12 Free Things to do in Edinburgh
Worried that Edinburgh might swallow your entire budget in one go? Well actually, the Scottish city really doesn’t need to be as expensive as you think. With so many free things to do, you’ll have plenty to save for the rest of your travels. Here are 12 things to do in the medieval tartan capital that won’t cost you a penny...
1 Take hike up Arthur’s Seat
A climb up Arthur’s Seat is definitely worth every sweaty step for the very best views of Edinburgh. The dormant volcano is the highest of the peaks that edge the city and has not erupted for more than 300 million years. Make sure you have your camera as you’ll be rewarded with views that you won’t find anywhere else in Edinburgh once you reach the top. This hike is an absolute must do (even for the unadventurous - it’s not THAT strenuous) and the best part is that it’s totally free. Just remember to pack appropriate footwear for the climb.
2 Admire St Giles’ Cathedral
This grand cathedral is not only one of Scotland’s most important religious structures, but also an absolute architectural highlight in Edinburgh. The St Giles’ Cathedral was built all the way back in 1120 but 19th century restorations brought about its stunning Thistle Chapel, also free to see inside. Its crown steeple and intricate stained glass windows make St Giles’ so easy to distinguish in Edinburgh's city skyline.
3 Get your art fix at free museums
Lucky for you art lovers, the two best galleries in the city won’t cost you a thing to enter!
The National Gallery of Modern Art (pictured)
This modern art gallery in New Town is home to the works of Eduardo Paolozzi, Ed Ruscha and John Duncan Fergusson. The neo-classical style building is free to enter however its temporary exhibitions sometimes do charge an entry fee.
The Scottish National Gallery
Boasting the most impressive collection of paintings in Edinburgh, from the Italian Renaissance to the French Impressionism, this gallery is a definite must see for art buffs. Paintings, sculptures and furniture created by the likes of Monet, van Gogh, Renoir and many more are displayed here, however you will likely have to pay an entry fee to see the extra exhibitions.
4 Harry Potter fans, get yourself on The Potter Trail
The coffee shop where J.K. Rowling wrote two of the Harry Potter books
If any of you Harry Potter fans miss this one when in Edinburgh, shame on you. As the hard core fans will know already, a lot of JK Rowling’s inspiration came from this Scottish city. The FREE walking tour called The Potter Trail will take you to all the main sites where Rowling gathered her inspo for the books. Visit the cafe where she wrote about Harry’s encounter with the Philosopher’s Stone, pass the ‘original Hogwarts’ and see exactly where Lord Voldemort is buried!
Greyfriar's Kirkyard inspired the Graveyard seen in Goblet of Fire, where Tom Riddle died
We still can’t get over the fact that this is free!
5 Get great views at Calton Hill
One of the best ways to make the most of a sunny day in the Scottish capital is a trip up to Calton Hill. Take a picnic, grab a seat and relax with a fantastic panoramic view of Edinburgh Castle, the New Town and Arthur’s Seat. The central hill is only a 12 minute walk away from the hostel, and is topped with Nelson’s Monument so head here for a chilled out afternoon all while saving your pennies. Calton Hill is also the best place in Edinburgh to watch the sun go down.
6 Water of Leith Walkway
Spend an afternoon strolling or cycling down this idyllic path which winds its way right through the heart of Edinburgh. You can join it or leave it at various points around the city such as where it passes by attractions like Saughton Winter Gardens, the Union Canal, the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art or the Royal Botanical Gardens. This walkway would make for a great, relaxing afternoon of easy exploring.
7 National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland is a firm favourite for tourists. It displays everything from science, art, history and world culture - you name it, it’s got it and it’s free! With tons of interactive displays and extra exhibitions (you might need to pay a small fee to see these) you could literally spend a whole week sifting through all of the fascinating exhibits in this museum.
8 Sandeman’s Free walking tour
See all of the city’s main sights on a Sandeman’s Free walking tour. Delve deeper into the history of Edinburgh Castle and listen to spooky stories of past goings on down the narrow, cobbled Scottish streets. The Sandeman’s tour guides know the city inside and out, making it well worth tagging onto on a spare morning. Book onto one of the daily tours at the hostel reception, just be sure to give your guide a wee tip at the end.
9 Stroll the Scottish Farmers’ Markets
Edinburgh Farmers’ Market (pictured)
Some say it’s one of the best farmers’ markets in the world. The Edinburgh Farmers’ Market is the biggest in the city with over 40 local producers regularly selling their fresh goods every Saturday with Edinburgh Castle as an idyllic backdrop. If you plan on visiting this one and not spending any money, you’d better make sure you have a full tummy or the scotch eggs and roast tatties will make you drool!
The Stockbridge Sunday market is another favourite for locals. Situated in the quaint area of Stockbridge about 15 minutes walk from the city centre, this is the market to stroll through if you’d rather head off the tourist track. Artisan cheese, beautiful handmade jewellery and soaps and crafts are all amongst the selection. This is a great, free Sunday afternoon activity if you just want to window shop and nibble on free samples from the cheese stalls.
10 Head to Edinburgh castle to hear the gunshot
Edinburgh Castle is built high on an impressive 700 million year old extinct volcano called Castle Rock. Make sure you're here at 1pm to see the 'One O'Clock Gun' fires be shot from the castle. This takes place every day in the capital (except Sundays) where spectators gather in the park to watch. You'll hear the loud shots from anywhere in the city, but it’s fun to watch so worth heading to the park...
11 Stroll Princes Street Gardens
While you're in Edinburgh, be sure to take a walk through the pretty Princes Street Gardens in the centre of town. That tall, black building? It's called Scotts Monument, a Victorian Gothic building dedicated to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. It is the largest monument to a writer in the world. It also had a major presence in Edinburgh's skyline.
12 Free events at the Fringe Festival
Every August, Edinburgh hosts Scotland’s biggest festival of the year, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Every local in the area will be there for the festivities and tourists will pour in from all over. Sadly not everything in the festival is free, however if you’re savvy, you can catch the free shows from street acts and comedians across the city. Head to the Mound Precinct, or the High Street on the Royal Mile to catch street performers showing off their insane skills. Keep an eye out for the hilarious free comedy shows at venues all over the city, often at the Free Sisters or Voodoo Rooms. Next year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival will be taking place between August 3rd and August 27th.
Article by Darcy King