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.
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.