Don’t want to pay to visit Edinburgh Castle or Holyrood Palace? Don’t worry; there’s still plenty to see for free in Scotland’s capital city! Here are a few free sights to see while you explore Edinburgh on a budget:
The Royal Mile
The one-mile stretch of road running from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace is known as the Royal Mile. This is the main street of the Old Town, the name given to the oldest part of Edinburgh. Here, the winding medieval-planned streets twist and turn through some of the city’s oldest buildings, in sharp contrast to the New Town that was laid out in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Royal Mile is lined with shops, restaurants, and hotels, and it’s the hub of Edinburgh’s tourist activity. Branching off of the Mile are Edinburgh’s series of closes, or alleyways, which might bring you to a tucked-away restaurant or museum.
The Writers’ Museum
Off of the Royal Mile and through Lady Stair’s Close is The Writers’ Museum, celebrating three of Scotland’s most famous writers: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. The museum houses personal objects like Burns’ writing desk, Scott’s childhood toys, Stevenson’s wardrobe, and Burns’ death mask.
St Giles’ Cathedral
Also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh (“kirk” being a Scottish word for “church”), St Giles’ Cathedral and its distinctive steeple sit on the Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. This 14th century church is considered to be the home of Presbyterianism. The outside is incredible, but the church’s stained glass inside is absolutely awe-inspiring. While the church is free for all to visit, if you want to take pictures inside, that’s a £2 photography fee.
Near Holyrood Palace is Scottish Parliament. As it is a working Parliament, what you can see and do may change depending on what’s going on that day, but it is free to visit. You are welcome to walk right on in, after going through a metal detector and security line, and look in on the Debating Chamber, take a free tour, and see the artwork.
You might even find yourself in the middle of a science fair or other public event like I did five years ago. In 2013, they had an exhibit showcasing the Large Hadron Collider, which also involved smaller interactive exhibits that explored things like static electricity.
Not an experience I expected to have at Scottish Parliament, but that’s all the more reason for you to visit!
On the Holyrood Palace end of the Royal Mile juts Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano that rises 822 feet above sea level. A hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat gives off panoramic views of Edinburgh.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Edinburgh? Let me know in the comments!