We love Edinburgh! It is such a fantastic family-friendly city with so much to do. Steeped in history, the city is easy to navigate and neatly separated into its Old Town and New Town, with its centre dominated by the majestic Edinburgh Castle. You certainly won’t be stuck for activities!
From museums and gardens to beaches, farms and even Harry Potter, here’s our list of fun and FREE things to do in Edinburgh with kids.
Free Things to Do in Edinburgh with Kids
Edinburgh is a lovely city with history around every corner, but as with all capital cities with tourists it can be pricy to visit all the top attractions. So we asked parents to recommend places to go in Edinburgh with kids that are absolutely free.
#1. The Museum of Childhood
Situated on the famous Royal Mile, this is the first museum in the world dedicated to the history of childhood. The Museum of Childhood has 21 rooms containing more than 2,000 toys and games from days-gone-by.
From early Steiff Bears and Corgi cars to 1980’s Barbie dolls, this is a beautiful collection and a lovely way to spend the afternoon. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.
#2. Arthur’s Seat
What a view! At 251 metres high, Arthur’s Seat is a gentle climb, and provides great views of Edinburgh. Rumoured to be named after the legendary King Arthur and the setting of Camelot, this extinct volcano is a busy attraction.
Though it is very safe, make sure you follow the signs and watch that the little ones stick with the proper route.
“If feeling energetic, Arthur’s Seat has amazing views!” – Lynda S.
#3. National Museum of Scotland
Situated on Chambers Street, The National Museum of Scotland has it all, from Geology to Vikings, Romans and the Industrial Revolution. It’s really great for kids with lots of interactive galleries to keep all ages’ busy, free tours and Family Footprint Trails!
“You could spend a whole weekend there and still not see it all – it’s fab!” – Gillian S.
#4. Go on a Mini Harry Potter Tour
Author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, lived in Edinburgh at the time of writing the first book. With its medieval alleyways called “closes” and tall narrow buildings with turrets and of course the Castle overlooking the city, you do feel like you are stepping into another world when you visit Edinburgh.
Here are four fun Harry Potter related places to see in Edinburgh:
Victoria Street and Candlemaker Row
Victoria Street is an old curved street that you can walk down from George IV Bridge to the Grassmarket, while Candlemaker Row then curves around back up the other side to meet the Bridge again. Thought to be the inspiration for Rowling for the magical shopping street Diagon Alley, you’ll enjoy wandering past little shops and cafes.
On Victoria Street you’ll find Diagon House – located where previously there used to be a shop selling brushes and brooms – perhaps the inspiration for Harry Potter flying broomsticks? It’s a shop stuffed full of HP memorabilia and gifts. Then stroll up Candlemaker Row to spot the ‘Diagon Alley’ plaque and mural on your way past.
Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh
Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is famous for the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the faithful dog who visited his master’s grave for many years. While no filming took place here, nevertheless Rowling took inspiration for Tom Riddle in the graveyard – you can visit the graves of Thomas Riddell Esq and his son, also Thomas Riddell here.
Apparently, die-hard fans come every Halloween to pay homage and to duel over the grave of the ‘real life’ Voldemort.
Tip: Find the entrance to the graveyard by the Greyfriar Bobby dog statue opposite at the junction of George IV Bridge and Candlemaker Row.
Spoon and The Elephant House, Edinburgh
J.K. Rowling wrote the first book in the Harry P series at what was formerly Nicholson’s Cafe, now Spoon on Nicholson Street. She then wrote The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban in The Elephant House cafe on George IV Bridge.
You won’t find the cafes in any of the movies but Harry Potter fans are sure to enjoy sitting where Rowling herself may have sat!
City Chambers, Edinburgh
On the Royal Mile you’ll find the City Chambers, worth a visit to look out for the Hollywood-style plaque paying tribute to winners of the prestigious Edinburgh Award.
In 2008 it was presented to J.K. Rowling, which means you can see her hand prints cast in bronze in the Chambers’ courtyard!
#5. Princes Street Gardens
Edinburgh has a host of beautiful gardens and parks including The Meadows, Blackford Hill and Pond but one of our favourites is Princes Street Gardens, right in the centre of the city and ideal for a summer picnic!
West Princes Street Gardens has a play-park and lots of benches where you can take in views of the stunning Edinburgh castle.
A must-see is the large floral clock – yes a clock made of flowers! First planted in 1903, each year the planting scheme commemorates a special anniversary with 30,000 plants in the display.
If visiting in the winter, Edinburgh’s Christmas is a spectacular event in St Andrew Square and East Princes St. Gardens featuring a beautiful Spiegeltent, ice skating, Christmas markets and rides, including the Big Wheel with fantastic views over the city.
“My kids love watching the trains on the bridge in Princes Street Gardens. The drivers always beep and wave.” – Ailsa H.
#6. Cramond Causeway….On Bikes!
Cramond’s promenade links to its landmark causeway – a great walkway over the River Forth to Cramond Island. During high tide, the causeway goes underwater, so make sure you check the signs displaying tide times so you don’t get stranded!
A fun day out, pack a picnic, and enjoy seeing the ducks and swans along the River Almond.
If the tide is in pay a visit to Cramond Kirk, built on the site of a Roman fort.
From the infamous to the insane and quirky to cool, fun is guaranteed with these unusual places to visit in the UK – perfect for a memorable family day out!
#7. Portobello Beach
One of Kirsty R.’s favourite free things to do in Edinburgh with kids is a visit to “Portie beach!”, so why not leave the city behind and pay a visit to Portobello Beach?
A gorgeous sandy stretch of beach well within the city limits and perfect for a kid’s day out, a picnic or a leisurely walk or run! Take the No. 26 bus if you don’t want to worry about parking.
#8. Gorgie City Farm
Free to visit, Gorgie City Farm is a lovely community run initiative to educate inner-city kids about farming and food production. Buy a carton of animal feed and kids can safely get close to the animals and hand-feed sheep and pigs.
The farm is especially great for little ones. Take your time and talk with some of the farm workers who are happy to share information on how the farm is run and the animals.
“Lots of fun! My boys love it!” – Roisin F.
#9. The Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh
Just a 15 minute walk from the city centre, the Royal Botanic Gardens are an oasis of calm with 70 acres of trees, shrubs and lush gardens. If it’s wet, you can take refuge in the warm, balmy Victorian Palm House. Enjoy guided garden walks from the John Hope Gateway entrance or tour the exhibitions in Inverleith House. Watch out for all the squirrels!
One of Pamela C.’s family favourites, the garden regularly hosts cultural activities with music, stories and crafts. There is also a restaurant onsite.
#10. Scottish National Gallery
Attend a free lunchtime talk or view a wonderful collection of art at the Scottish National Gallery, including Scotland’s favourite painting, The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, as well as world-class temporary exhibitions.
There are plenty of regular family activities, trails and cool, creative workshops such as ‘Make your own masterpiece’ and ‘Portrait Detectives’.