I live in Edinburgh so I’m pretty biased but the city is pretty special. The cost of visiting the city and seeing what it has to offer can be expensive though. There are a lot of amazing things to do so you can find your bank balance go down fairly quickly. Here’s a selection of 22 free Edinburgh activities you can enjoy at no cost.
1. Calton Hill
There aren’t many better locations in Edinburgh to get the kind of views you can get from Calton Hill. It’s easily accessed from the city centre and you have great panoramic views of the city. You can get some even better pictures at sunset so venture up later on in the day for those
2. Scottish National Gallery
If you’re a fan of art then you should definitely make time to visit the Scottish National Gallery! The gallery is located right bang in the centre of Princes Street and it features some masterpieces from the likes of Rembrandt, Monet, Botticelli and Van Gogh. All for free!
3. Arthur’s Seat
Sitting at 250m above sea level, Arthur’s Seat gives great views of the city coupled with a nice 30 minute walk up the hill. The scenery is fantastic and if you fancy a run rather than a walk then it’s 5km round Arthur’s Seat with a mix of up and downhill making it an enjoyable one.
4. Walk up the Royal Mile
The Royal Mile takes you from Edinburgh Castle right down to Holyrood Palace. You’ll pass many bars, shops and tourist spots like the Real Mary King’s Close and St Giles’ Cathedral. If you’re on the Royal Mile during the Festival Fringe in August then you’ll be able to enjoy some of the street performers (and collect 38,639 leaflets at the same time!).
5. Gorgie City Farm
The City farm opened to the public in 1982 and it’s located just two miles away from the city centre. You can get tours of the farm, enjoy the workshops and learn more about farming and the animals. The farm has plenty of animals to see: pigs, cows, sheep, chickens, rabbits, goats and plenty more. There’s also a cafe on site that’s open at the weekends.
6. Royal Botanic Gardens
Founded in the 17th century and located just one mile from the city centre you can enjoy 72 acres of amazing scenery. It’s absolutely free to get in and stroll about with many free courses, tours and walks organised throughout the week. There are some fantastic glasshouses too but you will have to pay a small fee to enter those.
7. Scottish Parliament
At a cost of £400m, the Parliament building opened in 2004 and the modern looks have divided opinion. With that said, it’s great that it’s open to the public six days a week for free. You’re able to walk round at your own pace or join a tour as you learn more about the workings of the Scottish Parliament.
8. Stockbridge Market
Every Sunday from 10am to 5pm you can venture to Stockbridge for the farmer’s market not to miss! It has over 40 traders selling their wares from salmon and chocolate to beer and crafts. There are many small independent shops and bars in Stockbridge to have a look in afterwards too.
Cramond (pictured at the top of this post) is in the north of Edinburgh and the beach is the perfect place for a stroll or a cycle. There’s also a couple of places nearby to either enjoy a beer or a coffee. When the tide is low you’re also able to walk over the causeway to the island. Be sure to check the tide timings so you don’t get stuck on the island though!
10. Edinburgh Festival Fringe
What’s not to love about the world’s largest arts festival? The month of August brings the biggest acts to Edinburgh and shows feature in over 300 venues in the city. There is a complete mixture of shows with plenty of free shows on offer too. If you’re looking to visit then here’s the best way to enjoy the Festival Fringe on the cheap.
11. St Giles Cathedral
The Cathedral is said to date back to around 1124 and it’s still active today with a few hundred amongst the congregation. The Cathedral is beautiful inside and out with guided tours available to explore and learn even more. It’s on the Royal Mile so it’s easily accessible too.
12. Portobello Beach
Another lovely beach to explore is Portobello Beach. Situated around four miles from the city centre, Portobello Beach is a great place to go to run, swim, have a few drinks, watch/partake in volleyball or get those Instagram worthy shots! The suburb itself is also worth checking out.
13. National Museum of Scotland
Do you want to see a life-size T-rex? Well there’s one place in Edinburgh you can go to to do just that! After a short walk from the city centre you can experience, not only a lovely building but a fantastic museum. There are many excellent exhibitions including Ancient Egypt, Scottish History, Animal World and a lot of interactive activities in the Explore section.
The range of hills running for 20 miles running to the south west of Edinburgh are named the Pentlands. The highest peak sits at roughly 580m or 1,900 ft. There are many activities you can enjoy here including hiking, walking, mountain biking, horse riding or even skiing.
15. Dr Neil’s Garden
The garden is located around three miles from the city centre in Duddingston Village. This beautiful garden is quite the hidden gem and it features many different species of plants. Open from 10am until Dusk every day, it’s a great way to get out of the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh city centre.
16. Water of Leith Cycle Route
What’s not to love about keeping fit and seeing the beautiful Edinburgh scenery? The cycle routes throughout Edinburgh are excellent for a quiet cycle. The route follows the Union canal and you’ll get a chance to see a lot of wildlife and have plenty of opportunity to rest at the multiple parks on the route.
17. St Marys Cathedral
The cathedral was built in 1879 and funded by two sisters, with the two spires later named after them. It is still active with many classical concerts taking place there during the Festival Fringe too. The cathedral also features Sir Walter Scott’s pew that it inherited from a nearby church.
18. Comedy at the Stand
The Stand Comedy Club is a great place to spend an evening. There are many small intimate rooms with free comedy on each night. Many comedians try their material out here before launching on their tours so there’s always the opportunity of seeing the next big comedy star!
19. Archivists’ Garden
This unique garden has around 57 different species of plants and is situated on Princes Street making it really easy to get to. There are many interesting stories in relation to the plants and Scottish history that you’re able to enjoy as you walk round.
20. Greyfriars Bobby
There’s a famous local story surrounding the life-size statue of Bobby the dog. It’s said that when John Gray, Bobby’s owner, died the faithful dog sat on his grave for 14 years before Bobby passed away. A statue was erected and is now a popular tourist attraction. Unfortunately the statue has had to be restored at a cost due to tourists rubbing it’s nose and eroding it. So don’t rub Bobby’s nose!
There are plenty of free Edinburgh options to see some greenery, enjoy the scenery and walk. There’s Holyrood Park, Inverleith Park and Princes Street Gardens to name just a few. You’ll find ponds, football, sunbathing and play parks to enjoy in the parks around Edinburgh.
22. Edinburgh Castle
What free Edinburgh activities list would be complete without the most iconic tourist attraction in the Scottish capital? You can’t miss the castle as you wander through Edinburgh. Although it does cost to enter you can experience the castle from close up for nothing. You can’t leave Edinburgh without getting a photo of the biggest tourist attraction in the city!