Edinburgh is the capital city and second largest city in Scotland, UK. The city has a wonderfully dark past and the characters that used to inhabit its street are kept alive by their stories, which still surround the city to this day. Edinburgh is a gorgeous mix of old and new and has so much to offer visitors and residents alike.
These are some fantastic free things to do in Scotland's beautiful capital:
These take into account the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, The National Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art (1 and 2). As well as a plethora of temporary exhibitions from around the globe, the permanent collections house some of the world's great art, including Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Annie Leibowtiz and 'The Weight' by Fife artist, Jack Vettriano.
As the National Galleries comprise separate buildings, they helpfully put on a free bus to help you travel between them all. All galleries are free of charge.
Greyfriars Kirk and Greyfriars Bobby: If you haven't heard the sad tale of Bobby and his Master, where have you been? Certainly not Scotland, that's for sure. We get it drilled in to us from an early age. Basically, Bobby is a wee dug (small dog) who lived in the city and is famous for lying on his master's grave for a very long time after he died. 14 years, apparently. Basically, he's a very loyal Skye terrier and possibly the most loved canine in Scotland, apart from my dog, Jake. No chance Jake will spend years on my grave, though, as he's far too fond of snuffling for biscuits.
Greyfriars Bobby is so popular he has his own statue. His master doesn't have one, though, but don't let that colour your opinion of how Scottish people treat each other. Anyway, his statue can be found in Candlemakers Row, just a short walk from the Royal Mile. Directly across the road from Bobby is Greyfriars Kirk, where Bobby's grave is also found. The grave is perpetually covered in sticks that people leave for him. The Kirk is a beautiful building and entry is free here. It is only open on a seasonal basis, though, but you can access the graveyard and Bobby's statue all year round.
Bobby's Grave...where visitors leave sticks for the dog
National Museum of Scotland This. Is. Massive. Seriously, it's HUGE and it's got tons of stuff in it. It's also a very popular attraction for families as it's free of charge and can keep children occupied for a very long time. Honestly, even the really naughty ones.
The museum covers everything from the age of dinosaurs to what technology will look like in the future, as well as everything in between. With galleries dedicated to Natural Science, Scottish History and World Cultures, there really is something to interest everyone. I'm particularly fond of looking at dinosaurs and the interactivity available throughout the museum ensures it keeps the whole family amused. There's nothing quite like pushing buttons on exhibits to see what they do, right? The fascination lies somewhere between having spent your own childhood being told not to touch ANYTHING in a museum and now knowing that you can pretty much touch anything that doesn't have one of Those Signs on it. And they actively encourage you to get involved these days. It's often more than I can deal with.
The museum has a terrible problem with dinosaur infestation
The main hall from above
St Giles Cathedral: Located in the High Street portion of the Royal Mile, this 900-year-old Cathedral, which is also known as The High Kirk, is easily recognisable by its crown shaped spires. The Cathedral is vast and the interior is really wonderful. Volunteer guides work within the Cathedral and provide guided tours and to answer any questions.
One of the highlights of a visit is the Great West Window, which was designed by an Icelandic architect and celebrates the works of Scottish bard, Robert Burns. There is also a lovely memorial to fellow Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson.
Although visiting St. Giles is free of charge, there is a suggested donation of £3 per person. However, this isn't enforceable, but monies collected are used towards the upkeep of the building.
Writers Museum and Makars' Court:
Run by the city Council, the Writers' Museum occupies a small space in Lady Stair's Close in the Lawnmarket portion of the Royal Mile. As the name suggests the museum celebrates the life and works of Scottish writing talent and has permanent exhibits dedicated to Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Walter Scott.
My favourite part of the museum is actually outside in the courtyard at Lady Stair's Close, where there are numerous flagstones dedicated to a wealth of Scottish writing talent, with some of their famous quotes carved in. Here, you can find Muriel Spark, author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Ian Rankin, who writes the Inspector Rebus novels, and John Buchan, who penned The Thirty-Nine Steps. There are many, many others and it's a really pretty little spot to walk around.
Memorial stone for the great Muriel Spark
City Arts Centre:
This venue is run by the city council and is tucked away just a few minutes' walk from the main shopping areas, in Market Street. It is home to Edinburgh's fine art collection and has a focus on Scottish art, as well as showcasing works from around the world, in their collection of more than 4,500 pieces. CAC is a lovely, peaceful space and is well designed and presented. It also has a beautiful shop on the ground floor and a very popular café, with a very eye catching mural adorning its walls.
An typical upper floor display
The Royal Mile:
Firstly, it's not actually a mile. Despite being longer than its title suggests, the name 'Royal Mile' sounds so much better than 'Royal Mile and a Third' and, well, that's that, really. It's actually based on an old Scots mile and we didn't feel the need to amend it just because units changed, or whatever. We're stubborn like that.
Anyway, The Royal Mile is made up of various streets, running from the west to the east (and helpfully downhill) and are: Castlehill (from the foot of Edinburgh Castle), Lawnmarket, High Street, Cannongate and Abbey Strand. It is a beautiful walk and, while wandering, you can indulge in shopping for some famous Scottish 'tat' (cheap souvenirs), which is available in many of the shops here. You can't miss it unless you don't know what tartan looks like.
I quite like all the stuff they sell and it obviously attracts tourists or there probably wouldn't be as much of it around, would there? What right-minded individual would go home from their travels to Scotland without a stuffed Loch Ness Monster? Exactly.
Following the streets down the Royal Mile, there are also lots of quality cafes and bars and, should you make it all the way to the bottom, you can gaze in quiet amazement at what we built as a Scottish Parliament. It's a bit of a marmite one, this. I'm not a fan of it myself (the building, I mean, I quite like the Parliament). However, it divides opinions, but is impossible to miss, which can't be all bad, can it? Oh, and the Queen's Holyrood Palace is also located across the street, which also divides opinions, but for totally different reasons.
the gorgeous old Royal Mile (or part of it, at least...)
Relaxing in Princes Street Gardens:
PSG is a public park, right in the heart of the new town. Within the gorgeous green space are many statues and monuments, including the largest, Sir Walter Scott's Monument, and smaller statues and memorials dedicated to David Livingstone and Allan Ramsey, amongst others. There are also numerous war memorials within the gardens, paying homage to those who lost their lives in the Spanish Civil War and commemorating the work of the famous Royal Scots.
At the eastern entrance to the Gardens lies the world's first floral clock. During the winter, the Gardens are famous for hosting Winter Wonderland, where an ice rink and Ferris wheel are put in place and the Gardens are beautifully lit. The German Christmas markets are also a huge draw for locals and tourists alike, when you can wander round, drinking hot cider to keep yourself warm during the fabulous Scottish winter weather!
A view of the Edinburgh Eye at Princes Street gardens