Ever since my first visit to Scotland I have been impressed with the amount of things that are available to do without spending a penny (or very little – fuel to get there and a picnic maybe?). We all know that the weather can be unpredictable and sometimes it is best to stay indoors or change your plans. A day out with the family doesn’t have to cost a fortune either.
There are, of course, infinite walks across the country. Short flat rambles around a loch and for the more ambitious, hiking up Munros. Watching wildlife is another of our favourite things to do too.
Here is my list of some free things to do in Scotland:
Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, Glasgow
There is something for everyone at Kelvingrove Museum. With twenty two themed galleries filled with art, natural history and interactive displays this is one of my favourite museums and the building itself is stunning too. Still amazes me that there is a Spitfire hanging from the ceiling too! Some of the exhibitions change periodically but it’s definitely a place you can visit over and over again.
The Kelpies and Falkirk Wheel, Falkirk
Duke and Baron also know as the Kelpies are the largest equine structures in the world. Standing tall at 30 metres, they celebrate the working horses of the canals many years ago. The Helix park, in which the Kelpies are situated, is a great space to walk the dog, cycle, run or have a picnic (should the Scottish weather permit).
The Falkirk Wheel is just a few miles down the road but you can use the tow path alongside the canal to walk or cycle there too. An amazing feat of engineering – joining two different canal systems up with a giant lift for barges is a genius idea! There is a play park here for children along with a visitor centre.
Calanais Stones, Isle of Lewis
One of my favourites from the Outer Hebrides is a visit to the Calanais Stones.
They are very special. Mystical and so beautiful, these stones were erected some 5000 years ago and pre-date Stonehenge in England. The beauty of visiting this site is that you get to walk amongst the stones. Admiring their formation and imagining the rituals that will have taken place during the Bronze Age. It is rather mind blowing that the stones are still here today and in fact how they even got up the hill in the first place! Well worth a visit if you are staying on either Harris or Lewis.
Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
Edinburgh has many impressive view points around the city but surely non compare to that from an extinct volcano?
Towering over the capital city is Arthur’s Seat. Situated in Holyrood Park it is quite a climb to the top, 250 metres above sea level, but well worth the walk. An un-interrupted view over the city, across to Fife, the Pentlands and beyond. Don’t be fooled by the well worn path up the top top. Robert Louis Stevenson once described it as “as hill for magnitude.” A good pair of walking shoes would be recommended for this.
Ceres Highland Games, Ceres, Fife
Many visitors to Scotland enjoy highland games each year and in some cases pay quite a bit of money for the experience. But each year on the last Saturday in June, the oldest free games in Scotland are held in the pretty village of Ceres. Held on the village green where it is believed that archers practiced before heading to the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
A highlight in the local calendar where people come together and enjoy music, wrestling, running, dancing and of course the heavy events including tossing of the caber. Find yourself a spot early and make yourselves comfortable for the day with your picnic or enjoy the food and craft stalls on site too.
Loch Leven Heritage Trail, Kinross
This 21km circuit is relatively flat for walking, cycling and running around. With great views across Loch Leven you are in with a good chance of seeing plenty of wildlife. If you have don’t have the time, or inclination, to do all of it you can choose to do linear sections of it. There are a couple of spots along the Heritage Trail that have wee beaches too. If you start from the car park at Kinross there is a play park for the little ones, benches for eating a picnic and a large grassy area for kicking a ball about or learning to ride your bike!
McCaig’s Tower, Oban
If you’ve only ever been to Oban just to catch the ferry then you are missing out! Oban is a great base for walking and other outdoor activities. The first time we left on the ferry to Mull I always remember wondering why Oban has what resembles a Colosseum perched above the town.
McCaig’s Tower was built between 1897 & 1902 using granite and is about 200 metres in circumference. The 94 arches perfectly frame the town below and over the water to neighbouring islands. To help you catch your breath after the walk up there are benches within the walls of the tower. The gardens are a haven for small birds too. Be prepared to lose time here, whilst you relax and bide a while.
Waterfalls and Walks, All over Scotland
I am listing just a few of my favourite waterfalls and walks here for this post but they can be found all over Scotland. For me the most impressive is Steall Falls at Glen Nevis. With a great walk up to the falls along the river Nevis, through the gorge and keeping the falls a secret until you emerge out into the open glen. One hundred and twenty metres high it really is quite something. For those with nerves of steel you can cross the river on the wire bridge but just remember you have to come back that way too!
A more sedate waterfall walk would be at Falls of Braan at the Hermitage near Dunkeld, Perthshire. A much shorter walk through giant pines and along the river Braan you can view the falls from the romantic folly of Ossian’s Hall. At certain times of year you may even see the salmon leaping!
Down in Lanarkshire there are the Falls of Clyde, a collective name given to the four waterfalls and the highest being 84ft. Look closely and you may see kingfishers, otters and herons.
Mural Trail, Glasgow
During 2014 I spent time in this amazing and vibrant city as a volunteer for the Commonwealth Games. I saw just a handful of the large scale murals and street art and was blown away by them. Since then the Mural Trail has grown. There are new works which include the famous face of Billy Connolly, a Glasgow treasure.
The people of Glasgow – visitors and locals alike have embraced these works of art and now they are across the city revitalising buildings and alley ways. There is an official Mural Trail to follow ensuring you don’t miss any out. There are some stunning pieces of work that wouldn’t look out of place in an art gallery. But my favourite part about this trail is because you walk around you can do as much or as little as you wish.
National Museum of Scotland
Another museum, this time in the capital. The National Museum of Scotland is vast. Easily a place you can visit over and over.
There is something for everyone too. Plenty of interactive displays that engage the children (and big kids), fashion through history, it’s now also home to Dolly the sheep. But I think the biggest hits are always the animals, fossils and dinosaur skeleton.
The exhibitions change regularly too.
You might also want to visit Mugdock Country Park where there are miles and miles of trails to walk and cycle. If you love golf and don’t want to break the bank with tickets to the Open, try the Alfred Dunhill Links Championships. Three days of golf played by teams of celebrities and pro golfers on three of Scotland’s top courses. Another brilliant place to try is Summerlee, Museum of Scottish Industrial Life. Not far from Glasgow and celebrates the mining, canals and heavy industry from days gone by.
So, there are my suggestions of some free things to do in Scotland but this is just the start of the many adventures you can have without breaking the bank for a family day out. If you would like to share any other tried and tested free attractions, walks or events then please do add them to the comments.