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Water of Leith Walkway
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The 10 best free things to do in Edinburgh to explore on a budget

Looking for a way to soak up culture in the city without splashing out? These are our top picks for the best free things to do in Edinburgh

Written by
Huw Oliver
Arusa Qureshi
Liv Kelly

It's all fun and games having a jam-packed social calendar, it's even better when you don't have to constantly splash the cash. Edinburgh is full of ways to empty your wallet, thanks to its Michelin-starred restaurants and world famous attractions. But it's also possible to explore some of the best parts of the Scottish capital while you're on a budget.

From museums and art galleries to gardens and exceptional views, these are our top recommendations when it comes to spending absolutely nothing in Edinburgh. Luckily, some of the best free things to do are the best things the city has to offer, full stop. 

🍝The best restaurants in Edinburgh
🏛️The best things to do in Edinburgh
🍸The best bars in Edinburgh
🏩The best hotels in Edinburgh

At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines.

Free things to do in Edinburgh

National Museum of Scotland
  • Museums

One museum, two conjoined buildings. The modern half of this complex on Chambers Street opened in 1998 and tells you everything about Scotland from its geological and prehistoric past to its social and political present. The older half of the National Museum with the soaring Victorian atrium – massively refurbished over several years then reopened in 2011 – is more of a crowd-pleaser with galleries covering the natural world, science and technology, art and design, and more.

  • Things to do
  • Festivals

Edinburgh is a beautiful and historic city, and what better way to admire its entirety than from a fantastic viewpoint. Enter: Calton Hill. Aptly dubbed 'Edinburgh's Acropolis', this spot is a Unesco World Heritage site, and it's easy to see why once you've hiked to the summit yourself. The National Monument is perched at the top to greet you after (what might feel like a vertical) climb, but we promise, that view definitely worth it. 

Museum of Childhood
  • Museums

A local authority-run museum on the Royal Mile, this venue tells the story of playthings from throughout the ages: vaguely spooky dolls, marionettes, Meccano, mannequins in period costume, model trains, go-karts, bicycles, even a Dan Dare-branded radio station. The Museum of Childhood might even make adults over a certain age go wobbly with nostalgia.

  • Attractions
  • Religious buildings and sites

St Giles Cathedral, which stands proud in the heart of Edinburgh, has been a working church for almost 900 years. A fascinating constant throughout the turbulence which is Scotland's religious history, you can learn all about this place on one of their free walking tours, which run daily between 10.30 am and 2.30 pm — just make sure to book in advance. Prefer to marvel at the majesty of this grand building in your own time? The building is open to all between those hours, too. 

  • Attractions

Scotland’s parliament has been in operation since 1999 and has occupied its Holyrood premises since 2004. The bold design here – by Catalan architect Enric Miralles – was always controversial but the best way to appreciate the exterior is to walk up nearby Salisbury Crags and see the complex from above. If you like it, you might find Miralles’s interior even better. Visits are free and allow access to the striking main chamber and elegant committee rooms.

Portobello Beach
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Portobello Beach

Need an escape from the city that doesn't break the bank? Well, you're in luck, as Portobello beach is the perfect pit-stop. While there's an abundance of beachfront cafes, bars and restaurants, this stunning seafront is a great place to get some air all year round in Edinburgh. The sandy beach extends for miles along the Scottish coast, so why not duck away from the crowds in the centre of town and enjoy this lovely place?

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens

Founded in the 17th century as a physic garden at Holyrood, the RBGE now has four sites across Scotland but the main one is here in north Edinburgh, covering more than 28 hectares. The Royal Botanic Gardens have a world-class collection of plants, a selection of cafés, an art gallery and many rules – it’s not a public park – but sitting among the beautiful floral displays is still relaxing. 

The People’s Story
  • Museums

Occupying the old Canongate Tolbooth where justice was meted out from the late 16th century onwards, this museum looks at ordinary Edinburgh citizens from the past century or two. From tenement life before the advent of modern amenities, through trade unionism, football and war, right up to the late 20th century, The People's Story is compellingly told through displays, tableaux and mannequins.

The Water of Leith Walkway
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. The Water of Leith Walkway

Wandering through Edinburgh's charmingly quaint neighbourhoods is the best way to explore a more authentic side of the city, and the Water of Leith Walkway is a great path to take — literally. The route, which meanders through Colinton Village, the Union Canal, past the Murrayfield Stadium and the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, is one free way to compile a whole load of Edinburgh into just one walk. It's suitable for cycling, and even accessible via horseback, but makes a lovely good ol' fashioned stroll, too. 

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