Posted on May 11, 2021
#edinburgh #internationaltravel #travelguide #travelinuk 

Being a student usually means living on a budget. But just because you don't have money to spare doesn't mean that you can't have fun! Edinburgh is an excellent destination for international students and has a great ambience. It's also brimming over with complimentary museums and other free stuff to do. 

Here's European Travel Magazine's take on the 10 Best Free Things to do when you're in Edinburgh:

1. Our personal favourite – National Museum of Scotland

National museum of Scotland

Time for some background on Scottish history. Head for my personal favourite in Edinburgh: The National Museum of Scotland. Not only is it free to enter, but they also provide free WiFi, and the Grand Gallery is one of the most beautiful spaces in Edinburgh. The museum is vast enough to take your whole day in exploring some of the best scenic arts in the building. 

Furthermore, in an ideal world, you would have lots of time at your disposal and could do one room per day instead of doing like me, trying to take it all in at once until your head exploded. This is a history, natural history, science, design and anthropology museum all in one. It is a stunning set up, interactive and is very popular with families. The history section will give you some fascinating insights into Scotland, and there's a chance to find out how many discoveries were made by Scots!

2. One hilltop to rule them all – Calton Hill

Calton Hill, Edinburgh

This hilltop, overlooking both the old medieval and new Georgian town, is the perfect place to explore the city. You can take in the scenery from the Old Observatory House, where the Dugald Stewart monument acts as crosshairs for the stunning views of the city. If you can, make your day out of the giant clock tower of the exclusive Balmoral Hotel. Also, do not forget The black, gothic-looking spike to its right is the Walter Scott monument at Princes Street Gardens.

It's easy to locate Edinburgh Castle, watching over Edinburgh. The dark, Gothic spire to its left is St Columbia's Free Church of Scotland, situated between the Royal Mile and Grassmarket, and the smaller tower further to the left is St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile. Look to the northeast and spot the palatial Holyrood Palace, nestled at the base of Holyrood Park with the imposing Arthur's Seat towering over Edinburgh.

3. Play with poltergeists – Greyfriars Kirkyard

Greyfriars Kirkyard

This may be a green, quiet place to soak some sun, a busy Harry Potter tour site or a haunted graveyard – depending on weather, time of day and mood of the local ghosts. It can be a nice, quiet place to escape the urban noise, but it will probably be teeming with groups trying to find tombstones that allegedly have inspired JK Rowling to name the characters in her world-famous Harry Potter books.

Greyfriars Kirkyard is also a perfect spot to soak up some of that haunted Edinburgh ambience as the poltergeist of George Mackenzie is said to haunt the premises. And while you may not believe in ghosts, more than 500 recorded incidents of the poltergeist attacking people may convince you otherwise. So come and see for yourself.

Tip: If you're looking for more poltergeists to play with or want to discover the dark side of Old Edinburg, you can do a Free Ghost Tour that starts every night at 17.00, 19.00 and 21.30. Just remember to tip your guide – otherwise, he may come to haunt you!

4. The real-life Harry Potter Diagon Alley – Victoria Street

Victoria Street, Edinburgh

From the churchyard, you have just a short stroll down to Grassmarket, a popular place among the many university students to kick back a few. Pubs and vintage shops flank this rectangular square, but you may find a bench in the centre where you can enjoy the sandwich you brought along.

The colourful Victoria Street coyly bends its way up from here, towards the Royal Mile. Harry Potter tour operators will claim that this street-inspired JK Rowling to the magical Diagon Alley where the wizarding world of Harry Potter does their shopping. And though this remains unconfirmed, it's not far fetched when you're just an ordinary muggle looking for something extraordinary. 

Also, a couple of shops selling Harry Potter trinkets and other curiosities may complete your itinerary if you're a fan.

5. Haunted alleyway and closes – Old Town

Old Town, Edinburgh

With the Royal Mile as the backbone of Edinburgh, the many steep and narrow closes lead north and south from here like a herringbone pattern. Closes are the Scottish term for an ancient alleyway, and here in Edinburgh, they make up a delightful, extremely narrow labyrinth, where tales of The Black Death lurk behind the next corner.

And even though they have a claustrophobic, gothic charm to them, they are mere consequences of medieval city planning, squeezing in as many – and as tall – houses as possible within the protective city walls.

6. Marvel at masterpieces – Scottish National Gallery

Scottish National Gallery

It's such a treat to be a culture vulture in Great Britain, as their best museums are free to enter. The National Art Gallery is thankfully no different. Located on the artificial hill, The Mound, at Princes Street Gardens, this neoclassical building is impossible to miss. 

However, looking like an ancient Greek Temple, this museum worships fine art from the Renaissance and up to the start of the 20th century. Featuring masterpieces of Van Dyck, Ruben, Botticelli, Cezanne, Gauguin, Monet and many more, this is definitely a no-miss.

7. The green lung of Edinburgh – Princes Street Gardens

Princess Street Gardens, Edinburgh

This natural valley is like a green no man's land between Old Town and New Town. It's a beautiful place to stroll around, sit with a cup of Flat White and watch the world go by. And if you're in luck and the sun comes out, you might even remove a layer of clothing and laze in the grass.

The Ross Band Stand is an open-air music venue in the gardens, and they often feature music festivals and concerts. And while there may be an entry fee in the area in front of the scene, music knows no boundaries, and it's free to sit in the park and enjoy the tunes.

8. Echoes of the past – Royal Mile

Royal Mile

You either love or hate the sound of bagpipes. There's no middle ground. Some hear the melancholy sounds of a turbulent history; others think it sounds like twisting the life out of a lamb. I will recommend your trip to Scotland that you assume the first attitude, as you'll be hearing lots of bagpipes.

The most atmospheric setting to hear them – if you're not in town for the annual Edinburgh Tattoo – might be at the Royal Mile, where bagpipers continuously provide an extra Scottish dimension to your visit. The sounds are echoed off the tall buildings and carried up – and down – the most popular tourist street in Edinburgh. Find a place to sit or stand and take in the music while people are watching.

And tip the bloke if you like the music. He is entertaining you in a kilt, after all.

9. Find out if you're related to Jamie Fraser – National Records

National Records

Located on the way to the Old Town, a visit to the National Records of Scotland might tickle your fancy if you want to discover your Scottish genealogy. It's free to enter and search for information about your Scottish family tree, and the staff is accommodating. They have documents dating back to 1127, kept in this marvellous 18th-century building, partly funded by forfeited estates of the Jacobites after 1745 rising.

Sit under the beautiful dome and discover your Scottish roots. Or visit the Scottish Register of Tartans to register your tartan. When you're done, a visit to the secluded Archivist's Garden in the back of the building may be the place to contemplate your past. Or a new tartan design.

10. Staring history in the face – Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

"Last but not least" is undoubtedly the case with this award-winning attraction. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is one of Edinburgh's most remarkable buildings. This red neo-gothic palace opened to the public in 1889 as the world's first purpose-built portrait gallery.

Explore different aspects of Scottish history told through a wealth of imagery, including portraits of famous historical figures such as Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charles, Robert Burns etc.

The gallery also features miniatures, medallions, a photography collection and a beautiful Victorian library. The building alone is an attraction in itself with the stunning Great Hall and its painted frieze with famous people from Scottish history.

So, if you're keen on seeing more of Scotland (and preferably without breaking the bank), how about taking to the highlands and discovering the best hiking trails that'll leave you with memories of a lifetime? So go Hiking in the Highlands!

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