Edinburgh, Scotland just might be the most overlooked capital city in Europe. With its medieval architecture, cobblestone streets, and charming locals, Edinburgh is a place that captures your heart from the moment you arrive. On our second visit to the city, we fell even more in love with Edinburgh, causing us to wonder why more people don’t visit Scotland’s capital. We didn’t explore everything in four days, but we certainly enjoyed ourselves and found there are plenty of things to do in Edinburgh with kids.
Best Things to Do in Edinburgh with Kids
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How to travel from Edinburgh Airport to city
First things first, we flew from London to Edinburgh via easyJet. It was an easy one hour flight and we paid far less than if we had taken the train between the two. There are trains to Edinburgh that run frequently from the airport, just purchase a ticket at the Edinburgh airport tram kiosk (buy a round trip ticket if you plan to leave from the airport as it saves a bit of time and money) and head to the city. Note: The Edinburgh trams run from 6:18 until 22:48, so if you have an early morning flight, you will need to take an Uber or taxi.
How to plan your time in Edinburgh with kids
There are plenty of places to visit in Edinburgh, the hard part is knowing where to begin. If you only have a couple of days, it’s probably best to start with the highlights and anything extra is icing on the cake. Our first recommendation would be to spend a day on the Royal Mile. Start at Edinburgh Castle, then walk the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace. Consider one of the Edinburgh tours, historic or Harry Potter, and your kids will never want to leave.
If you want Edinburgh Castle tickets, you’ll want to book them in advance online, preferably a day in advance. Tickets have a specific attendance time, and include a free guided tour of Edinburgh Castle. The fortress is hard to miss with its imposing position high on Castle Hill. This home for Scottish royals included many from Queen Margaret in 1093 to Mary, Queen of Scots, to her son, James VI, who was born in the Royal Palace in 1566. Visitors can find the Honours of Scotland here, which are older than the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. Children will enjoy the view of Edinburgh from this height and will marvel at Mons Mag, one of the largest cannons built in the Medieval ages.
Walk the Royal Mile
The Royal Mile in Edinburgh is the main thoroughfare that runs from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (walking west to east). This is where you will find musicians playing on street corners, shops with Scottish goods, and plenty of souvenir shops and restaurants.
At the far eastern end of the Royal Mile, you will find Holyroodhouse, the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II while she is in Scotland. The Palace of Holyroodhouse was founded by David I in 1128 as an Augustinian monastery. Royalty preferred to live in the beautiful palace and its surrounding gardens instead of the dark and imposing castle on the hill. James IV cleared the land near the abbey and built a palace for his wife, Margaret Tudor, but only the gatehouse survives today. Mary, Queen of Scots, spent a significant amount of time at Holyroodhouse Palace, and this is where her servant was murdered by a group of men led by her husband Lord Darnley. (Watch the movie, “Mary, Queen of Scots” to learn more).
Our kids enjoyed walking through the palace and its gardens, as well as exploring the ruins of the abbey. During Holyroodweek (usually the end of June through first week of July), the Queen of England entertains guests from all over Scotland at the Palace and you may be able to catch a glimpse of royalty.
Planning a trip to Scotland? Be sure to check out the Moon Edinburgh, Glasgow & the Isle of Skye travel guide. It can help you create the perfect itinerary for Scotland.
Camera Obscura & World of Illusions
With five floors of hands-on activities, this is one of the top places to visit in Edinburgh with kids. Where else can you view of the entire city without leaving a room, shrink like Alice in Wonderland, and visit a Magic Gallery? Take the kids, they will love it here, but it might take a bit of effort to get them to leave.
Princes Street Gardens Playground
If kids need to burn off energy, head to the Princes Street Gardens below castle hill. There’s a playground, fountain, and café, but best of all, it’s in the heart of the city and close to everything when you need a break from Edinburgh sightseeing.
Calton Hill is an easy walk for the city center and offers views of several different areas surrounding Edinburgh. From here you can see Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat which are at opposite ends of the Royal Mile and all the way to the Firth of Forth. At the top of the hill are a variety of monuments, including Dugald Stewart’s Monument, the Nelson Monument and museum, and the National Monument (which looks like the Athenian acropolis). It’s easy to reach the top by using the staircase at Regent Road (it takes about five minutes).
For the perfect city view, take a hike up Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano that last erupted millions of years ago. The trails starts in Holyrood Park and there are several different ones. I would recommend the red route or the blue route which takes about one to two hours, but it’s worth it for the Edinburgh city views.
There are plenty of fun things to do in Edinburgh, but if you are looking for other Edinburgh tourist attractions, consider taking a tour of the city, or taking an Edinburgh day trip to other areas of the country.
Harry Potter walking tour
Several companies offer Edinburgh walking tours of the Harry Potter sights since this is where J.K. Rowling wrote most of her books. This Edinburgh Harry Potter tour has guests exploring all the back streets of the city and the places that inspired Rowling’s books. Harry Potter fans will love this two hour tour.
If you’re looking for Scotland tours from Edinburgh, consider reaching out to Solway Tours. They can plan custom itineraries for any type of trip, and we thoroughly enjoyed our Scottish ancestry tour from Edinburgh to Dumfries and Galloway.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess your kids have not seen the “Outlander” television series. If you’re looking for a kid friendly Outlander tour, we highly recommend Highlander Tours. Andy was an actor in seasons 2 and 3 of Outlander and he will create an itinerary that is perfect for parents and kids. We went to some of the major sights from the show, but he also taught our kids sword flighting and how to dress like Jacobites and soldiers. The kids enjoyed exploring castle grounds and skipping stones in a creek. It was the perfect Outlander tour with kids.
Edinburgh afternoon tea
If you think your kids would enjoy tea time, I would highly recommend afternoon tea in Edinburgh. It can be hard to find the best afternoon tea, but we enjoyed a lovely tea at The Ivy on the Square with sandwiches, scones, and a large variety of teas to choose from. Other places we would recommend for afternoon tea in Edinburgh are The Dome and The Colonnades at the Signet Library. Be sure to make reservations in advance.
Edinburgh Instagram spots
If you have tweens or teens, they may be interested in finding some of the best Instagram spots in Edinburgh. We would recommend the colorful Victoria Street and all of its quirky shops including Museum Context, a gift shop with Harry Potter souvenirs, and charming boutiques.
Located directly below Edinburgh Castle, this neighborhood has plenty of cute alleyways and shops for taking photos. Don’t miss Armstrongs Vintage shop where the kids can peruse and try on vintage clothes and accessories.
St. Giles Cathedral
It’s impossible to miss St. Giles’ Cathedral right on the Royal Mile. Walk around the church and you’ll find plenty of cute alleyways, staircases, and walkways for taking quintessential Edinburgh photos. *If you want great family photos in Edinburgh, we highly recommend Flytographer as they captured great family memories. Use my code: KIRSTENMAXWELL to get $25 off your booking!
This area just outside New Town used to be the center of the grain milling business for over 800 years. The village that has the most charming and peaceful vibe. There aren’t any services in the area, so be sure to use the restroom ahead of time and be sure to walk down along the river for the best views.
Greyfriars Kirkyard Cemetery
Located near the University of Edinburgh is this cemetery where J.K. Rowling found inspiration for her characters. You’ll find the tombstone for Thomas Riddell (Thomas Riddle in the books), William McGonagall (same as Professor Minerva McGonagall), and Elizabeth Moodie (perhaps inspiration for Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody. Take a quick walk through the cemetery then pop into Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar and learn the legend of the Skye terrier named Bobby who faithfully watched over his owner’s grave for many years after his death.
Places to Eat in Edinburgh
Cafe Andaluz – I know, Spanish food isn’t what you typically look for in Scotland, but we loved the ambiance and the tapas at this place in New Town.
Miros Cantina Mexicana – This small café is located on Rose Street, a pedestrian area, just off Castle Street. They serve delicious Mexican food, but go early as the place is always crowded.
Pizza Express – If your kids don’t have an adventurous palate, head to Pizza Express where kids can find pizza, sandwiches, and salads. Many convenient locations around Edinburgh.
The Outsider – The main reason to visit this restaurant is its stunning views of Edinburgh Castle. Food here is fairly inexpensive and consistently good.
Deacon Brodies Tavern – Some of the most popular Edinburgh restaurants sit along the Royal Mile and Deacon Brodies is one of the favorites. The pub is often crowded, but there’s an upstairs seating area that is quite comfortable for families. If the tavern is too busy, head to another option on the Royal Mile, The World’s End.
The Mitre Bar– Another popular pub on the Royal Mile, it has great old style booths for families and a menu that includes Scottish staples like fish and chips.
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
Radisson Blu has an excellent location on the Royal Mile. Some of the rooms have views looking out to Arthur’s Seat whereas others overlook the Royal Mile below. This hotel has a pool and workout center as well as a ticket and tour booking service for guests.
Kimpton Charlotte Square is located in the New Town near plenty of restaurants and shopping, and this property has an indoor pool kids will love.
The Balmoral Hotel is a five star luxury hotel in Edinburgh that caters to even the youngest guests. Families can enjoy services tailored to their kids from milk and cookies at bedtime to spa services for teens.