Things to do in Edinburgh for free

Things to do in Edinburgh for free

There are so many things to do in Edinburgh for free that the only difficulty will be whether or not you can fit them all in to one visit! It’s taken us 2 so far! 

Edinburgh is packed with everything you’d expect from a major city including lots of history, famous sports stadiums, shops, restaurants, parks, museums and Cathedrals.  And the best part is that a lot these are free! 

Scotland’s capital city is full of fantastic architecture from the Georgian New Town to the Medieval Old Town which has a bit of a Gothic feel going on.  

So, if you’re planning a visit, hopefully this post will give you a bit of a flavour of just some of the things to do in Edinburgh for free.

Calton Hill

Calton Hill is a great place to take in all the views of Edinburgh and would be the first on our list of things to do in Edinburgh for free. 

Very accessible and close to the city centre, you get to see everything at a fairly close range.  The walk is uphill but not too strenuous to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

From here you can see right down the length of Princes Street, the Royal Mile up to the Castle and down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the new Scottish Parliament building.  On the other side is the Firth of Forth and right in the distance the Forth bridge. 

As well as the views there are a number of interesting buildings and monuments on Calton Hill.  The Dugald Stewart Monument, Nelson Monument and the National Monument to Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars.  This monument was left unfinished due to lack of funds.

If you time your visit right you may be there to hear the One O’clock Gun firing.  The gun is fired at this time every day (except Sundays, Good Fridays and Christmas Day).

Opening hours 

24hours 365 days of the year

Location 

At the end of Princess Street off Regent Road

Arthur's Seat

If you have the time it’s well worth taking the opportunity to climb Arthur’s Seat.  This is definitely one of the things to do in Edinburgh for free that we are going to do again next time we visit.

An extinct volcano, make no mistake this is a short but tough hike.  Not a walk for the faint of heart.  Especially if it’s windy or raining.  In fact the final sections are more of a scramble and getting off the summit isn’t any easier.  Especially when the rock is wet.  You have been warned!  But, exhilirating and exciting, it’s definitely worth doing.  Those views!

It takes at least half an hour to get to the top and slightly less to get back down.

Opening hours 

24hours 365 days of the year

Location 

Holyrood Park

The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile things to do in Edinburgh

The main street in the Old Town The Royal Mile stretches from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.  And it’s a mile long!  It’s also very atmospheric with a bit of a Gothic feel. Walking up or down this famous street is, of course, one of the things to do in Edinburgh for free.

It’s a hilly walk up to the Castle which would take around 20 minutes without stopping.  But, with an abundance of shops, restaurants, cafes and bars along the way you most certainly will!  At the bottom is the Palace of Holyroodhouse and just before it is the Scottish Parliament Building. 

Opening hours

24hours 365 days of the year

Location 

Old Town

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle things to do in Edinburgh

Whilst entry into Edinburg Castle isn’t one of the things to do in Edinburgh for free, walking up to and around the outside or simply viewing from almost anywhere in the city, certainly is.  We’d recommend The Vennel for a great place to take photos of it.

The Castle itself is magnificent.  Standing proudly, high at the top of the Royal Mile it can be seen from just about anywhere in the city.  But you also get some great views from here.  www.edinburghcastle.scot

Opening hours  
  • Summer (1 April – 30 September ) 9.30am to 6pm (last entry 5pm)   
  • Winter (1 October – 31 March) 9.30am to 5pm (last entry 4pm)

Location  Castle Hill

Victoria Street

Victoria Street sweeps up from the Grassmarket to George IV Bridge.  A striking, colourful street it has two levels and it’s worth taking one of the staircases up to get the full experience.  Full of independent shops there’s a Harry Potter store here and it’s said to be J K Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley.  Obviously, it’s not free to shop here but taking in the views and maybe a snap or two is. 

Opening hours  

24 hours 365 days

Location 

Between Grassmarket and George IV Bridge, Old Town

National Museum of Scotland

This truly is a great museum.  So much so that we found it incredible that it was amongst things to do in Edinburgh for free. There is a huge collection of some fantastic exhibits over 3 levels and the architecture inside is simply stunning.  You could probably spend an entire day here.  If you decide to, there’s a restaurant and a cafe and also some areas to picnic, although these are small and can be difficult to get hold of.  It can be busy, particularly if it’s raining.

Exhibits range from Dinosaurs to Dolly the cloned sheep and Ancient Egypt to Nintendo games consoles.  Something for everyone.  national-museum-of-scotland

Location 

Chambers Street

Scottish National Gallery

If you’re a fan of art you will almost certainly enjoy the Scottish National Gallery.  A truly beautiful, quiet, calm and serene interior houses portraits painted by greats such as Botticelli, Raphael and Titian.  It’s also home to the famous Monarch of the Glen by Edwin Landseer and, incredibly, entry is free!

Opening times  
  • 10am to 5pm daily
  • Thursday until 7pm

Location The Mound

Museum on the Mound

This is a wonderful little Museum and perfect if you’re short of time.  We have to say it was possibly, for us, the most fun of the things to do in Edinburgh as a family.  Home to the head office of Lloyds Bank in Scotland, The Museum has lots of interactive activities.  You can crack a safe, win some (chocolate) money, construct buildings and see what £1 million actually looks like.  And you don’t have to pay a penny to get in! museumonthemound.com  

Opening times 
  • Tuesday to Friday 10am to 5pm 
  • Saturday 1pm to 5pm Sunday and
  • Monday Closed   
Location  

The Mound

Greyfriars Kirk and Kirkyard

Opened in 1620 Greyfriars Kirk is a church in Edinburgh surrounded by a large cemetery called Greyfriars Kirkyard.  In the heart of the City it’s worth a wander.  Especially for fans of Harry Potter.  This is the home of the tomb of one Thomas Riddell Esq.  Not Lord Voldermort you understand.  As we’re all (or have been) Harry Potter this was towards the top of the list of things to do in Edinburgh for free.

Also in the graveyard is a headstone dedicated to Greyfriars Bobby.  Legend says that the Skye Terrier, visited the grave of his master every day for 14 years.  A statue stands nearby on Chambers Street. greyfriarskirk.com

Opening times  

Daily 

Location 

Greyfriars

The Writers’ Museum

Honouring Scotland’s rich and impressive literary history, The Writer’s Museum is small but interesting.  Especially if you’re a reader, writer or historian.  You access the museum through an alleyway off The Royal Mile (Lady Stair’ Close) and it’s absolutely free. Writers honoured here include Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.  edinburghmuseums.org.uk/writers-museum 

Opening times 

Monday to Sunday 10am to 5pm

Location 

Through Lady Stairs Close off The Royal Mile

Museum of Childhood

One of a number of museums on The Royal Mile, The Museum of Childhood, really does take you back.  Perfect if you’re looking for things to do in Edinburgh for free.  Most visitors will have fond memories of having owned or at least played with many of the exhibits on display in this, first museum in the world dedicated to the history of childhood. www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/venue/museum-childhood

Opening times 

Monday to Sunday 10am to 5pm

Location  

The Royal Mile

Dean Village

Dean Village is a picturesque residential area around a 10 minute walk from the end of Princes Street which has some great photographic opportunities.  A great thing to do for free if you have time.

Opening hours 

24hours 365 days of the year

Location 

Bells Brae Off Lynedoch Place 

St. Giles Cathedral

The High Kirk of Edinburgh, St. Giles Cathedral was founded in 1124 and is a beautiful example of Gothic architectural design.  St Giles is a working Church and visitors are welcomed but as it’s a working church access may be restricted without notice.  www.st.gilescathedral.org.uk

Admission is free although donations are encouraged.  Tours £6 per person

Opening Hours 
  • Monday to Saturday 09.00 to 17.00
  • Sunday 13.00 to 17.00
Location 

The Royal Mile

More info on Things to do in Edinburgh for free

If you’re thinking of visiting Edinburgh check out our Edinburgh page.  It covers how to get there, where to stay, how to get around and food, drink and money.

If you’re looking for a book and/or a map of the City the DK Eyewitness Pocket Map and guide is an absolute bargain!  We really like these guides and get one for every city we’ve visited.

Thoughts

We hope this post on Things to do in Edinburgh for free has helped you.  Feel free to share it or leave a comment below.  If you enjoyed it why not check out some of our other posts like the ones below or the pages on the right hand side.

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