Edinburgh is an amazing place to bring the kids on a city break. It’s not too far away from Ireland, it’s a small enough city that you can walk everywhere and there’s loads of family friendly things to do.
If you’re going to be spending 48 hours in Scotland’s capital, here is a list of our favourite places to visit with the kids :
1. Edinburgh National Museum
When you think of a museum, your mind may conjure up images of dark and stuffy rooms adorned with collections of dusty artefacts however this couldn’t be further from the truth for the National Museum in Edinburgh. The reason why this attraction is first in my list is because it’s a wonderful interactive educational attraction for every member of the family to enjoy. It was a real highlight of our trip. First of all, it’s free and that instantly makes parents smile as travelling with kids can be so expensive, it’s such a welcome relief to find an attraction that is fun and free.
First of all, allow yourselves LOTS of time. You will be here alot longer than you think, we only left when we did because it closed!
When you arrive, get rid of your coats and bags in the cloakroom just inside the entrance. It costs £1.50 per item or you can buy a large reusable bag for £3 and store everything in that, and you get to keep the bag at the end.
Although there is a section of the museum for younger children, I believe that everyone aged six and upwards will find the museum the most fun. It’s accessible for pushchairs and older relations as there is lots of space and lifts at every corner. They even provide a free fold up stool for tired kids (or parents) to sit down on when you’re spending some time at an interactive display.
With attractions like the age of dinosaurs and future technology, there’s something for all interests. All interactive displays are free except the ‘Race a Formula 1 car’ which costs £1 and children need to be at least 137cm tall so that they can reach the pedals.
Food wise, there are two cafes to choose from. We hadn’t planned on staying for food but as we ended up staying over four hours, we stopped for a cup of tea and a sandwich and although it wasn’t cheap, it was good quality and there were plenty of kids meal options available.
They regularly have special exhibitions so check out their website before you go. At the end of your visit, I would recommend checking out the gift shop if you have time for some cool educational souvenirs.
2. Edinburgh Castle
You can’t visit Edinburgh without spending some time at Edinburgh Castle. It’s a stunning castle located on the aptly named Castle Rock at the end of the famous ‘Royal Mile’ in the centre of the city. This historic fortress is very popular all year around and to avoid huge queues to buy tickets (which is never fun with anyone under the age of 18), buy your tickets online in advance and just collect when you arrive from the ticket booths.
Kids under 5 go free and tickets start at £10.20 which I think is good value as you can easily spend a few hours at the Castle.
I would recommend heading there mid morning, particularly if you want to see the firing of the One o’clock Gun. The gun is fired at 1pm everyday (except Sundays) and has been happening since 1861. The idea behind it is to allow nearby ships to set their maritime clocks correctly. It’s very popular so you may not be able to get close enough to see it, but you’ll certainly hear it where ever you are.
As beautiful as the castle is, it’s not the most exciting place for toddlers. There is a cool ‘kids explorer sheet’ which can be collected for free from the audio guide booth is a great way to keep the young (and older) kids entertained. It’s worth bearing in mind that due to its location and the cobblestones, the castle isn’t very buggy friendly so I would recommend not bothering with a pushchair if you can avoid it. Also places like the room where the Crown Jewels are displayed is very narrow and not conducive to a buggy.
A guided tour is included in your ticket price and they take place throughout the day. The meeting point is through the Portcullis Gate past the audio booth by the clock. If you can, I’d recommend checking that out as you find out lots of cool facts that you would otherwise miss. Also, there are various family-friendly events happening throughout the year at the Castle so check out their website before you go.
When you’ve had enough walking around, check out ‘The Tea Rooms’ for a delicious selection of cakes. In fact, we all enjoyed the Haggis, Neeps and Tatties dish which cost £12 but was well worth it and you can’t come to Scotland and not try haggis.
3. Camera Obscura & World of Illusions
This was another highlight of our family city break to Edinburgh. I honestly didn’t know what to expect with this as it’s hard to work out what’s inside from the outside of the building but I read the reviews on TripAdvisor and people seemed to love it so we decided to see what all the fuss was about. It was really good.
Camera Obscura has been delighting visitors for over 150 years which makes it the oldest purpose built visitor attraction in Edinburgh.
Tickets for children (aged 5-15 years) are £12 and under 5s are free. You can’t buy them in advance so I would recommend visiting Camera Obscura early enough to avoid the queues, mind you the queues move quickly and the staff are so lovely. Once you’ve bought your tickets and enjoyed some time at Camera Obscura, you can go away and have lunch and always pop back again later in the day as the ticket is valid all day.
It seems small from the outside but that is another illusion as the fun is spread out over five floors. On each floor there was lots and lots of interactive displays and illusions from a swirling light vortex that will blow your mind to a cool maze made of mirrors. My three teenagers (and both parents) really loved it.
They recommend allowing yourself two hours but I think that you need longer than that to really enjoy all 100 illusions.
I’d recommend heading up the stairs and start at the top floor and take in the incredible city views from the rooftop tower, you’ll get a great shot of Edinburgh Castle from here.
There is a special Camera Obscura show every 30 minutes which lasts about 15-20 minutes which is included in the ticket but you do need to book into a particular show. I would highly recommend doing that as it’s really cool but I won’t spoil the surprise!
One of the floors has slightly scary images but parents with younger kids are well warned and you can detour to another area easily.
My only observation is that I wish the gift shop had chairs for parents as my three were there for ages!
4. The Real Mary King’s Close Tour
Located on the Royal Mile (opposite St. Giles Cathedral), this tour had been recommended to us by lots of people.
Under Edinburgh is a warren of streets or ‘Closes’ and this tour takes you back in time to learn about what it was really like for the people who lived, worked, and died on the Close. Tours last about an hour and take place regularly so if you want to avoid queuing, I would recommend booking your tickets in advance.
A family ticket (two adults and two children) costs £42.50 which is pricey but the tour is very interesting and my guys found the whole thing historically fascinating and were talking about it for hours afterwards.
You’re not allowed to take any photos or video when you’re on the tour so I’m afraid that I can’t share anything visual with you.
They recommend that the tour is not suitable for kids aged under five however I think it’s best to only bring children aged eight upwards as some of the stories can be a little grim. There a little climbing up and down stairs, the corridors are narrow and the ceilings are low in places so if you’re not steady on your feet or are claustrophobic in any way I would avoid this attraction.
Five places for our next visit
There you have it, the four top things that we did when we stayed in Edinburgh with our kids. There are lots of other places that we didn’t get a chance to visit however we are already planning a return visit.
Feeding the Family in Edinburgh
As we were self-catering in our Staycity Aparthotels accommodation, we saved money and didn’t eat out very often but I have to mention the following places that I would recommend visiting :
The best coffee – Brew Lab
We love proper pour over coffee in our house so when we saw that there was a place that served it in Edinburgh we had to seek it out. Located on South College Street, Brew Lab is an uber hip coffee place where students and couples chilled with coffee and macbooks. You have to wait for your freshly made pour over coffee but it was well worth the five minutes wait. I loved the fact that they won’t serve it with milk or sugar either.
The best burger – Byron Burger
Who doesn’t love a good burger? Well we were on the Royal Mile for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay famous torchlight procession and we were really hungry so we dived into Byron Burger and ordered a main course each. We all agreed that it was the tastiest burger we’d ever had.
The best Indian food – Mother India’s Cafe
We don’t have a good Indian restaurant where we live in Sligo so we always wanted to introduce the kids to one of our favourite cuisines. We knew that Edinburgh was bound to have some good restaurants so a quick google suggested we try Mother India’s Cafe which turned out to be a very food recommendation indeed. They offer tapas style Indian food which was fantastic quality for an amazing price. It cost us £55 for five of us to have dinner including poppadoms and pickles.
I would recommend ringing in advance or booking a table online as there was a queue of people waiting for tables when we were there.
Have you been to Edinburgh with the family? Where would you recommend?
Disclaimer : Although we paid for our own trip, we were guests of Visit Scotland who invited us to visit the attractions listed above for the purpose of this review. All opinions and images are 100% honest and our own unless otherwise stated.