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.
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.
3. Get back to nature at the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh
Set just a 15-minute 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.
4. Admire St Giles’ Cathedral
Dating back to the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.