Edinburgh for free: the best things to do on the cheap

By Jon Price

The Scottish capital can be a pretty pricey place. Fortunately, though, there’s plenty to see, do and enjoy in Edinburgh that won’t break the bank. Here are our favourites…

Climb to the top of Calton Hill

You’re probably already familiar with this most famous view of Edinburgh. Situated right in the city centre, overlooking the eastern end of Princes Street, Calton Hill is essentially the acropolis of Edinburgh – a hilltop vantage point graced with not one, but two giant pillared monuments, and unbeatable panoramic views of the city’s old town. Visit at sunrise or sunset for those essential Instagram shots of the Dugald Stewart Monument, which has stood here since 1831. Don’t miss the 18th century City Observatory, either. The climb to the top takes little more than ten minutes and, best of all, doesn’t cost a penny.

Get lost in gardens and fine art  

Many of Edinburgh’s most prominent museums are completely free to enter and the one that should be missed at your peril is the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Split across two buildings, both are filled with brilliant and thought-provoking examples of modern art. We’d recommend Modern One, which is situated in a stunning neoclassical building from 1825 and surrounded by landscaped gardens with swirling ponds and surrealist sculptures. Highlights include works by Francis Bacon and David Hockney, not to mention pieces by Turner Prize-winning artists such as Tracey Emin and Douglas Gordon. They also have a lovely cafes dishing up superb salads and cheap cakes.

Wander through a world of witchcraft and wizardry

It’s no secret that author JK Rowling wrote the bulk of her world-famous Harry Potter books in the Scottish capital – using everything from local landmarks to the names of former Edinburgh residents etched on forgotten gravestones to fuel her creativity. A must for all Potterheads, this cheap and very cheerful walking tour reveals all as to how the world of harry came into being, from the spooky cemetery that houses the ancient graves of Tom Riddle and William McGonagall to the very café where one of the world’s most famous writers first put pen to paper. Pure magic. 

MakeMyDay offers unique and handpicked experiences and tours in exciting cities around the world, including Edinburgh.