11 Free things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland

The post, Free things to do in Edinburgh, was written by travel blogger Lisa Susan.

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland. It is a cosmopolitan and artistic city famous for the Edinburgh Festival, the largest arts festival in the world. Edinburgh’s Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval areas in the UK. Together with New Town it forms a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s a lot to see and do in the city, some are even FREE. Here are some of our favorite free things to do in Edinburgh.

Hike Arthur’s Seat

free things to do in Edinburgh - View from Arthur's Seat photo Lisa Susan

The view from Arthurr’s Seat photo/Lisa Susan

Arthur’s Seat is located in Holyrood Park at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. This ancient volcano is the highest point in the Park. The light to moderate level hike to the Seat is a popular activity that provides amazing views of the city, the surrounding coastline and little treasures like the medieval ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel. No matter the weather, this hike is a must do in Edinburgh!

Museum of Edinburgh

things to do in Edinburgh - Old stonework in a courtyard at the Museum of Edinburgh photo Lisa Susan

Old stonework in a courtyard at the Museum of Edinburgh photo Lisa Susan

Museum of Edinburgh is a free museum located on the Royal Mile. It’s one that is not mentioned very often in travel literature which is too bad since it’s excellent. In addition to learning about the history of Edinburgh, the museum has a great selection of antique pottery, silver and glass. It is housed in several buildings dating to the 16th century; its courtyard features historic stone architectural pieces from centuries-old Edinburgh buildings and the “Fountain of Youth” art piece. It’s a lovely place to hang out. There are numerous interactive areas throughout the museum for children. Admission is free; donations are welcome.

Calton Hill

things to do in Edinburgh - View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill, photo Lisa Susan

View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill, photo Lisa Susan

Want that iconic view of Edinburgh? The walk up to Calton Hill is well worth it to get postcard worthy views of Edinburgh. There are also several interesting buildings to explore, but the views are really what it is all about.

Edinburgh Fringe

free things to do in Edinburgh - Edinburgh Fringe posters, photo Lisa Susan

Posters for Edinburgh Fringe photo/Lisa Susan

Every August Edinburgh hosts the largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Festival. The city is full of artistic and cultural events ranging from ballet to theater. Taking place along side the Festival is the Edinburgh Fringe, offering quirky and more casual events; think stand up comedy, acrobatics and experimental theater. The Fringe offers both paid and FREE events so  if you happen to be in Edinburgh in August check their schedule online and take advantage of those free opportunities.

Royal Botanic Garden

free things to do in Edinburgh - Glass house Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, photo Lisa Susan

Glass house Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, photo/Lisa Susan

The British love their gardens and having free access to them. Established in 1670, Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden has a long history. Highlights of its 70 acres includes a large collection of wild origin Chinese plants, the Scottish Heath Garden which recreates the Scottish Highlands, a 100 year old beech hedge, the Queen Mother’s  Memorial Garden and 28 glass houses, some of which date from the Victorian period. While there is an admission cost for the glass houses, admission to the Garden is free.

National Museum of Scotland

free things to do in Edinburgh - A display at the National Museum of Scotland, photo Lisa Susan

Historic fashions at the National Museum of Scotland, photo/Lisa Susan

In addition to the galleries on Scottish history and archeology, the National Museum of Scotland offers a lot of diversity in other subject areas including science and technology, art and design, fashion and global cultures. It has a lot of hands on interactive exhibits and the building is stunning, featuring a grand central hall of iron and glass. You can view the stuffed body of Dolly the Sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal. Admission is FREE, but donations are welcome.

Explore Closes on the Royal Mile

free things to do in Edinburgh - World's End Close, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, photo Lisa Susan

World’s End Close, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, photo/Lisa Susan

The Royal Mile is the name of the main thoroughfare in historic Edinburgh. It runs between two important and historic locations, Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. The streets that run off the Mile are called “closes”, narrow alleys that open up to courtyards. Closes were often named after a prominent resident or a predominent profession. You never know what you will find when exploring the closes. Dunbar’s Close opens up to a beautiful 17th century-style garden and Advocate’s Close leads to spectacular views of Princess Street and Scott Monument. You can also delight in some of the names of the Closes, who can resist finding out what is down Fleshmarket Close?

Museum of Childhood

things to do in Edinburgh - Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh, photo Lisa Susan

A display at the Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh, photo/Lisa Susan

If you are traveling with children or are just a child at heart, The Museum of Childhood is a great place to visit. Located on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, it‘s a collection of childhood items, toys and memorabilia. In addition to showcasing favorite playthings and children’s activities, it documents some important social issues, such as child labor, as well,. There are several areas for kid’s to play and interact in, including a puppet theater and reading and craft zones. The museum admission is free; a donation of £3 is suggested.

Dean Village

free things to do in Edinburgh - Dean Village, Edinburgh, photo Lisa Susan

Dean Village, Edinburgh, photo Lisa Susan

Dean Village, is a five-minute walk from the city’s center. The former grain milling and weaving area dating to the 12th century, is located along the Water of Leith, not far from Princes Street and Edinburgh’s New Town area. Take a step back in time as you explore the remnants of its milling heritage. Dean Village is a residential area so there are no restaurants or shops. Enjoying the views is what it is all about. Read about the area’s industrial past on the signs posted in The Schoolyard.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

things to do in Edinburgh - Greyfriars Kirykard, Edinburgh, photo Lisa Susan

Greyfriars Kirykard, Edinburgh, photo/Lisa Susan

Greyfriars Kirkyard is the area that surrounds Greyfriars Kirk (church). Burials have been taking place in the kirkyard since the 1500s and some famous Edinburgh citizens are buried there. One of the most famous graves is for Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal dog who stayed on his master’s grave for 14 years after his passing. People still leave sticks on his tombstone. The statue of Bobby, located just outside the Kirkyard, is worth a look. This area is a great starting point for a walk down the hill into the historic Grassmarket area.

Cramond Island

free things to do in Edinburgh - Walking on Cramond Island, Edinburgh, photo Lisa Susan

The beach on Cramond Island, Edinburgh, photo/Lisa Susan

Cramond Island is a tidal island in the Firth of Forth; say that fast a few times! It is uninhabited and is only accessible on foot, via causeway, at low tide. There is evidence of Roman activity on the island. It‘s also been used to graze sheep and was used by the  British War Department during WWI and WWII. It has great hiking, views and overgrown buildings to photograph. The town of Cramond is a quiet seaside escape. The beach offers great beach combing and tidal flats, but there is only one cafe and no shopping, definitely a low key place off the beaten path. You can only walk over and back during a certain low time period. While there is a sign at the crossing point indicating safe crossing times, you should also consult a tide schedule online before you go so you know when low tide will occur. People have gotten stuck out on the island when the tide has come in.

Edinburgh is a very walkable, historic and world class city. Many of the activities mentioned in this post are easily reachable on foot. I hope you take advantage of some of our favorite free things to do Edinburgh.

What are your favorite free things to do in Edinburgh?

Lisa Susan has been a trailing her Navy Officer spouse across the United States and the globe for the last 10 years. Before transitioning to civilian life, they lived in Italy and Japan. They are currently based in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Lisa shares stories about her trips and her other passions (antiques, design and shopping) on her blog My View From Abroad. You can like her Facebook page and follow her in Instagram.

Read more posts in our free things to do series

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5 free things to do in Seattle
5 free things to do in London
Free things to do in Ipoh, Malaysia
Free things to do in Budapest


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