Looking for some fun things to keep you occupied in Edinburgh, even though you’re on a budget?
Following our successful look at 10 fabulous free things to do in Edinburgh, we’ve revisited the idea and discovered 15 more things that won’t cost you a penny but will keep you entertained.
1. Explore a secret garden on the Royal Mile
Escape the hustle and bustle of city life by visiting a secret garden right in the middle of the Royal Mile. Located just behind Dunbar’s Close, the garden is designed in the style of a 17th century garden with manicured hedges, rows of flower beds and fruit trees surrounding the paths. It’s free to get in, so go for a wander round this historical haven to enjoy some peace and quiet.
Dunbar’s Close Garden, Canongate, High Street, EH8 8BW – more info
2. Visit the Scottish Parliament
Picture: Shelly Bernstein / Flickr / CC
Fancy learning more about Scottish politics? Take a guided tour around the Scottish Parliament to find out about the history and architecture of the Parliament, as well as how it works and what goes on inside the building. Tours are free and last one hour, although advanced booking is recommended to reserve your spot. If you’re lucky you can even eavesdrop on a debate in the Debating Chamber or listen to the First Minister’s Questions.
The Scottish Parliament, Holyrood, EH99 1SP – visitscottishparliament.uk
3. Sample some food at Stockbridge Market
Stockbridge Market is a dream for foodies. Held every Sunday between 10am and 5pm, the market is full of stalls serving up delicious food and selling their wares. If you’re on a budget, make the most of the free samples on offer to get a little taste of some of the great local produce on offer. You can spend hours wandering round the market, chatting to producers and testing out samples without spending a penny. Be prepared to come back for another visit after payday though, these foodie treats are too good to resist!
Stockbridge Market, 1 Saunders Street, EH3 6TQ – stockbridgemarket.com
4. Relive your youth at the Museum of Childhood
The Museum of Childhood’s collection of toys, games, dolls and other playthings is sure to transport you back in time. You can enjoy a trip down memory lane with toys from the 80s and 90s, as well as finding out all about historical toys from as far back as the 18th century. This free museum also has collections of books, clothes and school equipment so you can learn all about childhood through the ages.
Museum of Childhood, 42 High Street, Royal Mile, EH1 1TG – more info
5. Discover the inspiration for Harry Potter at Greyfriars Kirkyard
Picture: Martin Burns / Flickr / CC
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, a visit to Greyfriars Kirkyard is a must. It is said that several of the graves in the kirkyard inspired the names of some of J.K. Rowling’s characters (see if you can spot Voldemort aka Tom Riddell’s tombstone), and the adjacent George Heriot’s school provided lots of inspiration for the setting of Hogwarts. Pop in to the Elephant House café next door to see where some of the books were written and get a stunning view of the kirkyard and Edinburgh Castle in the background. The kirkyard itself has a fascinating history worth exploring, with tales of Greyfriars Bobby, the Covenanters and Bloody MacKenzie’s Tomb.
Greyfriars Kirkyard, Greyfriars Place, EH1 2QQ
6. Stroll along the Water of Leith
Edinburgh is full of green spaces and parks which can be accessed for free, and one of the best places for a leisurely stroll is the Water of Leith. Stretching all the way from Balerno to the Shore, there are plenty of places to explore along the way. One of the most scenic parts of the route is through the Dean Village towards Stockbridge and Canonmills; keep your eyes peeled for the grand St Bernard’s Well. If you head towards Slateford on your walk, stop off at the free Water of Leith Visitor Centre which is full of interactive exhibits.
Water of Leith Visitor Centre, 24 Lanark Road, Slateford, EH14 1TQ – waterofleith.org.uk
7. See Burke’s skeleton at the Anatomical Museum
The Anatomical Museum, which is part of the University of Edinburgh, is a hidden gem which is full of interesting specimens. It’s only open on the last Saturday of each month, so make sure to plan your visit in advance. Inside you’ll find all sorts of macabre objects with fascinating tales behind them, including the skeleton of William Burke (of Burke and Hare fame), famous death masks and a gigantic elephant skeleton. There’s also lots of information about the history of anatomy and the Medical School at the University.
Anatomical Museum, University of Edinburgh, Doorway 3, Medical School, Teviot Place, EH8 9AG – more info
8. Visit St Giles Cathedral
St Giles is somewhere you’ve probably walked past a million times, but did you know you can go inside the cathedral for free? There are volunteer guides on hand to answer questions and tell you more about the cathedral which dates back to the 12th century, or you can go off and explore at your own pace. Be sure to check out the stunning collection of stained glass windows, the chivalric Thistle Chapel and the iconic Crown Spire.
St Giles Cathedral, High Street, EH1 1RE – stgilescathedral.org.uk
9. Learn about literature at the Writers’ Museum
The Writers’ Museum is a compact wee museum hidden down a close off the Royal Mile with lots of fascinating information and artifacts inside and, best of all, it’s completely free. Their collections focus on three classic Scottish writers: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. On display are rare books, correspondence, portraits and personal objects from the authors as well as information about their life and works. Don’t forget to check out the Makars’ Court too; the courtyard outside is filled with beautifully engraved flagstones featuring quotes from iconic Scottish literary figures.
The Writers’ Museum, Lady Stair’s House, Lady Stair’s Close, Lawnmarket, EH1 2PA – more info
10. Listen to live music at Whistlebinkies
Listening to a live band is a great way to have a night out without spending too much money. Head along to Whistlebinkies where you can catch up to six different bands per night, all for free. Entry is even free on Friday and Saturday nights, as long as you’re there before midnight. Discover new local acts or bands on tour without having to pay for expensive gig tickets. Whistlebinkies feature lots of different genres of music, from acoustic songwriters to tribute acts to rock & metal and everything in between.
Whistlebinkies, 4-6 South Bridge, EH1 1LL – whistlebinkies.com
11. See the animals at Gorgie City Farm
Did you know there’s a farm right in the middle of the city? For over 30 years Gorgie City Farm has been a much loved part of the local community for adults and children alike. Entry is free (although donations are always welcome) and you can meet a variety of animals including pygmy goats, pigs, sheep, chickens, rabbits and even tortoises and snakes. You can also find out more about farming and gardening, plus you can get involved in community projects or volunteer on the farm.
Gorgie City Farm, 51 Gorgie Road, EH11 2LA – gorgiecityfarm.org.uk
12. Climb Calton Hill
Picture: Gillian McDonald
For some of the most spectacular views of Edinburgh, head up Calton Hill to take in the sights. It only takes around 15 minutes to climb to the top of Calton Hill from Princes Street, and the panoramic views are definitely worth it. Admire Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh Castle as well as views of Fife across the Forth. There are plenty of monuments to check out on Calton Hill itself, from the iconic unfinished National Monument to the picturesque Dugald Stewart Monument overlooking the city centre.
Calton Hill, EH7 55AA
13. Window shopping in the Grassmarket
The Grassmarket is the perfect place in Edinburgh to do some window shopping, with lots of independent boutiques, quirky gift shops and cute cafés. Wander down Victoria Street to admire the brightly coloured buildings and cobbled street, making sure to check out the windows of shops like the Red Door Gallery along the way. Stop off at Armstrong’s to try on some vintage gladrags or head towards the West Port to do some window shopping at Godiva Boutique. Even if you don’t buy anything, the Grassmarket is a beautiful place for a wander.
Grassmarket, EH1 2HS – greatergrassmarket.co.uk
14. Explore Cramond Island
Just outside of the city you’ll find Cramond Island, a tidal island approximately one mile out to sea. It can be accessed on foot for free, just make sure you time your visit carefully between low and high tide. The island was fortified during World War Two and many of the buildings still remain. Explore abandoned gun emplacements, ammunition stores, engine rooms and other ruined fortifications – or simply enjoy the beautiful views of the Forth.
Cramond Island, Cramond Foreshore, EH4 6NS
15. Get creative at Summerhall
Over the last couple of years, Summerhall has become one of Edinburgh’s main creative hubs, hosting events, exhibitions, festivals, workshops, pop-ups and more. Events and workshops vary in price, with some free and some not, but all exhibitions in the Summerhall Curated programme are free. Discover more about art, science, literature, photography and a whole host of other topics, then soak up the creative atmosphere with a pint in the Royal Dick Bar.
Summerhall, 1 Summerhall, EH9 1PL – summerhall.co.uk
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Main image: Gillian McDonald