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27+ Best Free Things to do in Edinburgh!

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Good news travel fans! There is 110% no need for you to go broke like a joke when traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland! Yup, kind of shocking but totally true since there are a ton of free things to do in Edinburgh.

And trust me, if anyone would know all about this it’s this chick right here. I mean, I’ve been to Edinburgh countless times and am always looking for super fun, totally free things to do since:

  1. I love Edinburgh Scotland with my whole heart.
  2. I have no trust fund or offshore bank accounts to call my own.
  3. I’m also fairly fiscally irresponsible and usually don’t have a ton of cash at my disposal when I’m in the city.

So, if you’re backpacking Edinburgh and desperately want to see some iconic Edinburgh landmarks while on a limited budget, then this is the post for you!

Because I’m about to give you all of my most secret expert tips on 27+ totally free things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland – activities that are sure to be a wicked good time even if you’re not exactly rolling like a Rockefeller.

Therefore, grab yourself a super fly tartan kilt, crank up the bagpipe music, and order up a glorious plate filled with haggis, haggis, and, oh yeah, more haggis. Because we’re about to swan dive into this wicked awesome post about all of the insanely awesome free things to do in Edinburgh.

I mean, after all, Edinburgh is easily one of the best places in Scotland and you’re definitely gonna fall head over heels in love with it. 

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.

***Looking for a place to stay in Edinburgh? Then definitely check out Old Town Chambers, Castle View Guest House, St. Valery Guest House, and Fraser Suites Edinburgh. And if you STILL don’t see what you’re looking for, feel free to check out my epic Edinburgh accommodation guide right now. It’ll give you great information about some of the best places to stay in Edinburgh.***

Contents show

1. The Royal Botanic Gardens

One of the beautiful glass greenhouses you'll find in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.

One of the beautiful glass greenhouses you’ll find in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.

Look, I’ll be the first one to admit that under normal circumstances, I’m not a huge fan of plants and gardens in general.

Yeah, I just tend to find them boring AF and really only visit if they’re insanely gorgeous and totally photogenic beyond belief.

And while the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh aren’t the most exquisite, mind-blowingly beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen, they’re still pretty awesome.

They’re also, cough cough, free to visit. So yeah, they’ve got that going for them too.

That being said though, I’d try to visit on the first sunny day you can find. Because if you want to go inside any of the garden’s ethereal, almost Jane Austen-like greenhouses, SURPRISE, you will have to fork over some cold hard cash (not much of it though).

And I dunno about you but my idea of a hopping good time is NOT walking around a massive 70-acre park amidst a veritable downpour of cold, hard rain.

So yeah, this is one of those free things to do in Edinburgh that is perfect on a nice sunny day. It’s also a great place to find a bit of well-located tranquility since this garden is a mere 15-minute walk from the city center.

Plus, added bonus? This enormous oasis of greenery is actually uber-historic and has been around since ye olde 1670.

It’s also home to a wealth of architectural icons like the Victorian Palm House, the seashell/pinecone encrusted stone pavilion in the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden, the historic Inverleith House (first built-in 1774), and the John Hope Gateway, where you can join a super snazzy guided tour of the gardens.

Address: Arboretum Pl, Edinburgh EH3 5NZ

Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

2. Go for a Hike Up Arthur’s Seat

An aerial view of Arthur's Seat and surrounding Edinburgh, Scotland

An aerial view of Arthur’s Seat and surrounding Edinburgh, Scotland.

Look, I’ll be the first one to admit that I am not the most physically fit human on planet Earth.

However, I’m also not a complete couch potato who is totally sedentary and eats nothing but potato chips all day, every day.

So, whatever you do, do NOT underestimate the hike up Arthur’s Seat, an 823-foot tall extinct volcano (it last erupted 340 million years ago) that sits right near Hollyrood Park and overlooks central Edinburgh.

Sure, you’ll see some superhumans scurry up this hill like a freaking billy goat, but I definitely felt like I coughed up a lung or too as I made my way up to the windy AF top (Be on the lookout for small children flying by. LOL).

That’s why this is definitely one of those free things to do in Edinburgh that you should definitely come prepared for.

So, be sure to wear good hiking shoes, bring plenty of water, and throw some snacks into that wicked awesome day bag of yours.

Also, be prepared to spend a solid three hours here since that’s how long a round trip hike on Arthur’s Seat will take you.

Thankfully though, you definitely won’t get lost since the trail is really easy to follow (even a directionally challenged human like me somehow made it to the top). It’s also totally worth all the blood, sweat, and tears (kidding on the blood and tears part because it’s not THAT bad) since the panoramic views from the top are next-level awesome.

Address: Edinburgh EH8 8AZ

Hours: Open 24 hours

3. Explore the Scottish Parliament

The vibrant modern exterior of the Scottish Parliament Building, one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh.

The vibrant modern exterior of the Scottish Parliament Building, one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh.

Definitely not one of my absolute favorite free things to do in Edinburgh since I’m not into politics and think the building itself is kind of ugly.

But, a visit here is a total must since the Scottish Parliament is located right at the bottom of the Royal Mile and offers you some fascinating insights into the Scottish political process.

It’s also a fairly recent addition to the Edinburgh landscape, hence the building’s notable modern design (done by architect Enric Miralles), since it was first opened in 2004 by the Queen herself – atop the site of a former brewery no less.

Yeah, apparently the entire look of the building is supposed to represent a ‘flower of democracy rooted in Scottish soil’.

Not gonna lie though, this concept is definitely 100% lost on me. Although, I have heard that it’s something you might be better able to understand from atop Salisbury Crags.

Now, apart from admiring the building’s unusual design (read weird AF), you can also join a free, one-hour tour (book in advance on their website) that will take you through the Debating Chamber, a committee room, the Garden Lobby, and the office of a member of parliament (MSP).

And if you miss the aforementioned tour of awesome? Well, then you can always beeline it on over to the Main Hall (there’s an interesting exhibit on Scottish history here), grab a bite at the cafe, shop until you drop at the gift shop (or don’t since the souvenirs aren’t that great), and visit the public gallery for a peek inside the Debating Chamber.

***If you’re really into politics and want to see the Scottish Parliament in action, then visit their website for more info. But generally speaking. they are n session during normal business hours on most Tuesdays and Thursdays. ***

Address: Edinburgh EH99 1SP, United Kingdom

Hours: Open Monday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and open Tuesday through Thursday from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm (closed Sundays).

4. Stop By the National Museum of Scotland

The open and airy Grand Gallery of the National Museum of Scotland. 

The open and airy Grand Gallery of the National Museum of Scotland. 

This is one thing that I love about Scotland and the UK in general. There are just so many AMAZING and totally FREE museums to visit that its kind of difficult to know where to start!

And I for one think that is a very good problem to have.

So, if you love museums and are looking for free things to do in Edinburgh, then definitely add this gem of a place to your 2 day Edinburgh Itinerary.

I mean, this museum is brimming over with a ton of amazing exhibits and artifacts that are sure to pique the curiosity of even the most jaded of teenagers who detest all things historic.

Add in a stunning modern entranceway with a lovely glass roof ceiling that warmly welcomes visitors into the original Victorian-era building, and you have a great place to hang out once the heavens open up and you get inundated with rain, rain, and, of course, more rain.

Whatever you do though, be sure to grab an awesome audio guide while you’re here and use it to explore the wealth of interactive exhibits and historic artifacts that you’ll find meticulously placed along the five floors and two distinct buildings that make up this museum.

Because if you do a little exploring, you’ll definitely find exhibits on things like natural history, archeology, decorative arts, design, history, fashion, and more.

You’ll also want to check out supremely epic artifacts like the Lewis Chessmen, the Arthur’s Seat Coffins, Dolly the Sheep (Yup, the first cloned animal), the Cramond Lioness, the Schmidt Telescope, and more.

So, what are you waiting for? Plan your visit today and see what the fuss is all about! I pinkie promise you will not be disappointed (FYI, you also may have to pay to enter some special exhibits held here).

Address: Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1JF, United Kingdom

Hours: Open daily from 10:30 am to 4:00 pm.

5. Explore the Scottish National Gallery

The imposing exterior of the Scottish National Gallery with it's various columns.

The imposing exterior of the Scottish National Gallery with its various columns.

Located just a hop, skip, and jump away from Princes Street is the aptly named Scottish National Gallery in central Edinburgh.

It’s a beautiful, neo-classical style edifice that sits on the Mound and that was first designed by William Playfair in 1850.

Finally opened for the first time in 1859, this enchanting museum is filled with a series of octagonal rooms that feature illuminating skylights, original Victorian-style decor, dark-red walls, and green carpets – all of which house an insanely impressive collection of art.

So, step inside to discover a mesmerizing collection of pieces done by Renaissance through post-Impressionism era artists like Verrocchio (the guy who taught Leonardo da Vinci’s), Tintoretto, Titian, Holbein, Rubens, Van Dyck, El Greco, Poussin, Rembrandt, Constable, Monet, Pissarro, Gauguin, and Cézanne, just to name a few.

Also, don’t forget to explore the upstairs galleries, which are home to a series of portraits done by Allan Ramsay and Sir Henry Raeburn, as well as a selection of amazing Impressionist pieces, like Van Gogh’s colorful Orchard In Blossom.

Yeah, the latter is definitely one of my favie faves.

If you have time, you can also mosey on downstairs to the basement, where you’ll see a selection of works done by Scottish artists like Allan Ramsay, Sir Henry Raeburn, Sir David Wilkie, and William MacTaggart.

And while the museum itself is fone of the many free things to do in Edinburgh, you might have to fork over a few pounds to see any special exhibits held here

Address: The Mound, Edinburgh EH2 2EL, United Kingdom

Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

6. Take a Stroll Through Greyfriars Kirkyard

Some of the historic gravestones you'll find in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh.

Some of the historic gravestones you’ll find in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh.

Thing number one. A kirkyard is a cemetery. This way, all of my American audience members out there actually know what I’m talking about.

Thing number two. This is one of those awesome free things to do in Edinburgh that also has a beyond glorious connection to one of my absolute fave things in the whole wide world…Harry Potter.

So, if you feel like, “every day I’m Mugglin’”, then step inside this glorious cemetery from the 16th century, enjoy a bit of quiet solitude, and marvel at the exquisite gravestones of some of the not-so-low-key people buried here.

You know, super snazzy Scottish citizens like poet Allan Ramsay, architect William Adam, and John Gray (He’s the Edinburgh police officer who’s Skye Terrier, Greyfriar’s Bobby, became famous when he started going to his late owner’s grave and standing vigil here between 1858 and 1872 – until the dog himself eventually passed away).

And if you’re forever looking for super cool Harry Potter inspired things to do in Edinburgh, then you can always check out the grave of a Thomas Riddell while you’re here.

Yup, all of my fellow Potterheads out there will instantly recognize that as the name of the Dark Lord when he was a student at Hogwarts and hadn’t yet gone totally insane.

Accordingly, many Harry Potter fans out there tend to assume that J.K. Rowling actually got the name for this character from a tombstone found right here – a grave that actually commemorates a 19th-century gentleman who died in 1806 at the age of 72.

So yeah, definitely check this place out and embrace all of the total Harry Potter awesomeness here…or the glorious historic vibes if Harry Potter ain’t your jam.

Address: 26A Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QE, United Kingdom

Hours: Open twenty-four hours a day.

***Feel like doing something supremely scary that isn’t totally free? If so then check out this 1.5-hour tour of Greyfriar’s Kirkyard now! Purchase tickets today and you’ll get to explore this creepy AF cemetery in the evening (I’m already getting goosebumps). You’ll also get to step inside an actual burial vault and learn about the infamous murderer’s Burke and Hare. Supremely scary? You betcha! But if you like the macabre then this tour is totally worth it and pretty reasonably priced too!***

7. Explore the Royal Mile

A sign for the Royal Mile.

A sign for the Royal Mile.

Listen, no trip to Edinburgh could ever be complete without a leisurely stroll along the Royal Mile.

I mean, it is without a doubt the single most famous street in the entire city. It also runs straight through the center of Old Town and takes you from Edinburgh Castle at the top to Holyrood Palace at the bottom.

And if you’re still not convinced that you NEED to check this place out, then you’ll love the fact that this idyllic thoroughfare is littered with a wealth of charming closes (quaint little alleys waiting to be explored) and iconic attractions that demand your attention.

You know, immortal attractions like the Museum of Edinburgh, St. Giles Cathedral, Mary King’s Close, the Scotch Whiskey Experience, and more.

There are also a ton of free tours that meet up along the Royal Mile (I joined an awesome free ghost tour here that met near St. Giles Cathedral), as well as various cafes and restaurants that you can pop into if you’re looking for a bite to eat.

8. Hike to the Top of Calton Hill

An aerial view of Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland.

An aerial view of Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Luckily for you, the climb up Calton Hill is infinitely easier than the one up Arthur’s Seat.

Yeah, there’s literally a giant set of stairs that you can climb up to admire stunning panoramic views of central Edinburgh from the top.

Just do yourself a favor and get up at the crack of dawn since this is a pretty popular place. I’m also assuming that you probably want to catch the sunrise without 10,000 selfie stick-wielding tourists getting in the way of your shot.

And once you’re up here, well, you can actually see a bunch of different things like the National Monument of Scotland (more on that in the next section), the Nelson Monument (It was created to memorialize Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson and sits at the highest point on the hill), the Dugald Stewart Monument (gorgeous photo op and created to honor an Edinburgh University philosopher and professor), the Robert Burns Monument, the Political Martyrs’ Monument, and the City Observatory – the majority of which are totally free.

Address: Calton Hill, Edinburgh EH7 5AA, United Kingdom

Hours: Open twenty-four hours a day.

9. National Monument of Scotland

The un-finished, Parthenon-like National Monument atop Calton's Hill.

The un-finished, Parthenon-like National Monument atop Calton’s Hill.

Okay, I know I probably could have talked more about this one when I mentioned Calton Hill.

After all, this is one of those free things to do in Edinburgh that sits not-so-precariously atop, you guessed it, Calton Hill.

However, it has a really good backstory and I kind of wanted to share that with you since I think it’s pretty dang funny.

After all, you’re probably sitting there wondering why there is this giant, half-finished, Parthenon-like structure on the summit of Calton Hill. Am I right?

And FYI, my mildly well thought out guess is probably since I thought the very same thing during my first visit to Edinburgh.

Anyway, the National Monument of Scotland was actually first built using public subscription since developers wanted to create a beautiful tribute to all of the Scottish soldiers who died in the Napoleonic Wars (aww, insert an enthusiastic round of applause here).

And although this was a wonderful gesture, funds for the project basically disappeared (kind of like my blog traffic in 2020) just three years after William Playfair first began work on the monument in 1826.

So yeah, that’s exactly why you now have this giant, half-completed version of the Parthenon just chillin’ at the top of Calton Hill.

You should also OBVIOUSLY check it out if you plan on visiting Calton Hill while you’re in Edinburgh. #justsayin’

Address: Calton Hill, Edinburgh EH7 5AA, United Kingdom

Hours: Open twenty-four hours a day.

10. Magdalen Chapel

Definitely one of the less mainstream, totally free things to do in Edinburgh, Magdalen Chapel is a great hidden gem that you’ll find nestled away in a peaceful section of Cowgate that few tourists venture into.

However, if you dare to visit for yourself (and you totally should), you’ll be delighted to find this quaint little 16th-century center of worship (originally built between 1541 and 1544 by Janet Rynd) which is currently home to some of the oldest stained glass windows in all of Scotland.

Yeah, the beautiful stained glass on display here features the Royal Arms of Scotland as well as the Arms of Mary of Guise (She was Mary Queen of Scott’s mom) and is apparently the ONLY intact piece of pre-Reformation stained glass in the entire country.

A fact that I for one think is pretty damn cool.

While you’re here though, be sure to admire the inscription over the door ( It reads, “’He that hath pity upon the poore lendeth unto the Lord and the Lord will recompence him that which he hath given”), take in the carved armorial panel over the door, admire an intact section of the former ceiling mural, visit Janet Rynd’s tomb, and stand in awe of a sword that once belonged to Covenanter Captain John Paton (not that I actually know who that is but it’s a piece of history that I think is pretty damn cool).

Yup, supremely cool things are displayed at Magdalen Chapel and I for one would not want to miss out.

It’s also just straight-up pretty so you’ll definitely want to stop by for the glorious photo ops too.

Address: 41 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH 1 1JR

Hours: Open 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Monday through Friday.

11. Stop by the Museum on The Mound

The National Bank of Scotland headquarters in Edinburgh with it's turquoise, domed roof.

The National Bank of Scotland headquarters in Edinburgh with it’s turquoise, domed roof.

See, I told you there were a ton of free museums in Edinburgh!

And the Museum on the Mound is definitely one of them since, well, it’s a museum and it’s also one of the totally free things to do in Edinburgh.

So yeah, if you want to learn all about the History of the Bank of Scotland, then this is the museum for you!

Just head down into the basement of the splendid, Georgian-style Bank of Scotland and admire a veritable utopia of historic gold coins, bullion chests, banknotes, photographs, cartoons, and more.

Now, is it my absolute favorite free Edinburgh museum of them all? No.

But, if you’re the area and looking to kill a bit of time, then it’s a nice little place to pop into. They also have a ton of forged banknotes on display here that are pretty cool to see.

Whatever you do though, don’t get any crazy ideas you saucy minx you.

12. Go on a Free Walking Tour of Edinburgh

A view of Edinburgh from Calton Hill.

A view of Edinburgh from Calton Hill.

I’m gonna be real with you for a solid five minutes here…or however long it takes you to read this section of my post.

Because, real talk? There are about 10,000 different free walking tours of Edinburgh. Many of which meet up and depart from a large swath of pavement that sits just outside St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile.

So, regardless of what your interests are, you’ll definitely be able to find the perfect free Edinburgh walking tour for you.

I mean, not only are they a great (and economical) way to orient yourself to the city, but they include Pub Crawls, Harry Potter Tours, Ghost Tours, Tours of the Old City, Tours of the New City, and more.

However, even though these tours are totally free to join, you are generally expected to give your tour guide a nice tip since they took time out of their lives to conduct this tour and probably only get paid through tips from generous patrons such as yourself.

So, the moral of the story? Be kind and tip your tour guide well. Especially since most of them are really fun and do an amazing job.

And although there are dozens of tour companies that run free walking tours through Edinburgh every day of the week, this company right here runs some amazing tours and has a fantastic daily schedule with details about all of the free walking tours in the city.

So yeah, definitely check them out if you want specific information on the exact, date, time, and meeting point of any free walking tour you’d be interested in taking.

13. Visit The Vennel for a Stunning View of Edinburgh Castle

 A stunning view of Edinburgh Castle from the Vennel.

 A stunning view of Edinburgh Castle from the Vennel.

As you probably already guessed (you smartie of a traveler you), Edinburgh Castle is very much not free to visit.

That being said though, you can still climb to the top, admire the views of the city, and take a ton of photos of the structure’s imposing exterior. And all for free I might add…at least as long as you don’t actually go inside.

Per usual, you’ll absolutely want to haul ass out of bed early since Edinburgh Castle attracts large crowds that will definitely get in the way if you’re looking for photos that are relatively devoid of people.

However, for the BEST EVER panoramic views of Edinburgh Castle, run, don’t walk to the Vennel.

It’s basically this epic, giant stone alley/staircase that you can climb to get sick, free, and gloriously sweeping panoramas of Edinburgh Castle.

To get here, just access the base of the staircase near Grassmarket (FYI, you can type “The Vennel” into your phone and Google Maps will direct you here) and climb to step number fifty for one of the best views of them all.

Next, continue all the way to the top for impressive photo ops of Flodden Wall and the Telfer Wall, two former defensive walls in the city.

Yup, the views are totally epic, Instagram awesomeness abounds, and this is just one of the many, totally free things to do in Edinburgh.

14. The Writer’s Museum

The vintage sign for the writer's museum.

The vintage sign for the writer’s museum.

Literary nerds of the world rejoice!!! Because this is a seriously awesome museum that is easily one of the best totally free things to do in Edinburgh.

It’s not big though (which makes sense since it sits inside a narrow, 17th-century building) so you’ll probably only need an hour to experience all of the amazing exhibits on display here.

But, throughout that glorious hour, you’ll discover a wealth of fascinating artifacts from some of Scotland’s most iconic writers.

You know, super cool, literary giants like Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, and Sir Walter Scott.

So, take a lovely little walk through these hollow halls and marvel at a ring that was given to Robert Louis Stevenson by a Samoan chief, a writing desk that belonged to Robert Burns, and a rocking horse that was used by a very young Sir Walter Scott.

Throughout the course of your adventures, you’ll also probably notice that the museum is actually subdivided into three separate sections – one about Stevenson, one about Scott, and one about Burns.

This way, you can quickly and easily learn all about what their personal lives were like, how their careers evolved, and what sorts of hobbies they were into.

So yeah. Basically the perfect place for all my fellow literary geeks to go and really live la vida loca while in Edinburgh.

Address: Lawnmarket, Lady Stair’s Cl, Edinburgh EH1 2PA

Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

15. Instagram it Up in Dean Village

The fairytale charm of Dean Village in Edinburgh.

The fairytale charm of Dean Village in Edinburgh.

Oh how I love Dean Village, let me count the ways…

Okay, yeah. I’m not gonna lie. This is one of those absurdly beautiful free things to do in Edinburgh that you do not want to miss.

No, really. You basically haven’t understood the true meaning of the word “picturesque” until you’ve set your eyes upon this place.

I also love that is pretty easy to find and conveniently located right along Edinburgh’s ever-beautiful, Water of Leith walkway (it’s a stunning waterside walkway that will take you all the way from Edinburgh proper to the docks of Leith).

Historically though, Dean Village wasn’t really a mecca of sorts for Instagram mavens of every variety (LOL. Shocking but true).
Instead, it quietly sat at the heart of Edinburgh’s once vibrant milling industry – an area of business that has long since dried up.

However, you can still experience vestiges of Dean Village’s historic past with a visit to Well Court (now a fully restored 19th-century home), Dean’s Cemetery, and St Bernards Well (historically used to draw water from the local river).

Address: Dean Path, Edinburgh EH4 3AY

Hours: Open 24 hours

16. Go on Your Very Own, Self-Guided Harry Potter Tour of Edinburgh

 The red facade of the Elephant House, Tea and coffee shop, and the birthplace of Harry Potter.

The red facade of the Elephant House, Tea and coffee shop, and the birthplace of Harry Potter.

Look, it’s no secret to Harry Potter lovers of every variety that Edinburgh is the place to be when it comes to all things Harry Potter.

After all, J.K. Rowling spent a lot of time working here when she was broke like a joke and trying to make it as a struggling writer.

So, why not do your very own, self-guided, Harry Potter-themed tour of Edinburgh?

I mean, not only is Edinburgh a super walkable city, but many of the Harry Potter-ific sites here are located within close proximity of one another and are wonderfully easy to find (even for a chronic, directionally challenged human like me).

However, rather than just straight-up cannonball into all of the Harry Potter wonder that is Edinburgh (because there’s a lot of it and that would take forever), feel free to check out this nifty little post right now.

It details more than 15 Harry Potter things to do in Edinburgh, includes a free interactive map, and has basically everything you need to plan your very own, uber-cool, Harry Potter themed walking tour of Edinburgh.

So yeah, definitely sneak a peek if you’re a Harry Potter fan of even the smallest measure.

17. Explore the Scottish National Museum of Modern Art

Newton sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi on the grounds of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh.

Newton sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi on the grounds of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh.

Ain’t no party like a modern art party, am I right?

Okay, in fairness, I’m one of those people where modern art is very hit or miss for me.

I either love it or think it’s the weirdest thing since Lunchables pizzas came out (Sorry but I could never get down with eating cold, fake, pizza).

However, I loved the time I spent at the Scottish National Museum of Modern Art and think it’s easily one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh.

I mean, there’s so much epic art here that it’s actually housed within two separate buildings. And yes, they really are not-so-originally named building one and building two.

They also showcase a ton of amazing pieces that represent various Scottish interpretations of Cubist, Expressionist, post-war, and contemporary art movements.

Before you leave though, don’t forget to explore the museum grounds – an area that features architecture designed by Charles Jencks and a beautiful sculpture park that is home to some of Henry Moore’s amazing works of art.

Plus, after all that walking and hardcore sightseeing, feel free to grab a bite to eat at the
cafe and garden terrace at Modern One or enjoy a lovely afternoon tea service at the more formal Café at Modern Two.

Address: 75 Belford Rd, Edinburgh EH4 3DR

Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

18. Pop Into St. Giles Cathedral

The impressive exterior of St. Giles Cathedral along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

The impressive exterior of St. Giles Cathedral along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

I feel like there are not enough churches on this list of free things to do in Edinburgh.

So why don’t we add one? What do you say?

Okay. In fairness I’m not a HUGE church person since they all look kind of the same to me.

However, I do love beautiful architecture and think that St. Giles Cathedral has PLENTY of that since it dates all the way back to the 15th century.

It also conveniently sits along the Royal Mile (so it’s super easy to find) and features a wealth of Norman-style architecture that visitors are sure to love.

And while the outside is pretty imposing, the real magic happens once you step inside and admire things like the Thistle Chapel (it features ornate, Gothic-style stalls that are topped with the helms and arms of knights), the famous tombs of James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, Archibald Campbell, and Marquis of Argyll, a bronze memorial to author Robert Louis Stevenson, and a copy of the National Covenant of 1638

That being said though, there really isn’t a TON to do here.

So, I can’t imagine that you’d want to spend more than a half an hour inside. I guess it all really just depends on how much you like churches and architecture in general.

Address: High St, Edinburgh EH1 1RE, United Kingdom

Hours: Open daily from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm but do check their website for exact opening and closing times.

19. Visit the Forth Bridge

An aerial of the red Forth Bridge just outside of Edinburgh.

An aerial of the red Forth Bridge just outside of Edinburgh.

I love the Forth Bridge! Not only is it a total Scottish icon (and I’m not the only one saying this since it’s a designated UNESCO world heritage site), but it makes for an amazing day trip from Edinburgh.

And although you will have to pay a small fee for a round trip train ticket, seeing the Forth Bridge itself is one of the many free things to do in Edinburgh.

So, to visit for yourself, just hop on the train at Edinburgh Waverley Station, ride the train for three stops (a little less than thirty minutes), and get off at Dalmeny Station in South Queensferry.

Once there, just follow a ton of signs that will lead you straight into the charming town of Queensferry.

And then, TADA. You’ll be able to see the stunning Forth Bridge live and in person. You also won’t be able to miss it since it’s basically this enormous, red, trussed railway bridge that was first built in 1890.

It also spans a lengthy 641 meters since it was designed to connect Fife with Edinburgh by railway.

Now, for the most epic panoramas of the bridge, mosey on over to Hawes Pier in South Queensferry and board the Maid of the Forth.

It’s basically this uber-charming ship that will cruise past the Forth Bridge and eventually dock at Inchcolm Island (home to the aptly named Inchcolm Abbey).

Once the boat has docked at the island, you can either stay on the boat during your hour and a half long sightseeing cruise or disembark and explore Inchcolm Island during your three-hour tour.

Address: Hawes Pier, Newhalls Rd, Queensferry, South Queensferry EH30 9TB, United Kingdom

Hours: Check their website for specific departure times.

Price: The 1.5-hour tour is £15.00 for adults, £14.00 concession, and £8.00 for children aged 5 to 15. In contrast, tickets for the 3-hour tour are £30.00 for adults and £15.00 for children aged 5 to 15.

***Another great day trip from Edinburgh is to Cramond Island. It’s quiet, peaceful, relatively uninhabited, and was once home to an ancient Roman settlement. You can also easily get here by taking the 41 bus to Cramond and then walking to the waterfront.***

20. Enjoy the Garden at Dunbar’s Close

The quiet charm, well-manicured paths, and rows of greenery at the garden at Dunbar's Close. 

The quiet charm, well-manicured paths, and rows of greenery at the garden at Dunbar’s Close. 

I love Dunbar’s Close, yes I do. I love Dunbar’s Close, how about you?

Okay, in truth, there’s really not a whole lot to do in Dunbar’s per se.

It’s really just a pretty little community garden where you can sit, relax, take in the smell of the flowers all around you, and enjoy a nice, quiet day.

It’s also located right off the Royal Mile (near, DUH, Dunbar’s Close) and is pretty dang easy to find.

So, if you’re looking for a peaceful place to unwind amidst a wealth of well-manicured greenery – all while admiring all the stunning historic architecture all around you – then this is the place to be.

Plus, if you’re supremely lucky and happen upon a mildly sunny day in Edinburgh, then you can always grab something to go from Mimi’s Bakehouse (everything here is good but their scones are next-level awesome) and have an adorable little picnic in the park.

Yup, use a strategically placed red, tartan blanket and you’ll have all those glorious Instagram feels.

Address: 137 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8BW

Hours: Open daily from 7:00 am to 4:30 pm

21. Explore Nearby Lauriston Castle

A front view of the sprawling grounds of Lauriston Castle near Edinburgh.

A front view of the sprawling grounds of Lauriston Castle near Edinburgh.


Umm…can you actually visit Edinburgh without seeing at least one insanely beautiful Scottish Castle?

And the correct answer here is no since Scotland is home to some of the most gorgeous castles that I’ve ever seen in my life.

FYI, that’s saying a whole hell of a lot since I for sure have seen my fair share of stunning castles.

Anyway, before I get too far ahead of myself, you will 100% have to pay to actually enter Lauriston Castle itself.

And before you even ask, yes, the interior of this 16th-century tower house, with various 19th-century extensions, has been fully restored to its former historic grandeur and is truly stunning to behold. So, yes, it’s 100% worth a visit.

The house also overlooks the Firth of Forth Bridge so you can easily visit Lauriston Castle after checking out this iconic Scottish landmark.

However, if you are broke like a joke and can’t really afford to go inside, then you are welcome to explore the expansive castle grounds totally free of charge. Yeah, they’re pretty impressive and feature both a Japanese and Italian style garden.

Also, the term “castle” is a bit of a loose term here since this is really more of a historic estate than it is a full on castle with a moat, turrets, and defensive wall.

Although, they do have a Mimi’s Bakehouse on-site (one of my fave eateries ever) where you can stop in for a bit of scone-y goodness or for a spot of afternoon tea.

Address: 2 Cramond Rd S, Edinburgh EH4 6AD, United Kingdom

Hours: The grounds are open daily from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm.

22. Embrace Your Inner Child at the Museum of Childhood

Some of the vintage toys you'l find inside Edinburgh's Museum of Childhood.

Some of the vintage toys you’l find inside Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood.

Is this the best free Edinburgh museum ever? No, not even a little bit. Because IMHO, there are other, way better, totally free museums in Edinburgh.

However, is it a nice place to go and wile away an hour or two on a crazy cold, rainy day?
You betcha! Especially if you have kids since they will love looking at all the historic toys on display here.

And while there was a totally creepy room full of dolls that reminded me of Chucky, the Museum of Childhood still does a really good job of creating various interactive displays that help chronicle the history and development of childhood throughout the centuries.

It also defines childhood for visitors, demonstrates how this period in our lives has changed over time, and even explains the important role that play serves in children’s development through the use of historic toys, games, clothes, and more.

So, if you start running out of free things to do in Edinburgh, definitely give this place a quick visit. It also literally sits right along the Royal Mile so you definitely can’t miss it.

Address: 42 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1TG

Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

23. Princes Street Gardens

A view of the Scot Monument and the Balmoral Hotel from Princes Street Gardens.

A view of the Scot Monument and the Balmoral Hotel from Princes Street Gardens.

Okay, fun little factoid for you about one of the many free things to do in Edinburgh.

So Princes Street Gardens? Well, it was once totally inundated with water!

Yup, apparently way back in 1820 the water here from the Nor Loch (AKA North Loch) was drained away to make room for this lovely little garden along Princes Street.

That’s why today, it’s now a popular little picnic spot where locals and tourists alike can congregate and see super snazzy things like the Scot Monument (a giant Gothic Spire that was built in memoriam of novelist Sir Walter Scot), the Floral Clock (Dating back to 1903, this working clock is surrounded by flowers), the Ross Bandstand (a popular concert venue), and the aptly named Mound (a giant pile of first in the center of the park).

Address: Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2HG, United Kingdom

Hours: Open daily from dawn until dusk.

24. Portobello Beach

The somewhat rocky shores of Portobello Beach.

The somewhat rocky shores of Portobello Beach.

I bet a nice, balmy day out at the beach is not the first thing you think of when visiting Scotland.

I mean, after all, Edinburgh (and Scotland in general) is notoriously damp and cold, even on the most glorious of summer days.

However, if you think you can handle it, then venture on out to Portobello, a seaside suburb of Edinburgh.

There, you’ll find the sandy/rocky shores of Portobello Beach, which stretch out for miles in either direction

And although this place remains relatively unknown to visitors, locals are all about this epic summer hotspot and will routinely hang out every chance they get.

So yeah, don’t be surprised if you find a ton of people camped out here during the summer months.

Also, depending on where you’re from, you may or may not actually want to go for a swim since this beach can be quite windy and cold, even in the summer.

Yeah, I definitely had a hard time taking off my fleece while I was here in July. That’s why, no way was I going in for a “refreshing” dip in the sea.

And FYI, that’s coming from a New York City local who has definitely experienced more her fair share of brutally cold winters.

Address: 1 Promenade, Portobello, Edinburgh EH15 2DX

Hours: Open 24 hours

How to Get There: Take the train to Brunstane train station, it is then a 15-minute walk to the beach

25. Water of Leith Walkway

An aerial view of the Water of Leith Walkway in Stockbridge.

An aerial view of the Water of Leith Walkway in Stockbridge.

Honestly, this is just one of my favorite walks ever. It’s basically just an added bonus that it also happens to be one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh.

Because this gloriously scenic walk? Well, it actually starts in Balerno and takes you ALL the way to the docks at Leith.

So yeah, if you’re feeling extra energetic and dare to do the whole thing, it’s a solid twelve miles long and will probably take you a few hours to complete.

Although, you’ll get to pass Dean Village, Thomas Telford bridge, St Bernard’s Well, and Stockbridge along the way so that definitely makes the long journey infinitely more bearable.

The path also can get really muddy so definitely try to avoid using it after an intense rain shower. Or, just come prepared and wear a decent pair of waterproof shoes.

Thankfully though, you really don’t have to walk the entire length of this path to fully enjoy its stunning natural beauty.
Instead, you can opt for a short but sweet, super scenic stroll between Stockbridge and Dean Village.

Trust me, there are photo ops aplenty here, as well as ample opportunity for you to actively pick your jaw up off the floor.

While you’re here, also be on the lookout for local wildlife since this enchanting little corner of Edinburgh actually happens to be an urban wildlife refuge.

Yup, I had no idea about this until I visited and saw herons, kingfishers, roe deer, and wildflowers aplenty.

***While you’re here, don’t forget to explore Stockbridge. It’s insanely picturesque, is brimming over with lovely Georgian-style architecture, and looks completely different from nearby Old Town and the Royal Mile.***

Address: Water of Leith Walkway, Edinburgh

Hours: Open 24 hours

26. The National Portrait Gallery

The beautiful interior of the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

The beautiful interior of the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

With so many amazing free things to do in Edinburgh, it becomes insanely difficult to pick a favorite.

However, this is one of those beyond epic free museums in Edinburgh that totally took me by surprise. And FYI, I mean that in the best possible way since free museums can sometimes be very hit or miss.

But the National Portrait Gallery is definitely a hit since this wonderful collection of fine art is housed inside a stunning, former Venetian Gothic style palace (Seriously, the building itself is a total work of art. So, be sure to stare longingly at a giant frieze in the Grand Hall that depicts various famous Scottish citizens).

It also features a wealth of different art galleries that detail the fascinating development of Scotland through the use of paintings, sculptures, and photographs.

Yeah, they’re pretty rad pieces of art that depict super famous Scots like Mary Queen of Scots, Sean Connery, Jackie Kay, and many others that I just don’t personally know.

And if you want to make your visit extra special, definitely take one of the themed leaflets that are available at the central information desk (like the Hidden Histories Trail) so that you can quickly and easily see all of the museum’s most notable works of art.
Or, you could always just take off like a herd of turtles and slowly make your way past every single piece of art in the place. I mean, God forbid you actually miss something. LOL.

Whatever you do though, plan to spend between two and three hours here since there is a lot to see and you definitely don’t want to be half-hazardly rushing through everything. .

Address: 1 Queen St, Edinburgh EH2 1JD, United Kingdom

Hours: Open Sunday through Tuesday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

27. Say Hi to Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriars Bobby statue in Edinburgh.

Greyfriars Bobby statue in Edinburgh.

Umm…would any list of the top free things to do in Edinburgh be complete without mention of Edinburgh’s most famous canine companion?

Yeah, that’s a hard no since Greyfriars Bobby is somewhat of a legend here. So much so that Disney actually made an entire movie all about this beyond loyal canine companion’s life.

However, before I go off on a random tangent about all of my fave Disney movies from the 90s (Heavyweights, Cool Runnings, Little Giants, etc.) let me stop for a second and actually explain what Greyfriars Bobby is.

So, for anyone not in the know, Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye Terrier who become uber-famous in the late 19th century.

Apparently, this precocious pup loved his owner – a former Edinburgh police officer named John Gray – so much that he would routinely visit his former master’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard (graveyard).

An eternal vigil that started in 1858 and that eventually ended in 1872, when the dog himself passed away.

And while the “accuracy” behind this now immortal local legend is hotly disputed, the popularity of this life-size statue of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh has not.

That’s why, if you stop by for a visit, you’ll routinely find this Edinburgh icon surrounded by hordes of incredibly enthusiastic tourists.

So, if you really want a photo without 10,000 of your not so closest friends in it, then be sure to get here early in the AM. LIke right when the sun comes up.

***What? Can’t get enough of Greyfriars Bobby? Then you can always visit the Museum of Edinburgh (another one of the many free museums in Edinburgh) and see Greyfriars Bobby’s very own collar and dog bowl. Otherwise, you can check out Greyfriars Bobby’s pink-granite gravestone near the entrance of Greyfriars Kirkyard.***

Address: Edinburgh EH1 2QQ, United Kingdom

Hours: Open all day, every day.

Get a Free Interactive Map of the Best Free Things to do in Edinburgh!


Well all my Scotland loving friends, that just about concludes my epic list of the 27+ best free things to do in Edinburgh!

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you found this guide helpful in planning your next budget Edinburgh itinerary.

And If I somehow managed to forget one of your all-time fave free things to do in Edinburgh, let me know in the comments below and I’ll be sure to rectify that error ASAP. 

Also, be sure to pin this post now so that you can read it again later. 


Sunday 20th of December 2020

Oh I love Edinburgh! Such a wonderful city!


Monday 21st of December 2020

Totally agree!! Take me back!

Ummi Nadrah

Saturday 19th of December 2020

I like to prove people wrong when they say that travel is only for the rich, so I really appreciate articles like this one. Sure, travel is a privilege, but you don't need to be a millionaire either.

You've got some really good stuff here. I can already see which ones I must visit -- like the writer's museum, Dean Village, and the hiking spots. Saving this for my future trip.


Monday 21st of December 2020

I totally agree and like to make travel as accessible to as many people as possible. Thanks for reading!

galatia savva

Saturday 19th of December 2020

ok i just LOL'd at your gardens paragraph AND your hiking experience! I am not a museum fan usually, but those look rather fascinating to be honest! Edinbrugh just seems like the kind of city that caters to everyone - id love to visit - in the summer tho- as id sooner die than visit in the winter!


Saturday 19th of December 2020

OMG for sure and so glad you get my humor. Yeah, Edinburgh can be frigid in the summer so winter is no joke. LOL.


Saturday 19th of December 2020

How have I missed Dean Village on my Edinburgh trips. Gorgeous. I am heading that way next on my next visit. I too was totally unprepared for the hike that is Arthur' seat - to the extent that I attempted it in party shoes. Slippy is not the word! Great list!


Saturday 19th of December 2020

Oh no! I hope you didn't ruin your shoes. And yeah, same here. I definitely totally underestimated it.


Saturday 19th of December 2020

Great post! It reminded me of the time I was living in Edinburgh and I'm happy to see that I have already visited most of the places you mention. My favourites are the hike to Arthur's Seat and to Calton Hill!


Saturday 19th of December 2020

Oh, that's awesome. Yeah, it's nice when you can can confirm that you've done most of the major things in a city that you've lived in.

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