Official Guide to Edinburgh
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The Best Free Things To Do in Edinburgh

08 May 2014

Guide books are useful for visitors, but for locals it’s word of mouth that gives you the latest and most reliable information. In partnership with The Edinburgh Evening News, we have been asking people to recommend their favourite places in the city centre to highlight the hidden gems in the bustling heart of the capital.

Now it’s time to remind ourselves just how great our city centre can be. Here is your list of the top free things to do in Edinburgh!

Making an Exhibition

Student Amy Burdon recommended The National Museum of Scotland as a great day out you can enjoy again and again – whatever your interests.  “It’s got so many things I always find something new. As a Chinese major I find the Asian collection particularly interesting to go and look at. There is a great selection of exhibitions, and the temporary ones can be really nice – like the Japanese art collection from a few months ago.”

Enjoy free daily and weekend activities, including crafts, stories and object handling and Magic Carpet story telling for under 5’s.

Entertaining Little Animals 

Susan Stevens recommends a family day out at one of Edinburgh’s best-loved attractions: “A great free day out can be had at Gorgie City Farm, followed by a walk and play at nearby Saughton Park”.

Gorgie City Farm has been a much-loved part of the local community in Edinburgh for the past 30 years. They are dedicated to inspiring local people and tourists at the farm as well as offering courses in agriculture, gardening and handicrafts, and entertaining city kids with hands-on, exciting activities involving farm animals, gardening and exotic creatures.

A Capital Central Park

Emily Murray is a fan of the great outdoors, which is lucky as the capital has a huge amount of green space: “Today I took five children for a play in the fantastic playground in The Meadows followed by a tour around the museum, which has loads on for the kids at school holidays. I will also be taking them to The Museum of Childhood on the Royal Mile and The People’s Story!”.

The Royal Edinburgh Botanic Garden by Inverleith Park also captures the imagination of everyone who visits and is world renowned for its horticultural excellence. There are hundreds of plants to learn about and plenty of room to run around!

Famous Faces

Everyone knows Scotland has made some astonishing contributions to world history but if you need a reminder of who the great and the good are, The Scottish National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street should be your first port of call.

Pam Donald said: “It’s so difficult to choose a favourite, but on a wet day I would say the Portrait Gallery on Queen Street."

Take a Seat

Another popular recommendation was a walk up Arthur’s Seat – the views are fantastic and you’ll be burning calories instead of money. Emz Robertson said: “Pack a picnic and go sit at Arthur's Seat. Plenty of great places at the top or the bottom of it.”  This natural wonder is set within Holyrood Park, which is a short walk from Edinburgh’s Royal Mile in the heart of the city. Arthurs Seat is a dormant volcano, and sits 251m above sea level giving an excellent view of the city; it is also the site of a large and well preserved fort.  Within the park you can also visit St Anthony’s Chapel - a 15th century medieval chapel, Salisbury Crags – a series of 150 foot cliff faces dominating Edinburgh’s skyline as well as Duddingston Loch – a fresh water loch rich in birdlife.

Play Days

Even in a big city, sometimes parents and carers of children with special needs can struggle to find suitable days out that don’t cost the earth. Thankfully, in the capital help is at hand.

Suzanne Tant said: The Yard Adventure Centre in Eyre Place caters specifically for children with special needs and their families and is, at the moment, free. Lots of different things for kids to do – arts and crafts, baking, soft play, outdoor play, sensory room. There’s also a kitchen for parents to grab a free cuppa and make lunch or snacks. Friendliest staff around. Great place.”

Enjoy a Laugh

The Stand Comedy Club is an Edinburgh Institution. The club is open every night of the week with a varied programme of contemporary stand-up, sketches and touring shows. Dave McGuire writes “Stu & Garry’s Free Improv Show, which is on every Sunday lunchtime at The Stand Comedy Club - Cracking comedy! from The Stand’s resident improv comedy masters, tasty grub served, and there’s no need to book”.

Going Underground

Who do you think you are? Whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Edinburgher, or want to learn more about the city you now call home, you can’t do much better than The People’s Story. La Lune said: “There are so many free attractions in Edinburgh but the one I direct everyone from outside of Edinburgh to as a must is The People’s Story on the Royal Mile. You cannot truly know Edinburgh unless you know what the city’s origins are the very backbone of Edinburgh’s Society. Not only is it educational but it’s also fun. The sounds and smells are piped through while you either stand and read information or look through windows of houses to see typical families from different eras."

Growing up in Public

The Museum of Childhood has a fan in Kelly McArthur, who said: “My son loves The Museum of Childhood”. Young people and adults will enjoy finding out about growing up through the ages, from toys and games to health and school days. Hands-on activities, including a puppet theatre and dressing up area, together with our fantastic museum shop, help to make your visit a memorable one.

If you have any more suggestions of top things to do in edinburgh, please let us know at or tweet with #thisisedinburgh