A bustling and vibrant city, steeped in history and host to a variety of colourful festivals throughout the year, there is no shortage of things to do in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is a vibrant city all year round but like any cultural hub, it can be pricey to see all of the attractions in one visit. Fortunately, it also boasts a fantastic collection of free activities so leave the car at home and enjoy everything is easily reachable using the fantastic Lothian bus service. We check out the top ten free things to do in the Scottish capital.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city is a delightful mixture of old, new and contemporary, with its Medieval Old Town and famous Royal Mile which looks down from its hill top to the Georgian Old Town and the vibrant new architecture of Edinburgh’s business district.The city also boasts some great shopping with all the high street names as well as smaller boutiques to browse and explore. Discover an enviable choice of traditional pubs perfect for refreshment after a visit to the famous sites, the magnificent Edinburgh Castle or one of Edinburgh’s Festivals. And at night the fun doesn’t stop with a thriving night life till the wee small hours.
Royal Yacht Britannia
The former Royal Yacht Britannia was the British royal family’s floating holiday home during their foreign travels from the time of her launch in 1953 until her decommissioning in 1997, and is now moored permanently in front of Ocean Terminal. The tour, which you take at your own pace with an audioguide (included in admission fee and available in 20 languages), lifts the curtain on the everyday lives of the royals, and gives an intriguing insight into the Queen’s private tastes.
National Museum of Scotland
This is one of Edinburgh’s best free attractions. Set in the beautiful old town, the museum has recently been renovated to include an impressive extension housing an interesting Scottish exhibition, as well as a beautiful new entrance atrium. The museum is substantial, so set aside a whole day to explore the seven levels, including a roof terrace with spectacular views across the city.
Arthur’s Seat, like Castle Rock, is part of a dormant volcano system. It looms over the city making a picturesque backdrop to most photographs, but, as ever, it is even better from above. Paths make walking to the top for the sensational panoramic views of the city easy, meaning it is ideal for a morning walk or a picnic stop.
Edinburgh Castle has played a pivotal role in Scottish history, both as a royal residence King Malcolm Canmore (r 1058–93) and Queen Margaret first made their home here in the 11th century and as a military stronghold. The castle last saw military action in 1745 from then until the 1920s it served as the British army’s main base in Scotland. Today it is one of Scotland’s most atmospheric and most popular tourist attractions.
Royal Botanic Gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens are a great place to get down with nature and from walks lined with trees to tunnels through bushes, from quaint mosaic-covered shrines to towering Victorian glass houses, the gardens are a beautiful back drop, summer or winter. The themed areas are great and the visitors centre is a welcome relief from the elements when it begins to get colder outside. There is a fee to get into the glass-houses but it is definitely not a necessity when visiting these beautiful gardens.
Joining Edinburgh’s East and West ends, Princes Street forms the back-bone of the new town, and is the city’s favourite shopping street. It is the home to many high street shops, as well as famous department stores such as Jenners. Weather permitting, make sure you visit Princes Street Gardens, where you can watch the world go by or take a stroll up to the iconic Walter Scott Monument. If you are lucky enough to visit in December, the gardens are transformed into the world-famous European Christmas Market wait until after dark to fully appreciate how pretty the lights are.