Even though Edinburgh is home to Michelin-starred restaurants and a host of classy entertainment venues, you don’t need to spend a dime to relish some of its most spectacular sights.
Just take a stroll through the UNESCO heritage sites of Old Town and New Town, and you’ll realise why Edinburgh is a top holiday destination for the budget traveller.
From its museums and galleries to its cycle tracks and gardens, here’s our pick of the best free things to do in Edinburgh.
The National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland details the story of the nation’s history, from its prehistoric and geological past to its political present. One half of the museum occupies a fairly modern building on Chambers Street.
The more popular half, which is housed inside a Victorian building, features exhibitions on art, science, technology and the natural world.
The Scottish Parliament
More interested in Scotland’s present-day than its past? Head over to Holyrood to see where the nation’s government operates. The Scottish Parliament was designed by the renowned Catalan architect, Enric Miralles.
For the best view of the exterior, walk up to Salisbury Crags. If you like what you see, go inside to visit the committee rooms and striking main chamber (admission is free).
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Covering a whopping 28 hectares, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh looks just as stunning today as it did when it was established during the 17th century.
Here, you can explore the beautifully landscaped grounds and view a world-class collection of plants. Best of all, you don’t need to spend a penny to tour the gardens, unless you fancy a cuppa and a few homemade cakes from its delicious cafes.
Want to absorb the sights of Scotland’s spectacular capital with a picnic to save a few quid? Walk to the top of Calton Hill, which offers sweeping views of the city from a height of around 100 feet.
Look out for landmarks such as the Castle, Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood and New Town. Before returning to street level, have a gander at Nelson’s Monument and the National Monument, which is ironically nicknamed ‘Scotland’s Disgrace’ due to never being completed.
Inject some ‘spooky’ into your Scottish adventure by paying a visit to Greyfriars Kirkyard, where burials have taken place since the 16th century. Many people claim the grounds are haunted, and ghost walks run almost every night.
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, you’ll be amazed by the stories of some of Greyfriars Kirkyard’s most notable inhabitants, such as George Buchanan and James Craig.
The Water of Leith Walkway
The Water of Leith Walkway is a tranquil path for walkers and cyclists that runs through the heart of Edinburgh. It’s one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh because it goes by so many beauty spots and historical landmarks.
On your journey, you’ll see sights including the Saughton Winter Gardens, the Union Canal, Dean Village, and the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art. If you need ideas for what to do next, the staff at the Water of Leith Visitor Centre will gladly point you in the right direction.
If you would prefer to explore Edinburgh with the help of an expert local guide (and why wouldn’t you?!) our Edinburgh tours from London are just the ticket. Our tour of Edinburgh city includes return travel from London, a city guide and a hop-on, hop-off tour of the city. Alternatively, venture further afield and explore the wild, untamed beauty of the Scottish Highlands on our Edinburgh, loch Ness & Highlands Tour.