Edinburgh is a stunning city, so stunning in fact that you don’t really need to spend money to enjoy it! Whether you’re a tourist or a local just tryin’ to have a penny pinching weekend (preach), here are some free things to do in Edinburgh:
Museum Hopping in Old Town
ALL the museums in Edinburgh are free to enter, and that makes museum hopping one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh on a rainy day. This is especially useful for the tourists here! If you’re curious about Scottish history, the National Museum of Scotland and the Edinburgh City Museum are both fab places to visit. If you’re into old architecture, the Writer’s Museum is one of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh and it’s winding stairs and small nooks and crannies are so fun to explore! The Museum of Childhood and it’s room of creepy dolls are just the icing on the cake. All of these museums are within walking distance of each other in Old Town.
Don’t Forget About Art Galleries!
If museums aren’t the one for you, try an art gallery. Despite my history degree, I’m not a fan of walking through museums. Art galleries, on the other hand, I just love. I don’t even spend a lot of time looking at the art, I just like the feeling of walking around them. The National Portrait Gallery is a stunning building and has a great exhibit for those interested in the history of the Scottish monarchy. The National Gallery of Scotland’s permanent (free to visit) collection takes you through the Art history canon with pieces from ‘great masters’ of the renaissance right up until impressionism.
Both have touring exhibits that are sometimes free, sometimes not. Check before you visit, you don’t want to miss out!
Dean Village and the Water of Leith
Dean Village has been on so many ‘hidden gems of Edinburgh’ videos and blogs that it is no longer a hidden gem if you ask me. However, if you make the trek there and you want to find a hidden gem – cross the bridge to the far side of the water and walk left towards Corstorphine. The walk along the Water of Leith on that section is so pastoral – it’s like something out of an impressionist painting! Bonus point – it’s very near the Modern Art gallery – but right now you need to book ahead to visit and buy a ticket.
Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill and Edinburgh’s Other Peaks
One of the most popular free things to do in Edinburgh is go up Arthur’s Seat – and for good reason! It’s an amazing thing that the city has this mountainous hill right in the middle of it, and it’s quite an experience to climb up. Other than Arthur’s Seat, there are six other hills – Calton, Corstorphine and the Braid Hills are probably best for tourists or those new to the city. That said, I’ve been up all of Edinburgh’s hills but I never regret a day I spend out on one! Top tip: Calton Hill is a great spot for a sunset picnic – as long as your dressed for the weather!
Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens are free to visit outdoors only – maybe not the best option for a rainy day. For a small fee you can also visit the glasshouses, but check ahead of time! They close in high winds.
Watch Seasons Pass in the Meadows
The Meadows are a giant park just beyond the University of Edinburgh in Old Town. They border Marchmont, Bruntsfield and Morningside isn’t too far either! They’re pretty central. In the summer, the Meadows are usually packed on sunny days with barbeque-ers and picnic-ers alike. In Autumn, the trees turn into a kaleidoscope of orange hues, a walk up to Bruntsfield Links then has a beautiful view looking back on all the Autumn colours against the backdrop of Old Town’s grey skyline. Their pink blossoming trees are a sight to behold in Spring. In Winter… it’s mostly just rainy, but still a nice place to walk through! Particularly on a (dry) frosty morning.
What about free walking tours?
It’s a bit complicated, there are plenty of free walking tours in Edinburgh, but I feel bad putting them on a “free things to do in Edinburgh” list. If you genuinely do not want to spend any money, please just do a self-guided tour. If you’re just on a tight budget, go ahead! Just know that each tour guide has to pay the company whether or not you pay them, so they’re not really free – money will be exchanged on your behalf even if you don’t pay. If you go and don’t pay, it means that guide paid for you.
*As a former free walking tour guide: it’s totally fine if I lost one or two people to weather, but I definitely had days where I paid to work. Usually it was really quiet day to begin with and no one paid enough to cover their own charge. Or because it suddenly started torrentially down-pouring. Can’t win em all!
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