Updated July 2023

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This post is all about Free Things To Do In Edinburgh.

Free Things To Do In Edinburgh

Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and has great transport links, meaning that it is relatively easy to get to Edinburgh from anywhere in the UK or further afield. It has everything you would hope for in a city. First of all, it's steeped in history (some of it dark and intriguing), it has incredible architecture, and lots of character!I don't live far from Edinburgh, so I've visited it more times than I can count from scoping out prospective universities, having night outs to taking the odd city break in Edinburgh. Therefore, I've got great insider knowledge of what to visit and of any little hidden gems too.I might be a little bias but Edinburgh is absolutely beautiful and you NEED to visit it at least once! Plus, a visit to Edinburgh doesn't need to break the bank. In fact, it is entirely possible to visit Edinburgh on a budget as the city has loads of free things you can do. Just keep reading to find out!This post covers Best Time to Visit Edinburgh, How Many Days In Edinburgh, Free Things To Do In Edinburgh and Where To Stay In Edinburgh.

This blog post covers...

Best time to visit Edinburgh

Edinburgh is very popular with tourists, amassing over 4 million annual visitors with most visiting during the summer season. A large majority of these tourists tend to visit for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which takes place every August and just so happens to be the largest art festival in the world!

There's a huge buzz about the city when the Fringe is on with so many different shows and street performances for you to go and see, some are free and other shows you need to pay for a ticket. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival even though it's busy, is not to be missed and something you NEED to experience at least once!

Edinburgh is also super busy on the run up to Christmas and New Year, with events happening all over the city including the famous Edinburgh Hogmanay Street Party. Events book up fast at this time of year so make sure you get your tickets booked quickly to avoid disappointment.

All this being said, anytime is a good time to visit Edinburgh! Even when it's cold, grey, cloudy and raining, somehow Edinburgh manages to look even more moody and magical in this weather. So, just pick a time that works for you!

Best Time To Visit Edinburgh
Best Time To Visit Edinburgh

How many days in Edinburgh?

The ideal amount of time to be able to see all the top tourist spots around Edinburgh and also, schedule in time for nice dinners and drinks at some of the incredible restaurants around Edinburgh is 3-4 days.

If you are planning on visiting other parts of Scotland too, then you'll want to make your trip a wee bit longer to account for this.

It is possible to go for a day trip to Edinburgh, which would allow you to get a feel for what the city has to offer. However, you probably wouldn't be able to get a lot of sightseeing done in one day but you could pick 2-3 things you are most interested in doing.

25 Incredible Free Things To Do In Edinburgh

All of these attractions on this list are free to visit.

Take A Walk Up To Edinburgh Castle

You can't go to Edinburgh and not visit the castle!

You don't actually need to go into the castle, you can walk right up to the gates and from here, you'll still get a good view over the city.

Edinburgh Castle is one of the most famous landmarks in the city; the castle is a staple in the city's skyline being perched upon an extinct volcano, high above the rest of the city.

Edinburgh castle has a rich history, dating back to the 12th century. It actually holds the titles for being the most besieged place in the UK and the most embattled fortress in Europe.

It's also the home of Britain's oldest crown jewels and the iconic Stone of Destiny, which was used for centuries to inaugurate monarchs.

Visit Edinburgh Castle
Visit Edinburgh Castle

Climb Up Calton Hill For A Spectacular View Of The City

To get to the top of Calton Hill is a relatively easy walk and only takes about 15 minutes from Princes Street in the city centre.

Calton Hill is one of the oldest public parks in Edinburgh, offering a unique and incredible outlook over the city. There's lots to see on Calton Hill too, including the National Monument of Scotland, the city observatory, the Nelson Monument and the Dugald Stewart Monument.

It's the perfect place to enjoy a picnic or watch the sunrise or sunset over the famous Edinburgh landmarks.

Calton Hill Edinburgh
Calton Hill Edinburgh

Wonder through the Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens is one of the most important parks right in the heart of the city, seperating Edinburgh's Old Town from the New Town. It was created in 1820, when Edinburgh's biggest loch (Nor Loch) was drained.

The gardens are split into two parts divided by the mound, which is an artificial hill that connects the Old Town to the New Town.

One of the most notable things to see in Princes Street Gardens is the Ross Fountain, which offers an incredible view up to Edinburgh Castle and also, it is a lovely place to sit when the weather is good.

Another notable thing to see in the gardens is the Scott Monument, which is a 200ft gothic monument dedicated to Sir Walter Scott - one of Scotland's most famous writers.

Every year at Christmas, the Princes Street Gardens are home to the Christmas Markets, funfair attractions and an ice rink.

Ross Fountain
Ross Fountain

Walk The Entire Length Of The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile stretches from Edinburgh Castle all the way to the gates of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the King's official residence in Edinburgh.

The name is a bit deceptive as the Royal Mile isn't actually a mile at all, in fact it is longer by 107 yards.

It'll take you about 20-25 minutes to walk the full Royal Mile but considering the amount of things to see along the way, it'll probably take you longer than this.

The Royal Mile Edinburgh Scotland
The Royal Mile Edinburgh Scotland

Gaze Upon The Incredible Architecture Of St Giles Cathedral

St Giles Cathedral is located on the Royal Mile in the city centre and has some of the most impressive architecture of any church in Edinburgh.

The original chapel dates back to the 12th century, however much of this was destroyed during a fire in 1385. The only thing that remains and you can still see them today is the 4 original central pillars.

The cathedral has been remodelled many times since, with the iconic steeple and crown design being added in the 16th century.

Don't miss the great west stained glass window, which celebrates Scotland's most famous poet, Robert Burns.

St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh Scotland
St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh Scotland

Gain Some New Knowledge At The National Museum of Scotland

Voted as one of the UK's top 10 visitor attractions, the National Museum of Scotland is a must-see! The museum is located on Chalmers Street, behind Grassmarket in Edinburgh city centre.

It has four floors and features exhibitions from the Natural World, World Cultures, Art, Design and Fashion, Science and Technology, and more. The architecture of the building itself is pretty incredible and worth seeing!

National Museum of Scotland Edinburgh
National Museum of Scotland Edinburgh

Learn About Scotland's Literary History At The Writer's Museum and Makar's Court

Makars Court is a beautiful courtyard just off the Royal Mile. 'Makar' is the Scots word for poet or skilled writer and therefore, this courtyard celebrates the literary history of Edinburgh. You'll find the Writer's Museum in Makars Court.

The Writer's Museum celebrates the lives of arguably Scotland's most famous writers; Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. It features incredible portraits, rare books, personal items from these writers.

The Writer's Museum
The Writer's Museum

Be Charmed By Dean Village And The Water Of Leith Walkway

Located only 15 minutes from Edinburgh's city centre is the picturesque Dean Village. Dean Village is a beautiful and charming area of the city and is situated right by the Water of Leith.

Dean Village was previously used as a grain milling village. You will still see reminants of its history today including mill stones and stone plaques. The most iconic building in the village is Well Court, which was built in 1880s to house the local workers.

I'd suggest walking part of the Water of Leith walkway to get to Dean Village as the pathway runs by the river and you'll pass by St Bernard’s Well. It makes for a really lovely, relaxing walk.

Dean Village Edinburgh Scotland
Dean Village Edinburgh Scotland

Stroll Through Circus Lane And Stockbridge Market

Circus lane is located in the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh. It is one of the most stunning streets in Edinburgh.

With the combination of its cobbled streets, ivy covered houses, and the tower of St Stephen's church in the background, gives the street a truly whimsical charm.

The houses in Circus Lane were originally built as stables and used to house the horses and carriages of the nearby affluent residents.

If you are in Stockbridge on the weekend, you should visit the Stockbridge market, which is open all year round, every weekend from 10am-5pm. It offers a range of art, crafts and lots of tasty food.

Circus Lane Edinburgh
Circus Lane Edinburgh

Be Transported To Another Time On Victoria Street

Victoria Street is a beautiful curved street lined with colourful buildings and small local shops and restaurants. The street was developed between 1829-1834 as part of improvements to the Old Town.

Victoria Street connects George IV bridge to the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh and is said to be the inspiration behind Harry Potter's Diagon Alley!

Victoria Street Edinburgh Scotland
Victoria Street Edinburgh Scotland

Get The Best View Of Edinburgh Castle From Grassmarket

The Grassmarket area of Edinburgh is one of the oldest parts of the city. Even though the architecture of the buildings has changed over time, the large open space remains historically the same and is lined with independent shops, restaurants and bars.

The grassmarket was used as a market up until the 14th century with cattle, horses and corn being sold here. However, the wide open space of the Grassmarket also made it a suitable area for public executions, with the last hanging taking place here in 1784.

From Grassmarket, you have fantastic views up to Edinburgh castle, especially from the Vennel, which is a great spot for a photo.

Grassmarket Edinburgh
Grassmarket Edinburgh

Learn About Scotland's Political History At The Scottish Parliament Building

In 1997, a referendum was held for the people of Scotland to vote if they wanted their own government, separate from the British parliament in London, and the majority of Scots voted "yes". The building was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2004.

When the plans for the parliament building were first approved, they were considered controversial due to the building being very modern, which doesn't fit in with the typical Old Edinburgh style.

The Scottish Parliament Building is located about 15 minutes from the city centre. They run free guided tours, which allows you to discover more about the history and architecture of the building.

The Scottish Parliament Building
The Scottish Parliament Building

Hike Up Arthur's Seat For A Magnificent View Of Edinburgh

Arthur's seat is located in Holyrood Park; a 640 acre park across from Holyrood Palace. Arthur's Seat is actually an extinct volcano and is the highest point in the park, at 251m tall.

It will take you around 1 hours to hike up Arthur's Seat from Princes Street in Edinburgh City Centre. It offers panoramic views over the city and is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic.

You can also visit St Anthony's Chapel Ruins, a 15th century medival chapel, in Holyrood Park.

Arthur's Seat Edinburgh Walk
Arthur's Seat Edinburgh Walk

Learn About The Importance Of Loyalty At The Statue Of Greyfriars Bobby And Greyfriars Kirkyard

Greyfriars Kirkyard is one of the most famous graveyards in the world. The entire kirkyard was supposedly an inspiration for JK Rowling's Harry Potter as many of the names on the gravestones feature in the novel including Tom Riddle, McGonagall and Potters. It's also rumoured to be the inspiration behind the graveyard in Godric's Hollow.

You'll also be able to find a headstone dedicated to John Gray and Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby was a Skye Terrier who was looked after by a local policeman, John Gray. After John Gray's death, Bobby reportedly guarded his grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard for 14 years.

After capturing the local people's hearts, a little bronze statue dedicated to the Skye Terrier was erected, a year after the dog passed away in 1872. You can find the statue situated opposite the main gates to the Kirkyard.

Greyfriars Bobby Statue
Greyfriars Bobby Statue

Ponder At The National Galleries Of Scotland: Modern One and Modern Two

These two art galleries, Modern One and Modern Two, are located about 20 minutes walk from Edinburgh city centre. To get from the Modern One to the Modern Two gallery is only a 5-minute walk.

Modern One gallery has an outstanding collection of modern and contemporary art whereas Modern Two is home to Paolozzi's Studio and incredible highlights of modern art.

The grounds of these art galleries is also home to more than 20 sculptures.

Edinburgh Modern Art Gallery

Marvel At One Of The Greatest Art Collections In The World At The National Galleries Of Scotland: National

The National art gallery is located right next to Princes Street Gardens and the mound in Edinburgh city centre.

It is home to European and Scottish artwork from the early Renaissance to the end of the nineteenth century. Some of the fine art here is by some of the greatest artists of all time including Monet and Van Gogh.

National Art Gallery Edinburgh
National Art Gallery Edinburgh

Gaze Up At The Incredible Zodiac Ceiling In The National Galleries of Scotland: Portrait

Located in Edinburgh City Centre on Queen Street, the portrait museum will bring you face to face with the people who shaped Scotland's past, present and future.

The museum not only tells the stories of Scotland's lands and people but the gallery is also decorated in incredibly elaborate murals and sculptural embellishments, well worth seeing. The zodiac ceiling in the great hall in itself is a masterpiece.

This museum is a real hidden gem right in the heart of this beautiful city.

National Portrait Gallery Edinburgh
National Portrait Gallery Edinburgh

Learn About All Things Money At The Unique Museum On The Mound

A unique museum focusing on money, coinage and economics. It is located in the Bank of Scotland Head Office building on the Mound in Edinburgh city centre.

If you've ever wondered what one million pounds looks like, then you can see it on display at this museum. You can also see Scotland's oldest banknote and learn how to crack a safe.

Museum On The Mound
Museum On The Mound

Wonder Around The St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral

Even though it's located 15 minutes from the city centre in the glamorous west end of Edinburgh, it's three tall spires can be seen from all around the city.

The cathedral was designed in a neo-gothic style and built in 1879. It seats 1500 people. Look out for the modern stained glass window designed by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi and the cross that is a masterpiece hanging above the church altar.

St Mary's Cathedral Edinburgh
St Mary's Cathedral Edinburgh

Learn More About Edinburgh's Story At The Museum of Edinburgh

Found in the iconic yellow Huntly House on the historic Royal Mile is the Museum of Edinburgh. It has a wide range of varied collections, which you'll see as you make your way through the maze of 16th century buildings.

This museum has everything from Greyfriars Bobby collar and bowl to James Craig's original plans for Edinburgh's New Town. It's a must-visit if you want to learn a bit more about Edinburgh's story.

The museum even featured in season 3 of the popular TV series, Outlander.

Museum of Edinburgh
Museum of Edinburgh

Gain Insight Into The Lives Of The Everyday Man and Woman At The People's Story Museum

The People's Story Museum is located on the Royal Mile and is opposite from the Museum of Edinburgh. It opened in 1989, but the building that houses it was once used as a prison.

The People's Story Museum gives an insight into Edinburgh's working class people from the 18th century to the late 20th century. The collection focuses on the history, culture, crafts and trades and the everyday life of the cities people.

People's Story Museum
People's Story Museum

Stroll Through The Peaceful Royal Botanic Gardens

If you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre, then the Royal Botanic Gardens is a great option to do so. It's a 20 minute walk from Princes Street and is considered one of the finest botanic gardens in the world.

Walk through the 72 acres of serene gardens and learn about the botanic gardens history, which dates back 350 years. From here, you'll also have incredible views over the city skyline including Edinburgh Castle.

During the winter months, the garden lights up with its magical, illuminated botanical trail.

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

Get All Sentimental At The Museum of Childhood

The Museum of Childhood is located on the Royal Mile in the city centre. It opened in 1955 and was the first museum in the world dedicated to the history of childhood.

On display, you'll find toys, games, clothes, books and dolls from a child's life at home, school and playtime, dating from the 1800s to the present day. You might even see things that you recognise, leaving you feeling reminiscent of your own childhood.

Museum of Childhood Edinburgh
Museum of Childhood Edinburgh

Go on a Free Walking Tour

Going on a free walking tour is one of the best ways to see any city. They often take you by all the major tourist attractions and you can choose from lots of different types of tours.

In Edinburgh, the selection of free tours you can choose from include a tour of the Old Town, New Town, Ghost Tours or even, a Harry Potter Themed Tour.

There are so many companies to choose from including City Explorers Edinburgh Free Tour, Scotland City Tours - Edinburgh Free Tour, and Clan Pascual Tours - Free Tour Edinburgh.

You just need to check out the companies websites and see which tour best suits you! There's no obligation to pay anything at the end of a free walking tour but it is nice to leave a tip, especially if you enjoyed the tour.

Relax At Portobello Beach

About 20-30 minutes by car from Edinburgh city centre is Portobello beach on the east coast of Scotland.

Portobello Beach has two miles of beautiful white sand and a nice promenade to walk along. There's a choice of bars and cafes on the promenade too. It's a great option when the weather is good, but also gets quite busy when it is!

Portobello Beach Edinburgh
Portobello Beach Edinburgh

Where To Stay In Edinburgh?

All the options below were chosen with peak season in mind and two people sharing.

Budget (£0-£75 per night)

★★★★ Kick Ass Grassmarket (18+), Edinburgh, UK
Kick Ass Grassmarket (18+) is conveniently located in Edinburgh, and has a shared lounge, free WiFi and a bar.
★★★★ Kick Ass Greyfriars (18+), Edinburgh, UK
Boasting a shared lounge, a terrace as well as a bar, Kick Ass Greyfriars (18+) is situated in the centre of Edinburgh, 800 metres from Royal Mile.
The Coorie Inn @ Portobello, Edinburgh’s Seaside., Edinburgh, UK
In the Portobello district of Edinburgh, close to Portobello Beach, The Coorie Inn @ Portobello, Edinburgh’s Seaside.

Mid (£75-£150 per night)

East Claremont Guest House, Edinburgh, UK
Boasting a garden and views of garden, East Claremont Guest House is a recently renovated guest house situated in Edinburgh, less than 1 km from Edinburgh…
★★★ No32 Hotel, Edinburgh, UK
Situated in Edinburgh and with EICC reachable within less than 1 km, No32 Hotel features concierge services, allergy-free rooms, a garden, free WiFi and a…
★★★★ Kildonan Lodge Hotel, Edinburgh, UK
This elegant 4-star Victorian hotel offers luxurious rooms featuring iPod docks, flat-screen TVs, sherry and shortbread. Located only 1.

High-end (£150+ per night)

★★★★★ Virgin Hotels Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
Featuring a fitness centre, a restaurant as well as a bar, Virgin Hotels Edinburgh is located in the centre of Edinburgh, 300 metres from The Real Mary…
★★★★★ The Witchery by the Castle, Edinburgh, UK
The Witchery by the Castle offers a range of opulent suites in Edinburgh, each one unique with its own special features.
★★★★★ 21212, Edinburgh, UK
Featuring a shared lounge, a restaurant as well as a bar, 21212 is located in the centre of Edinburgh, 300 metres from Edinburgh Playhouse.

This post is all about Free Things To Do In Edinburgh.

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