10 Free Things To Do In Edinburgh

By on February 24th, 2023


Free Things To Do In Edinburgh

Edinburgh is one of the best cities to live and study. Popular with students who want the benefits of vibrant city life without being overwhelmed by its fast pace. To help you make the most of your student life, we’ve put together a guide of all the free things to do in Edinburgh to help stretch your budget.

The Meadows, Edinburgh - Downing Students

1. Walk through The Meadows

The Meadows Park is a short walk from the University of Edinburgh’s central campus. It’s a great place to take a stroll or relax and chill. There are lots of cafes located nearby and around the park, which are great for grabbing refreshments or a little bite to eat. Downing Students has accommodation directly opposite the park. It’s called The Mont and opens September 2023. Take a first look via our virtual tour here.

2. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The gallery opened in 1889 as the world’s first purpose-built portrait gallery. It’s a remarkable red sandstone neo-gothic building that holds the portraits of Scotland’s most historical and famous icons. The museum is free to explore and if you are living with us at New Park you can reach the gallery within a 20-minute walk or 10-minute drive.

Look out for the following portraits:

  • Mary Sommerville
  • Richard Burns
  • Billy Connelly

National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh - Downing Students

Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh - Downing Students

3. The Royal Botanic Garden

If you love the outdoors and the beautiful greenery that goes with it, check out the Royal Botanica Garden. The garden itself has free entry and is a calming place to spend an afternoon in the heart of Edinburgh. See some beautiful trees, smell some beautiful flowers, and find some peace before heading home to finish those assignments!

Keep an eye out for regular events at The Royal Botanic Garden ranging from:

  • Seasonal Events
  • Health & Wellbeing
  • Botanical Illustration
  • Art & Science exhibitions
  • Walks and Talks

4. Attend a free concert or event at Usher Hall

Usher Hall is an extraordinary blend of historical and contemporary, traditional and modern, inside and out. A stunning Edwardian building, the Hall was extended in 2010, adding a thoroughly modern façade that cradles the side of the original building, providing even more and better accommodations to a wider range of performers and audiences.

A venue that regularly holds free events for students, it is ideal for a night out with friends and flatmates that won’t break the bank!

Acts from all music genres from rock to opera have performed on the stage, from Oasis to Lewis Capaldi to Edinburgh’s own The Bay City Rollers. If you are a Breaking Bad fan, you will be pleased to hear Bob Odenkirk will be host a comedy event in Edinburgh for his book tour this year, one to attend indeed!


Usher Hall Events, Edinburgh - Downing Students

Circus Lane, Edinburgh - Downing Students

5. Take Pictures in Circus Lane

Circus Lane is without a doubt, one of the quaintest streets in the whole of Edinburgh. St Stephen’s Clock Tower is the perfect backdrop, where you’ll get a good mix of houses, flowers, and cobbles too. Early mornings or afternoons are the best times to take the perfect images without crowds.

6. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is a short walk from Circus Lane and a great way to spend your time. You can enjoy a collection of over 30,000 works of art by famous artists such as Botticelli, Van Gogh and Monet.

7. Relax at Portobello

The beach at Portobello is one of Edinburgh’s most famous attractions. It’s a beautiful place for a stroll and has plenty of places to stop for a bite to eat or drink on your way back into town after taking in some fresh air and sun. The beach is also just a short walk from Edinburgh Zoo and Craigmillar Castle – two more great reasons for visiting this area.

8. Visit The Writer’s Museum

The Writer’s Museum (Lawnmarket, Lady Stair’s Close) shares the story of Scotland’s literary greats: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. Perfect for literature students.

9. The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is the most famous street in Edinburgh, that runs between two significant landmarks Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. It runs across a succession of cobbled streets with lots of history and culture, as well as a vast array of visitor attractions, shops, restaurants cafés.

Writer's Museum, Edinburgh


JK Rowling took huge inspiration from Edinburgh when writing the Harry Potter books. In fact, she began writing the books whilst enjoying cake and coffee at The Elephant House – a local café located on George IV Bridge.

But The Elephant House is just one of the hotspots for Harry Potter fans to explore. You can see more on our Instagram video.

Victoria Street & West Bow – just 150 metres from Edinburgh Castle, the brightly painted buildings along Victoria Street & West Bow are a selfie spot must and the inspiration behind Diagon Alley. Tag us when you visit!

Museum Context UK – head here for official licensed Harry Potter merchandise and wands for a spell binding time!

Greyfriars Kirkyard – the place behind some of the most iconic Harry Potter characters including:  The Potters, Thomas Riddell, Mc Gonagall and Elizabeth Moodie. Keep an eye out and see if you can spot them!

While you have some downtime between class, or if you need some stress relief, go check out some of these free things to do in Edinburgh. Get some fresh air, learn some history, and learn something new, all without breaking the bank.

Read our guide Student Life in Edinburgh for more information on how to make the most out of your next home away from home.

Downing Student Life

Visit our blog
Back to Top