21 Incredible FREE Things To Do in Edinburgh (2024)

21 Incredible Free Things in Edinburgh

Ranked one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Edinburgh is a bucket-list destination for many. Its dreamy streets, rich history, and exciting culture bring in millions of tourists every year. 


This means it can get quite expensive. From expensive hotel rooms and pricy food, the money can add up quickly.

But lucky for us, there are many incredible FREE things to do in Edinburgh. These activities will allow you to enjoy the best of Edinburgh on a budget, without breaking the bank.

View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill 

Where To Stay?

Before perusing the best free things to do in Edinburgh, you should consider the options of where you will stay. 

If you are a young solo traveler, like myself, it is best to book a hostel. Here are a few of my favorite hostels in Edinburgh.

  • Castle Rock Hostel – This hostel is in a perfect location in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. It also hosts a variety of events and large seating spaces, making it easy to make friends.
  • CoDe Pod – The Court – This Hostel is an old jail now converted into a hostel. It is also centrally located and has privacy walls for all of its beds
  • Royal Mile Backpackers – The name says it all, the hostel is in a perfect location! This hostel’s hippie atmosphere and daily events are perfect for a solo traveler.

Want more privacy? Try these hotels!

  • McCrae’s Bed and Breakfast – This adorable bed and breakfast is just a 15-minute walk away from the city center and has free breakfast included.
  • Dragon Suites Apartment – These apartments are close to the popular Princess Street for shopping and won’t break the bank.

Now that you have your accommodation sorted, let’s get into 21 incredible free things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland!

Planning your trip to Scotland? Read my free 7 day Itinerary in Scotland!

Free Things to do in Edinburgh

1. Shop the Royal Mile 

The most beautiful street in Edinburgh, the Royal Mile is located in the heart of the city inside all of the action. The Royal Mile is a beautiful 1-mile street on an extinct volcano that connects the famous Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle.

This mile is the hub of the tourist area, with good reason. Its excellent location allows visitors to see the major sights in just a short walk.

Along the Royal Mile, you will find famous tourist spots, street performers, and loads of shopping. Spend your time in Edinburgh window shopping through the Royal Mile.

If you want to buy a souvenir for home, this is the best place in all of Scotland to pick up the knick-knacks. Everything from Christmas ornaments to Scottish cookies to keychains, they have it all here.

Additionally, along the Royal Mile, you will notice beautiful architecture. Take a moment to take in the scenery. Scotland is known for its “closes” also known as an ally way. Have a wander through a close or two and experience what life may have been like back in the day. The atmosphere of the Royal Mile is why it is one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh!

The closes are also a fantastic photo opportunity, as they are much less crowded and full of beautiful hidden spots and architecture.


2. Visit the St. Giles Cathedral

Situated in the middle of the Royal Mile you will find the St. Giles Cathedral. This cathedral is one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh! This Royal Mile landmark is an iconic spot as it stands taller than the rest of the buildings.

St. Giles Cathedral Edinburgh

Founded in 1124 by King David I, this Cathedral has been an important role in Scottish history with a tumultuous history.

Today, St. Giles Cathedral is free to enter and peruse on your own time, or you can choose to join a free walking tour. The walking tours are twice a day and need to be reserved online here. 

The tours can become full in advance, so it’s best to book it a few days in advance.

This medieval Presbyterian church is open every day, including Sunday afternoons. If you are curious to see what a church service is like, visit on Sunday morning, but please remember to dress accordingly. 

Free Things to do in Edinburgh

3. Arthur’s Seat Hike

One of my favorite free things to do in Edinburgh is to hike Arthur’s Seat. Located near the Holyrood Palace, this moderate hike takes you to the top of an extinct volcano and offers 360-degree views of Edinburgh.

Arthur's Seat Hike View

This hike takes around 90 minutes to complete and can be completed by anyone in good health.

Arthur’s Seat is completely free and a popular tourist attraction. The best times to visit are in the morning and evening, sunrise and sunset being the most beautiful times.

Once you reach the top, there are views of the Old City of Edinburgh, the North Sea, and the beautiful green rolling hills. While best to visit on a clear day, it’s an enjoyable hike anytime.

Don’t forget to pack water during this hike, as the way up gets steep. 

Arthurs Seat

The hike is located in Holyrood Park and is reached by walking from the Royal Mile, or there is nearby parking available.

4. Calton Hill

Another incredible sunrise and sunset point in Edinburgh is Calton Hill. Calton Hill is a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated within walking distance of the Royal Mile.


Free Things to do in Edinburgh

At the top of Calton Hill, you may notice the Athens, Greece-inspired building, which the Scottish have named The National Monument of Scotland.

This and many other monuments at the top offer beautiful picture spots as well as a relaxing place to enjoy the views of the city.

Although not as challenging as Arthur’s Seat Trail, Calton Hill is about a 5-10 minute uphill walk and can be done by most in good health. When you reach the top there is plenty of spots to sit down, relax, and enjoy the views.

Calton Hill Edinburgh

Calton Hill is a very popular spot in Edinburgh, especially around sunset. Give yourself extra time when heading up here, as there may be some crowds.

5. Princess Street Gardens

Oh Princess Street Gardens, how I adore you. These gardens are situated at the base of the Old Town and offer sweeping views of Edinburgh Castle.

These picturesque gardens offer a large green space in the center of the city for locals and tourists to bring their dogs, have a picnic, and just relax with a beautiful view.

Princess Street Gardens in Edinburgh

This park is massive and is separated into two sections.

Additionally, this park has plenty of walking trails, and some through old medieval cemeteries as well! Have a stroll through this park and get lost wandering. On a nice summer nice, this park can become crowded with locals having a picnic and enjoying the weather.

This park connects the old town to the new town and offers a fantastic spot to take pictures as well. Have I mentioned that Edinburgh is beautiful?!

Princess Street Gardens View of Edinburgh Castle

Free Things to do in Edinburgh

During the Christmas season, this park is transformed into Edinburgh’s beautiful Christmas market complete with shopping, carousels, ice skating, and more! If you are visiting during this time of year, consider yourself very lucky!

Pro-Tip: Looking to save money? Head to a local grocery store and pick up some picnic supplies. On a nice day, live like a local by having a picnic in the Princess Street Gardens!

6. Visit During a Festival

Edinburgh is a vibrant town that hosts a wide variety of fun events throughout the year, the most notable being the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This is the world’s largest art festival! This festival takes place in early August and is a lively festival that celebrates arts and culture in the streets. 

Actors for Edinburgh Fringe Festival

During the 3-week Edinburgh Festival Fringe, artists from all walks of life and even some famous ones come to join in the fun! The streets light up for this fun festival.

Another incredible festival in Edinburgh is New Year’s Eve. At one point in Scottish history, the Scottish banned Christmas break, which led to a big party on New Year’s Eve. Since, this rule has been revoked but the tradition remains strong. 

In Edinburgh, the New Year’s Eve festival is called Hogmanay and is one of the biggest celebrations in the world! This 3-day festival includes a massive street party, torchlight procession, large parades, concerts, and more! 

7. Stroll Dean Village

Located just a 15-minute walk outside of the Old Town, you will find the picturesque Dean Village. Dean Village is a residential neighborhood with cute streets and quaint atmosphere.

Dean Vilage

While here, don’t expect anywhere to eat or restrooms to use, as it is a residential neighborhood. They are used to many tourists and welcome you to enjoy their beautiful neighborhood.

A visit to Dean Village takes about an hour. This should give you enough time to take pictures, explore, and enjoy the relaxing and calm atmosphere.

A walk in Dean Village in Edinburgh

While in Dean Village enjoy a walk along the Water of Leith river. This walkway is a beautiful walkway hugging the river and cobblestone streets. This walkway goes on for miles, so it’s best to hop on it, have a little stroll and turn around before you get too far.

8. Take a Free Walking Tour

Walking tours are the best and in Edinburgh, they are almost required! If these streets could talk, they would have countless stories. The beautiful streets of Edinburgh are covered in history, and with a walking tour, you will learn firsthand, from a local, about them. 

Free Things to do in Edinburgh

While on my trip to Edinburgh, I did 3 free walking tours with the Edinburgh FREE tour and really enjoyed them. I did the Edinburgh Free Tour, Ghost Tour, and Harry Potter Tour. Out of the three, I enjoyed the Edinburgh City Tour and the Harry Potter Tour. Especially if you are a Harry Potter nerd (like I am), this tour is amazing!

Of course, these tours aren’t entirely free, they are a pay-what-you-can model. There is no set price, it is up to you to determine what the tour is worth. Of course, I recommend tipping your guide, as it is their way to make a living. It is recommended to tip around $10 a person, as that is what the other paid tours would cost. 

Nonetheless, these tours are amazing and were a highlight during my trip to Edinburgh. So much so, we had time to do 3 of them!

9. Greyfriars Kirkyard

Located just outside of the Royal Mile you will find Greyfriars Kirkyard. A kirkyard is a churchyard, and this one is especially significant. This kirkyard is lined with gravestones that date back as early as 1580.

This kirkyard is famous because it is rumored to be where J.K Rowling got some inspiration for her character names in the Harry Potter books. In this kirkyard, you will find names like Potter, McGonagall, Black, Thomas Riddell, and more.

If you choose to take the free Harry Potter walking tour, it will take you around here, if not, these names can be difficult to find without a guide. I recommend checking out this website for more.

If you visit the Greyfriars Kirkyard on a nice summer day, you will find residents picnicking and enjoying the sun here, which was a bit of a culture shock for me! Either way, visiting this kirkyard is one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh. 

10. Victoria Street

Victoria Street is a beautiful pastel-colored street adjacent to the Royal Mile. This street is very popular and is one of the most photographed places in all of Edinburgh. Spend some time shopping on Victoria Street, even if you don’t buy anything, you will find some very interesting stores.

Free Things to do in Edinburgh

On Victoria Street, Museum Context, The Enchanted Gallery, John Kay’s Bookshop, and The Cadies and Witchery Tour shops are must-dos. These stores are all Harry Potter-inspired, and worth a visit even if you are not into these stories, as the interiors are so unique. Additionally, Witches are an important part of Scottish history, and a visit here will allow you to see this side of Edinburgh.

One last note about Harry Potter, it is rumored that Victoria Street is also the inspiration for the books, as a place where wizards buy magical goods before heading off to school. Although not confirmed by J.K Rowling herself, many pieces of evidence lead us to think this.

11. Enjoy Street Performers

While in Edinburgh, spend some time enjoying the street performers. The most popular spot for the performers is along the Royal Mile, but you can find them down lots of streets in the Old Town. Edinburgh is a rich music town, and the street performers reflect that.

You will find a wide array of performers, from jazz musicians to singer-songwriters, to the traditional Scottish bagpipes. There is nothing quite like watching these street performers in the beautiful Old Town of Edinburgh. 

12. Farmers Markets

Edinburgh is home to some amazing Farmer’s markets year-round.

The Edinburgh Farmers Market occurs every Saturday, in Edinburgh on the Castle Terrace, just outside of the Royal Mile. This farmers market is located just below Edinburgh Castle, making a spectacular view while you shop.

farmers market berries

Free Things to do in Edinburgh

From 9 am-2 pm, you can stroll the farmers market and buy a variety of goods and foods, although it’s mostly food! This local food is as authentic as it gets, from fresh fruits and vegetables to meats, cheeses, and jams.

The Stockbridge Market is open every Sunday from 10 am-4 pm and is just a quick walk from Edinburgh Old Town. At this market, you can find a variety of crafts as well as a few desserts and drinks!

Lastly, On Saturday from 10 am-5 pm, you will find the Grassmarket Market right on the popular Grassmarket Street. This is one of the most vibrant farmers’ markets where you can find more crafts and foods.

These 3 markets are all a short walk from Edinburgh Castle, making them easily accessible. 

The farmer’s markets are free to visit and a great way to meet locals. For more information, click here.

13. Portobello Beach

Portobello Beach is one of Edinburgh’s prettiest suburbs and is just a few miles outside of the city. A visit here is a lovely way to spend an afternoon in Edinburgh.


This seaside town is gorgeous and has a beautiful walking path running next to the beach. If you are lucky enough to visit on a nice summer’s day, be sure to pack your towel, sunscreen, and water!

14. National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland is one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh! This museum is massive and is located just off the Royal Mile, next to Greyfriars Kirkyard.

This museum is home to a wide array of exhibits taking you through Scotland’s past. The museum is free to enter as well as its audio guides to use. Most people take around 2-3 hours to visit the museum, making it a perfect rainy-day activity.

One of my favorite hidden gems in the National Museum of Scotland is the rooftop terrace! This terrace offers a unique view of the Old Town right in the center of it all! Grab a coffee up here or bring your book because at the top you will find benches and beautiful views.

The terrace is on the 7th floor and is accessed by elevator or stairs. 

15. The Meadows

Looking for a place to run or relax and let the world pass by? The Meadows is a perfect free activity in Scotland if you are looking to have a glimpse into local life. This park is popular among students in Edinburgh and is often a popular spot for a morning or evening stroll.

the meadows edinburgh

Free Things to do in Edinburgh

The Meadows is located just outside of the city, about a 25-minute walk from the Royal Mile. Once you arrive, you will find a great running, walking, and biking path. There are tennis courts, a large playground, and exercise equipment sprinkled throughout the park.

Furthermore, this park hosts many festivals and concerts throughout the year. When I visited, there was a huge carnival happening! You never know what you will find.

16. Scottish Parliament Building

Located just outside of the Holyrood Palace, on the walk towards Arthur’s Seat Trail, you will find the modern Scottish Parliament Building. This building is the center of Scottish democracy and is completely free to visit.

Scottish Parliament Building

The Scottish Parliament Building is open Monday-Saturday and does NOT require a reservation to enter. Feel free to visit during operating hours to see the public areas, art collections, and more. During your visit, they offer free 10-minute talks as well. A visit here is a great way to learn more about the Scottish democracy system and have a look into modern-day life here.

Additionally, they offer free 45-minute guided tours of the building. These guided tours happen about 4-6 times a day and are often very popular. It is best to check out their website to learn more! 

17. Holyrood Park

Holyrood Park is situated next to Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament Building. This park is home to the Arthur’s Seat Hike, but offers so many more amazing hikes and outdoor activities!

Although the Holyrood Palace has an entrance fee, you can visit this park completely for free!

This park is located on and around an extinct volcano and offers some gorgeous views of Edinburgh. Of course, you can hike Arthur’s Seat, but you can also enjoy a run, walk, to bike around the base of the hill. These trails are of the best-maintained trails in Edinburgh and are worth a visit. 

If you want to bike around, have a look for a free bike shop! The trail is a 3.4-mile loop and can become crowded on a nice day. For more information on the park trails, download the app AllTrails or click here.

18. The Writers Museum and People’s Story Museum

These two museums are both located on the Royal Mile and are free to enter. Both of these museums are a quick indoor activity and are perfect on a rainy day.

At the Writers Museum, you will learn about the famous Scottish Writers Robert Burns, Sit Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Here you are transported back in time to see personal items from the authors, learn about the printing process, and hear stories about these writers’ lives.

Free Things to do in Edinburgh

The People's Story Museum

At the People’s Story Museum, just a 10-minute walk from the Writers Museum, visitors will get a very different glimpse into Scottish history. Here you will get an insider’s look at local life in Edinburgh in the 18th to 20th century. 

This museum highlights the history, crafts, culture, and daily life of normal people in Edinburgh. I enjoy this museum because it is home to first-hand accounts of what life was like in this fascinating city during a tumultuous time.

19. Scott Monument 

A crowning Jewel and noticeable landmark throughout Edinburgh, the Scott Monument is a must-see for locals and tourists to stop and take some pictures. Located on the popular Princess Street, this monument is dedicated to the Scottish writer, Sit Walter Scott, and is one of the largest monuments to any writer in the world!

Free Things to do in Edinburgh

This monument is free to observe from the outside, but you can elevate your experience by booking a tour to see first-hand the inner workings of this monument. During a guided tour, you will get the opportunity to go inside and view the stained glass windows and 3rd-floor observation deck.

20. Window Shopping Til You Drop! 

Free Things to do in Edinburgh

While in Edinburgh, it doesn’t hurt to do a little window shopping. This city has a lot of shopping and some of it is indoors to help you beat the rainy day blues.

The most popular shopping street is, of course, the famous Princess Street. This street is located in the New Town of Edinburgh and offers something for everyone! From H&M to Primark, to Levi’s and more, these stores are massive and offer a unique experience.

Princess Street is home to affordable stores you will find in most shopping malls as well as pharmacies and other essential goods.

Parallel to Princess Street you will find George Street. This street is home to high-end fashion and you will find more expensive stores such as Anthropology, All Saints, Lululemon, and more.

St. James Shopping Center is another fantastic place to do some window shopping in Edinburgh. Its modern architecture is a landmark in Edinburgh and is worth visiting just to check out alone.

21. Scottish National Gallery

Last but certainly not least is the Scottish National Gallery. This gallery is one of the most visited and best free things to do in Edinburgh. When visiting the gallery, you are first treated to a beautiful and grand exterior. Upon entering you are then treated to a large collection of art from the Renaissance to the 19th century. 

Inside you will find art from many famous artists in history as well as an interactive gallery and quaint cafe. This attraction is very popular in Edinburgh, so it is best to make your free reservation in advance here.

Free Things to do in Edinburgh

Visiting Scotland? Read these!

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Calton Hill Edinburgh

I’m Danika! A travel obsessed, Disney adult, with a knack for budgeting.

In 2020 I was furlough from my “dream” job at Disney and have pursued my first love of travel ever since. I have traveled to 33 states and 28 countries spanning 5 continents.

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