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10 Free Things To Do In Edinburgh, Scotland

Updated on February 27, 2018
sparkleyfinger profile image

Lynsey enjoys travelling, and is sure to have a camera and a notebook with her wherever she goes, even in her home country, Scotland.

Edinburgh is Scotland's capital city, and is the hub of Scotland. All of our politics, decision making and countries spending gets done here- well, the decisions and spending that we are able to decide on at least, the rest are done at Westminster in London.

Edinburgh is also full of history, great architecture, restaurants, attractions, and lots of friendly faces. There is always something to do, but there is usually a touristy price to pay for this! This hub will list, in no particular order, 10 things to do in Edinburgh, that are just as touristy as the paid options, but are completely free of charge!

Most of these activities boast stunning views, so I would recommend always having a good quality camera to hand- a perfect opportunity for some stunning holiday photos.

Which are you going to visit?

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1- Arthur's Seat

If it is a particularly fair- weathered day, and if you are feeling fit and ready, you can climb Arthur's Seat for some of the best views of the city. The climb up this extinct volcano in Holyrood Park can be quite tricky at times, and takes you 251m above sea level, so is not for the faint hearted. However, the effort is well worth it, as you are rewarded with inspiring views of the city below.

The park is a short walk from Edinburgh’s Royal Mile in the heart of the city.

There is plenty to see within the park such as St Anthony's Chapel, a chapel dated from medieval times, and Duddingston Loch, which is full of wildlife. It is also the site of a large and well preserved fort, which is one of four hill forts dating from around 2000 years ago. With its diverse range of natural phenomenon, it is also site of Special Scientific Interest.

So, this is definitely a place of interest for all the explorers out there!

2- National Museum of Scotland

Made up of 7 floors, The National Museum of Scotland has plenty of space to explore! There are over 20,000 objects on display within the staggering 26 galleries, so this is best suited for a rainy day when you have time to spare.

As the top floor opens onto a roof terrace, you can get views of the whole city, all the way out to the sea. There is a free viewfinder that allows you to see many of the famous attractions all in one go!

Or, if you prefer, you can stay indoors and explore the museum, which gives amazing insight into Scotland's history, as well as it's future, with the help of various interactive displays and exhibitions. Plenty to do on a family day out!

3- St Giles' Cathedral

Located on the Royal Mile, St Giles' Cathedral is a prominent site which is very easy to locate. While the building has been restored at many times over the centuries, parts of this building date as far back as 1124. There is plenty of history to unlock in this old building, which has served the city for nearly a thousand years!

Entry is free, although you should be careful to avoid any ceremonies or services, as it is still an active place of worship. This is the ideal location for any tourists eager to obtain some dramatic photos, as the gothic arches and detailed stained glass make for some strong images. However, there is a small £2 charge if you want a photography permit- a small price, in my opinion!

4- Scottish Parliament

You could witness history being made by visiting the Scottish Parliament building. There are public viewing areas which are ideal for use during a debate, and you can also arrange to have a tour of the building. The building itself is an architectural masterpiece, which incorporates the outdoors within it's walls, there is plenty to explore and lots of design features to look out for on the way!

Guided tours are usually available on Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and every weekday when the Parliament is in recess.

You will have to book this, though, so be sure to check their website in advance.

5- National Galleries of Scotland

The National Gallery of Scotland is a central gallery bursting with artwork! With nearly 100,000 pieces, there is definitely lots to see within it's walls. Filled to the brim with paintings, sculptures, tapestries and photos, there is much to see, so best get in there early!

Located alongside Princes Street Gardens, the central location means you can easily pop in after a shopping trip or other activities.

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is also within close proximity, on Queen Street.. so there is plenty of choice! As the name suggests, there is more of a focus on portraits and busts of influential people of the time. Finally, you can put a face to the name of many of Scotland's famous names!

6- Walking Tour

Sandeman's offer a free 2.5 hour walking tour that leaves from the High Street 3 times daily. Meet your tour guide at Tron Kirk, in front of Starbucks to begin your tour and explore the streets of Edinburgh at the hands of an expert.

The walk takes you past many of the locations mentioned in this hub, while your guide keeps you entertained with fun facts, stories and showmanship.

The tour itself is free, but you are encouraged to pay a tip to your guide- choosing the amount that you feel is fair for their service.

7- The Writer's Museum

Located in Lady Stair's House at the Lawnmarket on the Royal Mile, The Writer's Museum shows the lives of three of Scotland's most famous writers: Walter Scott, Robert Louis and, of course, Robert Burns.

Visitors can view portraits, rare items and personal belongings of their literary heroes. The itinerary even includes viewing a replica of Robert Burns' skull- one of only three ever made!

The museum also boasts rare artefacts such as manuscripts, first editions and even the printing presses used for publishing. This is definitely one for the bookworms!

8- Royal Botanic Garden

Established in 1670, the Royal Botanic Garden is a glorious and inspiring place to visit in the Summer months. Draped in greenery and wildlife, the gardens give a well earned breath of fresh air while in the bustling city.

With free admission to the expansive gardens, you have plentiful opportunity to collect various photos for your travel scrapbooks!

During rainy days, you may prefer to peruse the glasshouses, but be aware that there is an entry charge for these.

If you are travelling around Scotland, you could also visit the other regional gardens and view one of the largest living collections of plants!

9- Greyfriar's Bobby & Greyfriar's Kirk

One of Edinburgh's most famous tales surrounds 'Greyfriar's Bobby', a small Skye Terrier who became famous for spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner, John Gray.

Nowadays, there is a statue of Greyfriar's Bobby at the corner of Candlemaker's Row and St George's Bridge. If you are a fan of the heartfelt story, you should definitely pay a visit and get your photo taken beside it.

Across the road from the statue is Greyfriar's Kirkyard, a graveyard where you'll find large tombs and graves of many well- known Scots. Again, plenty of opportunity for some unique holiday snaps.

10- Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Located a bit further out from the city centre, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is housed within an attractive, expansive neo-classical building. Luckily, the distance need not be an issue because there is a gallery bus which leaves from the National Gallery at various points through the day.

When you arrive in the expansive grounds, you will notice collections of contemporary sculptures and statues- a perfect location for a bite to eat, or some sketching of your own.

Home to hundreds of paintings, as well as various installations, this GOMA is a must- see for art enthusiasts, big and small!

Explore Scotland

If you have more time to spare, remember that Scotland is full of beautiful countryside to explore, as well as other bustling cities. The capital is a great place to base yourself while enjoying the country, so why not try going to nearby Glasgow, or even a little further, towards, Aberdeen, Dundee or Inverness? The rail links mean there is plenty of choice to explore Scotland- enjoy!!

Know Where To Go?

Arthur's Seat:
Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh EH8, UK

get directions

National Museum of Scotland:
National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh EH1 1JF, UK

get directions

St Giles' Cathedral:
St Giles' Cathedral, High Street, Edinburgh, Midlothian EH1 1RE, UK

get directions

Scottish Parliament:
Scottish Parliament Building, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh EH99 1SP, UK

get directions

The Writer's Museum:
The Writers Museum, Lady Stair's House, Lady Stair's Close, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh

get directions

Royal Botanic Garden:
Inverleith (Edinburgh), at Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh EH3, UK

get directions

Greyfriar's Kirk:
Greyfriars Tolbooth & Highland Kirk, 1 Greyfriars, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Midlothian EH1 2QQ, UK

get directions

National Gallery of Scotland:
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Midlothian EH4 3BL, UK

get directions

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art:
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, 72 Belford Terrace, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh EH4 3DS, U

get directions

Walking Tours:
The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh, UK

get directions

© 2014 Lynsey Hart


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    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      6 years ago from Lanarkshire

      Thanks Melinda! I'd love to tour America sometime as well... We can keep our fingers crossed for a lottery win! Lol :-) thanks for the visit, and the kind comment.

    • Melinda Longoria profile image

      Melinda Longoria MSM 

      6 years ago from Garland, Texas

      Now, if I could only get to Edinburgh, Scotland. ;-) Great hub!

    • sparkleyfinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Lynsey Hart 

      6 years ago from Lanarkshire

      Thanks!! Edinburgh is very nice, there's lots to do for tourists, and as you can see, not all of it has to be expensive :) Independence is a whole other hub lollol Thanks for your visit and comments... :)

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Hoping to visit the summer of 2014 - maybe to celebrate the independence of my ancestor's homeland! Thanks for the tantalizing peek.


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