Scotland’s capital is a spirited city radiating a festive mix of history, charm, and intrigue, while ingeniously integrating the old with the new. Edinburgh is wonderfully accessible to families and begs to be explored on foot.
Photo courtesy: National Museums Scotland
Castlehill, Old Town
Located at the top of the Royal Mile and a perfect spot to start your adventure, Edinburgh Castle is a magnificent historic fortress overlooking the city, offering a rich history of Scottish royalty that includes medieval cannons, the crown jewels, the National War Museum, the Royal Palace, and Edinburgh’s oldest building, St. Margaret’s Chapel. Try to plan your visit so you’re there for the daily firing of the 1 o’clock gun, a favorite tradition. The on-site Queen Anne Tearoom and Redcoat Café both serve a wide variety of soups and sandwiches with plenty of high chairs and baby changing areas. Be sure to take advantage of the free guided tours, available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Cost: Youth (5-15) $14; Adult $23.
The Royal Mile is lined with shops, restaurants, landmarks, and museums, and serves as the main drag linking Edinburgh Castle (at the top) to Holyrood Palace (at the bottom). Be aware that it changes names at different sections along the way (Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate, Abbey Strand). Also be aware that there are different street levels in Edinburgh linked by narrow, long stairways called Closes or Wynds. They definitely add to the charm and mystique of Old Town, often getting you to another location more quickly, however, I would suggest consulting a detailed street map in advance to avoid frustration and wasted time, as the street you are looking for might actually be 50 feet below you! Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, carry a raincoat (it rains unexpectedly on and off all day long), and bring a sturdy stroller capable of handling challenging terrain, as the streets are steep and many of the roads are cobblestone. Finally, know that Edinburgh Castle itself sits atop a steep slope and may present difficulties for those with disabilities.
Other great shopping areas: George Street and Victoria Street
KidTripster Tip: For a family itinerary of Edinburgh Castle already mapped out for you, click here. For a special event program listing, click here.
2/Camera Obscura & World of Illusions
549 Castlehill, Old Town
Located next to the castle and housed in a charming Victorian tower, the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions features six floors of hands-on interactive fun. From optical illusions, 3-D holograms, a mirror maze, and vortex tunnel (motion sickness victims beware) to a rooftop terrace boasting spectacular 360-degree views of the city, this exhibition gallery offers a zany, fun experience that is sure to keep your family intrigued for hours. Don’t miss the Camera Obscura show featuring images of the entire city projected onto a viewing table through a giant periscope. Cost: Youth (5-15) $15; Adult $20.
KidTripster Tip: There’s no on-site café, but a hand stamp lets you come and go all day, and visitors get discounts at certain cafés on the Royal Mile, so be sure to inquire.
3/National Museum of Scotland
Chambers St., Old Town
The National Museum of Scotland is one of the top 20 most-visited museums in the world, housing a remarkable array of over 20,000 artifacts. Ten new galleries have just been unveiled, featuring the oldest aircraft in Britain, ceramic works by Picasso, a 3D print of a human brain, and a metal dress by Paco Rabanne. There are three excellent on-site restaurants (the award-winning Tower Restaurant suggests making a reservation), and packed lunches can be eaten in the Group Room in the Entrance Hall, provided it has not already been reserved. Cost: Free
KidTripster Tip: For specifics on customizing your family visit, click here. For information on special events and exhibitions, click here.
Photo courtesy: National Museums Scotland
Princes Mall, Old Town
Bubbleparc, also known as BungyDome, is a massive geodesic dome wherein you jump on a trampoline while connected to a bungee cord, allowing you to soar to great heights in a safe environment. Once your kids see it, you won’t be able to deny them. It caters to kids ages 2 to 12, but adults are welcomed, too. In another area called the bubblepod, kids can crawl into a clear plastic bubble and spin on top of a pool of water. It’s a summer attraction, open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Cost: $8/activity.
Located in the same block on Princes Mall, Scott Monument is a Victorian gothic shrine commemorating writer Sir Walter Scott. Designed by George Meikle Kemp, it’s over 200-feet high and features four levels with 287 steps to the top from which you can enjoy breathtaking views of Edinburgh and the surrounding countryside. Cost: $7; cash only.
KidTripster Tip: The Balmoral Hotel is one block from Scott Monument as is the Tourist Center at Waverly Station. All of them border New Town, which begins right across Princes Street. At the east end of Princes Street, consider a walk to the top of Calton Hill, which features the National Monument (resembles the Parthenon in Athens), the Old Observatory House, and Nelson’s Monument.
5/Palace of Holyroodhouse
Canongate, Old Town
Located at the bottom of the Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyroodhouse has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scotland since the 16th century and remains the official Scotland residence for Queen Elizabeth, who visits every summer. We happened to be there when the Queen was in residence; we requested an audience but were shockingly declined. The tour includes the state apartments, the historic chambers of Mary Queen of Scots, the ruins of the 12th century Abbey Church, and different exhibitions that run throughout the year. Audio tours are included in the price of tickets, and there is an on-site café. Cost: Youth (5-15) $9; Adult $15; Family $42.
Adjacent to the palace is Holyrood Park, a 640-acre nature area featuring Salisbury Craggs (150-foot cliffs), Arthur’s Seat (dormant volcano), and Duddingston Loch (freshwater loch). It is quite a trek climbing up without safety barriers separating walking paths from drop-offs, so it’s not suitable for young children, but we thoroughly enjoyed this experience. Be sure to check a map ahead of time to make sure you take the best route.
KidTripster Tip: For more information on family activities scheduled at the Palace from July to September including Family Garden Party Tours and Weird and the Wonderful, where one can explore some of the stranger objects from the Royal Collection that decorate the Queen's official homes, click here.
A free, self-guided tour of the Scottish Parliament includes the debating chamber, exhibition, shop, and café. In addition, there are a variety of free, guided tours available (architecture tour, parliament tour, literature tour, art tour). It’s a great way to experience the inner workings of parliament and get insight into the architecture of this award-winning building. It’s quite fetching! Cost: Free.
KidTripster Tip: For more information about booking the various tours available, click here.
Photo courtesy: Scottish Parliamentary Corp Body
7/Our Dynamic Earth
112-116 Holyrood Gait, located next to Scottish Parliament, Old Town
Through a series of interactive exhibits and state of the art technology, Our Dynamic Earth takes you on a journey through time to witness the story of planet Earth. From feeling the heat of a bubbling volcano and the chill of polar ice to flying across the globe before crash landing into a tropical rainforest, it’s a pretty nifty experience. Not to mention the fact that it showcases an impressive 360-degree full dome film theater that’s really impressive. There is an on-site café and a gift shop with some terrific finds. Online cost: Youth (4-15 ) $11; Adult $16; buy online for discount and priority queuing.
8/Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh
Arboretum Place, 20A Inverleith Row
Founded in the 17th century and located just one mile from the city center, the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh is a world-renowned horticultural center extending over 70 acres. Be sure to check out Inverleith House (18th century mansion showcasing temporary exhibitions by invited artists), John Hope Gateway (a new biodiversity and information facility that serves as a shining example of green construction and sustainability), and the 28 beautiful glasshouses showcasing different greenery. There is an on-site restaurant, so you can easily make a day of it. Garden cost: Free; Glasshouse cost: Youth (15 and under) free; Adult $5.50.
Photo courtesy: Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh
9/Royal Yacht Britannia
Ocean Terminal, Leith
The Royal Yacht Britannia was home to Queen Elizabeth and the Royal Family for over 40 years, sailing over one million miles around the world. Now moored in Edinburgh and only a 15-minute drive from the city center, you can tour this magnificent, five-level vessel while exploring the inner chambers, state apartments, crew quarters, and engine room. Be sure to enjoy tea and cake in the Royal Deck Tea Room; order the cappuccino for a fun, picture-worthy surprise! Complimentary parking and audio handset are available. Cost: Youth $11.50; Students $18; Adult $20; Family $58.
KidTripster Tip: The Royal Tea Deck Room is first-come, first-serve (no reservations), but there wasn’t a wait when we were there early afternoon. It is wheelchair/stroller accessible and offers a wide variety of cakes, scones, soups, sandwiches, gluten-free options, drinks, and alcoholic beverages. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
Photo courtesy: Marc Millar
134 Corstorphine Rd.
Eight miles south of the city center, the Edinburgh Zoo is a popular outing for the entire family. From giant pandas to penguins to koalas to wallabies, this zoo offers a wonderful opportunity to see some extraordinary animals in a charming setting with two main dining areas. It's built on the side of a steep hill, so be aware of that when visiting with the very young or elderly. To get there, take the train, bus or taxi from city center. Online cost: Youth (3-15) $16.75; Adult $22.75.
Marcia Carroll Burzair lives outside of Dallas with her husband and daughter. When she's not writing, she's performing in a play, planning her next trip abroad or fantasizing about buying a cottage on a cliff overlooking the ocean in some faraway land.
This writer received some complimentary activities for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.