18 Free Things to do in Edinburgh

free things to do in edinburgh

Visiting (or living in) Edinburgh can be a pretty expensive business when you add together all the costs of accommodation, eating out, shopping, drinking and visiting attractions. But it’s totally possible to have an excellent day out on a minimal budget, especially if you take advantage of all the free thing to do in Edinburgh.

Whether you’re an Edinburgh local looking to explore the city more or a visitor to the Scottish capital, here are some of my favourite free things to do in Edinburgh.

free things to do in edinburgh

1. National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland is one of the biggest and best museums in Edinburgh, and best of all it’s completely free! The visiting exhibitions usually cost up to £10 to enter, but the rest of the museum is free of charge. My favourite galleries are the Scottish History and Natural History ones, and don’t forget to check out the secret rooftop garden for amazing views of Edinburgh.

2. Union Canal

On a sunny day, the Union Canal is the perfect place for a stroll if you’re looking for free things to do in Edinburgh. It’s a flat, easy walk and it feels like you’re in the middle of the countryside – the stretch of canal around Harrison Park is particularly picturesque. If you fancy splashing some cash, you can also hire kayaks, rowing boats or even a barge.

3. Royal Botanic Gardens

Another great free thing to do in Edinburgh is to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens. There are lots of different areas to explore, so you can spend hours wandering round and admiring the plants. The Glasshouses require an entry fee of £5.50, but the rest of the garden is completely free.

free things to do in edinburgh

4. The Meadows

One of the largest parks in central Edinburgh, the Meadows is a great place to go at any time of year. Go for a walk through the cherry blossoms in the spring, bring a picnic or portable barbecue to soak up the sun in the summer, admire the falling leaves during autumn – plus there are always lots of cute dogs around.

5. St Giles Cathedral

If you like a bit of history and some impressive stained glass, St Giles Cathedral is one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh. Entry to this imposing cathedral is free and you can enjoy looking at the stunning architecture and religious relics.

6. Bruntsfield

If I’m on a budget, one of my favourite free things to do in Edinburgh is just to go for a wander round the neighbourhood. Bruntsfield is one of the best areas in the city for this, with plenty of independent shops to browse, cafes to treat yourself to a hot chocolate in, picturesque streets to photograph and even the Bruntsfield Links for a stroll in the park.

7. Water of Leith

Another great place to escape city life and go for a walk on a nice day is the Water of Leith. The prettiest stretch can be found between the Dean Village and Stockbridge – look out for landmarks like St Bernard’s Well and enjoy the peace and quiet. There’s also a free visitor centre further along near Chesser.

8. Scottish Parliament

Even if you’re not particularly interested in politics, a trip to the Scottish Parliament is a great way to spend an afternoon if you’re looking for free things to do in Edinburgh. Entry is free and you can explore all the public areas including the exhibition and the Debating Chamber. There’s also a range of free guided tours (book in advance) covering politics, history, literature, architecture or art.

free things to do in edinburgh

9. Calton Hill

My favourite view of Edinburgh is definitely from Calton Hill. It’s just a short walk from the end of Princes Street and gets you an amazing panoramic view of Edinburgh Castle, the Forth, Arthur’s Seat, and lots of other Edinburgh landmarks. Don’t forget to explore the monuments on Calton Hill itself, like the National Monument of Scotland and the Dugald Stewart Monument.

10. Portobello Beach

On a sunny day, you can’t beat a trip to the seaside. A visit to Portobello Beach is a great free thing to do in Edinburgh – although make sure to keep some spare change to treat yourself to an ice cream! Sunbathe on the beach, dip your toes in the sea, go for a walk along the promenade or relive your youth in the arcades.

11. Scottish National Portrait Gallery

If you’re looking for free things to do in Edinburgh, at least one of the National Galleries of Scotland will probably be on your list. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is my favourite, with lots of interesting paintings and sculptures as well as the NGS’s collection of photography.

12. Edinburgh Farmers’ Market

My ideal Saturday starts with a trip to the Edinburgh Farmers’ Market. Entry to the market is free and there are usually plenty of free samples to try, but you’ll probably want to take some cash so you can buy some produce to take home (or have some delicious street food for breakfast!).

free things to do in edinburgh

13. Arthur’s Seat

I’ll be honest: I’ve only climbed Arthur’s Seat once because I am l-a-z-y. But if you like a bit of exercise combined with your free things to do in Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat is the one for you. If you climb to the top, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of Edinburgh.

14. Watch the Fireworks

Although there aren’t fireworks every day of the year, there are quite often displays to look our for in Edinburgh. For fireworks displays at the Castle – including the Hogmanay fireworks, the Military Tattoo fireworks and the end-of-festival fireworks in August – you can view them for free just by climbing Calton Hill or taking a picnic blanket up to the Bruntsfield Links.

free things to do in edinburgh

15. The Writers’ Museum

A great free thing to do in Edinburgh if you’re a literature lover is to visit The Writers’ Museum. The free museum holds interesting collections about Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns, but my favourite part is the Makars’ Court outside the museum which is filled with beautifully engraved flagstones with quotes from iconic Scottish literary figures.

16. Greyfriars Kirkyard

If you’re familiar with the tale of Greyfriars Bobby, take a trip to Greyfriars Kirkyard where he used to hang out. The kirkyard itself is a lovely, peaceful place to go for a walk – and if you’re a Harry Potter fan you might even be able to spot “Voldemort’s” grave.

free things to do in edinburgh

17. The Grassmarket

The Grassmarket is another area of the city I love to explore when I’m looking for free things to do in Edinburgh. It’s super picturesque and has a great view of the castle, plus there are plenty of nice wee shops and boutiques to go window shopping in. On Saturdays there’s even a free market with fresh produce, foodie treats and local crafts.

18. Museum of Childhood

For a healthy dose of nostalgia, head to the free Museum of Childhood on the Royal Mile. Covering everything from Victorian toys to games from your own childhood, you can find out all about what childhood was like through the ages.

Gillian

Freelance social media and digital marketing consultant with a penchant for writing blog posts, drinking sickly sweet cocktails and exploring the cobbled streets of Edinburgh.

11 Comments

  • MartaG says:

    Thanks for the tips! I visited Edimburgh some years ago and loved it! I want to go back soon! Best regards from Barcelona,
    Marta

    • Gillian says:

      No problem, hope you get to come back and visit Edinburgh again soon!

  • Jessie says:

    I’m actually heading to Edinburgh on Monday for a few days so this post was perfect timing! I’ve forwarded it onto my boyfriend – we’re planning on visiting Arthur’s Seat and Portobello beach, but this has given lots more ideas! xx

    Jessie | allthingsbeautiful-x

    • Gillian says:

      Hope you have a lovely trip Jessie. Fingers crossed the weather improves for the rest of your trip, has been so grey and rainy today – typical Edinburgh weather!

  • Kate says:

    Thanks for the tips! Edinburgh has been on the top of my must visit list for years now, and whenever I finally make it, I’ll be armed with many, many guides to the city. This is the first time I’ve seen one highlighting free activities, so it’s greatly appreciated!

    Kate | girlinthebluejacket.blogspot.com

    • Gillian says:

      No problem Kate, fingers crossed you manage to organise a trip to Edinburgh soon – I’m sure you will love the city once you finally visit!

  • Matt says:

    There’s some really great ideas here! Always wanted to visit and now I’m definitely going to start planning a trip!

    Matt / theguyontrend.co.uk

    • Gillian says:

      It’s definitely worth a visit – I might be biased, but Edinburgh is such a lovely city!

  • Lynnsay says:

    Thank you for all the tips! I’ve been to Edinburgh a lot throughout my life but I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t done a lot of these things!

    Lynnsay x
    http://www.sartorialscot.com

    • Gillian says:

      I know exactly what you mean – I’m the same but for Glasgow! Really need to make more of an effort to explore Scotland more this year!

  • Pam Howarc says:

    All the information you listed was very helpful I have a few that you choice I would like to do. I like shopping lil out of the way shops that’s where you find all your good treasures thanks so much for your time. You made visiting a wee bit easier.

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