15 Free Things to Do in Edinburgh

By Jessica Russo

Ah, Edinburgh - a storybook city of cobblestone streets, medieval structures, perched castles, and colorful shopfronts. Scotland's capital city is a cultural playground, and while it may be quaint, it is overflowing with things to see and do.

From hilly hikes to magnificent museums, this handy list of free things to do in Edinburgh will save you a bit of money on sightseeing... so you can spend more on whisky at the pub!

Parks and Gardens

1. Arthur's Seat and Holyrood Park

Looking for a little bit of countryside in the city? Look no further than Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park! Wear sneakers, grab a water bottle, and hike up this grassy green hill. If you make it all the way up to the top, you'll be rewarded with fantastic views of Edinburgh and an amazing memory.

2. Calton Hill

Views, views, views. For amazing photo ops of Princes Street and Edinburgh Castle without the 45-minute hike of Arthur's Seat, hike up just a few minutes to Calton Hill. The area is speckled with statues and monuments, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled.

3. Princes Street Gardens

These beautifully-manicured emerald gardens lie in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. Strolling through the gardens, you'll pass the Scottish National Gallery, trickling fountains, cafe stands, and several monuments and statues - including the famous (and huge) Scott Monument. With easy to follow paths that run parallel to Princes St, a walk through these gardens is the perfect detour when walking from one site to the next.

4. Royal Botanic Garden

Just north of central Edinburgh, along the Water of Leith river, you'll find the picture-perfect Royal Botanic Garden. Walk along the Water of Leith Walkway until you reach the garden, then spend a lovely morning frolicking through all kinds of vibrant plants. When you get hungry, there are several restaurants and cafes in the area with great views of the gardens!

Museums and Galleries

First opened to the public in 1859, this renowned art gallery is a must-see. Located on "The Mound" near Princes Street, this gallery is the place to see famous Scottish art.

6. National Museum of Scotland

Visit this beautiful museum and learn all about Scottish culture, history, and technology. Its unique architecture and glass ceiling are exhibits of art themselves.

Just west of central Edinburgh, near Dean Village, sits the fascinating Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Gawk at collections of 20th-century art, stroll through the sculpture park, and sip a coffee at the museum's cafe.

8. The Writer's Museum

Edinburgh has inspired all sorts of writers - from Walter Scott to J.K. Rowling. Lady Stair's House, home to the Writers' Museum, lies just off the Lawnmarket and is a interesting museum presenting the stories of Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson, among others. See unique portraits, drafts, personal objects, and more!

Castles and Churches

9. Edinburgh Castle

While there is a small fee to enter this famous castle, there is no fee to look from the outside! While we do recommend going inside, Edinburgh Castle is a spectacle from afar. Hike up the side of the castle, which is perched atop a hill, or take the easy walk up the Royal Mile. The castle's grounds boast some of the most amazing views in the city. Instagrammable spot? You bet.

10. St. Giles' Cathedral

This is one of those churches that will make you say whoa as soon as you step inside. Admire the grandeur and eye-widening artwork of this medieval masterpiece, located on the Royal Mile.

Walks and Villages

11. Dean Village

Get a taste of Scottish countryside in this adorable village, walking distance from central Edinburgh! Just 23 minutes from Edinburgh Castle on foot, enter a quaint world of cute paths, traditional cottage-like homes, and trickling streams.

12. Water of Leith Walkway

Take the scenic route! This public foot and bike path runs along the outskirts of Edinburgh. Enter the walkway in Dean Village, and if you feel like being adventurous, take it all the way up to the coast!

13. The Royal Mile

Take a leisurely stroll down Edinburgh's main drag - a long, bustling street of colorful pubs, interesting shops, awe-inpisirng churches, and amazing views. Window shop, snap photos, and stop off for a bite to eat! Tons of museums and sightseeing spots are actually on the Royal Mile, so keep your eyes open for familiar places. In fact, the Royal Mile leads right up to Edinburgh Castle! As you walk, look out for Victoria Street, a curved, picturesque street of brightly colored shops - one of the most photographed streets in Edinburgh.

14. Greyfriar's Kirkyard

Nestled on the southern edge of Edinburgh's Old Town, this mysterious 16th-century graveyard is known to be one of the most haunted in the world! Do you dare to take a walk through?

Well... once you make it out alive, pay a visit to the Greyfriars Bobby statue and Greyfriars Kirk!

15. Tour Scottish Parliament

Did you know that all visits and guided tour of the Scottish Parliament are free of charge? Simply show up at the beautiful, modern building near the Palace of Holyroodhouse, or book a visit online at www.visitscottishparliament.uk.


Live music!

Okay, you may have to pay for a beer or whisky, but clapping along to live folk music is 100% free, and 100% fun. While many of Edinburgh's pubs hold live music nights, be sure to check out these favorites: Whistlebinkies, Stramash, and Sandy Bell's, and Whiski Bar.

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