Edinburgh on the cheap: Free things to do

Freebie. Gratis. Cheap. Edinburgh offers dormant volcanoes, Impressionist paintings, and even a stuffed giant panda for free.

Put your wallet away with our guide to free things to do in Edinburgh 

History - National Museum of Scotland

This huge living encyclopaedia explores everything from fossils and animals threatened with extinction to artefacts from different cultures and the achievements of famous Scots.

What to see:

  • Lewis Chessmen. Discovered on Lewis in 1831, these comical ivory chess pieces are one of Scotland’s most impressive archaeological finds.
  • Ching Ching the giant panda. One of the most popular exhibits at the museum is Ching Ching, who was a much loved resident of London Zoo until her death in 1985.

What to do with the kids:

  • Get hands-on in the Adventure Planet gallery. Youngsters can learn about a dinosaur skeleton, dive to the bottom of the sea and crawl through the roots of a giant oak tree. Definitely more fun than the shops.

Art and Culture- Scottish National Gallery

Get up close to some really important paintings from old masters, Impressionists and famous Scottish artists. You’ll leave feeling like a proper art swot. The building’s pretty nice too.

What to see:

  • Self-Portrait, aged 51 (Rembrandt, 1657). This self-portrait captures Rembrandt at a time when he had suffered money worries and personal problems. He’s unshaven, and his face bears deep lines. He looks pretty lonely and pretty tired.
  • The Honourable Mrs Graham (Thomas Gainsborough, 1775-7). This acclaimed full-length portrait depicts the elegant beauty of Mary Cathcart, who married Perthshire landowner Thomas Graham in 1774.

What to do with the kids:

  • Take the Head to Toe trail. Arm yourself with coloured pencils for this activity trail around the gallery designed by illustrator Sara Ogilvie. 

The great outdoors - Holyrood Park

Slap your senses into gear with a bracing stroll around the craggy, windy Holyrood Park. Its dramatic crags and volcanic landscape give Edinburgh its distinctive skyline. Hike up the rugged paths or enjoy a family picnic on a hot day.

What to see:

  • Arthur’s Seat. Edinburgh has its own dormant volcano - and it’s called Arthur’s Seat. It is 2,000 years old – hike up it and be rewarded with views so good they could knock you sideways.
  • St Anthony’s Chapel. Not much is left of this 15th-century religious building. It looks more like a castle ruin, but it is a standout feature of the park.

What to do with the kids:

  • Themed walks. Learn about the history, wildlife and folklore of the park on a guided tour led by one of the rangers. 


  • The Writers’ Museum. Edinburgh is a writers’ city – inspiring over 500 novels and also being named a UNESCO City of Literature. Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson are 3 of Scotland’s most famous writers – explore their stories here. From Burns’ writing desk and Scott’s rocking horse to a ring given to Stevenson by a Samoan chief.  
  • Greyfriars Bobby Statue. Greyfriars Bobby was an Edinburgh dog who spent 14 years watching over his master’s grave. The Skye terrier’s story is famous around the world, and Disney even made a film about it. Have your pic taken with this statue of the faithful pooch on Candlemaker Row, or visit Bobby’s own grave just inside the entrance to Greyfriars kirkyard.