Explore Edinburgh – Top 10 Free Things To Do

Narrow streets, historic buildings, and a welcoming atmosphere – Edinburgh has it all! So, grab your camera, put on some comfy walking shoes and fall in love with Edinburgh!

1. Free walking tours

This is the best possible way to start your adventure in Edinburgh. Sandeman’s New Europe Tours run a 2.5-hour city highlights walking tour including the Castle, Royal Mile, and Grassmarket. It starts from Starbucks by the Tron Kirk at 10am, 11am, and 2pm every day and is free but you just tip your guide. My personal favourite, however, was the Harry Potter-themed city tour from outside Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar at 3pm. After all, Edinburgh is the birth city of the books!

Free Things to Do in Edinburgh
Apparently, touching the dog Bobby’s nose brings luck!

2. Old Town

Edinburgh’s old town is a UNESCO world heritage site – and for good reasons! The ‘Royal Mile’ is the main street of the old town and connects two of Scotland’s most significant buildings: Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. Besides this rather touristy street, you can find a lot of hidden passages and old alleyways, which have all sorts of different names and destinations. Some of the most notable buildings in the old town include St. Giles’ Cathedral, the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland, the National Museum of Scotland, the Old College of the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish Parliament Building.

3. Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is probably the best-known attraction of the city and dominates its skyline. The fortress was built on the so-called ‘Castle Rock’, an extinct volcano. This rocky hill was the most easily defended hilltop on the invasion route between England and central Scotland, a route followed by countless armies from the Roman legions to the Jacobite troops of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. The entry to the castle, however, might provide you with a little shock: £16 per adult (£13.20 concessions). this wasn’t included in my personal budget, so I just watched the sunset from Castle Rock, which wasn’t too bad either!

Free Things To Do in Edinburgh
Perfect spot to watch the sunset in Edinburgh.

4. Portobello Beach

Do you want to go to the seaside? It’s possible in Edinburgh! Portobello Beach is only a few miles away from Edinburgh’s city center and easily reachable by bus. Treat yourself to a hot takeaway coffee (or tea) at one of the many cute cafes and take a walk on the beach. Also, make sure to explore Portobello’s bustling high street, including quality independent restaurants and gift shops. There is a market in Brighton Park on the first Saturday of every month, selling fresh local produce as well as crafts.

5. Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat

One of my favourite spots in Edinburgh! I can’t help it, simply love a good hill. Arthur’s seat is part of the Holyrood park, which is only a short walk from the Royal Mile. It is the second ancient volcano and sits 251 m above sea level giving an excellent view of the city, especially during sunset. It is also the site of a large and well-preserved fort. This is one of four hill forts dating from around 2000 years ago. One tip: Put on some warm clothes, it’s bloody windy up there!

Free Things do to in Edinburgh
The steep climb is definitely worth it.
Free Things do to in Edinburgh
Watching the sunset over Edinburgh.

6. Stockbridge Markets

Locally sourced veggies, homemade cakes and cupcakes, fair trade coffee and countless vegan options – the Sunday Stockbridge market is a must do for all the foodies out there! Open every Sunday from 10am-5pm in Jubilee Gardens, the market is only a stone threw away from the city center. Why not dedicate your Sunday to exploring the bohemian Stockbridge area with an affordable and healthy breakfast at the markets?

7. Scottish Portrait Gallery

The Scottish Portrait Gallery is one of Edinburgh’s most iconic buildings, with an impressive red-stone facade and stunning interior, including beautiful sculptures and wall paintings. Make sure to look up and get lost in the glittering night sky that covers the ceiling. In the gallery itself, you can meet the faces of those people, who shape the nation’s identity – from Mary, Queen of Scots, up to Susan Boyle. Also, make sure to visit the atmospheric Victorian library. The smell of wood and old books is simply wonderful. Admission is free!

Edinburgh Laras happy moments
Stunning wall art inside the gallery.

8. Victoria Street – A must do for every Harry Potter fan!

The curved cobblestone road, hued houses and countless eccentric stores of all sorts and sizes make Victoria Street one of Edinburgh’s prettiest streets. But it is way more than that! J.K. Rowling, who wrote the HP books while living in Edinburgh, used the street as an inspiration for the even-so fabulous ‘Diagon Alley’. A must visit: The Diagon House – Edinburgh’s own Ollivanders with loads of magical supplies for all wizards and witches that are still waiting for their Hogwarts letter.

Top Free Thing to Do in Edinburgh
The Muggle version of Diagon Alley

9. Scottish National Gallery

The Scottish National Gallery is one of Scotland’s top free visitor attractions. It houses Scotland’s national collection of fine art from the early Renaissance to the end of the nineteenth century. So, spend an hour strolling around and discover several masterpieces from Velázquez and Vermeer to Monet, Cézanne, and Van Gogh. Personally, I think the most impressive painting is ‘The Death of the Stag’, a gigantic oil painting, which illustrates a local legend of how the first chieftain of the famous Mackenzie Clan saves the life of the Scottish King.

10. Greyfriars Kirk

In the city’s historic center, Greyfriars Kirkyard is a seemingly idyllic cemetery dating back to the 1560s. However, it is supposed to be the world’s most haunted graveyard. George MacKenzie, called the MacKenzie Poltergeist, who is said to be one of the most aggressive and active paranormal figures around, is haunting the place ever since a homeless man broke into his final resting place, the Black Mausoleum, while looking for a place to sleep. On top of that, Greyfriars Kirk is the final resting place of Tom Riddle, who lends his name to ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’. The nearby gravestone of poet William McGonagall is also said to have offered inspiration for the name of Professor McGonagall, the head of Gryffindor. My inner Potterhead simply loves this city!

Free Things To Do in Edinburgh
The resting place of many famous figures…

Tipps & Tricks

  • Get a Ridacard if you are staying for longer. I bought a weekly card for 18£, which is valid for all busses in Edinburgh (excluding airport transfer). Definitely worth it, if you want to explore different areas of the city.
  • Student? Take your Student Card with you! I’ve never seen so many student discounts in my life
  • Carry cash with you! This might sound stupid but in the Netherlands, we are paying for everything by card. In Edinburgh, however, it is more than advisable to carry a bit of cash with you, especially for bus tickets or other small purchases!

So those are my Top 10 spots in Edinburgh – do you have any more hidden gems of the city for my next visit? Or some tips to save money while traveling?

Lara's Happy Moments


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