The 13 best things to do in Edinburgh for free

You can hear the pipes calling, feel the crisp air and see the mountains surrounding one of the prettiest cities in the world.

Yes, I called it, Edinburgh is one of the prettiest cities in the world. Whether it is the old town and the beautiful architecture or the mountains that surround the city.

Edinburgh is one of those cities that manages to capture your heart. No matter the season, in winter or summer, the beauty of the city is undeniable.

Even though I am not technically a local, I did spend three amazing years living in the capital of Scotland and I found some beautiful things to do in Edinburgh for FREE.

A pinterest graphic for free things to do in Edinburgh

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Check out the beautiful things to do in Edinburgh for free

Edinburgh Castle

An old castle sitting on top of a rock hill surrounded by fort walls.

No matter where you are in the old town or along Princes St you cannot miss this gorgeous castle sitting upon Castle Rock.

Edinburgh Castle sits at the top of the Royal Mile and gives some amazing views over the city. This was my favourite place to go on a Sunday night to take some time to sit quietly and reflect on the week.

Edinburgh Castle is an amazing place to see any time of the day but particularly spectacular at the end of the day once the hustle and bustle have faded away.

Even if you are travelling on a budget and you don’t want to go inside the castle, you need to take the time to visit the castle.

Arthur’s Seat

A grassy hill looking over Edinburgh City.

Arthur’s seat is an old volcano situated at the end of the Royal Mile (the long road down from the castle). Don’t worry it has not erupted in years.

It is a great spot to watch the rise (if you are an early riser) or to watch the sunset at the end of a day touring around the city.

The hike isn’t difficult if you take the main path. The main path is quite easy to spot, it begins just across from Holyrood Palace.

It can be a wee bit steep at times but there are plenty of places to rest and admire the view.

From the top you can get a great view of Edinburgh you can see some of Edinburgh’s top sites such as Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh Castle, the Scottish Parliament, the Royal Mile and much more.

The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile in Edinburgh

A visit to Edinburgh is not complete without stepping onto The Royal Mile. This beautiful cobblestone road stretches from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.

With the sound of Bagpipes floating down The Royal Mile (or the hustle and bustle during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival) you pass the Whiskey Experience, The Witchery, St Giles Cathedral, and a spectacular view.

There is always something happening along The Royal Mile.

It is a very easy walk down the hill towards Holyrood Palace, but be prepared to get distracted by all the Closes and Wynds off the Mile.

The Closes and Wynds

These streets were once the main streets of Edinburgh and had many houses along them. Nowadays, they are off the beaten track but still a sight to see.

You can walk down any of The Closes and picture what life might have been like for the people who lived in these dark streets.

Now this is not free but well worth it, Mary Kings Close has a wonderful tour which provides a great insight into the history of Edinburgh.

Take your time to explore these unique streets but, watch your step!

Circus Lane

A cobblestone street lined with stone cottages and flowers. At the end of lane stands a tall church clocktower

One of my favourite Lane ways in Edinburgh is up the hill from Princes Street, Circus Lane.

As you peer into the lane you can see houses lined with planter boxes. The cobblestones give you the feeling that you have moved back in time.

Although it is “just” a lane, it is a place that I continued to visit and a perfect place to brush up on your photography skills.

The bells of St Stephen’s Church can often be heard which just adds to the atmosphere of this beautiful lane.

Stockbridge

Stockbridge is a wee area in Edinburgh that has a small village feel to it. It sits on the edge of the Water of Leith.

It is a picturesque area that you can reach by bus or walk from Princes Street. Stockbridge is a vibrant place with many pubs, restaurants, parks and cute laneways.

Stockbridge a more expensive part of Edinburgh, but walking the streets and taking in the views is absolutely free!!

Calton Hill

A stone rotunda standing on a hill overlooking an old city

If like me, you love sunsets, then you cannot miss Calton Hill.

The views over Edinburgh are spectacular at any time of day, but watching the sunset is something else.

You can easily find the walk to the top of Calton Hill from the end of Princess St and the top of Leith walk.

You need to climb the stairs and then walk up a path to reach the top but it is a walk that is suited to most fitness levels.

Calton Hill not only has great views but it also has the
collective contemporary art gallery and the unfinished, national monument.

There is plenty to look at while you wait for sunset.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Two faces and skulls on an old deteriorating grave stone

Greyfriars Kirkyard is located in Edinburgh’s old town and has been come a very famous site in Edinburgh. This ancient graveyard dates back to the 16th centaury.

There are many famous Scottish residents buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, including tudor King James VI and even Tom Riddle.

It is said that JK Rowling got a lot of character name inspiration from Greyfriars Kirkyard, wander around and see if you can recognize any of the names.

Visit Harry Potter for the day

The colourful Victoria street in Edinburgh

Is it just me with the Harry Potter obsession or can share you in that obsession too?

Whenever I am visiting the United Kingdom I love to seek out new Harry Potter locations and Edinburgh is the perfect place to do this.

It is no secret that JK Rowling lived in Edinburgh as she wrote most of the series. Why not check out the café (The Elephant House) where she wrote in the early days about the boy who lived or the hotel (Balmoral Hotel) where she finished the series.

The brightly coloured Victoria Street/West Bow might have a Diagon Alley feel to it and you wouldn’t be wrong, it is rumored that this is the inspiration for Diagon Alley.

Dean Village

A river flowing fast through an old village. Stone buildings line the sides of the river

One of the most magical things to do in Edinburgh for free is visiting Dean Village. You can reach this gorgeous part of Edinburgh from the end of Princes Street.

Originally, Edinburgh’s main export was based around the Mill trade and the village was constructed for the workers of the mill.

Today however, the village is home to many locals and holds some of the most exclusive addresses in Edinburgh. It is also one of the cutest areas of Edinburgh and well worth an explore.

Free Walking Tour

There are plenty of free walking tours on offer around the city. Most of these tours operate daily, if not a few times through out the day.

Free walking tours are a great way to get to the “lay of the land” when you first arrive in a new city and show off what the city has to offer.

The walking tours usually last 3 hours, weather dependent and are run by locals. It is a fantastic opportunity to hear a locals perspective on the city and the history.

I love taking walking tours as it gives me a chance to ask the tour guide for their recommendations within the city.

Princes Street Park

Just off the “main street” in Edinburgh is the Princess Street Park. This beautiful green oasis offers you a place to sit and enjoy the view of Edinburgh Castle, the Balmoral Hotel and the hustle and bustle of Princes Street.

Grab some lunch (or dinner) take away or perhaps a book and sit and enjoy the peace and quiet in the middle of the city.

In the winter, the Princes Street Park is home to the famous German Christmas Markets and of course, on New Years Eve it is where all of the Hogmanay festivities kick off.

St Giles Cathedral

A grand church standing in the muddle of cobblestone street with a statue standing proudly in front of the church

In the center of the Royal Mile is the grand St Giles Cathedral. The Royal Mile has been home to this beautiful Scottish Cathedral for centuries.

St Giles Cathedral is also referred to as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, or the High Church of Edinburgh. It was, and is, the main place of worship for the Christian community in the city.

Even if you are not religious, as with most of the churches in Europe, it is well worth a visit as the entire is stunning and is home to some gorgeous stained glass windows.

Where to stay in Edinburgh

Budget Accommodation in Edinburgh

Budget Backpackers is located just around the corner from the Grassmarket. It has a lively nightlife and is the perfect place for exploring Edinburgh on a budget.

Staysafe Edinburgh also has brilliant location, the hostel is located just off the Royal Mile and close to Waverley train station. It’s central location means that every where you want to visit is only a stones throw away.

Mid Range Accommodation in Edinburgh

The Grassmarket hotel is a stylish boutique hotel on the Grassmarket. If you would rather bike around a city, you can hire bikes for free from the hotel. If you sign up to their mailing list, they often do super cheap deals or free nights.

Premier Inn – I have stayed in several Premier Inn’s around the United Kingdom and they have all been fantastic. The rooms are very clean and comfortable and they are located in central locations. There are a couple of Premier Inns in Edinburgh, but I suggest the one of Princes Street so you are right in the middle of town.

Luxury Accommodation in Edinburgh

The Whitchery has nine suits and they are all beautifully furnished with gothic touches, including four poster beds, velvet-lined walls and flamboyant red and gold décor indicative of the style. There are separate seating areas and large bathrooms with free-standing silver baths in each suit. While you might not be able to stay at Edinburgh Castle you can stay next door! The Whitchery is located just feet away from Edinburgh Castle.

The Balmoral Hotel is the hotel where JK Rowling, finished the latest installment of the Harry Potter series. If you ask at the front desk the staff will happily show you the room. The Balmoral Hotel is located on Princes and has a Michelin star restaurant.

If you’re trying to plan a weekend in Edinburgh check out my guide on spending the perfect 48 hours in Edinburgh to make sure you see the best of the city.

What are you favourite things to do for free in Edinburgh? Let me know in the comments below

Fiona xoxo

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My BEST Travel Resources

Here are my favourite travel resources for planning travel like a pro

Flights: To find the best flights I always search on Google Flights or Skyscanner. For even cheaper flights, fly mid week and pack in a carry on!

Accommodation: I always use booking.com (I love their price match and flexible cancellation policies) or Airbnb (if I want a little more space) to book trip. If you prefer hostels, I suggest Hostelworld.

If you are new to Airbnb you can get an awesome discount using this link

Travel Insurance: After a few hairy moments on my travels, I ALWAYS purchase travel insurance. It may seem like a big cost now, but if the worst happens, it will save you a lot of money and heartache. I personally use World Nomads (and love them!), but I recommend that you do some research to find the insurance company that suits your needs.

Tours: While I prefer to travel independently, I do love doing some tours once I’m in a destination. It is a great way to find out history, hidden gems, taste local food and get a local insight into your destination. I always use Viator to book my tours.

Train Travel: If you are planning on taking the train in Europe, I cannot recommend the Eurail enough! Check out The Ultimate Guide to the Eurail Pass to find out why

Car Hire: Planning an epic road trip across the US or through Europe, or anywhere! Check out Europcar, they are my go to for car hire all over the world!

Luggage Storage: Some times when we are travelling our check in and check out times don’t match with our departure times so we have to put our luggage into storage. Stasher Luggage Storage is the biggest Luggage Storage Network across the UK, France and Germany

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