Here is the latest edition of “See the World”! Hopefully you caught last week’s destination, Denver, and Chattanooga the week before. If you missed our “See the USA” series last year, you’re sure to find inspiration there. This week we’re headed across the pond to Scotland and Edinburgh! It’s one of my all time favorite cities to explore, and Eileen from FamiliesGo! is sharing her favorite family friendly things to do in Edinburgh. Don’t read this if Edinburgh isn’t on your radar, because it will be by the time you’re done!
Edinburgh is a city that is easy to like. It has more than enough to keep a family busy for weeklong stay, but is compact enough that you can do quite a bit and get a good feel for it in a long weekend.
Most tourism centers on the old town and the Royal Mile with its hulking castle at one end and stately palace at the other. But it’s worth taking the time to venture to the busy New Town and residential Stockton as well as over toward the university.
Here are 5 things to do in Edinburgh with kids that will give a good feel for the city.
1. Have a Harry Potter Sighting
While she was writing The Sorceror’s Stone, J.K. Rowling spent a lot of time in Edinbugh cafés including the funky and fun Elephant House. She holed up in the luxurious Balmoral Hotel on Princes Street to finish writing the Deathly Hallows. The hotel is a little boring to look at, but Elephant House is a good place for breakfast or lunch. They serve a nice quiche, meat pies, elephant-shaped short bread and hundreds of elephants to admire. While you eat you can join the debate over which other Edinburgh landmarks inspired places and people in the books.
2. Visit Kid-Friendly Museums
You would need a week or more to see all the city’s museums, most of which are quite kid-friendly.
If you visit the National Museum take the introductory tour to learn about the building’s unique design and history and to see some highlights of the varied galleries. Once my daughter found the science and technology gallery she didn’t want to leave. If you want to see the worthwhile history, world culture or fashion and design galleries, do those first.
We all liked the Camera Obscura museum near the castle, a small hands-on science museum focused on light, imagery and illusion. The brighter it is outside, the better the 19th century Camera Obscura works so try to catch this museum on a (rare) sunny day.
The Real Mary Kings Close can be a bit spooky for young kids but with those 8 or 10 and up it’s a unique opportunity to explore ruins of the cramped old city beneath the newer buildings. Pair it with a visit to Gladstone’s Land, a 500-year-old building just up the street, which recreates the tenement life you see the ruins of at the Close.
Give the smaller museums 1-2 hours and plan half a day or more at the National Gallery, depending on how much time you have.
3. Hike Up to Arthur’s Seat
Arthur’s Seat is the large hill that overshadows the palace. It’s a popular hike and will reward you with amazing views of the city. The path to the very top is steep and the peak is windy; I would do it with kids 10 and up. Those with younger kids can do what we did and hike around the smaller, easier hill below Arthur’s Seat (still pretty great views). Plan half a day or a bit more to go up and back down and wear sturdy shoes.
Tip: You can fuel up for your walk with breakfast at Edinburgh Larder, on Black Friar Street, at the lower end of the Royal Mile. Everything is local or house-made and their traditional fry-up is fantastic.
4. Shop on the Royal Mile
Take an hour or two to walk the whole mile. We looked for my family tartan in the wool shops. The food shops offered us shortbread samples. We bought something to take home in the whiskey shops (no samples here, unfortunately) and admired the Scottish accent on all the decorations in the Christmas Shops.
The John Knox House also houses the Scottish Story Telling Center (if you visit during local school breaks look for family events here). The books in its small bookshop draw on Scottish history, myths and folk tales. My daughter found some great local authors in the kids section.
5. Visit the Palace
It’s inevitable that you visit the castle because you can see it from everywhere, but I recommend also visiting Holyrood Palace, where the Queen stays when she’s in town. Part of it is a museum, but the fact that parts are still used breathes life into it and extends all the history you’ve been learning down into the modern day. Kids get their own audio tour, which my 8-year-old daughter really got into. In several rooms she was still listening and looking around when we were ready to move on.
Tip: If you stop for a snack at the palace café after your tour you can have a lemonade or tea with crown-shaped shortbread–and tell all your friends you had tea at the palace.
A Note On Getting Around
Edinburgh has buses and trams but no metro. It’s tough to figure out the public transit on a short visit, so we walked a lot and took cabs more than we normally would. We also bought a ticket for the hop-on, hop-off tour bus. A 24-hour family ticket for two adults and up to three kids was about £35. We did a complete loop once to get to know the city and then used it to get around. It was a good value and I recommend it.