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Daytrip: 7 Free Things To Do In Edinburgh


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Livvie Donahue



Scotland is a country known for its stunning landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture. And when it comes to exploring this remarkable nation, Edinburgh is an absolute must-visit destination. With its majestic castles, historic landmarks, and captivating charm, the Scottish capital offers a plethora of attractions that will leave visitors in awe.


While there are plenty of paid activities and attractions in Edinburgh, there are also numerous free things to do that allow visitors to fully immerse themselves in the beauty and history of the city without breaking the bank. From wandering along the famous Royal Mile to discovering the natural wonders of Holyrood Park, there are countless experiences waiting to be enjoyed.


In this article, we will take you on a day trip to explore seven free things to do in Edinburgh. Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover, or art enthusiast, Edinburgh offers something for everyone. So, let’s dive right in and discover the hidden gems that this enchanting city has to offer.


Exploring the Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s most famous street and a must-visit for any visitor to the city. Spanning approximately one mile, this historic street connects the magnificent Edinburgh Castle at one end to the charming Holyrood Palace at the other. As you stroll along the cobblestone pavements, you’ll be transported back in time, surrounded by stunning architecture, atmospheric closes (alleyways), and a wealth of fascinating history.


Start your journey at Edinburgh Castle, perched majestically atop Castle Rock. While entrance to the castle requires a fee, you can still admire its grandeur from the outside and enjoy sweeping views of the city below. From there, make your way down the Royal Mile, taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling street.


Be sure to explore the unique and narrow closes that branch off from the main street, such as Mary King’s Close and Advocate’s Close. These hidden gems offer a glimpse into the city’s past and are filled with tales of ghosts and mysteries. Remember to keep an eye out for the “closes” signs that mark the entrances to these fascinating passageways.


Along the Royal Mile, you’ll also find several free attractions to visit. One notable stop is the St Giles’ Cathedral, a magnificent medieval church known for its stunning architecture and beautiful stained glass windows. Step inside and marvel at the intricate details and peaceful atmosphere.


As you continue your journey, you’ll come across various shops, pubs, and restaurants offering an authentic Scottish experience. Take the time to browse through traditional souvenir shops and perhaps even sample some delectable Scottish treats like haggis, shortbread, or a wee dram of whisky.


An absolute highlight of the Royal Mile is the famous Grassmarket. This historic square, lined with charming buildings, is a hub of activity and home to vibrant shops, cafes, and bars. On Saturdays, you can even find a bustling farmers’ market offering a wide array of local products and goodies.


Exploring the Royal Mile is not just about the attractions and buildings; it’s about immersing yourself in the rich history, culture, and atmosphere of Edinburgh. So take your time, soak up the ambience, and let the Royal Mile tell its enchanting stories.


Discovering the Beauty of Holyrood Park

Located at the eastern end of the Royal Mile, Holyrood Park is a breathtaking natural oasis in the heart of Edinburgh. This expansive park offers a diverse range of landscapes, from rugged hills to serene lochs, making it a prime destination for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers.


The centerpiece of Holyrood Park is Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano that offers panoramic views of the city. The hike to the summit of Arthur’s Seat is a popular activity, but even if you’re not up for the trek, you can still enjoy leisurely walks around the base of the hill and take in the stunning scenery.


For those interested in birdwatching, Holyrood Park is home to a variety of bird species, including peregrine falcons, kestrels, and various seabirds. Keep your eyes peeled for these majestic creatures as you explore the park.


Another highlight of Holyrood Park is the picturesque Duddingston Loch, a peaceful body of water that adds to the park’s tranquility. Take a relaxing stroll around the loch and admire the surrounding greenery and wildlife. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some swans gracefully gliding across the water.


Exploring the park is not limited to its natural beauty; it also offers a glimpse into Scotland’s rich history. Within Holyrood Park, you’ll find the iconic Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. While entrance to the palace requires a fee, you can still appreciate its grandeur from the outside and explore the surrounding gardens.


No visit to Holyrood Park is complete without taking some time to unwind and relax in the idyllic surroundings. Find a tranquil spot to have a picnic, bask in the sun, or simply enjoy the peaceful ambiance.


Whether you’re seeking adventure, a peaceful retreat, or a chance to delve into history, Holyrood Park offers it all. It’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, reconnect with nature, and create unforgettable memories.


Visiting the National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland is a treasure trove of history, culture, and art, making it a must-visit attraction in Edinburgh. Located on Chambers Street, this impressive museum offers free admission and provides a fascinating journey through Scotland’s past, as well as the wider world.


As you step inside the museum, you’ll be greeted by its stunning architecture, blending classic Victorian design with modern elements. The museum is divided into several galleries, each showcasing a different era or theme, ensuring there’s something to captivate visitors of all interests.


Explore the Scottish Galleries to discover the country’s rich heritage, from ancient artifacts to contemporary artworks. You’ll find everything from Pictish stones and Viking relics to iconic Scottish inventions and works by renowned Scottish artists.


The Grand Gallery is an awe-inspiring space that houses a vast collection of sculptures and decorative art. Marvel at the intricate details and craftsmanship of the exhibits as you stroll through this majestic hall.


For those fascinated by natural history, the Natural World galleries will not disappoint. Encounter creatures from around the world, including dinosaurs, birds, and mammals. Learn about the diverse ecosystems and marvel at the wonder of the natural world.


The museum also boasts interactive displays and multimedia installations, providing a hands-on learning experience for visitors of all ages. From interactive games to virtual reality exhibits, there’s always something fascinating to engage with.


Take your time to wander through the museum, immerse yourself in the stories and artifacts, and let your curiosity guide you. And don’t forget to visit the rooftop terrace, which offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city skyline.


With its diverse collections and engaging exhibits, the National Museum of Scotland is a perfect destination for those wanting to delve into the history, art, and culture of Scotland. It’s a place that will inspire, educate, and leave you with a deeper appreciation for the world we live in.


Enjoying the Tranquility of Princes Street Gardens

Located at the heart of Edinburgh, Princes Street Gardens is a serene and picturesque oasis that offers a welcome respite from the bustling city streets. These beautifully landscaped gardens provide a tranquil escape where visitors can relax, unwind, and soak up the natural beauty.


Situated between the historic Old Town and the elegant Georgian New Town, Princes Street Gardens offer a stunning backdrop of iconic landmarks, including the magnificent Edinburgh Castle. The gardens are divided into two sections: the East Gardens and the West Gardens, each with its own unique charm.


The East Gardens are characterized by perfectly manicured lawns, vibrant floral displays, and elegant statues. This section is home to the popular Ross Fountain, a stunning Victorian masterpiece that adds to the garden’s allure. Find a comfortable spot on the grass and enjoy a picnic or simply bask in the serene ambiance.


The West Gardens, on the other hand, boast a more natural and picturesque setting. As you meander through the winding paths, you’ll be greeted by a variety of trees, shrubs, and colorful flower beds. Take a leisurely stroll along the tree-lined avenues, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.


One of the highlights of Princes Street Gardens is the floral clock, a botanical masterpiece that features a working clock mechanism adorned with intricate designs made entirely out of flowers. The clock is a true testament to the horticultural expertise of the city and is a popular spot for photographs.


The gardens also provide a perfect vantage point for admiring the Edinburgh Castle and the Scott Monument. Capture the iconic sights against the backdrop of lush greenery and blooming flowers, creating memories that will last a lifetime.


Throughout the year, Princes Street Gardens host various events and festivals, including the famous Edinburgh Festival Fireworks, which illuminate the night sky during the month of August. These events add to the vibrancy of the gardens and offer visitors a chance to witness the city’s cultural celebrations.


Whether you’re seeking a peaceful retreat, a scenic stroll, or a place to admire the city’s landmarks, Princes Street Gardens is a must-visit destination in Edinburgh. Its natural beauty and tranquil atmosphere make it an ideal spot to relax and recharge amidst the wonders of the city.


Admiring the Architectural Marvels of Victoria Street

As you wander through the streets of Edinburgh, you’ll come across a hidden gem that is sure to captivate your attention – Victoria Street. Known for its vibrant and colorful buildings, this winding street is a feast for the eyes and a photographer’s dream.


Located in the heart of the historic Old Town, Victoria Street is a charming curved street that offers a unique blend of architecture and character. The buildings lining the street have a distinctive design, with their colorful facades and charming shopfronts, creating a picturesque and enchanting atmosphere.


As you explore Victoria Street, you’ll discover a delightful mix of independent boutiques, quirky shops, and cozy cafés. From stylish clothing stores to unique gift shops, there’s something to pique everyone’s interest. Take your time to browse through the eclectic array of shops and perhaps find a one-of-a-kind souvenir to remind you of your visit.


One of the notable attractions on Victoria Street is The Bow Bar, a traditional Scottish pub that has been serving locals and visitors since the 19th century. Step inside to experience the warm and welcoming atmosphere, and perhaps sample some of Scotland’s finest whiskies.


Another highlight of Victoria Street is the Writer’s Museum, a quaint museum dedicated to the lives and works of Scotland’s literary icons, including Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Entrance to the museum is free, allowing you to immerse yourself in the literary history of Scotland.


Victoria Street is not just a visual delight; it is also steeped in history. As you stroll through its charming lanes, envision the hustle and bustle of the medieval times when it served as a bustling marketplace. The street has retained much of its historic character and offers a glimpse into Edinburgh’s past.


Whether you’re an architecture enthusiast, a photography lover, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty and charm of a unique street, Victoria Street is a must-visit destination in Edinburgh. Soak in the vibrant atmosphere, explore the eclectic shops, and revel in the architectural splendor that makes this street truly unforgettable.


Exploring the Free Galleries in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

For art enthusiasts and history buffs, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is a treasure trove of captivating artwork and fascinating stories. Located in a stunning neoclassical building on Queen Street, this gallery is home to an impressive collection of portraits that reflect Scotland’s rich cultural heritage.


One of the best things about the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is that admission is free, allowing visitors to delve into the world of art without any financial constraints. The gallery houses a diverse range of artworks, from traditional oil paintings to contemporary photography, ensuring there’s something to enthrall every visitor.


The gallery’s collection includes portraits of prominent figures from Scottish history, such as kings, queens, poets, writers, and politicians. These portraits serve as a visual chronicle of Scotland’s past, providing a glimpse into the lives and personalities of its historical figures.


As you explore the galleries, you’ll come across masterpieces by renowned artists, including works by Scottish painters such as Sir Henry Raeburn and Allan Ramsay. Marvel at the skill and artistry exhibited in these iconic portraits, and let the stories behind the brushstrokes transport you to a different era.


In addition to the permanent collection, the gallery also hosts temporary exhibitions that feature a wide range of themes and artistic styles. These exhibitions provide a fresh and dynamic experience for visitors, showcasing the work of contemporary artists and offering new perspectives on the world of portraiture.


Make sure to also take the time to appreciate the gallery’s stunning architecture. The grandeur of the building itself, designed by renowned architect Sir Robert Rowand Anderson, is a work of art in its own right. Admire the intricate details, majestic staircases, and beautiful galleries that create an exceptional backdrop for the artwork on display.


Whether you have a passion for art or simply appreciate the beauty of a well-crafted portrait, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is a must-visit destination in Edinburgh. Immerse yourself in the world of art, embrace the captivating stories that each portrait holds, and gain a deeper understanding of Scotland’s cultural heritage.


Taking a Stroll along Arthur’s Seat

Situated in Holyrood Park, Arthur’s Seat is a dormant volcano that towers over the city of Edinburgh. Taking a leisurely stroll along its trails is a must-do activity for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts visiting the Scottish capital.


The hike up to the summit of Arthur’s Seat offers panoramic views of Edinburgh and its surroundings, providing a breathtaking reward for your efforts. The trail is well-marked and suitable for all fitness levels, making it accessible to both seasoned hikers and casual walkers.


As you ascend the hill, you’ll be surrounded by picturesque landscapes, including lush greenery, rocky outcrops, and wildflowers in bloom, depending on the season. The diverse flora and fauna that call Arthur’s Seat home create a tranquil environment that feels a world away from the bustling city below.


Once you reach the summit, take a moment to catch your breath and soak in the incredible vistas. From here, you can enjoy uninterrupted views of Edinburgh Castle, the historic Old Town, and even as far as the coast and the Highlands on a clear day.


Aside from the main trail, Arthur’s Seat boasts a network of paths that allow you to explore the hill and its surrounding areas at your own pace. You can venture off on smaller trails, discovering hidden vantage points and secluded spots that offer moments of serenity amidst nature.


Arthur’s Seat is not only a natural gem but also steeped in history and folklore. Its name comes from the legend of King Arthur, who was said to hold court at the summit. The hill has also played a significant role throughout Edinburgh’s past, serving as a defensive fortification in ancient times.


Whether you’re seeking solitude and reflection or an active outdoor adventure, a stroll along Arthur’s Seat is a must-do experience in Edinburgh. It offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature, embrace the tranquility of the outdoors, and revel in the magnificent vistas that this volcanic wonder has to offer.



Edinburgh is a city that captivates the hearts of visitors with its rich history, stunning architecture, and breathtaking landscapes. While there are many paid attractions to explore, there are also numerous free things to do that allow you to fully immerse yourself in the essence of the city without stretching your budget. From the historic Royal Mile to the natural wonders of Holyrood Park, Edinburgh offers a wealth of experiences that will leave you spellbound.


The Royal Mile takes you on a journey through time, with its historic buildings, hidden closes, and vibrant atmosphere. The picturesque Holyrood Park offers stunning views, tranquil lochs, and the opportunity to hike up the majestic Arthur’s Seat. The National Museum of Scotland allows you to delve into the rich history and culture of the country. Princes Street Gardens provides a serene retreat amidst the bustling city, while Victoria Street showcases the charm of Edinburgh’s architecture. And finally, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery offers a glimpse into Scotland’s past through captivating portraits.


Each of these free attractions in Edinburgh offers a unique experience, showcasing the city’s rich history, natural beauty, and artistic heritage. Whether you’re exploring the streets, immersing yourself in galleries, or taking in the panoramic views, you’ll find yourself enchanted by the magic of Scotland’s capital.


So, pack your walking shoes and a sense of adventure, and set off on a day trip to discover these incredible free things to do in Edinburgh. Immerse yourself in the city’s history, soak up its natural wonders, and create unforgettable memories along the way. Edinburgh awaits, ready to share its treasures with you.