There are loads of fun things to do in Edinburgh with kids. I lived in Edinburgh for 14 years before I had kids, so I got to know the city pretty well – especially the shops, bars and restaurants. But returning this summer with our two kids in tow was a bit of a new experience for us, as we had to actually seek out family-friendly attractions in Edinburgh. So if like us you are visiting Scotland’s capital with the family, here are some of the best things to do in Edinburgh with kids.
Dominating the Edinburgh skyline from its position atop an ancient volcanic crag, Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s number one paid-for tourist attraction. It is fun to explore the rugged ramparts of Edinburgh Castle with the kids and admire some of the best views across the city from its gun-holes. Highlights for the kids include the Scottish crown jewels, the weapons and armoury displayed in the Great Hall, and Mons Meg – a medieval cannon and one of the largest in the world.
Be sure to pick up an Explorer Quiz from the audio tour counter (this can be downloaded before you go at the Edinburgh Castle website too) to help keep the kids engaged and interested. This scavenger hunt activity sheet includes challenges and questions such as ‘Climb the Lang Stair. How many steps are there?’ and ‘How many stained glass windows does St Margaret’s Chapel have?’
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
Right next to Edinburgh Castle on the Royal Mile, you will find Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions. Such a fun way to learn about the city and its history, the Camera Obscura show sees live moving images of Edinburgh projected onto the viewing table, where you can pick people up and even make traffic drive over paper bridges.
Also within the Camera Obscura is the World of Illusions, which includes the Magic Gallery, where you can make your hands glow as though they are being x-rayed, or see yourself multiplied in a giant kaleidoscope. Then there’s the Illusion Lab, full of mind-boggling optical illusions, and the Light Fantastic exhibition, with its amazing holograms – watch out for the giant tarantula!
National Museum of Scotland
The fabulous National Museum of Scotland is one of the Top 10 UK visitor attractions, and is in the Top 20 of the most visited museums and galleries in the world. And with reason. This brilliant, hands-on exhibition space is a great option for entertaining the kids in Edinburgh – especially if you have a rainy day (in Scotland? Surely not!)
There is a lot to take in here – from the age of the dinosaurs to the technology of the future, there are more than 8,000 objects displayed within the museum, covering everything from science and technology to world culture, transport and the natural world. But not to worry, plenty of interactive hands-on fun means that the kids won’t have time to get bored.
Kids will especially love the Animal World gallery, jammed full with stuffed animals, and also the Adventure Planet gallery where they can dig for dinosaur bones and crawl through the roots of an oak tree to search for bugs. And did we mention there’s a full-size Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton? And even better? It’s free!
Dynamic Earth is a fun yet educational way to spend a few hours in Edinburgh with kids. Take a visually stimulating journey through time to witness the story of Planet Earth, starting with the Big Bang and experiencing the primeval forces of nature such as a volcanic eruption, the chill of polar ice, the sights and sounds of the rainforest, and the magical Aurora Borealis.
Dynamic Earth is also home to 4Dventure, a 4D film experience, that flies you from the Arctic to deep within the tropical rainforest, and brings you face to face with a shark, a rhino and the sting in a scorpion’s tail. Don’t miss the ShowDome, Scotland’s only 360-degree full dome film theatre, allowing a fully immersive movie experience, which shows a variety of educational films throughout the year.
Note that Dynamic Earth is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays from November to March.
Climb Arthur’s Seat
Not many cities have an extinct volcano in the middle of the city, but Edinburgh does! Arthur’s Seat is one of the seven hills of Edinburgh and is easily accessible from the city centre. Arthur’s Seat forms part of Holyrood Park, which is just a short walk from the Royal Mile and is home to Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s residence when she is in town.
It may be a steep climb up the 251m hill, but the views are worth it from the top. There are a few ways to tackle Arthur’s Seat – you could start at Holyrood Park in front of the Palace and follow the pathways, either to the left around St Margaret’s Loch (where you can stop off to see the swans), or a steeper climb following the path to the right. If you have small kids who can’t manage much of an uphill walk, you could also cheat and drive (or take a taxi) to Dunsapie Loch the other side of Arthur’s Seat, meaning you only have to take on the final 15-20 minutes of the hike to the peak.
Home to the only Giant Pandas and koalas in the United Kingdom, Edinburgh Zoo should definitely be on your wish list if you are visiting Edinburgh with kids. Set within 82 acres of sloping parkland, Edinburgh Zoo is home to over 1,000 rare and endangered animals and makes for a great day out with the kids. The animals are all well looked after in spacious enclosures and there is also plenty of wide open space for the kids to run around.
Don’t miss the awesome penguin parade, when the King, Gentoo and Rockhopper penguins leave their enclosure and follow the zookeepers along the parade route – right in front of all the adoring onlookers.
Edinburgh International Climbing Arena
Europe’s largest indoor climbing arena is just on the outskirts of Edinburgh, built in a disused quarry. Adrenaline junkies will be pleased to know that it’s not just about the climbing wall here – there is also bouldering and an aerial assault course built 30m off the ground.
If that all sounds too much for the little ones, then fear not – there is also a Scrambles soft play area, complete with its own mini climbing wall, and the Rock Tots Playroom, with dressing up, bouncy castle, bikes and trikes, puzzles and games. Once they’ve burned off all their energy, you can recharge in the café before some more sedate fun at arts and crafts studio Honey Pot Ceramics. All perfect rainy day fun!
Picnic in Prince’s Street Gardens
Prince’s Street Gardens are such a beautiful and unique feature of Edinburgh city centre. Dividing the Old Town and the New Town of Edinburgh, the gardens are divided into two sections – East and West – with both sides boasting acres of sloping green lawns, perfect for running around on a clear day and, if it’s warm enough, enjoying a family picnic.
West Prince’s Street Gardens is the best spot to take the kids for a picnic. There is a playground in the far Western corner, which also happens to have the best views of Edinburgh Castle. During the Edinburgh Festival in the summer time, there is also a carousel set up here and temporary bars appear, serving Pimms in the sunshine.
During Christmas time, The East Gardens near the Scott Monument are transformed into a Winter Wonderland, complete with Christmas Market, fairground rides, an ice rink and a Ferris Wheel.
Edinburgh Butterfly & Insect World
You don’t normally associate Scotland with tropical rainforests, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at the Edinburgh Butterfly & Insect World. The world’s longest running indoor butterfly house has hundreds of beautiful butterflies to admire, but what really makes this a hit with the kids is all the creepy crawlies!
The interactive sessions held at various times throughout the day are not only informative, but give you the chance to hold a tarantula, giant millipede and snake… should you really want to, of course. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to catch the once-a-month anaconda feeding.
Blair Drummond Safari Park
Not strictly in Edinburgh, but worth the one-hour drive to Stirling, Blair Drummond Safari Park is a great fun day out for the family. There is a lot to see and do here, so plan to spend the whole day.
Firstly, of course, there is the safari park, where you can drive through the game reserve to get up close to the elephants, giraffes, bison, zebras, lions and more. Don’t miss the newly opened monkey drive through, which is sure to illicit squeals of delight from the little ones, as the cheeky macaques scramble over the car.
Beyond the game reserve there is plenty more fun to be had. You can take a boat ride around Chimp Island, watch the informative Sea Lion presentation and Bird of Prey displays, ride on pedal boats, fly over the water on a flying fox or dig for treasure in the pirate ship playground and sandpit. All of the above is included in your ticket price, but for a few extra pounds you can also enjoy the bouncy castle, face painting and fun fair, including dodgems, amusement arcade and carousel. Fun!
Note that Blair Drummond Safari Park is closed during the Winter, so check the website before you set off!
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