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Edinburgh for free: 7 top activities recommended by locals

Looking for the best things to do for free in Edinburgh? Luckily there are plenty of attractions in Scotland’s capital city that don’t cost a penny – perfect if you’ve got limited time and a limited budget. We asked the locals to recommend their favourite things to do for free in Edinburgh, and here’s what they said. So, pack your bags, jump on our coach to Scotland, and get ready to see the best bits of Auld Reekie without breaking the bank.

1. Climb Arthur’s Seat

It’s a rite of passage to climb this dormant volcano, which is just a short walk out from the city centre in Holyrood Park. Pay a visit to the ruins of St Anthony’s Chapel on your way up to the 251-metre summit. Then sit back and soak up the kind of widescreen city views that money simply can’t buy. 

2. Explore the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Don’t worry if you’re more Alan Partridge than Alan Titchmarsh, because the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has something for everyone. Tag along on one of the guided garden tours, marvel at the tropical plants in the Victorian Palm Houses, or just spread out a picnic blanket somewhere in the 70 acres of parkland. The garden is open all year round apart from Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

3. Walk the Royal Mile

You can walk this famous Scottish stretch – which is actually a mile and 107 yards long – in about 20 minutes if you go full-pelt. But there’s so much to see and do along the way, it could end up taking you all day. It runs on a bit of an incline right through Edinburgh’s Old Town, so your best bet is to start at the Castle and walk to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. 

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4. Visit the National Museum of Scotland

No visit to Edinburgh is complete without a trip to the National Museum of Scotland. Just be warned: you could easily spend a whole day looking through the 20,000 artefacts on display. Discover the history of Scotland from prehistoric to present time, and marvel at the giant Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton at the entrance to the Natural World galleries.

5. Follow the Water of Leith walkway

This beautiful, wildlife-filled footpath follows the river through Edinburgh, and runs from Balerno all the way to Leith. The whole thing is about 18 miles long, but you can cycle it, or walk separate parts of the route in shorter bursts. Download the audio guides to learn about the plants, trees, fish – even otters – along the route.

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6. Tick off the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

It’s not just the art inside the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art that’s impressive. The sculpted grounds on the outside are just as stunning, including works by Antony Gormley and Henry Moore. The extensive collections here range from early modern art, to more recent pieces by controversial contemporary artists like Tracey Emin. It’s seriously inspiring stuff, and it’s free.

7. Chill out on Portobello Beach

City getting too crowded? Jump on a bus from the centre and head for Portobello Beach, which lines up two miles of golden sand. Find a spot to relax, or brave the chilly sea for a swim. You can also visit the original Victorian swimming pool on the promenade, and treat yourself to a Turkish bath.

With so many things to see and do in Edinburgh, you'll be spoilt for choice. So use our handy city guide to plan your trip. And want to do it on the cheap? Book your megabus to Edinburgh today.

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