Edinburgh is home to an amazing array of free things to do which include galleries, museums, parks and visitor attractions. There are also lots of places that offer guided tours free of charge, or some may ask for a voluntary donation.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Located just one mile from the city centre, Edinburgh’s 72 acres of impeccably pruned gardens are free to enter and enjoy. Spend the day wandering the beautiful grounds and relaxing in nature. The Royal Botanic Garden was first established in 1670 and has many stunning landscape features to explore, such as the Chinese Hillside Garden, Rock Garden and the Scottish Native Plants Collection. It’s one of the best free attractions that Edinburgh has to offer.
The Scottish National Gallery
Located in the heart of the city, the Scottish National Gallery is one of the top free attractions in Edinburgh. Inside you’ll find Scotland’s national collection of fine art that dates back to early Renaissance through to the early 19th century. With eye-catching masterpieces by the greats such as Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Botticelli, it’s easy to spend hours gazing at the impressive collections.
St Giles’ Cathedral
Located on the iconic Royal Mile, St Giles’ Cathedral has stunning architecture and rich history, attracting visitors from all across the globe. It was founded in the 1120s and remains a working church. Explore the building at your own pace, taking in the intricate wooden interior and impressive gold-leaf ceiling. If you’re looking for something cultural to do in Edinburgh, this free attraction is a great place to visit.
Museum of Childhood
Great for kids, and ‘big kids’ alike. The Museum of Childhood is the first museum in the world dedicated to childhood, it’s a treasure chest of retro toys, books, games and nostalgia from the mid-19th century to the present day. You’ll find lots of fascinating displays – such as a rare wooden fashion doll dating from 1740 and a Steiff teddy bear which travelled out of Vienna on the last Kindertransport train to rescue Jewish children from Nazi Germany in 1939.
One of the best free things to do in Edinburgh is to explore its pretty quaint streets. Just a short walk from Princes Street, you’ll find the oasis that is Dean Village. Nestled into the banks of the Water of Leith, this quiet residential area appears to be untouched by time. Once home to many water mills, its industrial past can still be seen in the unique architecture and remains of stone plaques decorated with baked bread and pies. Be sure to take a camera with you as this hidden gem is one of the city’s most photogenic areas.
Pentland Hills Regional Park
Take in the fresh air and open spaces of the Pentland Hills Regional Park in the south-west of Edinburgh. With arguably the best views of the city and beyond, it’s well worth a visit. With a 100 km interlinked walkway, there are many different paths to follow – from gentle strolls to more strenuous hikes. If you’re looking for free things to do in Edinburgh with kids, why not follow the park’s Harlaw biodiversity trail – where children can enjoy learning about the local plants and wildlife along the route.
The Writers Museum and Makars Court
Dedicated to the lives and work of Scottish literary figures, and one of the many free museums in Edinburgh – The Writer’s Museum is a great place to visit for literary fans or those interested in Scottish history. Celebrating the work of greats such as Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, there’s so much to see and do. Be amazed by the collection of rare books, manuscripts and personal possessions – including Burn’s writing desk and the printing press on which Sir Walter Scott’s first novels were produced.
Royal Mile and Grassmarket
The famous Royal Mile, and neighbouring Grassmarket, are must-sees when visiting Edinburgh. As the historic heart of the capital, the Royal Mile runs down the Old Town and connects Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse via a mile of cobbled street. Happen upon one of the many hidden closes and discover its secrets, or head down picture-perfect Victoria Street to the vibrant Grassmarket where you can see the castle in all its glory.
It might surprise you to learn that this medieval marketplace has a gruesome past and was once the site for public executions. You can learn more about the area by following the free Edinburgh Greater Grassmarket Historic Trail map which you can pick up from shops in the area.
The People’s Story Museum
At The People’s Story Museum, visitors will discover a unique insight into the lives of Edinburgh’s working-class residents from the 18th century to the late 20th century. The museums’ unique displays tell the story of real people in their own words, with fascinating written accounts and artefacts. The collection covers significant historical events such as social and political reforms and women’s rights movements, along with scenes and struggles of daily life.
Arguably one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the city, a trip to Edinburgh isn’t complete without visiting Leith. The area is full of lots of free things to do and has some of Edinburgh’s trendiest hangout spots.
Enjoy a walk along The Shore, a cobbled waterfront street that was once the main dock, and is now lined with characterful shops, café’s and restaurants. See the artsy delights of the newly renovated Custom House and adjoining Custom Lane that hold many free events, pop-ups and exhibitions.
You can also meander down the stunning Water of Leith walkway, keeping an eye out for local wildlife along the way. The route is suitable for bicycles, buggies and wheelchairs – and is the perfect free thing to do in Edinburgh for families.