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10 Great Free Things to Do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is one of the most popular places to visit in the UK. It’s OK if you don’t want to spend lots of money when you’re here – some of the best things to do in Edinburgh are actually free!

Here are our choices for the top 10 free things to do in Edinburgh…


1. Explore the City’s Brilliant Museums

These are at the top of my list for free things to do in Edinburgh. Most of Edinburgh’s great museums and galleries are free. A few may have a small fee for the exhibitions they offer but you will have lots to see and do with your time without spending anything.

The National Museum of Scotland

This is at the top of many lists, and in our opinion it is one of the ‘must-see‘ places as you can spend all afternoon here. It has something for everyone, from Scotland’s ancient history to interacting with new exhibits in the futuristic areas.  

If you are looking for something different, the museum offers its own dedicated areas with a wide range of topics such as Asian culture and even its own animal sections ranging from the largest to some of the smallest creatures. 

The museum website offers a simple map, so you can plan a whole day out and see all parts you want. Below is just a small look at what the museum has to offer.

Virtual Tour of National Museum

National Gallery of Scotland

The National Gallery is one of Edinburgh’s best free attractions and its collections are some of the best in the world. You can see paintings by  well-known Scottish artists and famous names such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt.

The gallery is not too big, which we think lets you really appreciate the artist’s work in about an hour. The building is very impressive too.

After you have finished you could have a coffee in the gallery’s award-winning café. This has beautiful views of Princes Street Gardens and Edinburgh’s buildings.

Museum of Childhood

This is one of the less-known museums in Edinburgh, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit! 

This is a little museum on Edinburgh’s most famous street, the Royal Mile. It’s free to enter and is full of nostalgic toys and games from the 18th century to today.

It’s great for both adults who want to remember their childhood and has some interactive parts for kids too.

2. Walk Around The Royal Botanic Garden

This is a great option for nature lovers. This beautiful garden has many stunning and vibrant flower displays. It’s open 365 days per year, but we think visiting during the first weeks of autumn is the best time because the variety of colours in the different kinds of trees are incredible. 

The garden is 72 acres which can be explored freely on your own or on their walking tours. The oldest tree in the garden is a silver fir tree which was planted in 1680. Don’t forget to take a photo of it and don’t miss the stunning waterfalls and ponds either!

One of The RGBE’s Greenhouses

We recommend taking along a picnic with you as there are many seats or you may feel like having it on the grass if the Scottish weather allows for that! If you’re unlucky and it rains, there are some glass houses where you can escape the rain and immerse yourself in different climates of the world. 

There are lovely cafés and restaurant facilities in the gardens if you feel like visiting after or while you’re going around. 

This is just outside the city centre, but you can get their easily on the number 23, 27 or 8 Lothian bus.

3. Visit Dean Village

A little hidden, but just 10 minutes from Edinburgh’s city centre, is this quaint little village. It’s located next to a stunning river (Water of Leith) and allows for an escape from the city, while still being in the city.

This place used to be important for grain milling for up to 800 years. Nowadays it’s one of Edinburgh’s best places to take photos and relax.

4. Walk the The Royal Mile

In the heart of the city is one of its most iconic streets. This famous street starts at Edinburgh Castle and goes all the way down the Old Town to Edinburgh’s Parliament Building. Along this mile of the street you will find various ‘closes‘ (we recommend visiting ‘Dunbar’s Close’)and beautiful buildings and sights around every corner. It’s a lovely walk and a great way to spend an hour.

You’ll see lots of tourist shops, the beautiful St Giles Cathedral and there are lots of  pubs and cafes if you want to stop.

FREE Ghost Tour

One of the most recognisable places on this street is St. Giles Cathedral. While this is a stunning building to see, I personally feel that the Edinburgh FREE Ghost Tour that starts here is a great activity!

Learn about Edinburgh’s dark and gruesome history with one of their friendly and local tour guides. Explore Edinburgh’s Old Town, visiting graveyards and alleyways which sets a perfect atmosphere for your tour.

Tours take place daily and start at 7pm outside the cathedral.

5. Take a trip to the beach

Beaches might not be the first thing you think of when you think of Edinburgh, but these two are easy to reach and are two of the best free places to go.

Portobello Beach

The most popular beach can be reached by many buses from the city centre in about 30 minutes. Scotland is not The most popular beach can be reached by many buses from the city centre in about 30 minutes. Scotland is not famous for the sun, so when it is sunny you should take advantage! Portobello Promenade is a delightful walk and a great atmosphere to go with it on one of those rare sunny days. There are lots of cafes and restaurants to try – why not try an ice-cream or fish and chips?

Cramond Beach

I think this is one of Edinburgh’s Hidden Gems. You wouldn’t expect such a charming seaside village to be so close to the city. It can be easily visited by the number 26 or 41 Lothian bus from the city centre.

You may not find this to be as busy as Portobello, but it really is a great trip. The paved promenade offers stunning views across the Firth of Forth and out to Fife. You may even see a plane coming in to land at Edinburgh Airport, as it’s not far from here.

You’ll notice many many people making the walk across the Causeway out to Cramond island when the tide is out. Be sure to check in the timings for the tide so you can access it and get back safely, here’s a quick and I would also advise some sturdy shoes as it can be quite a wet and muddy trip out there. On the small island, you can see nature and get beautiful views

I would really recommend you made the trip out there later in the day, as you can catch the sun setting across the water.

6. Hike the Hills

Arthur’s Seat

Towering over the city beneath it sits Edinburgh’s own extinct volcano. It may look very big from the streets below, but there is an easy path to follow to the top. The peak offers unbeatable 360-degree views of the city The approximately 50-minute walk to the top is well worth it!. The climb offers many opportunities to rest and enjoy the view. The first mile is quite easy, but it is a little more difficult near the top. This is probably a walk you don’t want to do in designer shoes – wear comfortable shoes!

View from the summit of Arthur’s seat

Usually, at the bottom, you’ll find an ice cream van, perhaps stop for a treat at the end

Calton Hill

This is possibly the best view of the city and perfect to watch the sunset or the sunrise. It’s a great place to visit and can be quite busy sometimes.

Just some of the views from the top of the hill.

It’s easily accessible by Regent’s Street (at the East end of Princes Street) and only takes 10 or 15 minutes to walk up the steps  and path. At the top of the hill is Nelson’s monument, inside you can find a lift to take up which will give you a great view of Princess street.

7. Visit Dr. Neil’s Garden

This is another one of the lesser-known free places in Edinburgh. On the edge of Duddingston Loch is a beautiful garden run by volunteers. Don’t miss it!

Entry to the garden is free and is open to all. This really is one of the most relaxing green spaces, wonderful to walk and talk with friends or to take time by yourself.

Number 42 stops right by the garden, which is about 20 mins journey out of the city centre.

8. Watch a Debate at the Scottish Parliament

Now the appearance of this building definitely divides opinion – I have always liked the obscure and modern design.

Interesting exterior of Scottish Parliament

I feel taking a free guided tour is the best way to see this building – you’ll learn more about the building and its history by taking the tour. Check the times, as you can book to see the First Minister (Scotland’s most important politician) answering questions in the public gallery. More Information can be found on their website.

9. Stroll along the Water of Leith Walkway

Leith Walkway runs from Dean Village all the way to the shore at Leith and this peaceful path is suitable for both The Water of Leith Walkway starts at Slateford and goes all the way to the shore at Leith (a total of around 20km). Most people walk the part of it between Dean Village and Stockbridge or Leith. This peaceful path is suitable for both walking and cycling. You will be lost in the beautiful scenery that’s found along the path and river, found only 5 mins outside some of Edinburgh’s busiest areas

If you want a whole day out, you could stop at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Stockbridge or the Gallery of Modern Art, all close to the path. Find out more and download an audio guide here

10. Join a Free Walking Tour

Taking up one of the FREE Edinburgh walking tours is great for learning more about the history of this great town.

The Sandemans tour is one I would highly recommend, because it is very informative and the guides give you  lots of facts and stories in good humour. There are a number of Free Edinburgh tours found on their website. For example, If you are a Harry Potter fan, then you may want to take that tour instead to see all things about the world of Witchcraft and Wizardry! Note that although the tours are free, you are expected to give the guide a ‘tip’ – usually £5 to £10 is expected

There is a Great video showing off what they offer below.


Day Trips from Edinburgh

With Edinburgh being located so well, it offers a good selection of day trips. We have some blog pieces on these that I would really recommend checking if you are interested!

English language advice:

Causeway a raised road or track across low or wet ground

‘Hidden Gem’ a saying used for something not many people may know about that they find great

A “must-see” place to visit is somewhere that is so good, it is almost mandatory that you visit it.

‘Close’ A Scottish term for alleyways, although it may be individually named close, entry, court, or wynd.

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