Edinburgh with Kids: Things You Need to See and Do
The capital of Scotland is a fantastic family destination
If you’re looking for a holiday destination that’s sure to please the whole family, there are plenty of things to do in Edinburgh with kids.
The capital of Scotland, this British city holds a special place in my heart after living and studying there for five years.
Yes, it may be capable of springing four seasons of weather on you in a day at almost any time of year, but this magical city has many other surprises that you and your kids will love.
“The greatest legacy we can leave our children is happy memories.”
- Og Mandino.
Why should you choose to go on holiday to Edinburgh?
There’s more to Scotland than a Mel Gibson movie, and Edinburgh encapsulates everything that makes this small country remarkable on every level. Multi-faceted and packed with things to see and do, no two visits to Edinburgh are the same.
Like Scotland’s whiskies, each with their own character and distinct notes and flavours, your visit to Edinburgh can take whatever shape you like. There’s something for every member of the family.
Choose history and visit Edinburgh’s castle, which looms large over the city, the witness to a long, proud past; then explore a piece of modern history at the Scottish Parliament, located just a mile down the same road.
Choose culture and enhance your knowledge and life experiences. Edinburgh’s cultural scene can rival even that of the world’s largest, most cosmopolitan cities with festivals covering theatre, music, film, art, books, and everything in between. And that’s not to mention the city’s vast brewing and distilling tradition.
Choose education and check out Edinburgh’s many museums and long-standing learning institutions, whose students have had a profound, priceless impact on the world as we know it today.
Choose nature and climb Arthur’s Seat - the city’s extinct volcano - or head to the Royal Botanic Garden, have a picnic in the Meadows Park, stroll through Princes Street Gardens, or even visit the beach.
Explore Edinburgh your way.
The best time to visit
Nothing can be guaranteed with the Scottish weather. But generally speaking, the best time to visit Edinburgh weather-wise is between May and September. May is this city’s driest month, with average daytime temperatures around 15ºC.
Like many tourist destinations, Edinburgh’s busiest months are July and August. Especially with the Fringe Festival and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo taking place in August. If you’re planning your holiday to Edinburgh for this time of year, make sure you book your accommodation well in advance.
Although colder, the winter months can be much quieter in terms of visitor volume, making for a less-crowded experience at many of the city’s attractions.
Not only that, but there’s also a special, magical air to Edinburgh around Christmas time with its lavish decorations and bustling Christmas markets.
Whatever time of year you choose to visit, Edinburgh won’t fail to disappoint.
Where to stay
Popular areas of Edinburgh for tourists are the city’s New Town area (Princes Street and George Street area), the Grassmarket, the West End (around Haymarket Station), and the Old Town (the Royal Mile and High Street being the main streets in this area).
In terms of accommodation establishments, there are many options in the city so there’s bound to be something that suits your family’s budget and preferences.
If you’re looking for luxury, you can try the five-star, iconic Balmoral, found at 1 Princes Street (Edinburgh’s main shopping street).
If that’s not within your price range, you could choose the Haymarket Hotel in the city’s West End. This hotel allows you to enjoy a touch of history as it’s found within some of the city’s old Victorian houses.
Aparthotels and apartments are in abundance too, if you’d like a little more freedom for you and your family.
There’s the Aparthotel Adagio, located on the Royal Mile. It doesn’t get much better location-wise.
Of course, you’ll find many other options to suit your price range on websites like Booking and AirBnB.
Edinburgh is also home to plenty of guesthouses and bed and breakfasts too. This type of accommodation can sometimes offer your holiday a more personal touch, in addition to the guarantee of breakfast every morning before a busy day of sightseeing and activities.
Castle View Guesthouse boasts of being the most centrally located guesthouse in Edinburgh. It also has the added attraction of being a Georgian townhouse, which is an iconic feature in Edinburgh’s architecture.
What to see and do
Now, when it comes to things to see and do in Edinburgh with kids, you’re really spoiled for choice.
With almost 500,000 inhabitants, a large student population, and a booming business scene, Edinburgh has something to offer everyone.
Families with kids who have chosen or are considering Edinburgh as their holiday destination won’t be disillusioned.
This city has much to offer.
A distinctive part of the city’s skyline, Edinburgh Castle is one of the most intriguing historic structures to be found in Edinburgh, with the earliest mentions of a fort in this location dating back to the 2nd century AD.
Sitting atop a rocky outcrop and boasting an immensely strategic position, its uses over the years have been varied: prison, military garrison, royal residence, fortress.
The whole family is sure to love a visit to this emblematic castle (and if the kids are misbehaving you can always threaten to have them locked up here).
Edinburgh Castle sits at one end of the Royal Mile, which spans several historic, cobbled streets that constitute the main street in the city’s Old Town. It’s hugely popular with tourists owing to its historic charm, quaint old buildings, and narrow alleyways. This part of Edinburgh makes for perfect photo material.
Walk the length of the Royal Mile and you’ll see lots of street performers, especially if you visit in August when people are advertising their shows at the Fringe Festival.
Keep walking and you’ll come to the Scottish Parliament, which is an intriguing building architecturally. It offers tours, exhibitions, and events that may be of interest to you during your holiday to Edinburgh.
At the end of the Royal Mile is Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. Over the centuries, this building has been connected to Scottish royalty as well. Tours here take in the palace’s state apartments, throne room, gardens, and its 12th-century abbey, among other areas.
If your kids are up for something more physically challenging, head to another of the Edinburgh skyline’s symbolic buildings: Scott Monument. Built in Princes Street Gardens in the city centre as a tribute to the Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott, it stands 61 metres tall and has viewing platforms at the top. These can only be reached by climbing spiral staircases.
To reach the platform at the top, you’ll need to climb 287 steps. It’s the perfect challenge for more active kids.
The panoramic views from the top are well worth it.
Combine history and education
“The best education you will ever get is traveling. Nothing teaches you more than exploring the world and accumulating experiences.”
- Mark Paterson
If you’re looking to educate your children while also taking in some of the city’s history, there are plenty of options available in this regard.
The Edinburgh Dungeon is a great tourist attraction. It gives you an overview of some of Edinburgh’s (and Scotland’s) more gruesome history, thanks to its team of actors and various sets with interactive features.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions on the Royal Mile is another fantastic Edinburgh attraction that both young and old are sure to love.
It has plenty of interactive, hands-on exhibits that will get your children’s brains working. The culmination is a 360º viewing terrace at the top of the building.
The National Museum of Scotland is another place that’s great for kids. Again, they can get involved in the interactive exhibits available, which include digging for fossils and trying on historical clothes.
Finally, take a walk to the University of Edinburgh’s Old College on South Bridge. This beautiful 18th-century building currently houses the university’s administration offices, Law School and Talbot Rice Gallery.
Who knows? Maybe one day one of your kids will be studying at this world-famous institution.
Mix education with nature
Or why not head to Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh’s interactive science centre, if your children enjoy discovering the world through science?
You can travel back in time and explore our planet’s lifetime, marvel at the centre’s 360º digital dome cinema, and then your kids can hit the soft play area.
If you’re visiting Edinburgh in April, you can always check out the Edinburgh Science Festival. This event usually runs for two weeks around Easter and it offers lots of workshops to help spark kids’ interest in things like climate change.
Every kid loves animals, right? Well, Edinburgh’s home to a zoo full of them. It’s the perfect day out. Edinburgh Zoo is currently home to the UK’s only giant pandas, which are on loan from China.
The Royal Botanic Garden is another natural setting that the whole family will enjoy. Rock gardens, woodland gardens, and more are brimming with colourful plants from around the world. You can even enjoy views of Edinburgh’s skyline from here.
For a more central green space, you can check out Princes Street Gardens, which is right by the city’s main shopping street. Or the Meadows, a huge park not far from the University of Edinburgh’s Central Area campus.
If you’ve still not managed to tire your kids out, you can go for a walk up Arthur’s Seat, a hill formed by the remains of an extinct volcano.
Edinburgh is a cultural hub in every sense.
Feeling brave? Why not check out a ghost tour through the city’s old underground vaults and a graveyard.
Speaking of graveyards, take a look at the statue on George IV Bridge of Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby was a small terrier that used to sit by his master’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard every day after he died. This little dog has been the star of many books and films so maybe you can pick one up as a souvenir for your kids.
Of course, most bookworms will be well aware of Edinburgh’s importance in the literary world.
Not only is The Elephant House a fabulous little café with delicious cakes, but it’s also served as a relaxing place of inspiration for many writers, including J.K. Rowling who wrote large parts of her Harry Potter novels here, and Ian Rankin, the author of Edinburgh’s Detective Rebus novels.
If that’s not enough for Potter fans, you can also go on a Harry Potter Tour and explore other locations around the city that inspired places in these magical novels.
Additionally, Edinburgh hosts a large number and wide variety of festivals. Depending on when you visit, you may be able to enjoy some of these, such as the internationally famous Fringe Festival, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Lastly, Edinburgh’s also a great shopping destination for all the family. In the city centre, you will find Princes Street and the St James Centre, with high-street names. This is in addition to the more upmarket George Street that runs parallel to Princes Street and is ideal if you’re looking to splash some cash.
If you’re in need of a break (and a large glass of wine) Ocean Terminal in the Leith area of Edinburgh is another shopping centre with plenty of shops, restaurants, a soft play centre, and a cinema for you all to while away the time in.
If you want to venture a little further afield, you’ll find Fort Kinnaird on the outskirts of Edinburgh. This is a shopping and entertainment complex with shops by popular brands, several eateries, and a cinema.
Put Edinburgh on your family’s travel bucket list
“Edinburgh isn’t so much a city, more a way of life… I doubt I’ll ever tire of exploring Edinburgh, on foot or in print.”
- Ian Rankin
So there you have it. Plenty of reasons to put Edinburgh on your family’s travel bucket list, if it’s not already, and make it your family’s next holiday destination.
What other places would you recommend for a family holiday? If you’ve already visited Edinburgh, what were the highlights for you and your kids? Let me know in the comments and don’t forget to enter your email address in the sign-up bar to receive emails straight to your inbox letting you know when I’ve published a new post.
Get planning those holidays!