Budget-Friendly Edinburgh Fun: 14 Free Activities

Budget-Friendly Edinburgh Fun: 14 Free Activities

Edinburgh is a city with many different faces. It has been home to Scotland's monarchs, their courts and the birthplace of Scottish law. Edinburgh is also a place where you can explore ancient castles, centuries-old churches, and world-class museums. Edinburgh is also well known for its festivals; each year there are over 250 festivals taking place in the city! There is a lot to see and do in Edinburgh for free without missing out on any of the fun or history this spectacular city has to offer! 

In this blog post we:

  • List the best places to visit for no charge at all
  • Show all places on an interactive map to help you locate each place easily.

Edinburgh has many options for things to do for free. You could spend a day in the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery or take a walk up the Old Town and Royal Mile for some great photo opportunities. You can click on the names of each place in the table to be taken straight to that part of the blog post.

Things to do
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    Updated and correct as of 15/11/23.

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    Museums and Galleries

    what to do in edinburgh for free

    National Museum of Scotland

    Scottish National Gallery

    The Scottish National Gallery is a world-class art gallery that houses one of the most important collections of paintings outside London and New York City. It has been open to the public since 1859 and now houses over 2,300 works by artists from across Europe. Explore the collection of paintings and sculptures including works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Gogh, and Monet.

    National Museum of Scotland

    The National Museum of Scotland is a must-see place when you are in Edinburgh. This well-known tourist attraction has 3 main galleries that house the national treasures that have been collected by Scots since the 16th century. Some of these include paintings, sculptures, and coins from all around the world. There are also many interactive exhibits for children to enjoy on their visit here as well!

    Scottish National Portrait Gallery

    The Scottish National Portrait Gallery holds a vast collection of portraits and offers one of the world's most comprehensive displays of paintings, drawings, and sculptures from all periods. The gallery has an extensive collection that includes many works by artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Gainsborough. The gallery has been open to the public since 1889 and welcomes over 300,000 visitors every year. 

    Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

    The gallery houses one of the world's finest collections of modern art from Europe and North America. In addition to exhibitions drawn from the permanent collection, it mounts temporary exhibitions that are often thematically linked with major national or international events such as the Olympic Games or European Capital of Culture year. They have something for everyone - whether you're interested in contemporary art, photography, sculpture, video installations, or more traditional paintings and drawings, you'll not be disappointed. Perfect place to go for art students wanting to learn about the modern art of today.

    The People's Story Museum

    Have you ever wanted to learn more about the people of Scotland? The People's Story Museum is a museum dedicated to telling the stories of ordinary Scots. It tells their personal and social histories through objects, photographs, film and sound recordings. You can find out how they lived in different periods from 18th century onwards. You'll be able to explore Scottish history through interactive exhibits that will take you on a journey from past times right up until now.

    St Cecilia's Hall and Music Museum

    St Cecilia's Hall and Music Museum is the only one of its kind in Scotland and is a celebration of the history of music from its earliest beginnings to the present day. The museum showcases some of the finest musical instruments from around the world alongside the University of Edinburgh’s collection of historic musical instruments, which ranks among the world’s most important collections of musical heritage. It has an official Recognised Collection of National Significance to Scotland status.

    History and Culture

    edinburgh itinerary on a budget

    The Royal Mile in Edinburgh's Old Town

    Edinburgh Old Town and Royal Mile

    The old town is a destination that offers so many things to do, see and experience! There are some fabulous restaurants in this area of Edinburgh. You can also make your way up the Royal Mile to explore the Scottish Parliament or take an evening tour of Edinburgh Castle. Visit one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites like St Giles' Cathedral while you're here too!

    Walks and Nature Trails

    what activities to do in edinburgh for free

    Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park

    Arthur's Seat and Holyrood Park

    Arthur’s Seat is a hill that dominates the Edinburgh skyline. It is situated in Holyrood Park, which was a royal pleasure ground for nearly 1,000 years and still enjoys a close relationship with the Palace of Holyrood House. The park also houses Samson's Ribs and Salisbury Crags, two other major landmarks. Arthur’s Seat stands at 251 metres tall and it offers panoramic views over all of Edinburgh.

    Calton Hill

    A visit to Edinburgh is not complete without a trip up Calton Hill. This hill offers some of the best views in all of Scotland, and is home to the famous National Monument. The monument stands at an impressive height of 138 feet tall, and was built as a tribute to those who died fighting in the Napoleonic wars. When you climb up Calton Hill, your eyes will be able to take in sights like Arthur's Seat, Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh Castle just across town!

    fun things to do in edinburgh for students

    The Royal Botanic Garden

    The Royal Botanic Garden

    The Royal Botanic Garden is a world-famous botanical garden that was founded in 1670. It’s home to more than 8,000 species of plants and trees from all over the world, as well as being one of Scotland's most popular tourist attractions. If you want to see some beautiful flowers then this is perfect for you! You can spend hours walking around and exploring the gardens with your friends or family.

    The Water of Leith Walkway

    The Water of Leith Walkway is a beautiful, scenic walk that takes you through some of Edinburgh's most picturesque and historic areas. It’s perfect for those who want to enjoy nature without getting too far from the city centre. Take your time exploring this walk, stopping at any point along the way to take in views or admire the city's architecture.

    Pentland Hills

    The Pentland Hills are a range of hills that form the northernmost part of the Southern Uplands and lie to the south-west of Edinburgh. The hills offer excellent walking and cycling opportunities, as well as panoramic views over the city and coastline. There is also plenty for nature lovers too – you can spot red squirrels, deer, and other wildlife on your walk or cycle through the countryside. And if you’re lucky enough to visit in autumn, there are beautiful colours everywhere!

    Cramond Island

    Have you ever wanted to visit a remote island in Scotland? Cramond Island has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age and was once used as an important site for salt production during Roman times. Today it’s a popular tourist destination with its small village on the shoreline that offers visitors a chance to explore this historic location. Look for information regarding times of low and high tide before you travel.

    Dr Neil's Garden

    Known as 'Edinburgh's Secret Garden', Dr. Neil's Garden has been a place for inspiration, meditation, and contemplation. The secluded garden is the result of the imagination, dedication, and sheer hard work of Drs. Andrew and Nancy Neil is an absolute joy to spend some time in or walk around to see some of the beautiful plants on show.


    Use the map below to locate all the best things to do in Edinburgh mentioned above to create your itinerary for your trip. We’ve also added places in the city to eat that offer good food at a decent price for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

    Open Google Maps to see distance information between locations and directions on how to get to each place.

    Please note...

    All outdoor activities including walking involve a degree of risk. The walks are recommended due to the features of each forest but this may change over time and further research is required before undertaking any activity. The weather can also impact the surface and general conditions of each path so please keep yourself updated with the weather forecast before setting off to enjoy your walk!

    Other Blog Posts From Edinburgh

    We write lots of blog posts from each area of free activities to do. Have a look at our blog posts from the city of Edinburgh by clicking the links below:


    Edinburgh Blogs


    Cycling Routes in Edinburgh


    Forest Walks near Edinburgh


    Local Delicacies and Souvenirs from Edinburgh

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