Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Medieval architecture gives the city a magical atmosphere, especially around Christmas. But this lively city is popular with tourists year round.
Luckily, a trip to Edinburgh doesn’t have to break the bank as there are plenty of free activities you can do here.
1. Learn all about the city on a Free Walking Tour
There is no better introduction to Edinburgh than through a Free Walking Tour. There are lots of different ones offered every day; you can find them all on the Royal Mile.
On a Free Walking Tour, a local guide will lead you around the highlights of Edinburgh for a few hours, telling you all about the history. Instead of a fee upfront, Free Walking Tours depend on tips. So you tip the guide whatever you thought the tour was worth at the end.
2. Visit Greyfriars Kirk & Graveyard
Kirk is an old word for church, and the Greyfriars Kirk is one of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh, dating back to 1602. Beautiful as the church is, it is especially famous for its graveyard. The graveyard is essentially a mass grave for victims of the plague, but also the resting place of many well-known and rich citizens of Edinburgh.
It’s free to visit and both beautiful and eerie. It is a quiet green place, tucked away in Old Town. The big tourist draw to Greyfriars Kirk is the story of the Greyfriars Bobby, once a dog of one of the monks, and because some of the headstones have names from Harry Potter characters.
3. Guide yourself on a Harry Potter tour
Speaking of Harry Potter, Greyfriars Graveyard is not the only source of inspiration for the famous book series. J.K. Rowling lived in Edinburgh when she came up with the story of ‘The Boy Who Lived.’ Walking through the city, it is easy to see how she might have felt inspired by Edinburgh’s magical atmosphere.
She was directly influenced by several sights in the city, not just the Graveyard, and you can visit them all on a self-guided Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh.
4. Scottish history at the National Museum of Scotland
If you want to learn more about the history of Scotland, the National Museum of Scotland is the place to be. This natural history museum is worth a visit alone for the beautiful main hall, but also the great exhibitions. It’s a fun, free day out for both kids and adults where you can learn about the fascinating history of Scotland and Scottish culture.
5. Walk the Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is the famous road that runs from Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle. Officially it is made up of the streets Castle Hill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Strand, but more commonly known by its nickname.
The Royal Mile is the touristic heart of the city, and the whole street is lined with shops, restaurants and historical landmarks. Strolling up and down the Royal Mile is free and a fun way to explore the city.
6. Climb Arthurs Seat
If you want a truly sensational view of Edinburgh and you don’t mind breaking a sweat, you have to climb Arthurs Seat. The hill is a remnant of Scotland vulcanic past and lies right outside the city center next to Holyrood Palace. It’s a popular place for tourists and locals, but don’t expect an easy stroll. Arthurs Seat is a serious hike, but the view is worth it.
7. Scottish art at the Scottish National Gallery
The Scottish National Gallery may be small in size, but not in beauty. The atmosphere in the Gallery is cozy and intimate and allows you to get up close and personal with the art. Here you can see paintings by famous Scottish artist, such as Turner and McTaggart for free.
8. Stroll around Deans Village
If you thought Edinburgh was beautiful and charming, you should see Deans Village. Just northwest of the city center lies arguably the most picturesque part of town. Although it was once built to house mill workers, the current residents are much richer. Luckily, you don’t need to pay anything to stroll around the lovely little streets and historical buildings.
9. Have a pint at Sandy Bell’s
Sure, you will have to actually pay for your drink. But you get the atmosphere for free. Sandy Bell’s is one of Edinburgh oldest pubs, and it has retained its authentic charm. It’s a popular pub among locals, and you often find musicians playing traditional Scottish music here. Order a pint or a glass of whiskey from their excellent drink menu and enjoy a real Scottish night out.
10. Visit the Botanical Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh are almost 350 years old and one of the most famous in the world. The beautiful 70-acre gardens house a large variety of plants in different landscapes, such a Chinese garden, Alpine house, woodlands and rock gardens.
The Gardens are easy to reach by bus and the perfect place for a stroll if the weather allows. Entry to the Botanical Gardens is free, except during their Christmas light show in December, which is actually worth paying for.