Forever Edinburgh: Edinburgh on a Budget

Did you know that Edinburgh is home to plenty of low-cost and free attractions? Here’s a guide to the city’s many wallet-friendly experiences

Advertorial by The Skinny | 01 Feb 2023
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Historic Bargains

Edinburgh’s museums house thousands of artefacts, each with a unique story to tell, making them great places to spend an afternoon without costing you a penny (though donations are welcome). The National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street is a treasure trove of artefacts and exhibitions from across Scotland and beyond, including Dolly the sheep – the first ever cloned mammal – and the ten metre millennium clock tower that echoes the form of a medieval cathedral.

The Museum of Edinburgh, in the historic Huntly House on the Royal Mile, takes you through some key moments in the city’s history. St Cecilia’s Hall on the Cowgate is Edinburgh’s music museum; its rooms are filled with the University of Edinburgh’s instrument collection, while the building itself is Scotland’s oldest purpose-built concert venue.

Almost all of Edinburgh’s art galleries are also free to visit, and many of them are interesting spaces in their own right. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in the New Town is a neo-Gothic masterpiece with a spectacular entrance hall filled with murals and friezes; it dates back to 1889, and is the world’s first purpose-built portrait gallery. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s main space – Modern One – sits in a 198-year-old building just off the Water of Leith, with landscaped grounds designed by Charles Jencks. The Walk, Talk, Make Sculpture Trail (available on the Gallery’s website) is a great way to explore the artwork with the kids, with prompts to create some art of their own.

For younger children, the Art Stomps map is a guide to the gallery and grounds aimed at under-5s, available as a download or a paper copy. Inside, the collection includes work by Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Salvador Dali, and the cafe is a great spot for a coffee or lunch (all the food is made from scratch on site). The Modern and Portrait Galleries are both wheelchair accessible, with pre-recorded audio and video content available for those with visual impairments and hearing loss.

Exterior view of the National Museum of Scotland. Groups of people walk past the doors, with some also sitting on the stairs by the entrance.

A trip to Collective offers a whole host of free experiences. The gallery itself, in the old City Observatory on Calton Hill, hosts a programme of exciting contemporary art as well as a delightful shop filled with pieces by Scottish artists and designers. Step outside and you’re right next to the National Monument, then take a walk around the hill for some of the best views of the Edinburgh skyline anywhere in the city.

The clue’s in the title when it comes to Fruitmarket – the contemporary art gallery by Waverley Station is housed in a former fruit and veg warehouse, with its recent extension taking up the space formerly occupied by the Electric Circus nightclub and gig venue. Inside you’ll find free exhibitions, a great bookshop and a laidback cafe. Across the road is the City Art Centre; a fully accessible space with multiple floors of exhibition space, and totally free to visit. Current exhibitions include photographer Ron O’Donnell’s shots of unseen and forgotten locations around Edinburgh, and Incoming, a show of recent acquisitions for the gallery featuring work by Rachel Maclean and Peter Howson. Once you’ve finished exploring the collection, head to Mimi’s cafe on the ground floor for a coffee and a sweet treat.
Learn more about Edinburgh's museums at

The Great Outdoors

The Dean Village in Edinburgh. A river runs through the centre of the photo, with medieval-style buildings on either side.

Edinburgh is full of fantastic walks and green spaces. Why not start out in Stockbridge, a seven-minute walk from Edinburgh’s New Town and home to stunning rows of Georgian buildings and a bustling high street. From there, head over to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. It’s free to enter, and its landscaped gardens are packed with intriguing plants and wildlife. Alternatively, head in the opposite direction – take the Water of Leith through the historic Dean Village and out to the west of the city. 

Edinburgh’s coastline has a lot to offer. Start off at Cramond Falls – a series of waterfalls on the River Almond – before popping out on the waterfront by Cramond Island. You can walk over to the island to see its mix of World War Two bunkers and rugged landscape, or stay on dry land and walk to the sands of Silverknowes beach. More beach fun can be found down the coast at Portobello – the promenade is home to a bunch of independent restaurants and cafes.

The city centre also has plenty of hidden gems to unearth. Check out Dunbar’s Close garden off the Royal Mile, named after 18th century author David Dunbar and believed to have been visited by Robert Burns, or head to the Archivist’s Garden in the National Records building on Princes Street. The garden contains more than 50 species of plants, each linked to Scotland’s history, heritage or folklore.

Find more to explore in Edinburgh at

Cheap Eats & Family Deals

Photo from Camera Obscura. An optical illusion which seems to show large children on the right with their small parent on the left. The words 'Camera Obscura' are visible on the wall behind.

Edinburgh is full of exciting places to eat and drink, and a host of options that won’t break the bank. The first 358 EAT food festival continues until 6 February at independent restaurants and cafes across the city. Nearly 40 venues are offering taster-style menus for £3, £5 or £8, offering an affordable chance to try a host of great local eateries.

Edinburgh Street Food will offer something similar when it opens by the Omni Centre at the end of February. Sandwiched between Calton Hill and the St James Quarter, the new hub will bring together ten stalls offering street food dishes inspired by cuisines from around the world to the Scottish Capital.

Great deals for families can also be found across Edinburgh’s bars and restaurants. Kids eat free all day every day at the new Bread Street Kitchen at St Andrew Square, while Chop House – the excellent Edinburgh-owned steak restaurant with branches in Leith, Bruntsfield and the Old Town – give free kids’ meals on weekday evenings and weekend lunchtimes. The family-run Balerno Inn, at the centre of the historic village on the southwest fringe of the city, also offers free meals for kids every Tuesday. If you fancy a coffee, Bruntsfield eatery Mclarens on the Corner offer free milk and cookies for kids when their parent or guardian orders a hot drink. The offer runs weekdays, 3-5pm, so it’s ideal for a boost after the school run.

Many of Edinburgh’s attractions offer free entry to children. The Camera Obscura World of Illusions (the oldest purpose-built attraction in the city) is an incredible collection of puzzles and illusions, plus the Camera Obscura itself which offers a unique way to view the city. Admission is free for under-5s. Edinburgh Zoo is one of the country’s best zoos with loads of educational activities and a huge array of animals (it’s free for under-3s). If you want to explore the city on the move, Edinburgh Bus Tours run tours of the Old and New Towns, as well as their Majestic Tour which takes in the Shore and the Royal Yacht Britannia. They’re free for under-5s, and you can get free tickets for up to three children (ages 5-15) for every paying adult.

For more great offers in Edinburgh, visit

For more ideas on how to make the most of Edinburgh on a budget, visit Forever Edinburgh, the official guide to the city, at

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