A guide to some of the most fun things to do in Edinburgh with kids, from the castle to the zoo, plus museums, Harry Potter tours and more.
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 the first time we returned to Edinburgh with a toddler and young child in tow, it was a bit of a new experience, as we had to actually seek out family things to do in Edinburgh. Now we return regularly to Scotland to visit family, we have had plenty of time to find all the best things to do with kids in Edinburgh.
In general, Edinburgh is easy to explore with a stroller. Do be aware that getting from the New Town (i.e. Princes Street) to the Old Town (i.e. the Royal Mile) means walking up a steep hill, and the Old Town in general is quite hilly.
Also be aware that some areas of the old town have cobbles, which may be a bit more tricky with a lightweight stroller.
We have always found lots of Edinburgh things to do with kids. From exploring the castle, climbing hills, visiting the zoo, or learning about the world at Dynamic Earth. if you are wondering what to do in Edinburgh with kids, here is our pick of some of the best family attractions in Edinburgh.
Explore Edinburgh Castle
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 kids and admire some of the best views across the city from its gun-holes.
The highlights of Edinburgh Castle for 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.
Your Edinburgh Castle ticket includes an optional guided tour, or you can explore on your own. The Edinburgh Castle website has several recommended itineraries, depending on your interests and how long you want to spend here, so it’s worth doing a little forward planning and research.
Be sure to pick up an Explorer Quiz from the audio tour counter 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?’
Discover 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, one of the most unusual things to do in Edinburgh for kids.
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!
Explore the 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 one of the best things to do with kids in Scotland – 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!
Take a Journey through Dynamic Earth
Dynamic Earth is a fun yet educational way to spend a few hours in Edinburgh for children.
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! And climbing up this volcano is one of the best active things for kids to do in Edinburgh. 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.
Meet the Animals at Edinburgh Zoo
Home to the only Giant Pandas and koalas in the United Kingdom, Edinburgh Zoo is one of the most popular things to do in Edinburgh with children.
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 in Edinburgh.
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.
Take a Harry Potter Tour
If you have little Harry Potter fans in your family then this is a must do in Edinburgh. My kids have yet to reach the Harry Potter phase, so we haven’t personally done this tour. But I have heard good things about it and so wanted to share it with my readers.
This Edinburgh family tour lets you see Edinburgh through the eyes of Harry Potter author J.K Rowling. You will see the sites that inspired Hogwarts and the wonderful characters and also get to see where JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books.
All this on a fun walking tour of Edinburgh, filled with Harry Potter trivia and a fun audio-visual quiz that will have Harry Potter fans enthralled.
Tour Mary King’s Close
Mary King’s Close has the reputation for being haunted and there are plenty of gruesome stories associated with it, but really this tour provides a fascinating insight into Edinburgh’s history.
The close (narrow street) was blocked off in the 18th century and closed to the public for many years and is now only accessible via guided tour.
During the one-hour tour of this ancient underground street you will learn stories of plague, pestilence, murder and intrigue from your character tour guide. Learning history has never been more entertaining!
Click here to buy tickets for the Mary King’s Close tour
Brave the Edinburgh Dungeon
Equally grisly but fascinating from a history point of view, the Edinburgh Dungeon is a fun yet frightening way to learn about Scotland’s dark past.
This interactive 70-minute walk-through experience has full-on immersive sets, live actor shows, thrilling rides and special effects to help bring history to life. Each show introduces a character or chapter from Scotland’s history in a fun way and features plenty of gruesome humour.
Not recommended for children under 8 years old.
Click here to buy tickets for the Edinburgh Dungeon
Climb the Scotts Monument
Dedicated to one of Scotland’s best loved writers, Sir Walter Scott, the gothic Scott Monument towers over the eastern end of Princes Street Gardens.
Built in 1844, you can climb the stairs of this iconic Edinburgh landmark to the third floor viewing platform to enjoy fantastic views over the city.
Have Fun at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena
If you’re looking for Edinburgh kids activities for a rainy day, then Europe’s largest indoor climbing arena is just on the outskirts of Edinburgh. This indoor arena is built in a disused quarry and is one of our top indoor activities for kids in Edinburgh.
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!
Have a Picnic in Prince’s Street Gardens
Prince’s Street Gardens are such a beautiful and unique feature of Edinburgh city centre, and one of our favourite things in Edinburgh for families, is having a picnic here (weather permitting of course!).
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 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.
Visit the 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, another of our favourite things to do for kids in Edinburgh.
The world’s longest running indoor butterfly house has hundreds of beautiful butterflies to admire, but what really makes this Edinburgh family attraction 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.
Take a Trip to Blair Drummond Safari Park
Not strictly in Edinburgh, but worth the one-hour drive to Stirling, Blair Drummond Safari Park is one of the most fun things to do in Scotland with kids. 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!
Are you planning to visit London too? Click here to read about fun things to do in London with kids.
Family Hotels in Edinburgh
There are plenty of family friendly hotels to choose from in Edinburgh. As Edinburgh is fairly small, as long as you are located fairly centrally, it will be easy to walk to the main attractions. If you choose to stay a bit further out of town, just make sure you are close to a bus or tram stop.
Below we highlight two of the best Edinburgh family hotels.
Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian
The beautiful and grand Caledonian Hotel dominates the west end of Princes Street. This historical icon boasts the most castle view rooms of any hotel in Edinburgh, with 68 of its 241 offering views of Edinburgh Castle.
For families, there are rooms with two double beds that will accommodate the whole family, and cribs are available. Within the restaurants, you will find kids menus and high chairs on request. This five star luxury Edinburgh hotel is in the perfect location for sightseeing and exploring the city, just across the road from Princes Street Gardens.
Kids will also love the large indoor swimming pool if you have enough energy after sightseeing.
Radisson Blu Edinburgh
We love the Radisson Blu for all its amazing family friendly touches. Kids stay and eat for free at this family friendly Edinburgh hotel, which is ideally located right in the middle of the Royal Mile just a short stroll away from Edinburgh Castle.
Kids are also given an activity pack on check-in and kids sized robes and slippers are provided the bedrooms. Large family rooms can accommodate the whole family, with cots available too. There are even Playstation 4 consoles available on request, in addition to a family zone in the reception.
This four star Edinburgh hotel also has an indoor swimming pool, and parking available.
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