Free Things to do in Edinburgh

Auld Reekie is one of the world's most gorgeous cities, but, it can be pretty expensive. So we're letting you in on some of the best free things to do there.

Skiddle Staff

Date published: 24th Jun 2022

Edinburgh is arguably the prettiest city in the whole of the UK, however with many low on cash this summer, we want to make sure you can still visit Scotland's gem, and not miss out on a good time.

We're not gonna lie to you, it's gonna involve a bit of walking, but with an Instagram-able view round every corner, you won't even realise how high the step counts getting with the sights you'll see. There is also a range of free museums and galleries to visit on top of some cool sites with rich history, including quite a few nods to Harry Potter.

So scroll down and start planning your next trip!


Wander around Edinburgh's Old Town

Image: Visit Scotland on Facebook

When: Free to walk around anytime

Where: The centre of the city (you can't miss it!)

In terms of free things to do in Edinburgh, walking around is all you really need to do to have an incredible time, and the Old Town, a stunning centrepiece of one of the most picturesque UK cities, should be your first port of call when visiting. Walk down the famously cobbled Royal Mile, the main road through the Old Town that connects the two royal residences, Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace.

Throughout this historic section of the city, you will find tall buildings and narrow pathways, conjuring up images of the overcrowding of Edinburgh gone by. But hidden within these nooks and crannies are a variety of cafes, restaurants, gift shops and more to explore.

You could get lost for ages around this area of town and never once get bored, for anyone visiting Edinburgh this should be their first priority.



Visit the stunning Botanical Gardens

Image: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on Facebook

When: 10am - 5:15pm everyday

Where: Arboretum Pl, Edinburgh EH3 5NZ

With just a small venture outside of the city centre, you can find one of the finest botanical gardens in the world, and of all the free things to do in Edinburgh, this may be the prettiest. Free to everyone except those with extreme hayfever (you'll be the one paying the price then), the 72-acre, 350-year-old gardens are home to around 13,500 different plant species, a collection built up over centuries of global exploration.

Whether you want to bask in the serenity of the Chinese hillside, realise just how small you are next to Giant Redwood Trees in the Woodland Garden, or even explore the world-famous rock garden, the site has everything you could want. If you visit at Christmas time, which we know is far away but it's worth it, the gardens are illuminated with thousands of lights and it truly is a sight to behold. 

The site is free to visit and has a variety of free exhibitions throughout the year.



Take in the views from Arthur's Seat

Image: Visit Scotland on Facebook

When: Open year-round

Where: Holyrood Park, at the end of the Royal Mile

Whilst Edinburgh is a place of remarkable beauty, the tall buildings and narrow roads don't lend themselves to views of the whole city. Dominating the Edinburgh Skyline, the peak is actually the remains of a 350-million-year-old volcano and a place where stone and flint tools have been found that date as far back as 5,000 B.C!

Not only is this hill steeped in ancient history, but, at 824 feet high, it also provides the best aerial view of the city you're likely to find (I mean look at that picture above). If you don't mind a little bit of a climb, it is definitely one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh.



Experience Potter history at Greyfriars Kirkyard

Image: Greyfriars Kirkyard on Facebook

When: Opening times vary, visit the website for more details.

Where: 26A Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh EH1 2QQ

Is it weird to say that this could end up being your 'favourite graveyard'? Well if there were ever a contender it'd be Greyfriars Kirkyard. Not only has the 400-year-old site garnered the nickname of 'the most haunted graveyard in the world' thanks to its role in many of Edinburgh’s most important historic chapters. Its many gravestones also feature as the inspiration for many characters in Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling lived in Edinburgh whilst writing Harry Potter (and still does), and whilst there are many Potter landmarks throughout the town this is our favourite. You can find the headstones of Anne and Robert Potter, William McGonagall, Elizabeth Moodie, and most famously, he who shall not be named, Thomas Riddle. 

Even if you aren't a Potter fan, this graveyard is for sure one to visit if looking for free things to do in Edinburgh.


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National Gallery of Modern Art

Image: National Galleries of Scotland on Facebook

When: 10am - 5pm everyday

Where: 73 & 75 Belford Road, Edinburgh, EH4 3DR

When you want a fascinating and visually stunning experience but still want free things to do in Edinburgh, there are few better places to stroll around than one of the city's most iconic buildings, The National Gallery of Modern Art. 

With more than 6000 paintings, sculptures, installations, video work, prints and drawings, the site is one you can get lost in. You can come face-to-face with paintings from some of the most famous modern artists; Matisse, Picasso, Vuillard, and Dix, or if you wanna get a bit weird, you can gawp at the world-famous collection of Surrealism and Dada, featuring works by artists such as Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp and René Magritte. 

For any fan of art, it is a must-visit when visiting Auld Reekie.



Step back in time at St Giles' Catherdral

Image: St Giles' Cathedral on Facebook

When: Opening times vary, visit the website for more details.

Where: High St, Edinburgh EH1 1RE

Insanely, this church was founded back in the 1120s, St Giles' was the church of John Knox during the Scottish Reformation and is often referred to as the 'Cradle of Presbyterianism.' the nearly 100-year-old site is situated on the Royal Mile, halfway between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Yet, if you aren't into your religious history (which I imagine many of you aren't) the church is still a must-visit for its spectacular architecture. Despite a rebuild in the 1800s, the site feels like you're taking a step into the past, with its unusual layout, ornate stained-glass windows, and famous organ it's worth a visit.



Indulge in Caledonian history at the National Museum of Scotland

Image: by Mathias Reding on Unsplash

When: 10am - 5pm everyday

Where: Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1JF

What better free things to do in Edinburgh are than at one of the UK's top 10 visitor attractions, The National Museum of Scotland. With a range of absorbing exhibits that chronicle Scotland's turbulent history, on top of a range of other exhibitions that include the wonders of nature, art and design, science and technology, and world cultures.

Whilst there are temporary exhibitions that cost money to see, the main section of the museum is completely free of charge and is not one to miss.



Explore the gorgeous Dean Village

Image: by Clark Van Der Beken on Unsplash

When: Open year-round

Where: Dean Path, Edinburgh EH4 3AY

Here we are, back walking around again, but I cannot stress this enough, Edinburgh is just one of the most spectacular places to stroll around and lose yourself in, and if I was going to be lost I could think of much worse places than the iconic Dean Village. 

Situated on a quaint river, the village is an oasis of calm amidst an oft-packed city. An 800-year-old thriving centre of mills and workers, remnants of which are still noticeable today, the section of the city has transformed in modern times into one of the most sought-after neighbourhoods in Auld Reekie. Whilst many of the shops situated here definitely won't feature on any lists of free things to do in Edinburgh, a stroll around the old hamlet is definitely a hidden gem of the city's offerings and will make you pleasantly annoyed that people actually live there.



Take a tour of the Scottish Parliament

Image: The Scottish Parliament on Facebook

When: Opening times vary, visit the website for more details.

Where: Edinburgh EH99 1SP

This insane building looks more like an art gallery filled with obscure sculptures than the presiding home of Scotland's parliament, but don't be fooled by the lack of tradition, this building is incredible and when looking for free things to do in Edinburgh, can't be missed.

One thing we would highly recommend you do is to book a free tour before you visit, you are given a dedicated tour guide who shows you around and gives clarity to the architecture, art, and history of the award-winning Scottish Parliament building.

Who knows, you might even stumble in at the right time and see Nicola.



Learn the story of Greyfriars Bobby

Image: Visit Edinburgh on Facebook

When: Available to see year-round

Where: Edinburgh EH1 2QQ

Good little Greyfriars Bobby is arguable one of the most famous statues in the whole of Edinburgh. The statue commemorates one of the icons of the city, Bobby, the dog of Edinburgh resident John Gray in the 1800s. What makes this statue so iconic is the story behind it.

After much struggle following a move to Edinburgh, John became a night watchman for the Edinburgh police, and little Bobby used to accompany him on his nightly walks. However, after Johns unfortunately passed, Bobby camped next to his grave and spent almost 14 years as its sole watchdog, until his own passing.

The story became synonymous with the city and has even spouted multiple TV and Movie recreations. It's a fun little free thing to do in Edinburgh, yet, despite what some might tell you, Do not rub the nose. This false addition to the story was conjured up by a tour guide, and Bobby's statue has had to go under work in the past due to degradation from this. So back of the pup. 


To find even more events happening around Edinburgh in 2022, click or tap - HERE



Check out our What's On Guide to discover even more rowdy raves and sweaty gigs taking place over the coming weeks and months. For festivals, lifestyle events and more, head on over to our Things To Do page or be inspired by the event selections on our Inspire Me page.