Free things to do in Edinburgh: From festivals to street art


Edinburgh is full of great attractions, some of which can be a little pricy. Fortunately, there are also plenty of free options. No less engaging, these often offer even more insight into the culture and character of Scotland’s capital.

Free shows at the Edinburgh Festival

Every summer, Edinburgh hosts the world’s most famous arts festival. The Edinburgh Festival is actually a collection of major cultural events held mostly in August, when the city is brimming with art, music, comedy and literature. Many shows are ticketed, but there’s plenty you can do for free, starting with the Edinburgh Festival Carnival on opening weekend. The Free Fringe organisation also hosts free comedy and theatre. The street performers on the Royal Mile can be just as talented as anyone on the main festival stages, and ask only for a tip if you enjoyed the show.

Free Parliament tours

Edinburgh Castle is the city’s main attraction, charging a fairly hefty admittance fee. To save a few pounds, you can admire the castle’s exterior, perched on a scenic craggy rock, from the free-to-enter Princes Street Gardens. The nearby Scottish Parliament building, designed by Catalan architect Enric Miralles, opened in 2004, and tours of the building are free. You can even watch democracy in action by attending a Parliamentary Debate.

National Museum of Scotland

Many of Edinburgh’s best museums and galleries are free to enter. For a whirlwind journey through the history of Scotland, you can’t miss the National Museum of Scotland. From Pictish stones to the 12th-century Lewis Chessmen and the stuffed remains of Dolly, the first animal to be cloned, the museum’s vast collection gives you an overview of the country’s complex and eventful past.

Street art in Leith

Edinburgh’s old port district of Leith has recently been smartened up with stylish new waterfront bars and restaurants, and brightened up by gifted street artists. The visual arts organisation LeithLate commissions new artworks on walls and shop shutters around the neighborhood and along Leith Walk. To see the lot you’ll need to visit outside of business hours while the shutters are down, though the area has plenty of old pubs and hip new bistros to help you make an evening of it.

For more information on things to do, as well as places to stay in Edinburgh, visit our destination guide.

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