The best free things to do in Edinburgh are some of the Scottish capital’s most exciting and dynamic attractions. So, whether you’re a traveler on a budget or simply an adventurer with an enthusiasm for exploring, read on for a guide to the 10 best free things to do in Edinburgh:
From shopping and ice-skating to festive performances, there’s something for everyone during Christmas in Edinburgh. Whether you’re visiting with family, friends, or children, here is a list of the top 10 things to do during the holiday season this year:
1. Visit the spectacular Edinburgh Christmas Markets
Located at Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh’s Christmas Markets are a great place to shop for local arts and crafts, gifts, and tree ornaments to get into the holiday spirit. If you’re feeling adventurous, get a bird’s eye view of Edinburgh from the Forth 1 Big Wheel, or go for a spin on the 60-metre Star Flyer.
Warm up with mulled wine and some traditional German sausages afterwards. Other fun options include raclette on chips, churros, and plenty of local food and drink.
No admission fees or tickets are needed to enter the markets.
Where to stay nearby: Tucked away in the West End of New Town, William Street Lane is the perfect base to explore the Christmas Markets.
2. Meet Santa at Santa’s Grotto
There’s no shortage of fun activities for kids in Santa Land, located on the lower level of West Princes Street Gardens.
Children will enjoy exploring the beautiful Christmas Tree Maze and rides such as Candy Cane Bungees and Bumper Cars.
Most excitingly, you can visit Santa’s Grotto, where little ones will receive a gift and a story from Santa himself.
Make sure you book in advance here. Tickets start from £8.50.
3. Glide down George Street on skates
Lace up your skates at the alpine ice rink on George Street.
In the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town, the ice rink is surrounded by shops and restaurants, with a lovely view of Charlotte Square. Book here, with tickets from £6.
Where to stay nearby: Located just steps away from George Street and the Christmas Markets in Princes Street Gardens, our stylish duplex South Charlotte Street holiday apartment.
4. Enjoy a Festive Afternoon Tea
Indulge in some festive cheer at one of the Christmas Teas available around Edinburgh. The Festive Afternoon Tea at The Signet Library on Parliament Square is served with treats including mini game pies, hot smoked salmon eclairs, chocolate orange sacher tortes, and mini cherry trifles.
At the Dalmahoy Hotel and Country Club in Kirknewton, celebrate a festive tea with a Champagne package.
5. Explore Christmas at the Royal Botanic Gardens
The Botanics are lit up for the season! Follow a festive walk through the gardens and take in the stunning colours under the starlight.
Kids will enjoy toasting marshmallows over a fire–and on a cold night, the hot chocolate and spiced winter beverages will be sure to warm your hands. Tickets must be booked online in advance. Book here, with prices starting from £14.
Where to stay nearby: A lovely, short walk along the Water of Leith walkway will take you from our Cheyne Street apartment to the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh.
6. Watch a splendid performance of The Nutcracker by the Scottish Ballet
A holiday classic! Escape to the world of the Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy at the Festival Theatre on Nicholson Street, with live music played by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra and choreography by Scottish Ballet founder Peter Darrell.
Tickets start from £19.50.
7. Discover history and hidden treasures at the Castle of Light
Visit Edinburgh Castle for an interactive storytelling experience, with stunning lighting installations bringing the spectacle of history to life.
‘Taking inspiration from the 1818 re-discovery of the crown jewels in a Castle vault, this year’s show will celebrate the lesser-known stories of the Castle and unveil the treasure ‘hidden in plain sight,’’ said Andy McGregor, Creative Director of Castle of Light. ‘There’s so much to discover – fantastic jewels, dancing unicorns, an animated tree and countless other surprises in store.’
Tickets must be booked online in advance, with prices starting from £12.
8. Journey through the light trail at the Edinburgh Zoo
Make a mini trip to the Arctic at one of the Edinburgh Zoo’s Christmas Nights.
Illuminated with colourful fairy lights and projections, the festive trail will take you to see the penguins by moonlight, Santa’s Grotto, a tunnel of light and a gingerbread village. Tickets must be booked online in advance, with prices starting from £9.50
9. Join in on a holiday wreath-making workshop
Attend a Christmas wreath-making class at the Bonnie & Wild Scottish Marketplace in Edinburgh’s St James Quarter.
Get crafty and learn how to create your own decorative wreath with festive, local, and sustainable seasonal foliage!
Book in advance here.
10. Go Christmas shopping around town
Finish up your Christmas shopping list or grab a last minute gift on Princes Street, George Street, or at the newly opened St James Quarter shopping centre.
Extended opening hours will ensure that you get your shopping done on time.
Where to stay nearby: Located in a traditional Georgian townhouse, our Albany Street and Albany Lane Edinburgh holiday accommodations are just minutes away from St James. For couples, Dublin Studio offers both comfort and convenience.