Edinburgh on the Cheap: Keep Your Purse Strings Tight with Free Things to DoBy Nell McShane Wulfhart
Stunning architecture, charming locals and tons to see and do — Edinburgh’s a traveler fave for a reason, but that reason isn’t because it’s cheap. Still, though dining out, drinks and the most popular tourist sites can be pricey, once you scratch the city’s surface, the Scottish capital is bursting with fabulous things to do, all for the bargain price of … nothing.
Fill your days with these top free Edinburgh attractions, and save your money for the pub.
Edinburgh’s a museum lovers’ paradise, and not just because they’re nearly all free to enter. The small city punches way above its weight when it comes to art and science.
Start at the impressive and much beloved National Museum of Scotland, where gallery after gallery is bursting with interactive science exhibits, extensive fashion collections, full-size military planes, deep dives into Scottish history (including such oddities as videos about the country’s last lighthouse keepers, and the original Dolly the Sheep, first cloned in Scotland), and much more.
Allow yourself a minimum of two hours for a visit here — the museum is huge and endlessly fascinating. Insider tip: Head up to the roof for panoramic city views.
A trio of nationally run museums, all free, house the city’s world-class art collection and are conveniently connected by the Gallery Bus, which runs a circular route between them (there’s a requested but voluntary donation of £1).
The Scottish National Gallery houses fine art, with a special Scottish section. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art has a stellar assortment of surrealist work and a number of provocative pieces by Turner Prize winners. And the Scottish National Portrait Gallery collection does double duty as a quick lesson in Scottish history, featuring the faces of Scotland’s good and great, from Robert Burns to Sean Connery.
Is it the actual location of Camelot? So the legend goes, but Arthur’s Seat is worth visiting just for its beauty. An extinct volcano in Holyrood Park, the hill is climbable, and there’s a large fort on the top that’s approximately 2,000 years old.
Popular with local walkers and runners for the 360-degree views of the city, the Seat feels like a nature retreat, even though it’s just at the end of the Royal Mile.
Strolling Edinburgh’s markets is a great free way to while away a morning, though it can be difficult to resist the temptation to shop. The Edinburgh Farmers’ Market, held on Sundays on Castle Terrace under the looming walls of Edinburgh Castle, is home to more than 40 local producers selling seasonal fruits and vegetables, handmade chocolate and organic beer.
The Out of the Blue monthly flea market, held in a former army hall that’s been repurposed as a very hip arts space, is where you’ll discover all sorts of oddities and trinkets. (And the hall is great for exploring, too.)
The steel, granite and oak Scottish Parliament building has been controversial ever since it was completed in 2004, thanks to architect Enric Miralles’ unusual and striking design, which was inspired by flowers, boats and the Scottish landscape.
Come see for yourself — the building is free to visit, and a variety of tours (also free, and on themes ranging from politics to Scottish art to literature) are run throughout the week.