If your time and budget is limited and you find yourself in the capital of Scotland you’re in for a real treat because you don’t need a big budget to explore. Edinburgh has all the history and tradition that you’re looking for on your Scottish holiday.
We’ve found 11 ways you can explore Edinburgh without spending a cent! Get those walking shoes on your feet, pack your camera and the only reason why you’ll need your wallet is for some snacks along the way.
Marvel at the aerial view of Edinburgh as you wander through Holyrood Park. Stand 251m above sea level atop the extinct volcano known as Arthur’s Seat. The best part of this whole excursion is that you will be able to visit forts that date back 2000 years and a 15th century medieval chapel (St Anthony’s Chapel). So, not only will you be taking a step back in time as you walk where the Vikings once walked – you won’t have to spend a cent!
Did you know? Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano that erupted around 340 million years ago.
You can explore the history and culture of Scotland through the various museums and the best part is that you can do it for free at some of them! The museum site gives information about each museum and what you can expect to find there. The National Museum of Scotland (in Chamber Street) has no admission fee and asks only for donations.
While not completely free, The National War Museum is found within the walls of Edinburgh Castle and the museum’s admission is included in your ticket. At a small admission fee you can visit the other two museums that falls under the National Museums of Scotland umbrella – The National Museum of Flight and The National Museum of Rural Life.
Once again you have the luxury of choosing from more than one gallery and once again, the admission is free! According to the website, the Scottish National Gallery “is home to one of the best collections of fine art in the world.” You can find a mesmerizing collection of contemporary and modern art at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, while the Scottish National Portrait Gallery lets you “come face to face with the people who shaped Scotland’s past, present and future.”
Did you know? The Scottish National Gallery is found at the Mound in Edinburgh, which is an artificial hill that was formed in during the excavation of the New Town. The excavation started in the 1760s but the Mound reached its current size in the 1830s.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) was founded in 1670 and has evolved to include a further three regional gardens in Benmore, Darwyck and Logan. Take a look at what’s on while you’re there and you might be able to attend a free event! Only 1mile from the city centre, the garden is easily reached – you can see your travel options here.
The Scottish Parliament (Pàrlamaid na h-Alba) allows visitors the opportunity to visit the working parliament for free! From Monday to Saturday you can arrive without prior booking and visit the public areas of the building. It is only necessary to book if you would like a guided tour or if you would like to attend committee meetings and debates. The Parliament is found at the foot of the Royal Mile, opposite the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Also known as the historic City Church of Edinburgh and High Kirk of Edinburgh, St Giles Cathedral is the Mother Church of Presbyterianism. Once inside, you can visit the Thistle Chapel – this is where the grand processions take place to be awarded the Order of the Thistle. According to the website, “the Order of the Thistle is Scotland’s great order of chivalry, and membership is considered to be one of the country’s highest honours. The Order is traditionally given to Scots or people of Scots ancestry, who have given distinguished service.”
Located in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town – Greyfriars Kirkyard is the graveyard surrounding the 16th century church, Greyfriars Kirk. There are two sides to this beautiful 16th century church – the one is the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby, a Skye terrier who refused to leave his owner’s grave till the day he died. Then, there is the gruesome story of the Covenanter’s prison where losing soldiers were executed.
Travel tip: Be sure to check the Kirk’s site before heading over because there may be special services or concerts – you can either, join or miss them.
If you’re planning a trip up Calton Hill and the National Monument then the best time to do it will be for sunrise. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has some of the best views of the city! The best part is that there is so much to see while you’re up there – Monuments include the National Monument, Dugald Stewart Monument, Nelson’s Monument, the Old Royal High School, Robert Burns Monument, Political Martyrs’ Monument and also the City Observatory.
Thanks to its history, Edinburgh is home to many tales of mystery and legend – many of them spooky! A local guide will lead you around the city’s hidden closes and creepy graveyards while sharing spooky tales along the way. A truly unique and captivating (and sometimes gruesome!) way to experience Edinburgh’s history!
Something different to try is a Harry Potter Walking Tour through the city and you can follow in the footsteps of some of your favourite wizards. And the best part? Once again, it’s completely free! Open to all ages and you don’t have to be a Harry Potter fanatic to enjoy it because the guides give a history of the city and all its tales.
If you’re not sure about a Harry Potter themed walking tour then you could join volunteers for all different kinds of walking tours:
The Old Town Tour – this tour covers all the main sights of the Old Town
The Castle Tour – be sure to visit Edinburgh Castle, and now you can hear the history and story before you pay for admission
The Dark Side Tour – If you’re brave enough to hear the darker side of Edinburgh’s history, in the dark of the night then this is the tour for you.
The New Town Tour – Almost the entire New Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so you know that it’s worth the walk!
If you really want to be sure that your budget is stretched as far as possible then join Expat Explore on a tour that goes through Scotland and you can see as much as possible for as little as possible!