Want to enjoy the very best of Edinburgh without breaking the bank? Whether you’re in town for the Edinburgh Festival (www.edfringe.com) or just touring Scotland’s grand capital, there’s a bevy of attractions absolutely free. Neil Wilson, who is researching Lonely Planet’s Scotland guide book, shared his wallet-friendly tips on Edinburgh with Lonely Planet Traveller magazine for the Our Planet section of September 2012's issue.
1. Scottish Parliament Building
As the debate on Scotland’s independence hots up, grab a free guided tour of the controversial Scottish Parliament Building. Designed by the late Spanish architect Enric Miralles, its architecture is riddled with strange shapes and quirky features – all rooted in the symbolism of democracy and open government.
2. National Museum of Scotland
Scotland’s premier museum looks better than ever after a recent revamp. Top exhibits at the National Museum of Scotland range from the 12th-century Lewis Chessmen to the 17 mysterious miniature coffins discovered on Arthur’s Seat in 1836, as featured in Ian Rankin’s novel The Falls.
3. Royal Botanic Garden
Although most of Scotland’s trees save their autumn colours for October, the more exotic species in Edinburgh’s 72-acre botanic garden put on an early display – notably the fiery leaves of Crataegus jozana, a variety of hawthorn. The garden is also staging an open air photography display until the end of September, while an exhibition on the nature of Iraq runs at the garden’s Gateway Gallery through the autumn.
4. Edinburgh Farmers’ Market
Every Saturday, the beetling crags of Edinburgh Castle form the imposing backdrop to the city’s farmers’ market. Make the most of the harvest season by scouting out summer vegetables and game, or browse the stalls for perennial Scottish favourites: heather honey, smoked salmon and traditional Scottish tablet – a treat that’s similar to fudge but with a brittle texture (edinburghfarmersmarket.co.uk).
5. Edinburgh Doors Open Day
Running from 22–23 September, Doors Open Day provides an annual opportunity to visit historic buildings that are usually closed to the public or that normally charge for entry. Around 80 Edinburgh venues are due to take part, ranging from the neoclassical Robert Burns Monument on Calton Hill to the grand Georgian interiors of the City Chambers on the Royal Mile (cockburnassociation.org.uk).