first three series of the Johnny Vegas comedy Ideal (£11.91), while you can also reach for the stars for less than a tenner c/o Prof Brian Cox with his Wonders of the Solar System (£8.49).
All prices from www.amazon.co.uk
Be moved by a b-movie
While the Edinburgh Zombie Club may appear biased towards one particular breed of monster movie, there’s more to it than meets the rotting eye. The Club exists to appreciate all manner of cult and b-movie delights, and is based in the subterranean lair that is rock bar The Banshee Labyrinth’s back room cinema (29-35 Niddry Street). The next event – to be held on Wed 26 Jan – will be a swords and sorcery double bill. All events are free. (Niki Boyle)
Beat boredom with board games
If you were taken down at Scrabble or Monopoly by your auntie this Christmas you might want to get in some early practice for next year. Glasgow’s Primordial group meets in the city’s West End every week to play some grown-up games that require high-level tactical thinking (www.primordialgroup.com). Also in Glasgow, the Go-Club meets on Thursdays at Tchai-Ovna (Otago Street) to play the ancient Chinese game of Go. In the capital, The University of Edinburgh Card & Board Game Society is open to non-students and meets on Tuesday nights at Meadows Bar (Buccleuch Street), while Edinburgh Backgammon meets several times a month at Out of the Blue (32-36 Dalmeny Street). See www.meetup.com/edinburgh-backgammon for exact dates. (Barbara Adams)
Pimp your lunch
Put the lid back on that jar of Beluga caviar, there's no need to go breaking the bank to get a good feed. There are dozens of great lunch deals in Glasgow and Edinburgh. In Glasgow, Operetta (58 Waterloo Street) has an extensive takeaway menu including a soup and sandwich combo for under £3. For a sit-down lunch, Lucky 7 Canteen (166 Bath Street) has a ‘No Frills No Fuss’ mantra and notoriously good food at crazy prices – starters cost £3 and mains £4. The top Glasgow restaurants also offer lunch deals, such as The Grill Roomat the Square (29 Royal Exchange Square), whose £15.50 for two courses plus coffee lets budget diners enjoy excellent food in a classy setting.
In Edinburgh, our new favourite lunch deal can be found at The Baked Potato Shop (56 Cockburn Street), where a vegetarian-friendly soup, sandwich and crisps combo costs only £3.20. For sit-down lunching, there’s a host of curry joints that offer lunch for under a fiver, including Imans (4-6 Lochrin Buildings), the Mosque Kitchen (50 Potterrow) and Anna Purna (45 St Patrick’s Square) – the latter offering three courses for an astounding £4.95. For something a bit fancier, the Tower Restaurant (1 Chambers Street) offers views across the city while you settle down to a set-menu lunch for £14.95, while two of Leith’s Michelin-starred establishments – The Kitchin (78 Commercial Street) and The Plumed Horse (50–54 Henderson Street) – offer three courses for around £25. (Jay Thundercliffe and Niki Boyle)
Re-discover the library
Libraries are free, cosy and soothingly quiet. In Edinburgh, try and attend The Big Book Group Bash on Mon 24 Jan (Central Library, George 1V Bridge) where you can hear both poetry and prose read by selection of authors. Glasgow-dwellers can head to The Mitchell Library (North Street) to view Mr Jackson's Toy Theatres (until 28 Jan), which exhibits an archive of hand-coloured theatres, scenery and characters. (Barbara Adams)
Have a Party
Fancy dress costs you nothing and creates a memorable and fun night. Give people a theme if they're struggling – 80s, burlesque, porn stars. Guests to be DJs and bring a CD. Everyone to bring a bottle of booze that's been gathering dust then convert these into a punch with berry cordial and lemonade. Alcoholic jellies – yum. Cava cocktails feel special. Kids party food instead of sophisticated nibbles. Finally, bring out the tea and toast at midnight to rejuvenate everyone.
By Tina Warren, organiser of Club Noir
Marvel at nature
At this bleak time of year it is easy to assume, forlornly, that nature is lying dormant too. Lindsay Gemmell from Glasgow's Pollok Park (2060 Pollokshaws Road) and Sandra Donnelly from the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden (Inverleith Row) both passed on some helpful facts about general things to watch out for in nature at this time of year. ‘The shoots of crocuses and snowdrops are the first flowers to start showing signs of life this month,’ says Donnelly. ‘And there are a few winter interest trees flourishing such as Witch Hazels and the Chinese Flowering Plum Tree. Animals which are still prowling around on land include roe deer, foxes and squirrels, whereas on water you can keep an eye out for mallard ducks and king fishers. There are quite a few birds about feeding: thrushes, blackbirds and blue tits which you can check out on your own or at the Botanic Gardens on 29 & 30 January when the biggest bird survey in the world will take place.’ There’s also activity in Glasgow, says Gemmell. ‘A large grey heron has recently attached himself to Pollok House so you can see him being fed sardines everyday if you go soon!’