Top 10 Free Things to Do in Edinburgh


8. Climb a Volcano

Looming protectively, Arthur’s Seat observes Edinburgh with a watchful eye, a guardian protecting its charge. Lying within the royal Holyrood Park – a sweeping, wild landscape – this extinct volcano is an immensely popular spot for locals and tourists alike, a result of the spectacular panoramic views found from its peak.

Several routes lead up to its 251 meter summit, ranging from a breathless climb up steep, rocky steps to a gentle stroll that leads you gradually upwards. But be warned: its uneven and stony pinnacle makes the final ascent, no matter which route you take, rather tricky. Scaling this last hurdle is undoubtedly worth it – from the summit: the whole city is laid out before you, appearing as a perfect miniature; Leith, North Berwick, and the Pentland Hills, weather permitting, can be clearly seen in the distance; to the east, stretching ever outwards, the sea.

But Arthur is not the only attraction the Park has to offer. In fact, he shares the skyline with the striking Sailsbury Crags, a long ridge of vertically faced rock, perched like a natural fortress over the city. There are several trails along this escarpment, although the going can be tough. If a more gentle wander is preferred, don’t worry – there are multiple routes throughout the rest of the park, and plenty to see – from unusual flora and fauna, to lochs and medieval ruins.

9. Catch a View

While spectacular, Arthur’s Seat does not have a monopoly on great views. Found to the east of Princes Street, Calton Hill has a slightly different – but just as beautiful – perspective on the Scottish Capital.

See from Holyrood Park to the city centre, from castle hill out to the Firth of Forth. After enjoying the panorama, take a stroll along Hume Walk and pay your respects to Rabbie at the Burns Monument. Or, try to climb the giant steps of the unfinished acropolis – a memorial to those Scots who lost their lives in the Napoleonic Wars – and crane your neck at the towering Nelson Monument, that watches over the city. There are also two observatories to check out.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, head over to the Pentland Hills to the South West of the city. Routes range from gentle to strenuous, but whatever you do keep one eye on the ever-changing Scottish weather! From the top you can see Edinburgh, east Fife, and on particularly clear days even Ben Lomond.

There are many places to get a good view of the Scottish capital. Photo by Janna Graber
There are many places to get a good view of the Scottish capital.

10. Explore the Green Places

Edinburgh contains an abundance of greenery, parks, and gardens, giving the city a spacious, palatial feel. Alongside exploring Holyrood Park, you can picnic in The Meadows, a spacious expanse with grassy pastures and tree-lined lanes. Or admire the fountain and flowers of Princes Street Gardens, overlooked by the Castle and Gothic Scot Monument.

Most spectacular of all is the Royal Botanic Gardens, a mere mile away from the city center. With a plethora of different plants from around the world, traverse over 70 acres of landscaped surroundings, and bask in the quiet tranquility. With a number of gardens on display, amble along the Chinese Hillside’s winding paths, go tree hunting in the Arboretum, or find shade in the Woodland Garden. If you have a few extra pennies, make a trip to the spectacular Glasshouses and experience a walk through ten different climatic zones.

If You Go

Visit Scotland/Edinburgh

Auther Bio: After living in Edinburgh as a student for four years, Rachel Laidler knows all about exploring Scotland’s capital on a tight budget. Currently situated in the Scottish Highlands, come 2014 she’ll be traveling alongside her boyfriend through Southeast Asia and Australasia.