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Free Things To Do In Edinburgh

Sunday 01 January 2023

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One of life's greatest pleasures is getting out and seeing somewhere new, but it can be expensive to explore. But don't be put off! Just because you need to watch your wallet, that doesn’t mean you can’t get out and about and enjoy some fun free activities.

And if there’s one destination that is perfect for visitors to explore on a budget - it is Edinburgh.

If you're wondering what to do in Edinburgh - never fear! Let’s take a look at some of the best economical activities available in the Scottish capital that are ideal if you need to be thrifty with your spending.

Best of all, you can take a whole variety of CrossCountry trains directly to Edinburgh Waverly train station from all over the UK. Explore routes here. In order to save more money, why not book your tickets in advance and check out our cheap tickets page?

Looking across at Arthur’s Seat with blue sky and some white clouds dotting the sky, with some of Edinburgh’s buildings below

Climb Arthur’s Seat

Where: Holyrood Park

When: Any time, half a day

If you’ve got a sense for adventure, pull on your walking boots and go for a walk up the rocky crags of Edinburgh’s famous dormant volcano. Offering panoramic birds-eye views over the cityscape, the climb to the peak is not overly taxing and can be enjoyed by all the family. Pack a picnic and stop off at the lake for a well-earned rest on your ascent to the summit. You will be greeted by the friendly quacks of the resident ducks and swans who eagerly await visitors who bring tasty treats and the surrounding parkland is also great for exploring.

A lamp shining on a painting of Van Gogh in a dark room with graffiti on the white walls

Marvel at the National Gallery of Scotland

Where: Princes Street Gardens

When: 10am-5pm, half a day

If your idea of a great day out is exploring the museums and galleries but you need to be frugal with your spending, then Edinburgh is the perfect destination to head to. The National Gallery of Scotland is a hugely popular attraction found in the heart of the city and it is home to a broad offering of artwork, ranging from paintings and sculptures to furniture.

 The impressive collection includes work from artistic greats including:

  • Reubens
  • Rembrandt
  • Van Gogh
  • Monet
  • Degas
  • Monet
  • Gauguin
  • Cezanne
  • Renoir

With everything from French Impressionism to Italian Renaissance all under one roof, this extraordinary display is free to enter. There’s also a café and a restaurant on-site if you need to refuel after your exploration and a shop for anyone who wants to treat themselves to a souvenir of the day.

Wander the Wynds

Where: The Old Town & The New Town

When: Any time, 30 minutes-half a day

The streets of Edinburgh can be lots of fun to explore. History buffs will enjoy getting a glimpse into the city’s past by meandering through the wynds and back streets. The Old Town and parts of the New Town are home to protected World Heritage sites and the beautiful architecture, coupled with the cobbled walkways that never fail to impress passers-by.

A large crowd of people partying in a field throwing colourful ribbons, streamers and juggling bats in the air

Experience the Edinburgh Festival

Where: All over the city

When: August, all day

During the Edinburgh Festival season, which takes place in August each year, there’s a whole host of free entertainment to enjoy. Street performances and shows are everywhere you turn, from circus tricks to magic and illusions. The lively crowds generate a unique atmosphere that will brighten the dullest of days and there’s something to amuse all the family.

A close up shot of a green plant with a river in the background shimmering in the sunshine

Water of Leith Walkway

Where: City centre 

When: Any time, half a day

If you enjoy spending time al-fresco, the Water of Leith Walkway is a peaceful pathway that winds its way through the city centre.

 It snakes through an array of local beauty spots, including:

  • The Union Canal
  • The Royal Botanic Garden
  • Colinton Village and Dell
  • Saughton Winter Gardens
  • Dean Village
  • Stockbridge
  • The Scottish Gallery of Modern Art

The Water of Leith Visitor Centre is well worth checking out along your travels, where you can see interactive presentations, watch videos and stop for a nibble to eat at the on-site café. You can also enjoy guided tours of the walkway, an annual plant sale and various family-friendly events that are held throughout the year.

The exterior of the famous arboretum at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh with tall glass windows surrounded by 2 palm trees, grass and trees

Explore the Royal Botanic Gardens

Where: Off Inverleith Row

When: 10am-5pm, half a day

These beautiful gardens are the perfect attraction for green-fingered visitors. From the unusual and the rare to the common and the familiar, the plants and flowers that bloom in the gardens are a gardener’s delight. Get back to Mother Nature while you go on an outdoor adventure around the rock garden, into the arboretum and through the 70 acres of verdant parkland. Discover the Chinese Garden in all its exotic glory, before making your way to the duck pond where your children can spend hours feeding the feathered residents. There’s also plenty of interactive displays found in the main building, along with a shop and plenty of places to grab a bite to eat.

If you are planning a trip to Edinburgh, take advantage of discounted prices on Advance tickets with CrossCountry

Written by Julia

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