Free things to do in Edinburgh

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You don’t need deep pockets to make the most of a trip to the Emerald Isle. From national museums to local natural wonders, there’s plenty to enjoy without paying a single pound. Just take a look at these five free things to do in Edinburgh.

National Museum of Scotland

Free things to do in Edinburgh
Dolly the sheep is on display at the National Museum of Scotland (Image: dun_deagh used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

Take an experiential journey through the island’s history at the National Museum of Scotland, where a cast T-Rex skeleton, Viking relics and jewelry that once belonged to Mary Queen of Scots await eager visitors. Another must-see while visiting the museum? Dolly the sheep, who made headlines in the 1990s for being the first mammal ever to be cloned from an adult cell. Today, her body is on display at the museum, alongside a space exploration exhibit and a retired F1 racing car in the science-  and technology-themed Connect gallery. Admission is free, though donations are welcomed.

Arthur’s Seat

Free things to do in Edinburgh
The best views of Edinburgh can be had from the top of Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park (Image: evocateur used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

Within Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park lies a dormant volcano offering some of the best city views around, and that volcano’s name is Arthur’s Seat. You may find yourself succumbing to the tranquility and natural landscapes of this 640-acre park, but make sure your explorations include a trip up Arthur’s Seat, which happens to also be the park’s highest point. Pack your hiking boots for this one: Arthur’s Seat sits 823 feet above sea level, but with sweeping views of Edinburgh and the ocean below, it’s well worth the effort. At the top, you’ll also be able to inspect the 2,000-year-old ruins of a fort that remain at the top.

Royal Mile

Free things to do in Edinburgh
A stroll along the Royal Mile will give you a sense of Edinburgh’s historic past (Image: Ivo Jansch used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

One of the best ways to explore a destination for free is by foot, and when it comes to walking your way through Edinburgh, you can’t do much better than the Royal Mile. Taking you through Edinburgh’s Old Town, the Royal Mile is dotted with historic museums, cathedrals and architecture that will transport you into Edinburgh’s past. Stop in at St. Giles Cathedral (also free to visit) to admire the stained glass windows, and don’t forget to snap plenty of pictures of Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyrood along the way (both royal structures mark the start and end of the Royal Mile).

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Free things to do in Edinburgh
The gardens of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh are free to enjoy (Image: brewbooks used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

After getting your fill of architecture in the heart of the old city, return to a more natural setting with a trip to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Here, 70 acres have showcased the city’s best plants, shrubs and herbs for more than three centuries. Rhododendrons, azaleas and rock gardens are just a few of the eye-pleasing wonders that await at the Royal Botanic Garden, as are the glasshouses that shelter beautiful and rare plants from around the world. The garden is free to enter, but there is a small fee for touring the glasshouses.

Portobello Beach

Free things to do in Edinburgh
Portobello Beach is just three miles from Edinburgh (Image: somekindofrob used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

You’ve seen the history of Edinburgh through the National Museum of Scotland and a trip through the Royal Mile. You’ve seen the city’s natural beauty through Arthur’s Seat and the Royal Botanic Garden. Now it’s time to go immerse yourself in it with a trip to Portobello Beach, a seaside retreat just thee miles from Edinburgh. Dig your toes into the Scottish sand along this two-mile strip before wandering the nearby promenade to check out the midway games, cafes and pubs that add to the lively atmosphere of Portobello.

Do you have a favorite thing to do in Edinburgh that’s free — or close to it? Tell us about it below!

(Main image: evocateur used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

Free things to do in Edinburgh was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Marissa Willman
Author: Marissa Willman (786 posts)

Marissa Willman earned a bachelor's degree in journalism before downsizing her life into two suitcases for a teaching gig in South Korea. Seoul was her home base for two years of wanderlusting throughout six countries in Asia. In 2011, Marissa swapped teaching for travel writing and now calls Southern California home.