6 Free Things to do in Edinburgh
Edinburgh on a Budget – Finding Value in the Capital
Perhaps you’re a student. Perhaps you’ve a frugal disposition. Perhaps you’re just skint. Edinburgh does not need to be prohibitive for those that aren’t crazy with the idea of spending big. With world class museums, fabulous outdoor activities and endless vantage points to ogle one of Europe’s most attractive cities, budget conscious visitors will be well looked after. Following on from my series looking at Glasgow’s great free cultural attractions, Edinburgh has plenty of top attractions that won’t separate you from so much as a penny and can be added to my top Scotland travel tips.
Take in the views from Princes Street Gardens
Edinburgh is rather easy on the eye. Nah, scratch that. It’s gorgeous. Walking out of Waverly Station and being faced with the magnificent backdrop of the castle, the sinister looking Scott Monument and the grand Balmoral Hotel, it’s quite a start to your visit. All can be admired from Princes Street Gardens where you can escape the shoppers and most of the tourist pandemonium and try and find the best spot to photograph it all. This is amongst the best places to be for the Hogmanay bells when the usual serenity turns to delirium for one of the biggest celebrations to be found anywhere in the world.
Visit the National Museum of Scotland
Up there with Glasgow’s fantastic Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, this vast collection of excellence is a must for culture vultures and folk looking for somewhere to hide if the weather is not on your side. Boasting a smorgasbord of exhibits, artefacts and educational journeys, you will put your brain cells into overdrive with a visit here. Spread over numerous levels, kids will love the animal exhibits and outer space features, while historians will be drawn to bits and pieces preserved from medieval Scotland as well as a look at our journey through the Industrial Revolution. Be sure to also get up onto the roof terrace for some special views over to Edinburgh Castle and the city’s impressive rooftop skyline.
Stumble Upon Urban Serenity
Within minutes of Haymarket Station lies the tucked away, unexpected escape that is Dean Village. A former milling community it goes back largely to the 12th Century and is urban daintiness at its best. Conjuring up images of some sort of Victorian fairy tale, there has been some more decent development work in the surrounding area as it has now become a highly sought after place to stay. Even still, its charm persists. Take a walk alongside the Water of Leith and you’ll find it a serene and welcome retreat from the nearby bustling heart of Scotland’s capital. I recommend walking as far as the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which is signed along the way and takes around 20 minutes from the village (and is also free to enter by the way, bonus points for that).
Look down on Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat
Boasting one of the most spectacular backdrops any city could ask for, it would be a right waste not to attempt to take advantage of this natural wonder. Urban hikes don’t come better. A relatively straightforward climb (30-60 minutes) the views over the city from Arthur’s Seat are magnificent. The ancient volcano is best climbed from the east and the ascent is short but steep in places. Loved by kids, picnickers and photographers aplenty the walk is popular year-round and is particularly special at Hogmanay, when the city centre glows under the light of the fireworks. There are options to branch off in several directions on the way up and there is no set route so clear half a day from your schedule when the sun is out and go with instinct, you’ll not be disappointed.
Site of the headscratcher that is Edinburgh’s botched answer to the Parthenon, this spot is not to be missed. Scotland’s National Monument was intended as a tribute to fallen soldiers of the Napoleonic Wars but, due to funds drying up, stands eternal as an unfinished block of pillars on this fantastically placed mound at the end of Princes Street. Calton Hill’s summit can be reached within 15 minutes of Waverly Station in the very heart of the city. Steep enough to make you feel as though you’ve actually done yourself a favour (or irreparable damage depending on your fitness levels) it is an obvious choice for visitors and the panoramic views have become iconic images of the city in just about every brochure you’ll find.
Walk the Royal Mile
One of Britain’s most famous streets, the Mile runs through the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town. From the Castle Esplanade the route shoots downhill – passing numerous nooks and crannies along the way that can easily consume a whole day of your time – before ending at impressive Holyroodhouse Palace and the Scottish Parliament building. Most impressive of all for me is the grand St Giles Cathedral. Impossible to miss, it is free to enter (donation welcome mind you) and tours are run of the interior. Read about my weekend in Edinburgh post for more on that. Outside you can find the Heart of Midlothian and, almost certainly, a piper or two ensuring a cheery atmosphere.
There are numerous other museums, galleries and gardens that can be added to the list but the above are my favs and amongst the very best ways to pass the time in Edinburgh. Subscribe below for future upcoming posts when I’ll be discussing some of the other great must-do’s in the city and for those looking for day trips from the capital check out my suggestions for things to do around Edinburgh.
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