Last updated on December 7th, 2018
In this post, I wanted to tell you about 15 absolutely free things to do in Edinburgh, if you are on a tight budget and still want to explore the city properly!
You don’t have to spend much to see Edinburgh. Edinburgh is one of these cities, where you can actually visit the main highlights without paying a single penny. There are some attractions, which cost a fortune but believe me, you can still explore the city properly without visiting all of them (or even any of them). Looking for a place to stay in Edinburgh? Check this list of 10 affordable hotels in Edinburgh. Want some tips on budget food in Edinburgh? Head to this post!
15 absolutely free things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland
1. Climb the Arthur’s Seat
You can climb Arthur’s seat (the prominent hill in the Edinburgh city centre, which divides the city into two parts) to see the beautiful panorama of Edinburgh. The hike will take approximately 30 to 50 minutes (depending on your hiking skills, the level of tiredness and your gear – you won’t get far away wearing high heels).
2. Watch the sunset or sunrise on Calton Hill
My favourite spot in Edinburgh to catch a sunset or a sunrise (I’m more of a sunset person, though, you won’t see me walking at 5 am, unless I’m catching a flight somewhere) is Calton Hill. I must admit that in this place, Edinburgh really looks like Athens. In case you don’t know – Edinburgh is sometimes compared to Athens and is also called “
Athens in the north”. Most probably, the majority of Edinburgh photos you’ve seen, feature Calton Hill, so it’s a place, you shouldn’t miss.
3. Admire the Edinburgh Castle from the Rooftop of the National Museum of Scotland
Most museums in the UK are free and the National Museum of Scotland is not an exception. So why not to explore this amazing museum in your free time and also take the elevator to the rooftop terrace, from where you can see the Edinburgh castle. I honestly think that it’s one of the best views of Edinburgh castle in the whole city and, besides, not many tourists are yet aware of this wonderful spot. You can take an advantage of it and escape the crowds for a while.
4. Climb the Pentland Hills
From the Peatland Hills, you can see (again) the beautiful panorama of Edinburgh. In Peatland Hills, there is a fair amount of hiking involved, but the view will be worth it. In case you’re staying in Edinburgh for a week or even more, you can explore the Peatland Hills properly and even go for a day hike there (there are a beautiful lake, a forest and many great walks for outdoor activities lovers).
5. Walk the water of Leith walkway
Somehow all the activities above include hiking or climbing – don’t wonder, Edinburgh is the city of hills. Sometimes even inside the city, you’ll have to climb to get to the place, where you want to be. However, if you like to walk, but don’t enjoy climbing, you can head to the Water of Leigh (it’s better to start around Stockbridge) and walk it until you reach the Dean Village. The walk along the river is very pretty and picturesque!
6. Enjoy the Stockbridge Market
In case you’ve already decided to walk the Water of Leith and are about to start in Stockbridge, why not to explore Stockbridge beforehand and in case it’s weekend, enjoy the Stockbridge market? Stockbridge is a very traditional Georgian district in Edinburgh New Town (one of the most expensive to live in terms of property prices) and it has its own market open during the weekend. You can find some local producers there as well as street food. In case you’ve been to some food markets in London (like Borough Market or Greenwich Market), don’t expect top much, because Stockbridge market is so much smaller, but it’s still neat and great to visit.
6. Listen to traditional Scottish music in one of the pubs
Sandy Bell’s or Captain Jack’s are some of the best Scottish pubs, where you can listen to traditional Scottish music. They are really tiny (and popular), so prepare to stand or be squeezed on a bench, but it’s all worth it because the atmosphere is amazing.
7. Go on a free walking tour around Edinburgh
Edinburgh is no exception and has a free walking tour around the city. It means that there is no fee that you have to pay for the tour, but at the end of the excursion, you can leave a gratuity for the guide (and it’s pretty much up to you)
8. Explore the most photogenic street of Edinburgh – the Circus Lane
Not so far from Stockbridge in the Edinburgh New Town, you can find the most beautiful street of Edinburgh – the Circus Lane. Personally, I prefer Victoria street (I think Victoria street should wear the crown for being the most beautiful street of entire Scotland), but Circus lane is quite special too. It’s especially pretty in summer and it’s not so popular or famous yet, so if you’re lucky, you could snap a shot of this tiny street being completely empty!
9. Have a picnic in the Meadows
The Meadows is an enormous park in the heart of Edinburgh, just next to the University of Edinburgh. It’s always full of students and adults walling with their dogs or kids. On a sunny day, people are usually having picnics there and some even buy a grill from a local Sainsburys to have a budget BBQ with friends. Why not take the most of the sunny day (especially, if you don’t have enough time to move somewhere far) and chill in the Meadows?
10. Read a book at the Royal Botanic Garden
Another amazing place to spend some hours without paying anything is the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. It’s amazing (but cold) in March because everything is blooming in the park, while in summer you can sit on a bench or on a throw and read a book (if it’s warm enough. I usually get cold after 5 minutes of sitting still in Edinburgh).
11. Visit the Scottish Parliament
Another interesting and yet, a free attraction is the Scottish Parliament. There’s nothing impressive inside, but you can see where the most decisions in Scotland are made.
12. Grab free tickets for Edinburgh Festival Fringe
In case you’re visiting Edinburgh during the Festivals time in August, especially at the beginning of the month, you can grab tickets for some performances for free. Read this post for more information and general tips about Edinburgh Festivals and Edinburgh Festival Fringe in particular.
13. Enjoy a sunny day at Portobello Beach
In case you’re having a couple of sunny days in Edinburgh, consider yourself very lucky! In summer, it usually rains a lot in Edinburgh, but some summers are exceptional. Let’s hope for the best. Did you know that there is a beach in Edinburgh? If you have free time, why not visit it? There are plenty of buses going to Portobello from the main street of Edinburgh, Princes street and the journey time is about 20-40 minutes (depending on the route). Don’t forget to bring a warm jacket with you, because you’re in Scotland and while it can be sunny and warm just now, in 15 minutes it will get very windy and after an hour it will eventually rain.
14. Explore the Edinburgh University
Edinburgh University is one of the most famous and prestigious universities in the world. Moreover, its Old College is really impressive and beautiful, so it’s worth taking a look at it (and maybe even applying to study there).
15. See the beautiful St. Giles Cathedral
Finally, if your budget is low and you want to enjoy another one of 15 absolutely free things to do in Edinburgh, head to St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile. The entrance is free, but you need to pay about £3 to take photos there.
There are much more things to do in
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