€14.50 for Edinburgh Castle?! Surely there are cheaper thrills than that in Scotland’s most beautiful city?
Chic and cosmopolitan, Edinburgh attractions can be pricey, but there’s more to Scotland’s capital than bagpipes and kilts flapping in the breeze. Dubbed the “Athens of the North” for its lovely architecture, Edinburgh’s grand Georgian streets also have plenty of nightlife pockets – modern day Scots sure know how to party, especially during Edinburgh Hogmanay (that’s New Year to you).
And when the internationally renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival rolls into town, most places are packed until the wee hours.
We’ve got 11 of the best budget things to do for under €10 covered, so try some haggis, take in a spot of art and party hard with the students.
1. The National Museum of Scotland
The newly refurbished galleries in Edinburgh Old Town has 8,000 new objects – items unseen since the opening back in 1866. A suspended hippopotamus aside, it’s a mish mash of objects made in Scotland as well as discoveries brought back from Scottish explorers and scientists including Charles Darwin, who studied in Edinburgh.
The opening up of new vaulted rooms in the belly of the National Museum of Scotland add a touch of the dramatic while a new atrium ceiling fills the space with light, even on the dreariest of days – a great thing to do in Edinburgh on a rainy day!
2. Scottish cheap eats
Allow me to translate some of the ingredients and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how delicious haggis is. Made with lamb (I won’t mention which bit), beef, oatmeal, neeps (turnips) and tatties (mashed potato), haggis is available in most pubs and usually costs around €8. You could also buy one from a local deli and take it to your hostel to cook. Macsween haggis is one of the most famous, and they can be boiled or microwaved.
A cheaper and traditional lunch dish is cullen skink, a creamy fish soup, or a haggis pasty – you’ll need to walk to the top of Edinburgh Castle to burn that one off!
Fish and chips and great for enjoying down at Leith, or during the Edinburgh Festival on the curb as you enjoy some street entertainment. And of course, they are cheap as (sorry!) chips too. Tailend (14-15 Albert Place, Leith Walk) is Edinburgh’s showstopping eatery for the newspaper wrapped local delicacy. Eat-in options also available for rainy days.
3. The National Galleries of Scotland
Aside from the historic architecture on the city streets, Edinburgh is blessed with some excellent museums and galleries that will satisfy culture vultures. The National Galleries of Scotland are open between 10am-5pm and free to enter, and are housed in five beautiful buildings across the city.
The Modern Art Galleries are set in a huge stately home surrounded by parkland dotted with sculptures, and the National Gallery has an extensive collection of fine art from the Reniassance to the nineteenth-century.
Cost: Special exhibitions are hosted all year round and admission fees range from free-€7.
4. See Nessie away from her loch
You don’t have to venture to the Highlands in search of Scotland’s most famous mythical beast – touristy but hilarious fun, the 3D Loch Ness Experience is based on the work of Loch Ness expert Adrian Shine, with 3D displays and an exhibition on all the facts and myths surrounding the Loch Ness Monster.
5. The Royal Botanic Garden
The Royal Botanic Garden is over two centuries old, and makes for a beautiful afternoon stroll. Explore acres of local and exotic plants – highlights include the largest collection of wild-origin Chinese plants outside China, the Scottish Heath Garden, the Rock Garden, and the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden.
Plant lovers can discover unusual varieties of flora and fauna from across the globe in the quaint Victorian Glasshouse, browse the oldest botanical library in Britain or catch an art exhibition at Inverleith House. It’s one mile from the centre and a great idea is to arrive by bike along the traffic-free National Cycle Network Route 75.
Cost: The garden is free, admission to the Glasshouses is €4.50 each and is open daily from 10am.
6. Explore Georgian architecture
There is plenty of Georgian architecture to ogle around Charlotte Square in the New Town – thanks to Robert Adams. But to see both the outs and ins, head to The Georgian House, number 7, where you can glimpse 18th century life when people left the squalor of the Old Town for the promise of more refined living in the New Town.
7. Dessert at the Queen’s deli
Edinburgh is packed with royal heritage, and the Queen herself is a big fan of the city – she orders her cheeses from Valvona and Crolla, a famous artisan deli just a few minutes from the east end of Princes Street. The restaurant and cafe upstairs serves dishes made with the top quality produce, with regal prices to match. You may not be able to afford to eat like a queen up there, but you can certainly indulge in some take-away hot drinks and dolci downstairs in the deli. Try the real Italian gelato imported exclusively from Milan, the Torta di Cioccolato – a devilish Chocolate truffle cake made with 70% Valrhona chocolate, and the Limoncello Pannacotta.
8. Clamber up an extinct volcano
Easily doable in a morning or afternoon, head to Holyrood Park which is located about one mile east of Edinburgh Castle. It’s 251m to the top of the hill, known as Arthur’s Seat, and offers spectacular views across the city and the Firth of Forth over to Fife. Oh, and most importantly, this is one of a number of free things to do in Edinburgh.
Allow about two hours up and back down and it is breezy at the top both winter and summer.
9. A wee dram in Greyfriars Bobby
One of Scotland’s most famous exports, you couldn’t leave Edinburgh without sampling a ‘dram’ of malt whisky. Greyfriars Bobby (30-34 Candlemaker Row) is a legendary watering hole named after the famous dog and city mascot who watched over his master’s grave, and the pub is a cozy place for a drink, if a little crowded in tourist season. If you can’t face a neat shot, try it with a dash of ginger ale or ginger wine.
10. Frugal Films
The Edinburgh Filmhouse Cinema is a treasure trove of frugal finds. Monday to Thursday matinees (starting before 5pm) are around €6 and on Fridays €5. You can take drinks from the bar into the screenings. Hold out for lunch or have an early dinner between 3-5pm and you can enjoy ‘Food for a Fiver’ at the Filmhouse cafe (88 Lothian Road).
These are for wholesome but simple dishes while baked potatoes are available until 10pm for under €5/€6 at other times. Visit their free monthly film quiz starting at 9pm. See their website for the next date.
11. A night in a ‘Wee Red Bar’
This hip venue at the Edinburgh College of Art is a refreshing alternative to some of the pricier mainstream clubs. Not as cramped as its named suggests, there’s plenty of room for a good dance. Entry at the Wee Red Bar (Lauriston Place) ranges from free to €5 and club nights are an eclectic mix of art shows, indie, dance and anything slightly offbeat.
On a family city break? Check out things to do in Edinburgh for kids.
- Edinburgh Festival 2012: A Guide to the Free Stuff
- Quick! Book Your Edinburgh Fringe Festival Accommodation
- Edinburgh vs Glasgow: The Big Fight
Have we missed anything? Add your best cheap things to do in Edinburgh below…
Thanks to fhwrdh, fiomaha, jaybergsen, pellesten, nlnnet, andrew_j_w, Son of Groucho and dannyfowler for the images off Flickr! Please note, all images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting.