29 Free Things to do in Edinburgh
29 Free Things to do in Edinburgh
One of the most dynamic cities in the UK and home to month-long cultural festivals, the Scottish capital is an amazing city break destination. And the best of it? You will not only be spoiled for choice on what to do, but there are also an array of free things to do in Edinburgh that won’t cost you a penny! What are you waiting for? Come explore!
FREE CULTURE, MUSIC & ARTS
1. City Art Centre
Offering an array of exhibitions from local and international artists, focusing on photography, contemporary art and design, architecture and the built environment, The City Art Centre is one of the first places you should visit.
There is even an ArtSpace where you can have a go at creating landscapes, collages and portraits. Between 2pm and 3pm on Saturdays, you can also attend a facilitated art session, but the fun doesn't stop there! After your visit, you can test what you have learned by taking part in their online quizzes and games for adults and children. A whole day of arty fun, even after you go home!
2. Dovecot Gallery & Tapestry Studio
Inside a renovated Victorian swimming pool building, the Dovecot Gallery and Tapestry Studio is an art and exhibition centre focusing on contemporary art and fine tapestry.
Their Tapestry Studio is not only internationally known for its work, but the pieces on display are alo stunning. Check their calendar of events as they also offer guided tours and workshops.
Child friendly: yes, but no particular activities are available for them on a regular basis Address: Dovecot Studios, 10 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh EH1 1LT Opening hours: Mon to Sat 10.30am – 5.30pm More information here.
3. St Cuthbert’s Parish Church
Located at the foot of Edinburgh Castle, St Cuthbert’s Parish Church is the spire you can see poking through the Edinburgh skyline whenever you see panoramic pictures of Edinburgh Castle itself. Expect to hear the Church’s ten bells on Sunday mornings and see beautiful wall paintings, stained glass windows and an organ built in 1899.
Child friendly: yes, but no particular activities are available for them on a regular basis Address: St Cuthbert’s Parish Church, 5 Lothian Road, Edinburgh EH1 2EP Opening hours for visitors: Tue to Thu 10am – 3pm More information here.
4. St Gile’s Cathedral
Be transported into medieval times when you enter this imposing building.
Expect to see amazing stained glass windows, intricate stone masonry, high vaulted ceilings, an organ and a crown spire. The Mother Church of Presbyterianism, St Gile’s Cathedral is also home to the Chapel of the Order of Thistle, The Queen’s Scottish knights.
Child friendly: definitely, check their calendar for family events. Address: St Gile’s Cathedral, High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1RE Opening hours for visitors: Mon to Sat 9am – 5pm (May to September until 7pm), Sun 1pm – 5pm More information here.
5. Edinburgh Central Library
Opened in 1890, Edinburgh Central Library was the first public library built in the Scottish capital.
For families, a trip to the Children’s Library could be a welcome break from the busyness of sightseeing. While you are there, take a look at the wallpaper which features wall graphics by award-winning children’s book illustrator Catherine Rayner. They host storytelling events for toddlers every Thursday morning and crafts for primary school children every Friday afternoon.
Child friendly: definitely Address: Edinburgh Central Library, 7-9 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1EG Opening hours: Mon to Wed 10am – 8pm, Thu to Sat 10am – 5pm Facebook page with latest updates. More information here.
6. The Scottish Parliament
Even if you are not a fan of politics, The Scottish Parliament would be a good sightseeing spot. Not only is the building itself really interesting, you can watch a parliamentary session, it hosts art exhibitions and has a lovely modern garden that you can explore.
If you want to know more, The Scottish Parliament also offers a selection of free guided tours focusing on the different aspects and functions of the building. Please note that even though the tickets are free, you might need to book in advance to attend guided tours, particular events or parliamentary sessions.
Child friendly: definitely, they even offer a free crèche facility. Address: The Scottish Parliament, Horse Wynd, Edinburgh EH99 1SP Opening hours: Mon, Fri and Sat 10am – 5pm, Tue, Wed and Thu 9am – 6.30pm (please note the building closes during parliamentary recesses) Guided tour information. More information on visiting the Parliament .
7. Live Music at the Whistle Binkies
One of Edinburgh’s most vibrant live music venues, Whistle Binkies is open seven nights a week and aims to showcase the best of Scottish talent and beer. Free from Sundays to Thursdays, you will enjoy a line-up of up to four bands per night. It’s a good excuse to party like the Scots!
Child friendly: no, adults only Address: Whistle Binkies, 4-6 South Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1LL Opening hours: Mon to Thu 5pm – 3am, Fri to Sat 1pm – 3am, Sun 5pm – 12am Calendar of events. More information about the venue.
8. Edinburgh Festival
From the end of July until the end of August, Edinburgh becomes home to all sorts of annual festivals, the most famous of which is Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
During the whole of August this world-famous festival fills the city with free street performers, live music, film and theatre events. Basically, you won’t be able to take a step without coming across something you can enjoy for free. And if you want to make the most of it, buy tickets and watch world-class performers. Edinburgh quite literally overflows with art in the summer.
Child friendly: yes, just bear in mind that the city is extremely busy during this time Address: all over the city, across hundreds of venues Opening hours: depends on the event More information on Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
9. The Stand Comedy Club
Every Sunday lunchtime The Stand Comedy Club puts on an improvised comedy show free of charge. Resident comedians Stu & Garry weave a comedy performance using audience interactions as inspiration. The event is not only a weekly regular, but also long-running. A must for any comedy lover.
Child friendly: no, over 18s only Address: The Stand Comedy Club, 5 York Place, Edinburgh EH1 3EB Opening hours: Sundays, doors 12:30pm, event starts 1:30pm More information.
FREE MUSEUMS & GALLERIES
10. Scottish National Gallery
Home to one of the best collections of fine art in the world, The Scottish National Gallery is a must for any art lover. Part of a group of three national attractions, there is also a National Galleries bus that runs regular trips in between all three Scottish Galleries (National, Portrait and Modern Art) for a voluntary donation of £1. During the holiday period, they also host events for children. Please note that admission charges might apply to special exhibitions.
11. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
With a Sculpture Park outside, before you even come in, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is definitely worth a visit, especially on a sunny day! This gallery is also one of the stops on the National Galleries bus, which runs regular trips in between all the three Scottish Galleries (National, Portrait and Modern Art) for a voluntary donation of £1. During the holiday period, they also host events for children. Please note that admission charges might apply to special exhibitions.
Child friendly: definitely Address: 75 Belford Road, Edinburgh EH4 3DR Opening hours: daily 10am – 5pm Bus timetable More information on visiting the Scottish Natural Gallery of Modern Art
12. Scottish National Portrait Gallery
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery maps the face of Scotland, past and present, through seven exhibitions, ten displays, 26 events and some serious must-sees portraits. During the holiday period, they also host events for children. Please note that admission charges might apply to special exhibitions and that there is a National Galleries bus running regular trips in between all the three Scottish Galleries – National, Portrait and Modern Art – for a voluntary donation of £1.
Child friendly: definitely Address: Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JD Opening hours: daily 10am – 5pm, Thu until 7pm Bus timetable More information on visiting the Scottish National Portrait Gallery
13. The Writers’ Museum
Celebrating Scottish literature and holding rare books, portraits and personal objects from influential Scottish writers, the Writers’ Museum is a must for any book lover. Located inside a historical house, the museum building itself is fascinating. Definitely worth a visit, especially if you are a bookworm.
Child friendly: yes, but no particular activities are available for them Address: The Writers’ Museum, Lady Stairs House, Lady Stairs Close, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2PA Opening hours: Wed to Sat 10am – 5pm, Sun 12pm – 5pm More information on this museum here.
14. National Museum of Scotland
Home to a diverse collection exploring world and Scottish history, the National Museum of Scotland is a fun trip for adults and children alike. It is worth checking their calendar of events to see if they have anything of particular interest and, after your visit, you can even test what you remember online via the Museum’s quizzes and games for adults and children. Who said the fun has to end when you go home?
15. Museum of Childhood
Learn how childhood has changed over time, explore old toys and what it meant to be a child in different eras of Scottish history. Make sure to check the Museum’s calendar of events, as they host regular family workshops as well as a quiz and games page online for entertainment after your visit. A great day out for the whole family.
Child friendly: definitely Address: Museum of Childhood, 42 High Street, Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH1 1TG Opening hours: Mon and Tue to Sat 10am – 5pm, Sun 12pm – 5pm Quizzes & Games page. More information on visiting the museum here.
16. Museum of Edinburgh
Explore Edinburgh’s history while you peruse historic rooms and iconic objects. The Museum also has a fun interactive Learning Space for children, with activities and replica objects, as well as online quizzes and games for after you visit. A must for any family, but in particular the ones with small children.
Child friendly: definitely Address: Museum of Edinburgh, Huntly House, 142 Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH8 8DD Opening hours: Mon and Thu to Sat 10am – 5pm, Sun 12pm – 5pm Quizzes & Games page More information on this attraction
17. Museum on the Mound
Explore humanity’s delicate and, at times, tumultuous relationship with money. Look at the history of coinage, economics, money art & design, technology, crime, trade and security. See what £1 million pounds looks like, and Scotland’s oldest banknote. Build a model home, and crack the code of a safe. Certainly a fascinating visit for adults and children alike.
Child friendly: definitely Address: Museum on the Mound, The Mound, Edinburgh EH1 1YZ Opening hours: Tue to Fri: 10am – 5pm, Sat to Sun: 1pm – 5pm More information on visiting Museum on the Mound
18. The People’s Story Museum
Explore the history of Edinburgh’s everyday life from the 18th century through to modern day. Peruse real objects and visit the historic building, which used to be a tax office and a jail! And when you are done, you can even test your knowledge taking one of the Museum’s quizzes and games online.
Child friendly: yes Address: The People’s Story Museum, 162 Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH1 1DE Opening hours: Wed to Sat: 10am – 5pm, Sun: 12pm – 5pm Quizzes & Games page More information on this attraction
OUTDOOR SPACES & ACTIVITIES
19. Archivists’ Garden
If you love gardening, you will love the Archivists’ Garden located in between the General Register House and the New Register House. Home to 57 different plant species, the Garden is not only beautiful, but all the plants are connected to Scotland’s history, be it through folklore, heraldry or association with famous Scots.
Child friendly: yes Address: HM Register House, 2 Princess Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YY Opening hours: Mon to Fri: 9am – 5pm More information on this green space
20. Dunbar's Close Garden
One of Edinburgh’s gorgeous little secrets, Dunbar's Close Garden, has been laid out recreating the style and character of a garden in 17th century historical Edinburgh. The garden offers a little moment of beautiful contemplation, right in the middle of the bustling Royal Mile.
Child friendly: yes Address: Dunbar's Close Garden, Canongate, High Street, Edinburgh EH8 8BW Opening hours: daily dawn to dusk (times might vary according to the season) More information about this garden
21. Dr Neil’s Garden
Also known as Edinburgh’s Secret Garden and on the other side of Holyrood Park from Edinburgh city centre, Dr Neil’s Garden is a heaven of tranquillity and a font of inspiration for artists, musicians and writers. It was originally created by Drs Nancy and Andrew Neil, who had a keen interest in horticulture and medicine.
Child friendly: yes Address: Dr Neil’s Garden, Old Church Lane, Duddingston Village, Edinburgh EH15 3PX Opening hours: Mon to Sun: 10am – 5pm More information on visiting this garden
22. Holyrood Park & Arthur’s Seat
A few minutes' walk from Edinburgh Old Town, Holyrood Park is the Royal Park adjacent to Holyrood Palace, the official royal residence in Edinburgh. Visit the free exhibition about the park’s history, geology and archaeology at the Holyrood Lodge Information Centre and climb up to Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano 251m above sea level. Once you get to the top, the view over Edinburgh is quite spectacular.
Child friendly: yes, but bear in mind that getting to Arthur’s Seat involves hillwalking Address: Holyrood Park, Queen’s Drive, Edinburgh EH8 8HG Opening hours: all year-round More information on Holyrood Park
23. The Meadows
Less of a hike than Holyrood Park, The Meadows are one of the most important green open spaces in Edinburgh. Here you will find the biggest play area in the city as well as tennis courts, barbeque areas and a park café.
Child friendly: definitely Address: The Meadows, Melville Drive, Edinburgh EH9 9EX Opening hours: daily: 10am – 6pm More information on this green space
24. Wandering down the Royal Mile and High Street
Linking Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, the Royal Mile and the High Street are the main streets in Edinburgh. Several museums, galleries and sights are located around or nearby, but more to the point, these streets are lined with Scottish whisky, clothing and souvenir shops well worth exploring. Here you will also find the Royal Mile Market inside the historic Tron Kirk building. Even if you don’t buy anything, you will get to see traditional Scottish crafts and one of Scotland’s most famous export – its tartan fabric.
Child friendly: yes Address: Royal Mile and High Street, Edinburgh Opening hours: all year-round, best time: 10am – 5pm Royal Mile Market information.
25. Monument Trail
There are several public monuments and statues of note dotted around Edinburgh, including Scott Monument (see Princes Street Gardens), Greyfriar’s Bobby (see Greyfriar’s Kirkyard) and Nelson Monument (see Calton Hill), to name a few. Since a large number of them is within walking distance from each other, why not have a wander spotting them? See more information on the location of various monuments here or read about five hidden gems here.
26. Calton Hill
Located just behind the Scottish Parliament Building, Calton Hill is part of Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. The views from the top of this hill are usually the panoramic views you see of Edinburgh. Several of the monuments we have mentioned above will be found here including the National Monument (which resembles an Athenian acropolis), Nelson Monument, Dugald Stewart Monument, Robert Burns Monument and the Greek-inspired Old City Observatory, which also holds free exhibitions.
Child friendly: yes Address: Calton Hill, Edinburgh EH7 5AA Opening hours: all year-round Old City Observatory opening times: Tue to Sun: 10am – 4pm, but during spring and summer it opens until later. More information on visiting the Observatory here. More information on visiting Calton Hill.
27. Greyfriar’s Bobby
This is perhaps one of the cutest stories of canine fidelity you will ever hear. Greyfriar’s Bobby is a fountain erected in honour of a Skye terrier dog whose master died and was buried in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. Following his master’s burial, the little terrier guarded his grave until his own death. His loyalty was so commended that a statue today stands still keeping vigil of the churchyard where his master is buried.
Child friendly: yes Address: Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, 1 Greyfriars, Edinburgh EH1 2QQ Opening hours: all year-round More information on Greyfriar's Bobby
28. Princes Street Garden
In the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, and at the very centre of Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, Princess Street Gardens is another of Edinburgh’s important parks. Here you will see the world-famous Floral Clock and an array of public monuments such as the David Livingstone Statue and the Scott Monument, to name a couple. Please note this is a gated park and the gates are opened and closed according to the opening times.
Child friendly: yes Address: Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2 2HG Opening hours: daily: 7am – 6pm, during spring and summer it opens until later More information on visiting Prices Street Gardens
29. Royal Botanic Gardens
Seventy acres of beautifully landscaped grounds and only one mile away from the city centre, the Royal Botanic Gardens are a must for any gardening or green space lover. With different themed areas, you will go from one natural painting to the next. Definitely worth a visit, especially during spring and summer.
Child friendly: definitely Address: Arboretum Place, Edinburgh EH3 5NZ Opening hours: daily: 10am – 4pm, during spring and summer it opens until later More information on visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens
So even if you're feeling the pinch, you can book a serviced apartment in Edinburgh and escape the January blues. Edinburgh's free attractions and events are waiting for you. Are you coming?