Top free things to do in Edinburgh

Must-see free things to do in Edinburgh

You might consider most capital cities to be generally quite expensive affairs, but in Edinburgh it can be quite a different story. This alluring capital city of Scotland offers plenty of free sights and attractions. You could kick-start your Edinburgh holidays with a guided tour of the Scottish Parliament, before hiking up to Arthur’s Seat and admiring the city views below. Or you could take your time admiring the exotic plants at the Royal Botanic Gardens before strolling along the Royal Mile and pausing at The People’s Story museum. That, and so much more; read on to discover the best free things to do in Edinburgh.

  1. Scottish National Gallery
  2. Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat
  3. Royal Botanic Gardens
  4. Scottish Parliament
  5. The Royal Mile
  6. Calton Hill
  7. The People’s Story

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1. Scottish National Gallery

Housing Renaissance masterpieces by the likes of Raphael and 19th century fine art works by Cezanne, the Scottish National Gallery has to be one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh, if not Scotland. Its staggering collection, housed in three galleries, is renowned around the world for its superlative art collection. Another bonus is that it’s situated in the heart of the city and close to the train station, so it’s easy to continue your Edinburgh sightseeing before or after a visit.

Best for: Impressive art galleries.

While you’re there: Stop for a bite at one of the many top restaurants surrounding the area, or enjoy a picnic at one of the nearby parks.

2. Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat

Another top experience is also another free thing to do in Edinburgh. Stretch your legs with a hike up through Holyrood Park to Arthur’s Seat, a (thankfully extinct) volcano, which offers some of the best views over the city below. As well as being able to enjoy spot top sights like Edinburgh Castle, there’s plenty more to do in the park itself, like the medieval St Anthony’s Chapel.

Best for: Outdoorsy fun.

While you’re there: Also in the park is Duddingston Loch, a great spot for bird-watching.

3. Royal Botanic Gardens

Embrace the well-clipped greenery of Edinburgh at the Royal Botanic Gardens . The gardens span a whopping 72 acres and dates as far back as the 17th century; throughout the centuries it’s remained as a relaxing place to come and recharge. Some of the highlights of this free Edinburgh attraction include its Chinese Hillside Garden and its collection of plants native to Scotland.

Best for: Gentle strolls.

While you’re there: The Victorian Glasshouse features over 3000 exotic plants from different climate zones.

4. Scottish Parliament

If you’re into politics, or simply want to find out more about the Scottish government, then don’t miss out on taking a guided tour of the Scottish Parliament . When Parliament is in recess it’s not possible to visit, however during the times you can it’s definitely worth booking onto this lesser-known tour. Although they only last around one hour in total, you’ll learn so much that you didn’t know before!

Best for:Scottish politics

While you’re there: Head up to Arthur’s Seat afterwards.

5. The Royal Mile

Simply walking along The Royal Mile, the heart of Edinburgh, is a feast for the eyes, and is one of Edinburgh’s top tourist attractions. Many of its shops, museums, pubs and more are housed in historic buildings, which makes for sightseeing in itself. One of the top spots to come to is Grassmarket: once a medieval public execution spot, today the area is much more pleasant with its unique shops and street performers.

Best for:High street shopping and historic attractions rolled into one mile-long street.

While you’re there:The Royal Mile leads from Holyrood Park onto Edinburgh Castle; steeped in important political history.

6. Calton Hill

Need a picture-perfect spot? Head up to the UNESCO-listed Calton Hill for perfect views back down over the city. If you don’t want to tackle the steep incline of Arthur’s Seat but still want awesome views, Calton Hill is a great alternative as it only requires a shorter walk uphill that isn’t so tiresome. Gaze across the historic city with its tall brick buildings, ancient church spires and further afield to the blue sweep that makes up the North Sea.

Best for:Shorter strolls.

While you're there: Head up at sunset to watch the city fall under a romantic hue.

7. The People’s Story

Although there are many free museums to choose from in Edinburgh, The People’s Story is one of the best. As the name implies, this museum tells the story of Edinburgh’s ordinary people, and those who achieved extraordinary feats. Expect to see protest banners, Votes for Women memorabilia and other political artefacts on display, all of which piece together the people of Edinburgh’s story of their own city.

Best for: Local history.

While you’re there:Take the time to appreciate the building it’s housed in; it’s very Hogwarts-style.

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