Top 10 things to do in Edinburgh on a Family Holiday
We recently spent some time in Edinburgh at the start of our Epic Scotland holiday. It really is a city with a lot to offer people of all ages and tastes, so if you’re there on a short break you will have to pick and choose what you get to do. We could have spent days just wandering around and exploring the city, not to mention all the attractions, many of which are a full day affair! We were there with our 15 month old son. In this early stage of having a toddler, we tried to enjoy our vacation and the history and culture an amazing city like Edinburgh has to offer, whilst of course, always planning around him and taking him into consideration. I was surprised at the amount of family friendly things to do there are in Edinburgh, and I’ve compiled my top 10 things to do in Edinburgh on a family holiday.
My number one tip for attractions in Edinburgh would be to research in advance – look up opening and closing times and if you’ve decided on something for a set day, there are big savings to be had in this expensive city by pre-booking, not to mention cutting the queues.
My Top 10 Things to do in Edinburgh on a Family Holiday
1. Edinburgh Zoo
Website: Edinburgh Zoo
One of the amazingly bright pink flamingos at Edinburgh Zoo
Edinburgh Zoo is an absolute must visit for a family going to Edinburgh, as it offers a full day out filled with natural wonders. Edinburgh Zoo is home to the UK’s only Giant Pandas as well as over 1,000 other animals, including rare species such as Koalas, King Penguins and Chimpanzees. With parking right next door and on the direct bus route from the city centre it’s very easy to find. It is located on a steep site, so if you’ve got a stroller you’re going to be pushing it up and down hills, but everything is accessible and family friendly.
I’ve written about our day at Edinburgh Zoo in depth, so check that out for lots of details and ways to help you prepare for this amazing family day out.
2. Edinburgh Castle
Website: Edinburgh Castle
Imposingly perched atop the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle is an iconic piece of history that can’t be missed. It’s located on Castle Rock, an extinct volcano, and offers views down over the entire city. It contains exhibitions and buildings to explore, including the National War Memorial and the Grand Hall containing Scotland’s Crown Jewels. This is a very busy attraction, especially on days when large cruise ships are in port, so if at all possible, book in advance for a fast entry.
For the family visitors, it is cobbled and very steep, so leave the stroller in the car if you can do without it and take babes in slings where possible. We did take a stroller as our son was at that awkward age where he can walk – but not far, but is too heavy to be carried. We managed, despite the steep hills and cobbled streets, so it’s still well worth a visit despite the inconvenience. There’s nothing for younger children, but older children should enjoy the views and history. Baby change facilities are available and the tea room which served amazing cream teas, afternoon teas and other delights, had high chairs.
3. Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat
Website: Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat
View over Arthur’s Seat, looking down onto Edinburgh City
If you have children old enough to make this climb – or can take a sling or backpack carrier – then this is a must visit for the more energetic family traveller. Holyrood park is a free to visit park with rolling hills and crags to explore. The crowning glory is Arthur’s Seat, the highest point and the remains of an ancient volcano. Arthur’s Seat is 251 metres high and offers amazing 360 degree views across Edinburgh and the Lothians. There is an easy path to follow and the incline is gentle enough for the whole family to be able to enjoy it. A full circular walk takes around two hours, but there are various easy routes. For those who don’t have time, or the energy to make a proper hike out of it, it’s possible to drive to Queen’s Drive alongside Dunsapie Loch and then head to the summit in a walk that takes less than 15 minutes. Make sure you dress appropriately and wear comfortable footwear.
I would recommend researching routes and options in advance, to cater them to your family.
4. The Edinburgh Dungeon
Website: The Edinburgh Dungeon
Edinburgh Dungeon is a gruesome attraction filled with rides, actors, special effects and interactive exhibits is suitable for those with older children. Whilst based in history and telling the tale of the dark side of the city, it’s gory, grisly and dark. It’s also educational, fun and very comedic in many places, offering lighthearted relief to the dramatic. Edinburgh Dungeon recommends that children be 8 or over to visit, but will admit those over 4 years when accompanied with an adult. It’ll take about 90 minutes to get the full experience and is an ideal way for families with older children to break up the day with something unique and thrilling.
Edinburgh Dungeon is part of the Merlin Entertainment Pass.
5. Palace of Holyroodhouse
Website: Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Palace of Holyroodhouse (often called Holyrood Palace) is The Queen’s official residence in Scotland, so is a must visit for those interested in the royal family, grandeur or history. Parts of the palace are open for public viewing and each room is full of paintings, furniture and decorations of historical importance, used by the royal family in the past. You can also visit some of the Queen’s official rooms, including the Throne Room – rooms that are still used for private audiences today when the Queen is staying. The Abbey grounds around the Palace are beautiful and a good way to burn off some energy as there’s plenty of space outside for younger family members to stretch their legs.
Although this is a very quiet and hushed indoor experience with a lot of things young children can’t touch, there is a family room located on the ground floor which contains children’s toys, dressing up facilities, tables and colouring materials. I spent an enjoyable 30 minutes in this room whilst my husband re-visited some of the historical rooms. This isn’t an ideal visit for those with toddlers, especially if they’re prone to being loud and rambunctious like mine, but there’s no reason you can’t take it in turns to see the rooms whilst playing with toys in the family room or running around outside (30-60 minutes) even if your child isn’t interested. Strollers can’t access the main rooms as they’re upstairs, but there is a large room you can leave strollers on the ground floor and pick them up again at the end.
Consider Afternoon Tea at the Cafe at the Palace for a real treat afterwards!
6. Our Dynamic Earth
Website: Our Dynamic Earth
If you’re traveling with children then spending a few hours at Our Dynamic Earth is well advised. Nestled in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat and just a few minutes walk from the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Our Dynamic Earth is an interactive educational museum that couples hands-on play, experiences and science to teach kids about things like our planet, the big bang theory, the solar system, biodiversity, volcanos, glaciers, environmental issues, flight and more. I’m a big fan of science museums, but this has to be one of the best around. It has a 4D Flight simulator, a showdome and really plunges you into the heart of history, the world around us and science. It has parking directly underneath it and is very easily accessible for all the family – even if you’ve got little ones in a pushchair, with plenty of facilities and a cafe on site too.
7. Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions
Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions is an unique experience filled with illusions, tricks, puzzles, interactive exhibits and some really crazy stuff! It’s located right next to Edinburgh Castle and is a really fun way to spend an hour or two. It’s hands on and suitable for the whole family – with even little ones being mesmerized. There are also stunning rooftop views over the heart of the city. It’s open until 9 or 10pm in the summer holidays which makes it an ideal after-dinner destination once a lot of other attractions have closed, but the quietest time of day is first thing in the morning, which is ideal for those with young children like mine who seem to think that dawn is an acceptable time to wake up.
8. The Hop on Hop Off Tour Bus
Website: The Hop on Hop Off Tour Bus
Now a bit of a world wide phenomena, we’ve been on the Hop On Hop Off Tours in over a dozen cities. Edinburgh being one of them! The Hop On Hop Off (affectionately known as the HoHo!) allows you to get a real view of the city on a guided audio tour, whilst getting you from A to B as well. It’s an excellent way to tour the city and reach all of the attractions listed on this guide and your ticket lasts for 24 hours (with multi-day tickets being available too), allowing you to hop on and hop off as often as you want. It’s worth exploring what tickets are available in advance, as big savings can be had when buying in conjunction with some attractions. For families, there’s a special kids commentary – “Horrible histories” which is actually very funny! – in addition to the adults audio, which I thought was a really nice touch. Ages 0 to 4 travel free, but you’ll want to collapse your stroller if you have one, and there is limited space. Edinburgh in general is a city that is best done without a stroller, although there’s always ways of getting around it!
9. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Website: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh offers a bit of a time-out from the hustle and bustle of the city, offering a relaxing stroll around historical botanical gardens. It has lots of outdoor gardens as well as multiple exotic glasshouses which would be an excellent way to warm up on a colder day. Children 15 and under are free, with adults being only £6.50. This makes this a very budget friendly attraction. It’s stroller friendly for those with little ones, has a casual cafe, and has a lovely restaurant which offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as afternoon tea. It has a kids menu and excellent facilities.
10. Inchcolm Abbey and Island
Website: Inchcolm Abbey and Island
A little off the beaten track, getting to Inchcolm Abbey and Island will require a short ferry trip from South Queensferry – which is a real treat in itself with a potential to see seals and wildlife on the way. The dramatic location is calm and picturesque whilst also being steeped in history. This is very much a do it yourself type of attraction, but does have toilet facilities, a small gift and snack shop. I’d recommend comfortable footwear, appropriate clothing and a packed lunch. You’ll be dropped off for two hours and can explore the Abbey or the beautiful island, beaches and wildlife.