Edinburgh is a fantastic city and is one of our favorites here at the Frugal Expat.
It's big but walkable, has lots of old-world charm, friendly locals, and plenty of free things to do. It’s fantastic in winter with some snow on the ground but equally as lovely on a hot summer day.
We will go through 16 of the best things to do during your visit.
1. Explore Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh. What’s so good about this castle is that it's easily accessible from the town and the views over the rest of Edinburgh are amazing.
Inside, you will find the crown jewels of Scotland, the stone of destiny, and a famous gun called Mons Meg.
It's £18 to get inside, which we don't think is too bad compared to castles and other attractions. You can easily spend half a day here just walking about and learning all about the history. The staff here are also great; they are very knowledgeable and happy to answer any questions you may have.
2. Walk the Royal Mile
Walking the Royal Mile is one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh.
The Royal Mile is a famous mile-long road that connects Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, the Queen's residence in Scotland.
The whole stretch is uphill towards the castle and is mostly cobblestone, so wearing comfortable shoes is a good idea, and we recommend calling at some of the shops or a pub along the way to break it up. This blog's author did a whisky-tasting tour about halfway up, which made the rest of the walk easier as he was slightly drunk!
It's a historic route used for royal events for hundreds of years, so we recommend you do this walk while you are in Edinburgh.
3. Visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse
Visiting the Palace of Holyroodhouse is one of the top things to do in Edinburgh's city center.
Visitors will love it because it's full of history, and you can walk in the steps of Mary Queen of Scots. It's still used today, so you can see how the palace has changed over time.
There are no guided tours here, so we recommend you get one of the audio guides, which will make your visit even better and allow you to walk around at your own pace.
If you have kids with you, there's a special playroom just for kids, making it easier for you as a family.
It's not one of the cheaper things to do in Edinburgh, as many people talk about how expensive it is. Despite the price, it's one of the must-see attractions in the city as it is full of exciting stories and beautiful architecture.
4. Climb Arthur's Seat
Climbing Arthur's Seat is one of the best outdoor things to do in Edinburgh.
If you are wondering what Arthur's seat is, it's an ancient hill located just outside the city and was used as an ancient fort around 2000 years ago. It's located in Holyrood Park, which means there are plenty of other things to do when you walk up here.
Our tip is to be prepared for your walk up here. It will take you about 45 minutes to get up there, but this is Scotland, so there is a good chance it will rain. Also, think about your footwear. Are the shoes you have been walking around the city suitable? If so, go for it, as you will be rewarded with spectacular views. It can get busy at the top in the summer months, so head up early if you can.
5. Discover the National Museum of Scotland
Visiting the National Museum of Scotland is one of the best family things to do in Edinburgh.
It's a place to see and learn everything from the natural world and different cultures to art, design, and Scottish history. And the best part for frugal travelers is that it's free!
The vast museum has activities and information for all ages, and you can easily spend a whole day here with all the family.
The museum isn’t all about looking at things – there are many interactive and educational activities for kids to keep them entertained. It's a great place to take children and help them learn while having fun.
6. Edinburgh Vaults
Exploring the Edinburgh Vaults is one of the great things to do in Edinburgh.
These underground vaults from the 1700s are a fascinating and spooky part of the city's history. To get the whole experience, it's best to go with a guide who can tell you all the background stories and history.
The vaults have even been featured on ‘Most Haunted,' including unique spots like the witches' coven and stone circle vaults.
The tours are full of history and ghost stories but are brief, making them perfect for the whole family.
The guides share the dark history in an informative and entertaining way, with storytelling but no jump scares. It's highly recommended for a unique and memorable experience in Edinburgh.
7. Royal Botanic Garden
For those looking for a peaceful and beautiful outing, the Royal Botanic Garden is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh for couples.
This garden, often compared to the famed Kew Gardens but without the crowds and noise, offers a perfect setting for a relaxing walk and getting closer to nature.
The gardens themselves are stunning and well-maintained, ideal for a peaceful walk. It's a
One of the charming aspects of the garden is the wildlife, like the squirrels that are friendly and used to people. Our tip is to bring some nuts for them, which might make your walk even more enjoyable.
8. National Galleries of Scotland
The National Galleries of Scotland is a fantastic option for indoor things to do in Edinburgh.
It's a great gallery with free entry and easy access via public transport.
The gallery isn't overwhelmingly large, but it has a fabulous collection, including works by Van Gogh.
The gallery strikes a perfect balance – it's not too big that it becomes tiring, nor too small to leave you wanting more. They are currently finishing some renovations, which means a few parts of it are closed off.
The café within the gallery is also worth a visit, with delicious scones and lattes adding to the overall enjoyable experience of the National Galleries.
9. Wander around the historic Old Town
Edinburgh's Old Town is a must-visit, full of history and charm, making it one of the top things to see and do in Edinburgh.
As the city's oldest neighborhood, it takes you back to medieval times with its small streets, wool shops, pubs, and historical monuments.
Walking around the Old Town feels like you are going back in time and is especially popular with those outside Europe. Informational plaques along the Royal Mile provide fascinating insights into the city's history, and many visitors recommend taking a narrated historical walking tour to fully appreciate the area's rich past.
The Old Town's magical atmosphere makes it feel like being on a movie set, with stunning architecture and a remarkable skyline.
10. Enjoy the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (in August)
Attending the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is one of the most fun things to do in Edinburgh. It's a massive celebration of arts and culture every August in Scotland’s capital. With loads of events, performances, and shows, it's unique!
Edinburgh is very busy during this period, and you'll find streets lined with buskers, from jugglers and musicians to mono bike riders, each showcasing their talents.
The Fringe offers a mix of free and paid shows, many of which are excellent, but choosing which to see can be overwhelming. While some performers may be eager for donations, the atmosphere is lively and entertaining.
Accommodation can be pricey and hard to find during this period, so early booking is advised. However, most shows are affordable, so enjoying the Fringe doesn't have to break the bank.
11. Visit the Camera Obscura & World of Illusions
Camera Obscura & World of Illusions is a fantastic thing to do in Edinburgh with kids.
Voted VisitScotland's Best Visitor Attraction Experience for 2022/23, it's the oldest purpose-built attraction in Scotland and was established in 1835.
This place offers an exciting mix of interactive experiences across five floors, including the Vortex Tunnel, a Mirror Maze, and the Shrinking Room.
What makes it unique is the 170-year-old Camera Obscura, providing a magical way to see Edinburgh.
The attraction is full of hands-on optical illusions and fun activities perfect for families. It's a place where everyone, regardless of age or nationality, can have fun, play, and learn.
Recognized as the ‘Best family attraction in Britain' by The Telegraph and awarded five stars by VisitScotland, it's a world-class experience.
One thing to remember is that it is in a 17th-century building with no lift, spanning five floors, so it's not the most accessible of places.
12. The Royal Yacht Britannia
Visiting The Royal Yacht Britannia is one of the top things to do in Edinburgh.
This remarkable ship offers a unique glimpse into maritime and royal history.
This tour starts on the Bridge on the top deck and takes you down to the engine room, showcasing the yacht's impressive layout.
The interior of Britannia has a fascinating mix of styles, ranging from the 1950s to the 1970s. As you move through the ship, you'll see various dining rooms, crew quarters, laundry rooms, medical facilities, and bars.
Although the tearooms on board are a bit pricey, visitors often find it worth it for the quality of the food.
The Royal Yacht Britannia is just outside the city but easily accessible by bus.
13. Edinburgh Zoo
Edinburgh Zoo, set on 82 acres, is a must-visit attraction, especially as one of the family things to do in Edinburgh.
Located just three miles from the city center, it's home to over 1,000 rare and endangered animals, including chimpanzees, sun bears, Indian Rhinos, the UK's only koalas, and the first Giant Pandas in the UK for 17 years.
The zoo offers a busy program of educational events and activities, from keeper talks to animal encounters. It also has various eating options, several play areas for children, and a fantastic gift shop.
The zoo is built on a hill, with enclosures and attractions spread throughout, but it can be hard work if you need help with walking; there are plenty of paths and interesting sights along the way.
The talks throughout the day are informative and engaging, and the play areas are great for kids to enjoy.
14. Red Bus Tour
The City Sightseeing Edinburgh Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour is an excellent option for those looking for cheap things to do in Edinburgh.
This tour offers the convenience of a guided tour with the flexibility of exploring at your own pace. Your ticket is valid for 24 hours, allowing you to hop on and off at attractions like Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace, and Arthur’s Seat.
Key highlights include the ease of getting around to multiple city stops, including Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and Grassmarket.
The onboard audio commentary is a fantastic feature, ensuring you don’t miss any important information about the sights you see. With buses departing regularly, you can maximize your time for sightseeing, making it a frugal and convenient way to see the best of Edinburgh.
15. Edinburgh Gin Distillery
The Edinburgh Gin Distillery is a must-visit for those who love gin, as it's one of the most popular gin brands in the UK.
You can participate in activities like gin tasting and cocktail experiences or even craft your own bespoke London Dry Gin using the finest botanicals.
Housed in a historic building full of character, including distinctive booths, the distillery offers an ambiance that enhances the experience.
The tours are not only enjoyable but also informative. The guides are friendly and knowledgeable and go the extra mile to make everyone feel welcome. They share fascinating stories and insights into the gin distilling process.
16. Princes Street Gardens
Princes Street Gardens is a beautiful park at the base of Edinburgh Castle, making it an ideal spot to unwind after exploring the city. The gardens feature a fantastic playground, a great bonus for families looking to keep their children entertained.
Having such a lovely park in the city center is a real treat for visitors and locals alike. It's a great place to hang out, take in the views, and enjoy peace and quiet after walking around the city all day.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.