Edinburgh & Lothian
Edinburgh Free tour
Edinburgh has a great range of attractions throughout the city and these include a number of free attractions. This itinerary offers a three day guide to seeing the best free attractions in the city with a mixture of museums, visitor attractions and fine art. Although this itinerary is three days you can customise it to suit your own needs.
Total Cost: Free
Day 1: National Museum of Scotland / Writers Museum / Museum on the Mound
The day starts at the National Museum of Scotland which is the most visited free attraction in the country and has grown massively in popularity since its £47 million refurbishment. The museum has 7 levels and a massive collection of items so to see everything you will need at least 3 hours. There is also an excellent restaurant here called the tower restaurant, it is situated on the roof and offers fantastic views of the city and a surprisingly good fine cuisine menu.
The next stop is the Writers Museum which is only around a 10 minute walk away, head towards the Royal Mile and the museum is on Lady Stair Close just off the Royal Mile. Walk along Chambers St from the musem for about 5 minutes and then turn left on the Royal Mile, Lady Stair Close will be on your right hand side.
The museum is dedicated the most famous literary figures from Scotland, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenston. The museum is housed inside a 17th century former residence and it has multiple levels where you can learn about these famous figures with a floor dedicated to each person.
The final attractions of the day is the Museum on the Mound which is actually just a few hundred meters from the Writers Museum, just walk out of Lady Stairs Close away from the Royal Mile and it will be right in front of you. This museum is actually still the Scottish Headquarters of Lloyds Bank and it offers a fascinating look at the development of currency and the history of the Bank of Scotland and you also get the chance to see what a million pounds in cash looks like (sadly no free samples of money available).
Day2: St Giles Cathedral / Scottish Parliament / Arthurs Seat
The day starts on the Royal Mile at the historic St Giles Cathedral which is found outside parliament square in the heart of the city. The Cathedral still has services so depending on the day which you visit you can attend a service if you wish. The cathedral has some fantastic architecture to view, dating back to the 7th century.
The parliament is situated at the bottom of the Royal Mile and it is home to the devolved Scottish Government which was only set up in 1999. The parliament has a free tour which you have to book in advance and it lasts for an hour. The tour offers a great deal of information on the building and gives you fantastic insight to the unusual (and often criticized) design of the building and to the Scottish political system.
The last stop of the day is Arthurs Seat which overlooks the parliament and the city of Edinburgh. The peak sits at 822ft and there is a well travelled path which will take you to the summit. This path starts a few hundred meters from the parliament building (turn right outside the parliament and you will see it) and the accent should take no longer than an hour. Some areas are quite steep and its best to ware appropriate footwear (high heels and flip flops not a good idea!). From the summit you enjoy panoramic views of the city and looking out towards Fife.
Day3: National Galleries / Edinburgh Botanic Gardens
This day takes place in the north west of the city centre which can be reached on foot from the city centre (around 35 min walk) or by one of the frequent buses (No 12 / No19 buses from Princes Street). The first stop is the National Gallaries where there are two buildings to visit, the Museum of Modern Art Modern one and Modern two. The galleries offer the best collection of modern art pieces in the city and there are often very good special exhibitions on (these do have an admission fee). Outside there is a sculpture trail which you can walk around and view a variety of different sculptures, you can pick up a map from inside which will guide your around.
Next it is on to the Royal Botanical Gardens, the gardens are within walking distance, there is a walk the follow the River Leith which is a scenic route to take. Another route is to go through Ravelston Terrace and Dean St. There is no direct bus service between the National Gallery and Gardens, a taxi ride would be the best option for those not wishing to walk.
The gardens are spread over a massive site which covers around 70 acres of land so it can take quite a while to fully explore the many thousands of plant species that are found here. Depending on your time of arrival you may want to consider having lunch here, the Terrace Café is a great option if it’s a sunny day as there is outdoor seating available and its easy to find on your left as you enter the gardens.
As for the main highlights in the site, this really depends on your personal preferences, the Rock Garden and the Queen Mothers memorial garden were a couple of our favorites. There are also some exotic plant species in the multiple Glasshouses which are on site, these are the only paid part of the gardens (£4.50 Adult / £1.00 Child).