Exploring the Edinburgh city centre does not have to cost you an arm and a leg. If you are looking for free things to do, Edinburgh has plenty of activities and sights to offer.
We all know the old adage, “the best things in life are free”. Edinburgh is no exception, with plenty of galleries, museums and outside areas that are free to access.
Whether you are staying for a day or a week, travelling alone or with your family, read on to find out about or favourite free things to do in Edinburgh.
Free Outdoor Excursions
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
The Royal Botanic Garden is the jewel of the city. It dates back around 350 years and continues to amaze visitors today.
You can spend a whole day meandering around the gardens. Here you can simply relax or walk around and learn more about plants from around the world.
While there, make sure to check out the Woodland Garden, the Rock Garden, the Chinese Hillside, the Scottish Native Plants Collection, as well as the Rhododendron Collection. All of these areas are completely free to access!
It is one of our favourite free attractions in the city, and even people who hate the outdoors will marvel at the beauty of the gardens.
Royal Mile (and neighbouring Grassmarket)
The Royal Mile is a famous tourist site in the Scottish capital. Both the Royal Mile and the neighbouring Grassmarket cannot be missed when visiting the city.
The Royal Mile is a stretch of road that connects Edinburgh Castle with Holyroodhouse Castle. It is a cobblestone street running through Old Town. Walking along this stretch of road will have you exploring plenty of secrets, and it is completely free to walk here! From the Royal Mile, you can reach the Scottish Parliament in just one minute’s walk.
Next, you can head to Grassmarket. This medieval marketplace has a fascinating (but brutal) history, as public executions were held here. From Grassmarket, you will have uninterrupted views of the Castle.
Several of the shops in Old Town has the Edinburgh Greater Grassmarket Historic Trail Map available for free. You can use this map and go on a free, self-guided tour of the area.
Princes Street Gardens
The Princes Street Gardens used to once be a massive loch (lake), which has since been drained.
This beautiful park is perfect for a picnic spot or a boozy sundowner as it is one of the few parks in Scotland where you can enjoy alcohol in public.
The Castle is foreboding from this angle as it looms over the Gardens. Photographers especially love coming to this park when visiting Edinburgh. It is the perfect spot to snap a picture of the Castle surrounded by blossoms from the level of Princes Street.
Should you visit in the winter months, you can enjoy some local delicacies at the Edinburgh Christmas Market, which is held annually in the Gardens.
The Water of Leith Walkway
The Water of Leith Walkway is a 13-mile stretch that weaves through the city. Walking or cycling this walkway is the perfect way to enjoy nature while discovering the many secrets of Edinburgh.
The scenic route will take you past some noteworthy attractions. These include Dean Village, the Scottish Modern Art Gallery, the Union Canal and the Saughton Gardens.
We highly recommend you explore Dean Village a little bit. Dean Village is just a small residential area, but it has remained untouched by modern times.
Before you get started, head to the Lanark Road Visitor Centre to learn about some natural sites you will see on your walk.
Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat
Holyrood Park is 650 acres of peace and tranquillity in the heart of the city.
This park has three lochs to admire, or you can visit the ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel.
The main summer in Holyrood Park is called Arthur’s Seat, and if you make the climb to the top, you will be spoiled with gorgeous views stretching out for miles and miles.
Free Galleries and Museums
Scottish National Gallery
The Scottish National Gallery, located in the heart of the city, is one of the best free attractions.
Inside this amazing gallery, you will find fine art dating back to the Renaissance period. The walls of the gallery are adorned by artwork from world-famous artists. Gaze upon A Woman In Bed by Rembrandt, Orchard in Blossom by Van Gogh, and The Virgin Adorning the Sleeping Christ Child by Botticelli – all for free!
You can spend hours strolling around the gallery. There is also a shuttle bus that takes visitors between the three gallery sites for just £1.
National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland is a free museum that you cannot miss while in Edinburgh.
This museum consists of four levels, and you can see everything from unique Scottish history to world cultures.
Enter the Grand Gallery, and stand for a minute staring at the Millenium Clock. Then it is time to explore the exhibitions. Learn about our natural world, fashion from the ages, modern art, science and technology, and learn about how creativity developed over the years.
Whether you are into history or not, you are sure to find something that fascinates you at the free museums in Edinburgh.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is beautiful on the inside and the outside. Even just standing outside on Queen Street, you will be amazed at how spectacular this Gallery is.
Even before heading into the exhibitions to start gawking at art, your breath will be taken away by the Great Hall. Here there are several murals depicting characters from Scotland’s history, like Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and James Hutton.
Next, you can head into the gallery and get lost amongst the portraits while learning about noteworthy Scottish heroes.
St Giles’ Cathedral
St Giles’ Cathedral is a working cathedral that still holds mass. It dates back to the 12th century and was the heart of the city and those living there for hundreds of years.
If you are looking for free things in the city that can help you learn about the history of Scotland, then join one of the free guided tours at the cathedral.
You will learn about the history of the building, hear stories about events that happened there and explore the Thistle Chapel.
Although the daily walking tours are free, they should be booked in advance.
The Writers Museum
The Writers Museum is dedicated to notable Scottish writers and literary icons.
Fans of literature and history will have a great time at this museum. It celebrates the lives of authors that have produced great works, including Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns.
Book lovers will love seeing the rate books and manuscripts on display. There are also personal items, such as writing desks and printing presses.
Is Edinburgh Castle free to enter?
Entering the Castle is not free (between £18 to £21 per adult), but you can still walk up to and around the Castle to admire the structure and the views.
Are the museums free in Edinburgh?
There are plenty of museums in Edinburgh, and most of them are free! You can get free access to the Museum on the Mound, the National Museum and the Writer’s Museum, amongst others.
How much is a hop-on hop-off bus to get around Edinburgh?
Travelling around Edinburgh to see all the free attractions is best done by taking a hop-on hop-off bus. These stop at many of the main free things in the city. The cost for a ticket ranges from £10-£24 for adults and £6-£15 for children.