Guides Edinburgh How To Visit Edinburgh on a Budget: Free & Frugal Activities

How To Visit Edinburgh on a Budget: Free & Frugal Activities

City Guide October 5, 2023



Visiting Edinburgh, a destination steeped in culture, can be a magical experience without breaking the bank! This guide is perfect for travelers seeking to enjoy Edinburgh on a budget, offering a variety of free or budget-friendly activities. Whether you’re a local or visitor, explore areas from Stockbridge to the Royal Mile, going into the city’s rich history and culture with affordable delights like tasting haggis or sipping whisky at a Grassmarket pub. With abundant green spaces like Holyrood and Calton, and the enchanting Arthur's Seat, you can immerse in natural beauty. The guide also covers Edinburgh's vibrant nightlife in districts like Leith, providing cheap things to do that allow for a comprehensive yet economical exploration of this fantastic city.

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Exploring Edinburgh on a Budget: Enjoying Free Activities

Edinburgh, known for its rich history and stunning landscapes, can delight budget-conscious travelers. A wealth of free-to-visit attractions is scattered around this vibrant city, offering a perfect blend of culture, history, and natural beauty without denting your wallet. Edinburgh has something for everyone, from historical sites to beautiful parks, and we're here to guide you through some of the best free activities.


National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland is a treasure trove of knowledge and history, showcasing a vast collection of artifacts that narrate Scotland's fascinating past. Best of all, it's completely free to enter. Wander through its halls to discover ancient relics, dazzling jewelry, and even the iconic Dolly the sheep, the world's first cloned mammal.

This museum offers an educational and entertaining experience suitable for all ages. Don't miss the chance to explore its diverse exhibits, from science and technology to world cultures.


Art Galleries

Art lovers rejoice in Edinburgh, as the city is home to several impressive art galleries that offer free admission to their permanent collections. The National Gallery of Modern Art and the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) are venues where you can immerse yourself in contemporary art. Explore a wide range of artistic styles, from classic to cutting-edge, and gain a deeper appreciation for the creative spirit that thrives in Edinburgh.


Writers Museum

Nestled within the heart of Edinburgh, the Writers Museum is a literary gem that invites you to delve into the lives and works of Scotland's literary legends. Free to visit, this museum pays homage to esteemed writers such as Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Wander through its charming setting, discover original manuscripts, and personal belongings, and gain insights into the literary heritage shaping Scotland's storytelling tradition. It's a must-visit for book enthusiasts and history buffs alike.


Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat

Embrace the natural beauty of Edinburgh without spending a penny exploring Holyrood Park and conquering Arthur's Seat. This ancient volcanic hill, located conveniently close to the city center, offers panoramic views worth the hike. Adventure through the park's lush greenery, admire the rugged Salisbury Crags and reach the summit for breathtaking vistas of the city and its surroundings. It's a fantastic way to experience Edinburgh's natural splendor.


St. Giles' Cathedral

While many visitors pay to explore the interiors of Edinburgh's historic churches, you can admire the grandeur of St. Giles' Cathedral for free. This iconic house of worship boasts stunning architecture, intricate stained glass windows, and a rich history that spans centuries. Take a moment to step inside, absorb the tranquil ambiance, and appreciate the exquisite craftsmanship of this revered cathedral.


Portobello Beach

Edinburgh's seaside gem, Portobello Beach, is a delightful escape from the city's hustle and bustle. Enjoy a stroll along the sandy shores, breathe in the salty sea air, or relax and enjoy the coastal views. If you visit during the warmer months, you can dip your toes into the refreshing waters of the North Sea. It's a tranquil retreat that won't cost you a penny.


Dean Village

Nestled along the Water of Leith, Dean Village is a picturesque, frozen neighborhood. Its well-preserved 19th-century architecture and charming cobblestone streets make it a delightful place to explore on foot. Wander through its narrow lanes, admire the historic buildings, and capture the essence of old-world Edinburgh without spending a dime.


Free Walking Tours

Keep an eye out for free walking tours offered by enthusiastic local guides. These tours provide an excellent opportunity to discover hidden gems, learn about the city's history, and get insider tips on where to eat, drink, and explore. While the tours are typically free, it's customary to tip your guide at the end.



Cheap Things to Do

Princes Street Gardens: A Tranquil Oasis

Princes Street Gardens, nestled in the heart of Edinburgh along Prince Street, offers a serene escape from the urban hustle and bustle. The lush greenery, dotted with charming floral displays, creates a picturesque setting for a walk. Whether you're seeking a peaceful moment to relax or want to capture stunning views of the city, these iconic gardens are a must-visit. Pack a picnic, soak in the atmosphere, and watch as the world passes by.


Calton Hill: Edinburgh's Panoramic Gem

For a breathtaking panoramic view of Edinburgh that won't cost you a penny, make your way to Calton Hill. This elevated vantage point provides an unforgettable perspective of the city, especially during the magical sunrise and sunset moments. As you ascend the hill, you'll encounter iconic landmarks like the National Monument and the Dugald Stewart Monument. It's the perfect spot to capture Instagram-worthy photos and create lasting memories.


Dean Village: A Step Back in Time

Tucked away in the city, Dean Village offers a tranquil escape into Edinburgh's past. This picturesque area is characterized by its charming medieval architecture, including stone-built houses and quaint bridges crossing the Water of Leith. A soft jaunt through Dean Village feels like stepping back in time, and it's a perfect place to unwind while exploring the city's hidden gems. Enjoy the soothing sound of flowing water and marvel at the well-preserved historic ambiance.


Budget-Friendly Guided Tours: Unveil Edinburgh's Secrets

Opting for a guided tour is an excellent way to explore Edinburgh's storied past while sticking to your budget. Many budget-friendly guided tours offer a wealth of information and fascinating insights into the city's history, culture, and legends. Knowledgeable local guides will lead you through the historic streets, regaling you with tales of Edinburgh's famous figures and significant events. Whether you choose a walking tour, a ghost tour, or a themed excursion, these tours offer incredible value for your money.


Edinburgh's Affordable Eateries: Savor the Local Flavors

Edinburgh is home to various affordable eateries catering to different tastes and budgets. Sample traditional Scottish dishes like haggis or indulge in international cuisine without breaking the bank. Explore the city's vibrant food scene, where hidden gems serve delicious meals at reasonable prices. From cozy cafes to street food vendors, there are plenty of options for the budget-conscious traveler to enjoy a taste of Edinburgh.



Exploring More

Holyrood Park

Holyrood Park is a majestic royal park in the heart of Edinburgh, Scotland, near the city's Royal Mile. The park spans around 260 hectares of rugged and hilly terrain, offering a natural escape amidst the bustling urban setting. Its extensive walking and hiking trails allow visitors to explore its diverse landscape.

One of Holyrood Park's standout features is Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano that is the main peak in the hills, forming the backdrop to the city of Edinburgh. Trekkers can enjoy panoramic views of the city skyline and beyond from its summit. Additionally, the park is home to a large, shallow loch called St Margaret's Loch, a favorite spot for bird-watching enthusiasts.

The park is also steeped in history, with notable landmarks such as the 15th-century ruin of St. Anthony’s Chapel and the Holyrood Palace nearby. Whether you're an avid hiker, a history buff, or someone simply looking to enjoy nature, Holyrood Park offers a variety of options to explore and experience.


Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a renowned scientific center for studying plants, their diversity, and conservation. Beginning in the 17th century, the garden has grown into a sprawling complex covering 72 acres, hosting a rich collection of world plants.

Entry to the gardens is usually free, allowing visitors to wander through the beautifully landscaped areas, showcasing various plant species from different climate zones. Some glasshouses contain rare and exotic plants for those wishing to delve deeper into the botanical experience, though access to these might incur a fee.

Besides being a visual feast for visitors, the Royal Botanic Garden also serves as an educational hub. It offers workshops, tours, and events throughout the year to promote understanding and appreciation of the plant kingdom.



Getting Around Edinburgh

Edinburgh boasts an efficient and well-connected public transportation system, making it a convenient and economical option for travelers to navigate the city. The bus and tram networks are particularly popular, with services frequently connecting key tourist attractions, shopping areas, and residential neighborhoods.

Buses in Edinburgh are operated by multiple companies, with Lothian Buses being the primary provider. These vehicles are known for their punctuality and extensive coverage. The bus fleet is also increasingly incorporating eco-friendly technologies, making them a sustainable choice for travel.

Trams offer another viable means of transport, particularly beneficial for those traveling between the city center and Edinburgh Airport. The tram lines are limited but continuously expand to provide greater access to different parts of the city.

Visitors can purchase single-journey tickets or invest in day passes, which offer unlimited travel for a specified period. For those planning to stay longer, various longer-term passes are available that provide excellent value for frequent travelers. Mobile apps and online platforms facilitate easy planning and ticket purchasing, further simplifying the tourist process.

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