Edinburgh Recommends: Best free activities

The National Museum of Scotland. 'Picture: Neil Hanna
The National Museum of Scotland. 'Picture: Neil Hanna
Have your say

No-one knows a city better than the people who live and work in it. The best coffee shops, the best bars, the best free days out and the best places for brunch.

Guide books are useful for visitors, but for locals it’s word of mouth that gives you the latest and most reliable information.

The Evening News has been asking people recommend their favourite places in the city centre to highlight the hidden gems in the bustling heart of the capital.

We will publish the best of them in the paper every Friday with the top recommendation winning dinner for two, tickets to a show or attraction and £40 of shopping vouchers. Not bad for just telling us what you like!

Each week, in association with This Is Edinburgh – the new campaign that highlights the huge offer in Edinburgh city centre – we will choose a category and ask for your recommendation.

All we need is around 50 words. You can add a picture if you like.

We will also be asking for submissions through our website – edinburghnews.com – and our Facebook and Twitter pages.

As well as your choices, we want your comments on what others say – do you agree with the list of best views or best bars? Get in touch.

We also want to open up discussions about what is great about Edinburgh city centre, so feel free to start your own categories.

See how you can make your selections at the bottom of each page – online, by e-mail, or by post.

The city centre has had a tough time over the last five years with the tram works, ­economic downturn and growing competition from out-of-town all taking its toll.

Now it’s time to remind ourselves just how great our city centre can be.


Student Amy Burdon recommends The National Museum of Scotland as a great day out you can enjoy again and again – whatever your interests. “It’s got so many things I always find something new. As a Chinese major I find the Asian collection particularly interesting to go and look at. There is a great selection of exhibitions, and the temporary ones can be really nice – like the Japanese art collection from a few months ago.”


Susan Stevens recommends a family day out at one of Edinburgh’s best-loved attractions: “A great free day out can be had at Gorgie City Farm, followed by a walk and play at nearby Saughton Park.”


Emily Murray is a fan of the great outdoors, which is lucky as the Capital has a huge amount of green space: “Today I took five children for a play in the fantastic playground in the Meadows followed by a tour around the museum, which has loads on for the kids this school holidays. I will also be taking them to The Museum of Childhood on the Royal Mile and The People’s Story!”


Everyone knows Scotland has made some astonishing contributions to world history. But if you need a reminder of who the great and the good are, The National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street should be your first port of call.

Pam Donald said: “It’s so difficult to chose a favourite, but on a wet day I would say the Portrait Gallery on Queen Street. On a sunny or dry day – the Botanical Gardens at Inverleith. If you have all day and/or children – the National Museum of Scotland. If you’re feeling energetic – walk up Arthur’s Seat or follow the Water of Leith path.”


Another popular recommendation was a walk up Arthur’s Seat – the views are fantastic and you’ll be burning calories instead of money.

Emz Robertson said: “Pack a picnic and go sit at Arthurs seat. Plenty of great places at the top or the bottom of it.”


Even in a big city, sometimes parents and carers of children with special needs can struggle to find suitable days out that don’t cost the earth. Thankfully, in the Capital help is at hand.

Suzanne Tant said: The Yard Adventure Centre in Eyre Place caters specifically for children with special needs and their families and is, at the moment, free. Lots of different things for kids to do – arts and crafts, baking, soft play, outdoor play, sensory room. There’s also a kitchen for parents to grab a free cuppa and make lunch or snacks. Friendliest staff around. Great place.”

Enjoy a laugh

Dave McGuire writes: Stu & Garry’s Free Improv Show, every Sunday lunchtime at The Stand Comedy Club. Cracking comedy from The Stand’s resident improv comedy masters, tasty grub served, and there’s no need to book. An Edinburgh institution. Doors 12.30, show 1.30pm.


Who do you think you are? Whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Edinburgher, or want to learn more about the city you now call home, you can’t do much better than The People’s Story.

La Lune said: “There are so many free attractions in Edinburgh but the one I direct everyone from outside of Edinburgh to as a must is The People’s Story on the Royal Mile. You cannot truly know Edinburgh unless you know what the city’s origins are... the very backbone of Edinburgh’s Society. Not only is it educational but it’s also fun. The sounds and smells are piped through while you either stand and read information or look through windows of houses to see typical families from different eras.

“If you wanted to investigate further, you could do the underground walk around the original Edinburgh – before it was built upon during the plague – which is occasionally offered for free too!”


And The Museum of Childhood has another fan in Kelly McArthur, who said: “My son loves The Museum of Childhood. I’d also recommend the Meadows swing park, Princes Street Gardens or Arthur’s Seat for a nice walk or to feed the ducks. The Botanic Gardens is also lovely, or why not take a walk along Portobello beach? They have great swing parks for kids.”