The 11 best free things to do in Edinburgh

By Emily Waddell

The Edinburgh Fringe is upon us! So, that means great comedy, theatre and just about every kind of performance you can think of is playing for the whole month of August

But The Fringe Festival can be expensive. With the tickets, food, drink and accommodation stacking up you can very easily find that you’re broke but with oodles of free time between shows.

You’re in luck! Our Edinburgh experts have curated the best free activities and landmarks in the city, AND the best part is these aren’t exclusive to the festival. So if you’re planning an Edinburgh trip here are some great ways to explore without breaking the bank.

1. Greyfriars Kirkyard Cemetery – Opposite Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfrairs Kirkyard
Get spooked at Greyfriars Kirkyard © Jule_Berlin/

We covered the Greyfriars Kirkyard Cemetery in our article Britain: Off The Beaten Track. The Cemetery’s history is well known in Edinburgh; its history is blood splattered with mass imprisonment, execution and body snatching. But tourists don’t often see it unless they’re on a ghost tour, it’s easy to find just off of Grassmarket, but be warned – only hardened ghost hunters should apply.

2. Arthur’s Seat

Phew, its worth the trek up to Arthurs Seat © Pete Spiro/

If you’re feeling especially precocious one day then why not get the best view of the entire city? Arthur’s Seat is only a two-hour walk from Holyrood place if you take the gentle route to the peak. If you want to see the view solo, then you’ll need to get up early in the morning – due to Arthur’s Seats spectacular views and relatively easy accessibility it can get crowded.

3. Royal Botanic Gardens

Royal Botanic Gardens
Breathe in that fresh air at the Royal Botanic Gardens © Brendan Howard/

70 acres of diverse and beautiful Botany greets you at The Royal Botanic Gardens, the surrounding area of Stockbridge is a great place to grab lunch and then hang out under the trees on an (albeit rare) sunny afternoon.

KAYAK Tip: The Stockbridge market is a great place to grab some bargains or a cheap bite, it happens every Sunday 10am-5pm.

4. National Gallery of Modern Art

National Gallery of Modern Art
Art, art, art, did somebody mention art? © Ulmus Media/

Art is great, and art is usually free, so why not visit the National Gallery of Modern Art. Located in a sculpture garden set over two buildings, aptly named, Modern one and Modern two. With a plethora of events for families and everyone in between, as well as an excellent revolving exhibit it’s the perfect place to get lost for a few hours.

5. Collective Gallery

The Collective Gallery
The Collective Gallery shows you an intimate portrait of Edinburgh © diddlydom/

Pop over to the east end of Prince street to visit the Collective Gallery, which features up and coming artists from the city and all over the UK. It’s also located near Calton Hill which features stunning views of the city; the wonderful Collective Gallery has made a free audio guide created by local artists which takes you on a walk around Calton Hill – doesn’t that sound delightful?

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6. John Knox House

John Knox House
History like never before © Gimas/

The only house on the famous Royal Mile that harks back to medieval times, the John Knox House is a must-see if you’re exploring Edinburgh. You can purchase an audio guide for £1 and wander the house listening to the tales of the turbulent Scottish reformation.

KAYAK Tip: Next door to the John Knox house is the Scottish Storytelling Centre which holds performances and events all year round.

7. St. Giles Cathedral

St. Giles Cathedral
St. Giles Cathedral is an a fan favourite amongst tourists © Brendan Howard/

If you’ve wandered around Edinburgh chances are that you’ve walked past St. Giles Cathedral, a historic and fascinating church with an amazingly vivid past. Make your way inside and visit the Thistle chapel which is one of the most prestigious parts of the church with spectacular architecture on display (see if you can spot the Angel playing the bagpipes.)

KAYAK Tip: About a 10-minute walk from St. Giles Cathedral is Dunbar’s Close Garden. A hidden gem to tourists but well known to locals, this secret garden is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

8. Surgeons’ Hall Museum

Surgeons Hall Museum
Get medical at Surgeons Hall Museum © neil.inglis/

Okay, you caught us, to visit the Surgeons’ Hall Museum you’ll need to cough up £6.50 (less if you’re a student, or work for the NHS) but it’s worth it to visit this oddity. Filled with antiquated medical equipment, sometimes scary medical imagery and even things in jars…

9. Dean Village

Dean Village
Like stepping back in time in Dean Village © Matthew Storer/

A favourite amongst visitors Dean Village looks like it’s the world away from the city centre of Edinburgh when it actuality it’s only a 15-minute walk from New Town. Filled with elegant 19th-century homes it was previously where the milling of water took place, something you can see in the Well Court – an iconic building which used to house the water mill workers. A must-see.

10. Wild West

Wild West Town Edinburgh
Yee haw! Visit rootin’ tootin’ Wild West Town © Magnus Hagdorn/

No, we’re not pulling your leg, if you wander down a side street in Morningside you might find yourself transported to the Wild West. Built originally to promote a furniture venture specialising in Southwestern style goods (yes, really) it’s a tad dilapidated today but a great photo opportunity and something not even locals know about.

11. National Museum of Scotland

Too many people visit Scotland without learning about the history of the country, which is fascinating and even the most ardent history bore will enjoy themselves at the National Museum of Scotland.

KAYAK Tip: Take the elevator to the 7th floor to enjoy a secret rooftop garden and an amazing view of the city.

Note: These rates are based on search queries made on on August 14th, 2017. The prices are quoted in GBP. Flight prices are based on results for a return economy flight search. Hotel prices are for double occupancy and include taxes and fees. Prices are subject to change, may vary, or no longer be available.