Free things to do in Edinburgh

A day in the Scottish capital doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Here’s what to do if you’re on a budget
From browsing the array of free museums to simply wandering around the historic Old Town, there are plenty of things to do in Edinburgh that won’t cost you a penny. Put your wallet away and mark these hotspots on your map… This is Edinburgh, for free!
The National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland is the jewel in Edinburgh’s crown. It’s one of the most visited museums and galleries in the UK, and it’s 100% free. Home to thousands of objects, you can easily spend a whole day wandering around the collections of Scottish architectural discoveries, historical artefacts from all different periods, and fashion and art exhibitions – with some of the more unusual items including one of Elton John’s sparkly suits and Dolly the Sheep (stuffed, of course).

Arthur’s Seat
Did you know Edinburgh has its very own volcano? Arthur’s Seat, to the east of the city, is an ancient volcano and the highest point of the wild Holyrood Park. If you want to breathe in some fresh Scottish air, you can walk up to the top of the 251-metre-high hill and be rewarded with postcard-worthy views across Edinburgh and its surrounds. It’s a relatively easy climb that’s suitable for amateurs, but if you don’t want to break out a sweat, you can walk to the lower Salisbury Crags, which have equally beautiful views.  

Scottish National Gallery
Art lovers won’t want to miss the Scottish National Gallery, located right in the middle of the city centre. Housed in a beautiful neoclassical building, you can see the country’s most impressive collection of fine art, ranging from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. Here, you can marvel at artworks by the likes of Raphael, Monet, Van Gogh and Velázquez, as well as Scottish alumni. It’s completely free to enter, although special exhibitions can be ticketed.

The Royal Botanic Garden
On sunny days, head down to the Royal Botanic Garden, a 20-minute bus ride from the city centre. This enormous 72-acre park features thousands of different plants, flowers and trees from coming from all parts of the world. Highlights include The Glasshouse with a 200-year-old palm tree, the exotic plants on the Chinese Hillside and the stunning views over the city towards Edinburgh Castle.  

Greyfriar’s Bobby
You’ve probably heard the tale of Bobby, the faithful dog who stood watch over his master’s grave for 14 years. The sentimental Scottish people decided to commemorate Bobby, building a life-size statue at the entrance to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, where both Bobby and his master now lie. Unveiled in 1873, the statue has now become a tourist attraction in its own right.

Calton Hill
Located right in the middle of Edinburgh, Calton Hill is a must-see. The UNESCO World Heritage site is home to some of the city’s most famous landmarks – the National Monument, the Nelson Monument and the Dugald Stewart monument. It’s a popular spot with photographers – and it’s easy to see why when you see the 360-degree views over Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth and the endless rolling green hills. 

The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is the very heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, running from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Walk down the historic cobblestone streets, window shop in the boutiques and stop by St Giles’ Cathedral, which is also free to visit. When you reach Parliament House, keep your eyes on the ground to spot a pavement mosaic called the Heart of Midlothian. It’s Scottish tradition to spit (yes, spit!) on the heart for good luck. Just be careful where you walk afterwards!      

Forth Bridges
The three main bridges that cross the Firth of Forth, linking Edinburgh and Fife together, are an impressive sight to be seen. Considered a major engineering feat when it was built in the 1880s, the Forth Bridge has now become one of Scotland’s national landmarks. There is also the Forth Road Bridge, a 2.5km long suspension bridge for cyclists, walkers and public transport, and the brand new Queensferry Crossing, which was recently opened by Queen Elizabeth and now stands as the longest three-tower, cable stayed bridge in the world.
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