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.
This was a gifted experience in partnership with VisitScotland.
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How to travel from Edinburgh Airport to the 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 the train from London to Edinburgh.
Trains to Edinburgh city center run frequently from the airport. 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 weekend in Edinburgh, it’s probably best to start with the highlights. Anything extra is icing on the cake.
Our first recommendation would be to spend a day on the Royal Mile in the Old Town. 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 plan to visit Edinburgh during the summer months, be aware there are many Edinburgh festivals (it’s known as Festival City) which can add to crowds and limited availability. Be sure to plan your trip far enough in advance to ensure accommodations are available.
What Not to Miss in Edinburgh with Kids
1. Edinburgh Castle
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 giant 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 (formerly the Scottish Crown Jewels) 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 Meg, one of the largest cannons built in the Medieval ages.
2. 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.
The John Knox House also houses the Scottish Storytelling Centre (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. We found some great local authors in the kids section.
At the far eastern end of the Royal Mile, you will find Holyroodhouse, the official residence of King Charles III while he 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.
4. Camera Obscura and 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? Kids will love the interactive exhibits, optical illusions, and camera obscura show.
Plan on spending most of an afternoon exploring the fun activities throughout the museum. (Get tickets HERE)
5. 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.
6. Calton Hill
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).
7. Arthurs Seat
For the perfect view of the city skyline, take a hike up Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano that last erupted millions of years ago. It is the highest point in Edinburgh and a steep hill.
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.
Note: this hike is probably best for older kids as the trail is steep and winding. 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.
Kid Friendly Museums in Edinburgh
National Museum of Scotland
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 of Scotland take the introductory tour to learn about the building’s unique design and history and to see some highlights of the varied galleries.
Kids will love the science and technology gallery and the Ancient Egypt exhibit. If you want to see the worthwhile history, world culture or fashion and design galleries, do those first.
Real Mary King’s Close and Edinburgh Dungeon
Real Mary King’s Close can be a bit spooky for young kids but with those 8 or 10 and up this is a unique opportunity to explore the 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.
Another option is to visit the Edinburgh Dungeon and take an underground tour with actors who try to make it spooky and fun.
Dynamic Earth is one of the main attractions in Edinburgh where kids can learn about the Big Bang that created our universe.
The museum is unlike any other science museum you’ve visited as you have an opportunity to experience the life of our planet. Kids can experience exploding volcanoes, earthquakes, and even tropical rainstorms. This is one experience where adults will have just as much fun as the kids!
Museum of Childhood
The Museum of Childhood is one of those quirky museums that you either love or want to avoid.
It is a collection of dolls, teddy bears, and toys throughout the centuries and if your kids aren’t into nostalgia, this might be a museum to skip.
And if there’s an animal lover in your group, don’t miss a chance to visit the Edinburgh Zoo. Don’t miss the giant pandas, Yang Guang and Tian Tian, who are the only pandas in the UK. Located outside the city centre in Corstorphine, it’s easy to reach by public bus.
Tip: 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.
There are plenty of fun things to do in Edinburgh, but if you are looking for other Edinburgh attractions, consider taking a tour of the city, or taking an Edinburgh day trip to other areas of the country.
Harry Potter walking tour
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 (one of our favorite family hotels in Edinburgh) 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.
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. Fans of Harry Potter books 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.
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 JK 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 and learn the legend of the Skye terrier named Bobby who faithfully watched over his owner’s grave for many years after his death.
Where to Eat in Edinburgh with kids
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.