10 free things to do in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is full of gorgeous landscapes, architecture and fascinating museums to explore. Luckily, most of the city’s best attractions are absolutely free – so it’s easy to make your stay Travelodgical. Here’s our pick of the best free things to do in Edinburgh

1. Take in the views from Arthur’s Seat

Standing proudly over the Scottish capital, Arthur’s Seat is a 640 acre Royal park adjacent to Holyrood Palace and a short walk from the Royal mile in the city centre.

Formed by an extinct volcano, it’s believed by many to be the location of Camelot, King Arthur’s mythical castled city. Whether or not the legend is true, it’s well worth the easy climb to the peak – the views are really something.

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh EH8.

2. Discover a world of wonders at the National Museum of Scotland

Eccentric, charming and completely absorbing, the National Museum of Scotland is full of wonder for adults and kids alike and is one of Scotland’s 5 National museums.

There are over 200,000 historical artefacts to discover, both natural and man-made. But the highlight has to be the incredible Window on the World installation – a four-storey collage of over 800 objects, collected together to represent the diversity of the world’s cultures. Gamers shouldn’t miss the Lewis Chessmen, intricately carved chess pieces dating back to the 12th century.

Chambers Street, Edinburgh EH1 1JF. Open 10am – 5pm every day.

3. Get back to nature at the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh

Set just 15 minutes’ walk from the city centre, the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh is one of the most picturesque and tranquil places to relax in the Scottish capital.

It’s home to 70 acres of rare plants and flowers. Rainy outside? Get a taste of the exotic at the Tropical Palm House, built in 1832. This towering glasshouse is filled to bursting with palm trees, and other plants from warmer climes. There is something for everyone with many exhibitions, drop in activities and short courses for visitors big and small to get involved in so make sure to visit for a great day for everyone all year round.

Arboretum Place, Edinburgh EH3 5NZ. Open 10am – 6pm every day.

4. Admire St Giles’ Cathedral

Dating back to 1120s, St Giles’ Cathedral is the heart of Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile.

There’s plenty to take in at this ancient church, which is often referred to as the ‘Cradle of Presbyterianism’, including the dazzlingly colourful stained glass windows, the impressive Rieger Organ and the Thistle Chapel, home to the Knights of the Order of the Thistle.

High St, Edinburgh EH1 1RE. Open 9am – 7pm Monday – Saturday and 1pm – 5pm on Sundays.

5. Take a walk around the Old Town

Edinburgh’s Old Town is the oldest part of the city, an architectural gem that includes the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle as well as pretty Cowgate and Grassmarket.

It’s easy to lose hours as you wander the lanes and alleyways chock-a-block with independent boutiques, tiny tea shops and upmarket restaurants.

Edinburgh Old Town, Edinburgh EH1.

6. Get inspired at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Scotland has always been a centre for artistic innovation. There’s a huge selection of modern works of art to see here at the National Gallery of Modern Art, right in the centre of town.

Stretching over two buildings, the gallery displays a fantastic collection of Cubist, Expressionist, post-war and contemporary art. Nip outside to see picturesque grounds containing Charles Jencks’ extraordinary Landform and sculptures by Henry Moore.

75 Belford Rd, Edinburgh EH4 3DR. Open 10am – 5pm every day.

7. Take a walk along the Water of Leith Walkway

An urban wildlife site that snakes through the city for 12 miles, the Water of Leith Walkway is the perfect place for a relaxed stroll.

Winding its way from Balerno towards Leith, passing the charming Dean Village and Thomas Telford bridge, the route is filled with woods and wildflowers. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife including herons, kingfishers, roe deer and even the occasional family of otters.

There are plenty of access points, but the best is the Water of Leith Visitor Centre, 24 Lanark Rd, Edinburgh EH14 1TQ.

8. Get snap-happy at Calton Hill

Cameras at the ready! Edinburgh is a city known for its stately buildings and sweeping country views, and Calton Hill offers the best of both. Take a short hike to the summit to see the city glittering at your feet, and snap some memorable pics.

Up here you’ll also spot the Parthenon-inspired National Monument, and the Nelson Monument – a six-storey tower dedicated to Admiral Nelson. On top of the tower is a ‘time ball’, once used to signal the time to passing ships. Get there just before 1pm to see it rise and fall, marking the hour, as it has done for centuries.

Nelson Monument, 32 Calton Hill, Edinburgh EH7 5AA. Open 10am – 3pm Monday – Saturday.

9. See the Secret Garden in Duddingston

Over on the far side of Holyrood Park, you’ll find the ancient village of Duddingston. It has a lot to recommend it; Bonnie Prince Charlie once lived here, plus it’s home to Scotland’s oldest pub, the Sheep’s Heid. It’s an enchanting place with tasty hearty food and delicious drinks on offer- on a sunny day, go al fresco while enjoying a great view.

Have a wander along the shore of the famous Duddingston Loch, immortalised in Sir Henry Raeburn’s portrait of The Skating Minister. Then make a visit to Dr Neil’s Garden, a labour of love known as Edinburgh’s Secret Garden. Studded with Willow trees and vibrant flowers, this hidden-away beauty spot is well loved by locals.

Duddingston, Edinburgh EH15.

10. Head for the beach

When you think of Edinburgh, beaches might not be the first thing that comes to mind – but there are actually lots of seaside resorts within easy reach of the city. Portobello Beach is the cream of the crop, an hour’s walk or 20 minutes by car from the centre of town.

There’s about a mile of sandy beach to stroll along, and lots of charming seaside buildings and attractions to explore. You could try your hand at kayaking at the Portobello Kayaking and Sailing Club, or take a dip at the Victorian swimming baths (if the sea is too chilly!).

Afterwards, the little cafes along the seafront are a great place to stop for tea and cakes.

Portobello Beach, Edinburgh EH15 2BP.

Want to visit Edinburgh? Book your Edinburgh hotel now