Picture by dun_deagh
Your first few days in Edinburgh are over and – what with all that whisky and so much to see and do – you’ve spent just a little bit more enthusiastically than you’d planned.
You’ll never forget your tour of Edinburgh Castle, or the whispered secrets of the mysterious Rosslyn Chapel. You’ve scaled the steep steps of the Scott Monument – the world’s largest literary homage-in-stone – and, from the top, marvelled at the views of the historic Old Town and the lush greens of Princes Street gardens. You’ve cowered in fright in the dark of the Dungeons, been stupefied by Camera Obscura, and explored the royal lodgings of Holyrood Palace, wondering: “But where does the Queen sleep?” and “Was there really a gruesome murder in this room?”
And…you’re out of money. Down and out in Edinburgh! So what else is there to do other than to curl up in the Elephant House café, a coffee in hand, hoping that J.K. Rowling walks in to write the eighth Harry Potter novel…
The answer: lots! Whether you’re a walker or climber, an ocean-lover or culture vulture, whether live music’s your thing or you prefer a quiet walk along the riverside, you don’t need money to enjoy yourself in Edinburgh.
What follows is our guide to just a small selection of the no-budget activities – free stuff! – on offer in our beautiful capital city.
Part One: The Water of Leith
“A Silver Thread in a Ribbon of Green”
When most Edinburgh residents find themselves penniless (normally just before pay day, or at the end of the August festivals) and wondering how to spend their weekends, they head to one of the city’s many galleries and museums, most of which are free!
But Picasso can wait for now. Let’s start our guide with some natural beauty, well off the ‘tourist-trail’, one of the city’s real hidden treasures: the Water of Leith.
The Water of Leith is a narrow river flowing for 24 miles from its source in the Pentland Hills. It twists and turns its way through the city all the way to the Firth of Forth in the neighbourhood of Leith (if you make it that far, why not stop off in Leith’s redeveloped Shore area for some lunch by the water?).
In the past, the Water of Leith powered over 70 mills producing paper, fabric, and flour. Today, though, it is an oasis of tranquillity, and home to a variety of plants and animals, including brown trout, heron, kingfisher and otter.
The walkway can be joined (and left) at many locations, including from the neighbourhood of Stockbridge (if you love charity shops, you’ll love this neighbourhood!), the Botanic Gardens, or in Leith itself.
No matter which stretch you choose to walk (or in which direction), you’re sure to find beauty and peace in the walkway’s trees and plants, wildlife, waterfalls and occasional sculptures.
I particularly recommend joining the Water of Leith at the picturesque Dean Village (a 5 minute walk from the west end of Princes Street), walking west towards the rear entrance to the Dean Gallery of Modern Art. This is a relaxing 25 minute stroll which you can end with a wander around the Picassos in Gallery 1, and a cup of organic coffee in the gallery’s garden café (all free, except the coffee!).