Edinburgh is a beautiful city found in the eastern central part of Scotland. Its location in the heart of the country leads to amazing views from every side. You can see majestic cliffs, green hills and great sights on the North Sea that make Edinburgh a great place to visit. It is a spectacular vacation spot for any lover of architecture as well, since most of the town buildings follow a medieval and classical style.
As both a UNESCO city of Literature and a UNESCO Heritage Site, this is a place well worth visiting. There is so much to see and do here with museums, festivals, gardens, tours and activities that can be fun for the whole family. If you are traveling on a budget, keep reading to find free attractions and ways that you can save money while visiting Scotland's capital city. Before you take off on one of the free walking tours, drop your bags off at one of our secure spots for luggage storage in Edinburgh. Don't be slowed down for even a minute!
Observe artwork at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery
You can easily spend a few hours exploring this Scottish national gallery located on Queen Street. The mural of prominent figures in the Great Hall is impressive in itself along with the other displays of modern art that can be found inside.
The mural has portraits of Bonnie Prince Charlie, James Hutton, and Mary Queen of Scots to name a few. Inside the gallery, you will find several hundred portraits of familiar faces like Sir Walter Scott, Alan Cumming and Robert Burns. Some exhibits might require a cover fee but the majority of this attraction is free.
Walk around the Royal Botanic Gardens
You can explore the 72 acres that are Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens for free. The garden first opened in 1670 and is one of the finest of its kind in the world. You will see perfectly kept flower beds, the famous Rock Garden, or the Woodland Garden that is home to amazing Giant Redwood trees.
The gardens also have an exhibition space called the Inverleith House where you can see some impressive artwork. If you want a souvenir you can shop at the Botanics Shop; otherwise, you can roam around the grounds at no charge.
Take a trip to the Museum of Childhood
This is one of the Edinburgh museums that are completely free to visit. It is the world's first museum of its kind with retro books, games and toys dating all the way back from the mid-19th century to today. It is a great place for people of all ages to explore and experience the nostalgia.
Some of the most popular displays include a Steiff teddy bear that was on the Kindertransport train used to save Jewish children from Nazi Germany back in 1939. One of the oldest toys here is a unique wooden fashion doll that dates back to 1740.
Visit the Old St Giles' Cathedral
This impressive structure was built in the 1120s and served as the church of John Knox at the time of the Reformation. The building is sometimes called the "Cradle of Presbyterianism" and is located directly in the city center. One of the most amazing things to see here is the display of stunning stained glass windows.
The church is found in the heart of Edinburgh and has been around for about 900 years. You will notice the huge Rieger organ that was added in 1992 and the famed Thistle Chapel that served the Knights of the Order of the Thistle since it was installed in 1911. Free guided tours are put on by volunteers and church services happen here regularly, as well as some yearly musical events that are open to anyone.
See art at the Scottish National Gallery
This gallery is one of the top free things to do in Edinburgh and has an impressive display of fine art to explore. Its collection is derived from times of the early Renaissance all the way to the 19th century and includes artwork from famous names like Monet, Van Gogh, Raphael and Velazquez.
If you want to try your own hand at creating art you can participate in a life drawing class. Other activities at the national gallery include an interactive IT gallery, storytelling sessions for the kids, and guided tours of the facility. This is a free museum but you may have to sign up with the timed ticket system since the number of people allowed in at one time is limited.
Pet the Animals at LOVE Gorgie Farm
In central Edinburgh, you will find a slice of countryside at LOVE Gorgie Farm. It is a unique spot that gives you a break from cars and city streets with all of the fun that you would expect to find at a family-friendly farm. You can visit the farm for free but on site, they sell delicious fresh baked bread, pastries and meats.
You should go here if you want to learn about farming and country living by participating in their educational courses. You will find all of the usual livestock and animals here like ducks, chickens, goats, pigs, sheep and cattle, as well as a petting zoo with smaller rodents and reptiles.
Travel to the beautiful neighborhood of Leith
The town of Leith is one of Edinburgh's most interesting and impressive areas in the city and is where you can find some of the best free attractions. It is a great place for social gatherings with its quirky shops, great restaurants and adorable cafes.
The Custom Lane and Custom House often host free events, exhibitions or pop-up festivals. On Saturdays, there is the Pitt marketplace which is another fun and affordable activity with street food and live music. If you don't want to spend money you can wander the Leith Walkway or walk and bike along the shore.
Walk in the Pentland Hills Regional Park
If you want to take a break from the city you can take a trip to the Pentland Hills Regional Park. The green space is located on the southwest side of the city and is where you can find some of the best views of the town.
There are trails and walkways with paths suited for beginner or experienced hikers. You will appreciate the fresh air and open spaces here, and can even learn about the local plant and wildlife biodiversity. You can visit the park for free and horse riding routes are offered here as well, but you will have to pay for them.
Get to know the People's Story Museum
This is one of the free museums in the city that explores the lives of working class residents from between the 18th to 20th centuries. With several indoor attractions to explore this museum is a great activity choice for a rainy day.
While exploring the exhibits you will find interesting artifacts and chronicles written by real people from the different time periods. This can give you an interesting insight into how life was in the Scottish capital at that time as well as details about important historic events like the fight for women's rights or political and social reforms.
Look around Grassmarket at the Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is Edinburgh's most famous city street found in the heart of Edinburgh. The cobbled street connects some of the city's top attractions like Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The city's oldest pub is here also, and it's a great neighborhood to stay in for the nightlife.
Nearby on Victoria Street is the Grassmarket which is a medieval-style marketplace that was actually once the site of public executions. There is a free walking tour that you can do if you follow the Edinburgh Greater Grassmarket Historic Trail map which you can get from one of the market shops.
Explore Dean Village
Found near Princes Street and the Water of Leith is beautiful Dean Village. This town used to be the main location for milling and some water mills can still be seen there today. Millstones and plaques are found around the area, as well as the Dean Bridge that crosses the river. Thomas Telford designed both the bridge and St. Bernard's Well that can be seen nearby.
The village's most iconic landmark is Well Court which was constructed sometime in the 1880s as a home for locals and mill workers. Found nearby Dean Village is the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Dean Gallery, which often have free exhibitions.
Learn at the Writer's Museum
This museum is dedicated to Scottish literature and authors. It is free to visit and the perfect activity for anyone who has an interest in literature or Scottish history. Some of the works discussed include those by Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns.
The establishment has an impressive collection of manuscripts and books that can't be seen anywhere else. Important personal belongings, like the printing press that was used to write Sir Walter Scott's first books or the desk where Robert Burns used to write, can be seen here in person.
Catch amazing views at Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park
Arthur's Seat is one of Edinburgh's top attractions found within Holyrood Park. It is one of four hill forts that were built some 2,000 years ago and is a site full of culture and heritage. It was once an old volcano but has not been active for a long time and is safe to visit.
Do you like to hike? In the park, you will find trails and paths that are perfect for walking, and if you climb to the top of Arthur's Seat you will see some of the best views of Edinburgh. The whole area is rich with history and local wildlife and is one of the nicest areas in all of Scotland.
Stop by the National Museum of Scotland
Near Waverly Station, this is one of the city's best and biggest museums and one of the great free things to do in Edinburgh. The building has four floors with some pretty fun exhibits relating to science and technology, world culture, art, design, the natural world and the history of Scotland.
The fun begins in the Grand Gallery where you can see the skull of a real whale among other things. Keep exploring to find interactive exhibits and art galleries that are sure to impress. Most of the rooms are free to enter with the exception of a few special exhibits, but you will need to save your spot by registering for tickets online.
Step inside the Scottish Parliament Building
The Scottish Parliament Buildings have welcomed close to 3 million visitors since its opening in 2004. The establishment is usually open between Mondays and Saturdays and gives a free guided tour to its guests.
You need to book your time to visit online, but depending on when you go you might see the parliament in action. These buildings are an important landmark showing modern democracy, and on the site, there is also a café and gift shop.
Yes, You Can See Scotland's Capital on a Budget
It can be expensive to travel in Scotland but there are so many hidden gems in Edinburgh that don't cost money to explore. Whether you want to visit contemporary art exhibitions, see a national monument or find a quirky museum to explore, this city has it all.
You can breathe in the sea air by walking around Portobello Beach, see how the Royal Family lives in Edinburgh Castle, or take pictures of the street gardens in the Old Town. From natural green spaces to music festivals or markets, there really is so much to do when visiting Edinburgh.