Official Guide to Edinburgh
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5 Fun, Free Things to Do in Edinburgh for Students.

02 September 2014

As Edinburgh’s universities and colleges open their doors in the coming weeks, the city will welcome the arrival of thousands of new students to the capital. Edinburgh student Francesca Street tells us her top 5 free activities for getting out and about. 

Edinburgh is an amazing place to live. From the atmospheric sixteenth century streets of the Old Town, the Georgian beauty of the New Town and the glory of extinct volcano Arthur’s Seat, Scotland’s capital is a pretty great place to call your home.  A creative, cultural and business hub, Edinburgh’s inspiring architecture, enthralling history and buzzing student scene render it the dream city in which to spend four years studying.

There are many great aspects of the student experience in Edinburgh, but living costs in the city can be a tad pricey. Many clubs, bars, cafes and shops offer great deals for students, but what if you’re looking to expand your horizons and want to check out some of Edinburgh’s lesser known haunts? This is where this article comes in handy: join us as we discuss five of the best free things to do in and around Edinburgh:

Arthur’s Seat

This might sound obvious, but it’s amazing how some students spend four years in Edinburgh without ever climbing to the summit of Edinburgh’s best-known landmark. It’s absolutely worth the effort for the stunning 360 degree panorama that awaits you.

Even if you’ve been before, exploring Arthur’s Seat, the surrounding Salisbury Crags or walking around the volcano through Holyrood Park never grows weary. Take your friends for a picnic or, even better, climb up at sunset and take-in the breath-taking views of your favourite city at dusk.

National Museum of Scotland Roof Terrace

The National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street is a fun place to spend an afternoon: its artefacts range from the stuffed body of Dolly the sheep, a host of Egyptian mummies to the oldest colour television model in the world. As a student, it’s likely you’ll have taken visiting family members to explore the Museum’s riches many a time, however you might have missed one of the Museum’s best attractions: its rooftop terrace.

Accessible via lift and stairway, the terrace offers incredible views across Edinburgh city skyline. Binoculars can be used for free and give you the opportunity to really take in the wonder of Edinburgh’s architecture. The Terrace’s view of Edinburgh Castle is undoubtedly one of the best in the city. It’s easy to spend half an hour wondering around the rooftop, admiring the view as well as the Scottish flora and Andy Goldsworthy artwork.

Calton Hill Sunrise

Situated at the top end of Princes Street, Calton Hill, with its faux-Athenian monuments and stunning views of Holyrood Park and the distant Pentland Mountains, is an Edinburgh landmark. The Hill can always be relied on for spectacular views, but if you are looking for something a bit different, why not ascend Calton Hill at sunrise?


Getting up at 4:30 might sound pretty heavy-going and walking up a hill at that hour might sound even worse, but trust us, the beautiful panoramas of Edinburgh at dawn are absolutely worth it. Watching the city slowly come to life, as the night-time mist clears, the sun rises over the sea and the sky brightens, makes it all worthwhile. This has to go on the bucket list for all Edinburgh students (even if you have to go back to bed afterwards!)

Cramond Island

One of Edinburgh’s best kept secrets, the seaside village of Cramond is about half an hour on the number 41 bus from Edinburgh University’s Bristo Square. The bus will cost you £1.50, but there are plenty of free delights to be found upon your arrival.

Cramond village is a great day trip destination in itself: it’s picturesque, on the coast and has a stunning riverside walk. The village’s best attraction, however, is Cramond Island. A tidal island about one mile out to sea and easily accessible via Cramond Causeway, the island is the perfect place for a post-exams, summer day trip. The island is an atmospheric, fun place to explore with its Second World War fortifications, gorgeous coves and stunning views of the Forth Bridge.

The island is only accessible when the tide is out, but don’t let the prospect of being stranded at high tide scare you off. The tide times are easily available online, as well as being helpfully are signposted on the beach. As long as you do your research beforehand you should be able to avoid an embarrassing coastguard rescue. An absolute must-visit for all Edinburgh students, Cramond Island is fantastic place for a great day out.

Portobello Beach

Living in the centre of the city, it’s easy to forget Edinburgh’s close proximity to the water, yet Edinburgh’s seaside suburb of Portobello is only a short bus ride away. Portobello perfectly epitomises the British seaside resort with its ice cream parlours, arcades and fish and chip shops. Most notably, the town plays host to a gorgeous sandy beach, making it the perfect place to spend a lazy Saturday.

Whilst Portobello isn’t quite as it was in its twentieth century heyday, when legend says Bond star Sean Connery worked as a lifeguard at the since-demolished Art Deco lido, the town is still thriving. On a warm day, the beach is packed with Edinburgh residents looking to escape the confines of the city centre and spend a relaxing day by the water. Portobello is definitely worth a visit: as a student, it’s pretty amazing that you can hop on a bus and immediately feel as though you are on holiday in the South of France. It’s even worth braving the Scottish chill and going for a dip in the sea, which might make the bus journey home less pleasant, but is nonetheless an incredibly fun experience and makes for a great story.