Edinburgh. Scottish Capital, historic city and home of the famous Fringe Festival. Great place for a city break.
Like most big cities, a place you could easily burn through the budget. A visit to one of the big historical attractions like The Real Mary King’s Close or Edinburgh Castle will set you back around £20 per adult. An evening along George St might set you back £10-£15 per cocktail.
All good fun, but spendy.
There is loads to do in Edinburgh that is free or very low cost. I discovered many of these things when I lived in the city and quickly realized that you have to embrace a destination differently when you live there, as opposed to being there for a day or two.
So, Edinburgh for free or for a few quid? Looks a bit like this…
Take A Walk ( Or A Climb)
Walking is a great, free way to get a feel for a place. Edinburgh is a city of hills and steps so expect some climbing. Wander through Princes Street Gardens, admire Castle views and narrow streets in the Old Town and the elegant, wide streets of the New Town.
If a more structured, informative walk is more your thing take a look at City Explorers Edinburgh. Their yellow umbrella wielding guides offer free walking tours including a New Town tour and a Harry Potter themed walk. No up front cost, but guides will appreciate a tip.
Find the Dogs of Edinburgh
Edinburgh’s must famous four legged friend has got to be Greyfriars Bobby but there are a few dog statues scattered about the city, each with a good story or an interesting human to go along with them.
I wrote about one of my favourites, Bum the dog, in a previous post and this article has details of a few more.
Gorgie City Farm
A little slice of countryside a few miles from the city centre with an interesting back story. Expect all the usual farm animals and then some. There’s also a play area, gardens and a social enterprise cafe. Best of all, they have goats. Details here.
Visit a Free Museum
Edinburgh has some amazing museums and many of them are completely free to visit. The National Museum of Scotland spreads out over seven levels and has an astonishingly diverse range of galleries and exhibits, covering everything from fossils to fashions. Right at the top, it also has a pleasant roof terrace that lots of people miss.
Elsewhere in the city, The Childhood Museum has an enormous collection of toys, dolls and books. The Museum on the Mound explores the history of money and banking. Housed in the historic Bank of Scotland Head Office, it’s worth a visit for the beautiful old building alone.
For a deep dive into the social history of Edinburgh, head to the People’s Story Museum. Recreated scenes and personal stories reveal a fascinating, if sometimes slightly grim ,history of the city from the viewpoint of the people. Including lots from the viewpoint of working class women.
Explore the Graveyards
Edinburgh might not have the sprawling cemeteries of London or Glasgow, but it does have a handful of fascinating burial grounds which come with a side order of body snatching, hauntings and symbolism.
Find self guided trails and further information on the five main historic graveyards of Edinburgh here.
Visit the Scottish Parliament Building
Possibly the most welcoming and least stuffy government building I’ve ever been in. Free to visit, explore on a self guided tour or book a guided version and if you’re pressed for time you can even get a condensed ten minute talk.
The building is set in some interesting landscaping with views across to Holyrood Park. While you’re in this end of town, you might as well check out…
Holyrood Park & Arthur’s Seat
With a dramatic landscape and a rich history, Holyrood park is a city park like no other. Arthur’s Seat, a peak of volcanic remains, is the star attraction and the 251m climb is worth it for the views.
If you’re not so keen to climb, the park is also home to ruins, holy wells and a little loch. Plus beautiful scenery and plenty of paths that don’t involve going all the way up a volcano.
Find History in Dreghorn
This will push you out of the city centre, but worth the effort. Especially if you like history and fancy seeing a part of Edinburgh that most visitors don’t.
Take the no 16 bus and get off outside the Dreghorn Barracks. You won’t miss them. As you pass you’ll see the Covenanters Memorial and just beyond, the path into Dreghorn Woods.
The woods are filled with history. The site of a castle, an old carriage drive, remains of a Victorian Curling Pond. And – I think the most fascinating- a set of WW1 training trenches which were rediscovered and preserved.
It’s an easy loop round these woods with bridges crossing the stream and well marked paths,but if you’re up for more you can follow the path through the housing estate and into the denser woods and open land beyond. Just as beautiful, but more rugged.
Colinton Village & Water of Leith
Most visitors head to Dean Village to get the village-in-the-city shots, but for a more authentic experience I’m suggesting Colinton. Just a little further on that No.16 bus, but a different world.
The village is home to period properties and pretty cottages, plus the parish church which boasts a historic sundial, a mort safe and a Norwegian war grave.
Colinton has a Robert Louis Stevenson connection, and one of the nicest features in the village is a statue of him and his dog. There is a walking trail featuring panels inspired by his writing.
The route through the village will take you through Spylaw Park and from there onto part of the Water of Leith walkway. Make a point of passing through Colinton Tunnel.
The Victorian rail tunnel has been transformed with the help of local school children into a public art space with a mural celebrating the history of the area. My shots didn’t do it justice, so I’ve included a tunnel video. Enjoy!
The streets and docks of Leith were officially incorporated into the City of Edinburgh in the 1920’s, but this eclectic neighbourhood has firmly retained its own identity. Today Leith will give you bakeries, bars, a history inspired mural and lots of public art. Perfect for wandering & browsing.
One of the most likeable things about Leith is that it hasn’t swept away its past. This area has tales to tell, a history involving whaling, pirates and the colourful characters you’ll find in any port city.
Parts of it look quite Northern European in style and some of the views put me in mind of German cities I’ve enjoyed like Lubeck and Hamburg. Maybe that’s why Leith appeals to me, but I think you’ll like it too.
Wondering what to read next? Try Woodland Creatures, Leith or this post about Artistic Invergordon
Some great suggestions here Helen and I was intrigued by the Colinton Tunnel
Thank you- the tunnel is brilliant. It was always good that it had been preserved but to turn it into a walk through gallery celebrating local life was a stroke of genius!
I just hope that taggers don’t spoil the kids efforts.
Great list. The National Museum is brilliant. Arthur’s Seat is worth climbing, as is Calton Hill for a view of the city with a few interesting features to explore too.
I did think about putting Calton Hill on there, but I haven’t done it for years! 10 things is a very short list for such a great city, really!
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, I appreciate it!
It is a great city, so much to see and do, I live in Glasgow but always love a visit to the capital. I only just discovered Portobello beach for the first time recently.
This looks like a great guide with a few pl aces that I hadn’t heard of before. Makes me want to visit again. Once you have explored the centre it’s good to get further afield. 🙂
Thank you, it’s definitely good to push out of the main tourist heart of Edinburgh, there’s more to it than many visitors think.
Always love to find free things to while traveling. A great resource.
Thank you so much, it’s definitely good to have a few free or inexpensive options when exploring!
I can certainly vote for the delights of The National Museum of Scotland, particularly on a cold snowy day. The other hints have been squirreled away for later!
Plenty of those in Scotland! Do let me know if you do any of my other suggestions.
Always good to get an insiders view on a city. It opens up more possibilities and these are great, Helen. I’ve done some but certainly not all. Like Margaret, I love the National Museum. Funnily enough I was there with Jude, of Cornwall in Colours! I like the Water of Leith for walking and the cemetries are outstanding. One sadness is not making it up Arthur’s Seat. I didn’t have time or it was wreathed in freezing fog when I was there.
Thanks Jo- maybe next time for Arthur’s seat?
Whenever that might be, Helen 🤗💟
I have only spent one day in Edinburgh – so far – and that was during the Fringe Festival but that gave me enough time to decide that it’s a fabulous city and that I want to go back and spend longer exploring! Thanks for your very useful suggestions of free things to do. I love that cheeky photo of the Wolf. I wonder what he’s thinking?!
Edinburgh is always fab, but the Fringe is really the time to be there! It’s back on this year and I think it will be better than ever.
As for the Wolf, I always think he looks like he’s plotting the next bit of mischief, although fair to say he’s calming down(ish)
I did several of the things in your list. The canal walk is something I want to do. I love the museums as well. The science one is amazing.
Edinburgh has some amazing museums, I love that they are free. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment.
Really interesting list and I’ve only done a few of them so that’s a reason to return one day 🙂
Edinburgh is like London or Berlin- always a reason to go back!
I have been to Wales and England, but never been to Scotland – heard a lot about Edinburgh also 🙂
Something to look forward too for a future trip!
I would absolutely love to go to Scotland. It’s on my bucket list since I am part Scottish. I loved this post because it let me see a glimpse of some of the cool things to do. I would, especially like to explore the graveyards!
Oh Scotland is full of good graveyards! I hope you get to make that Scottish trio one day, it’s a wonderful country. For a glimpse into some Scottish exploring, have a look at The Glasgow Gallivanter. Lots of lovely Scottish adventures! Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment.
Edinburgh has been on my bucket list for a long time, but I haven’t been there yet. Nevertheless, I am sure I will visit this amazing city one day! It’s also great to know that there are many things to do for free and wait, what – statues of dogs? Omg, I love them! ♥ I Germany, near Berlin, is a small town called Brandenburg an der Havel that is full of dog statues (more than 20) and always when I go there I try to find them all. Still haven’t managed it 😀
I need to check out this place- dogs and Germany are definitely two of my favourite things!
Amazing pics as usual. I don’t think I’ll ever find my way to Edinburgh, mostly due to geography and financial limitations, but wow, if I do visit, the museum does look pretty fancy indeed. Even what seems like an everyday thing (the Collinton Tunnel and the graveyards) look so interesting. Thanks so much for documenting these, Helen!
Hello from the USA. My wife and I were in Edinburgh for 6 days in 2019. Had a great time. Saw a lot. Walked a lot. Ate a lot. Didn’t climb to Arthur’s Seat, though. Next time! Neil S.
Even if you skip Arthur’s seat, Edinburgh is so hilly you get those steps in anyway! I’m glad my post has brought up good memories, and thanks for making the time to read and comment. Appreciate it!
This is such a great post about my favourite city in the world and it’s quite amazing how much there is to see and do. I’ve been revisiting Edinburgh for past decade and still have many places and tourist attractions that I haven’t been to 🥰 thanks for sharing and have a good day 😊 Aiva
Thank you so much for your kind words, theres always something new to discover in Edinburgh , isn’t there?