6 free things to do outdoors in Edinburgh

If you are heading to Edinburgh this summer read this post on free things to do in the city that are all outside.

As the pandemic continues it advised that we spend more time outside with fresh air circulating – this guide will help you plan your trip to the Scottish capital. 

Located in the north of the city the Edinburgh Botanical gardens is a must visit, set in over 70 acres this 350 year old garden is a favourite activity for visitors and locals alike. Regardless of the season there is always something beautiful blooming within the gardens. 

All throughout there is picnic areas to sit and soak up the sunshine. 

The gardens are home to an array of different areas including the woodland garden, Chinese hillside garden, the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden and the Victorian era glasshouses*. There is also an extensive collection of Rhododendrons which bloom throughout the spring. 

This summer there is a free botanical photography event taking place – “The Hidden Beauty of Seeds & Fruit”. More details can be found here: https://www.rbge.org.uk/whats-on/the-hidden-beauty-of-seeds-fruits/

Arthur’s Seat

Arguably Edinburgh’s most majestic natural wonders – Arthur’s Seat. 

Set in the vast Holyrood Park in the centre of Edinburgh is an ancient volcano (extinct I should add) that sits 251m above sea level and offers fantastic views across the city.  My favourite route up is walking past the ruin of St. Anthony’s Chapel, it has been disused since the Reformation of 1560.

Arthur’s Seat is the highest of the hills, however the area is also home to the Salisbury Crags which is to the west of Holyrood Park. All over the park there are well trodden footpaths and you might come across one of the three lochs within the area, all of which are full to the brim with wildlife.

If you plan to hike up for sunset/sunrise it is advisable to bring a torch to follow the path up.  A popular time to climb up is on Bonfire Night – November 5th so you can get a clear view of the fireworks across the city. 

Dean Village

Dean Village is a small, quiet residential area in Edinburgh, but the quaint streets, river views and cobblestones are very picturesque and not to be missed. 

Situated in between the neighbourhood of Stockbridge and the city centre, it is around a 10 minute walk from Princes street, on route you may see the high Dean Bridge which was designed in 1831 by famous civil engineer and bridge designer Thomas Telford. 

Walk down along the tranquil Water of Leith walkway and look out for old millstones left from the remains of the old milling industry. If you are looking for that classic Edinburgh photo, head down Hawthorn Bank Lane for views across the river and to the Victorian era worker’s cottages. 

Dean village and the surrounding area is best explored on foot.

Greyfriars Kirkyard

This may seem like a strange place to visit, however this 400 year old cemetery has so many interesting things to see that it is absolutely worth your while visiting. 

Set in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, Greyfriars Kirkyard is one of the most famous cemeteries in Scotland. Greyfriars church opened in 1620, but there have been burials there since 1562.  

It is estimated that there are now over 250,000 people buried within its grounds. 

To the south of the entrance you will find remnants of the Covenanters prison and the remaining walls left behind (it was within this graveyard that the National Covenant was signed in 1638).

If you walk around the cemetery you will come across very intricate and beautiful tombstones, including the imposing Bloody Mackenzie’s Tomb which is said to be haunted by a ghost – these rumours and sightings are so prolific that the tomb is now sealed off from visitors. 

You should also look out for the “Mortsafes” which can be found next to the church building, they were used to protect the bodies from the infamous body snatchers during the Victorian period in Edinburgh. Remnants of black metal railings can be seen along the side of the church building.

If you are on the lookout for something a little more light hearted then look out for the tombstone of the well loved dog – Greyfriar’s Bobby and his owner John Gray. 


Cramond Island

Situated in the middle of the Firth of Forth is the small island of Cramond that is only reachable when tides are low.

Follow the causeway and the WW2 concrete teeth until you reach the island, Cramond is only 0.3 miles long but is home to a collection of unique things to see. The uninhabited island has remnants of old war bunkers, emplacement for a 75mm gun that protected the area and abandoned farm buildings. If you enjoy exploring a little off the beaten track then head over to the island, whilst you are there you can also spot the three bridges that cross the Forth. 

Tidal times are posted on the large notice board at the start of the causeway, so allow at least 2 hours before the tide comes in to get back onto dry land safely. 

Duddingston Village & Loch

Tucked behind Arthur’s Seat is Edinburgh’s last remaining natural loch in the city centre. The loch is in abundance with wildlife and there is the largest herony in the lothians, as well as Canadian geese, otters and ducks. 

Nearby to the loch is the historic Duddingston Kirk which dates back to the 12th century, as you enter the churchyard you will notice the imposing gatehouse that was put in place to deter any body snatchers during the 19th century. 

The village of Duddingston is very picturesque and best explored on foot, however if you are looking for a rest spot the Sheep Heid Inn is a popular choice and is said to be the oldest surviving licensed premises in Edinburgh.

I hope you find this post useful, if you do make it to Edinburgh this summer let me know on social media! 


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