Scotland is a stunning part of the UK, and many visitors spend a few days in Edinburgh. Edinburgh may not be Scotland’s biggest city (Glasgow beats it on numbers), but it is the best one to visit as a family.

You’ll find plenty of museums, parks and tours that are ideal for people visiting with their children. Many of these things should be booked in advance, so once you’ve chosen the right ones for you, head to their websites to book your tickets. 

So, here are some of the best family activities in Edinburgh. 

Edinburgh Castle Edinburgh Castle in Scotland

This is Edinburgh’s most popular attraction and a must-see for any visitor to the city. It sits on Castle Rock high above the city, offering great views over Edinburgh.

Families will also enjoy seeing the Scottish Crown Jewels and the suits of armour in the castle. You can also view the prisons where pirates were once kept and learn about their stories. 

The museum offers an ‘Explorers Quiz’ for children to keep them engaged by looking for particular artefacts and information. 

Edinburgh CastleIf you are visiting Monday-Saturday, you might be in the castle during the One O’Clock gun firing. This practice dates back to 1861 and was used by nearby ships to set their clocks. 

Tip: If you do want to be there for the firing of the gun, make sure you are in place 10 minutes before – access to some areas near the gun will be limited when preparing for the firing due to new Ministry of Defence procedures. 

Book tickets in advance to make sure you can get in, the castle is busy at weekends and during school holidays. 

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions 

This attraction is just a short walk from the castle, so it is easy to combine the two. Camera Obscura is 5 floors of optical illusions, magic tricks and interactive games. 

The Vortex is a colourful spinning tunning designed to befuddle your senses. Light Fantastic is a section filled with optical illusions and tricks, such as the Ames Room which makes people appear to shrink or grow depending on their position in the room. 

There is also a rooftop terrace providing views over the Royal Mile and castle. 

This is another attraction that you should book tickets for in advance, especially for weekends and school holidays. This is one of the more expensive attractions on the list, but free for under 5s and there is a lot to see. Edinburgh is an expensive city, so attractions such as this are priced to match. 

Be aware that Camera Obscura is in an old, listed building and there is no lift. It isn’t suitable for wheelchair users or pushchairs, but you can leave your pushchair near the entrance and borrow a baby carrier at no charge. 

Princes Street Gardens

If you don’t want to pay to visit the castle itself, then I would suggest at least exploring Princes Street Gardens, which provides some great views of the castle from the city centre. 

The gardens are next to the castle with fountains, sculptures and plants to enjoy. 

You’ll also find the Scott Monument near the east end of the gardens, a large monument dedicated to Sir Walter Scott. You can purchase tickets to climb the monument for more views over the city and castle. 

Scott Monument Edinburgh

Harry Potter Tour

JK Rowling wrote much of the Harry Potter series when living in Edinburgh, so the city is full of references and shops dedicated to the Harry Potter world.

If your kids are interested in the books and films, consider taking a tour of locations linked to Harry Potter. 

This walking tour will take you to some of the locations that inspired JK Rowling, as well as entertaining you with trivia and stories. It’s also a great way to explore Edinburgh’s Old Town, passing by some of the city’s landmarks. 

After your tour, head to the nearby Museum Context or Enchanted Gallery shops, both on Victoria Street. These shops sell a wide range of Harry Potter merchandise, perfect souvenirs for your trip. 

National Museum of ScotlandNational Museum Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland is free to visit and has a wide range of exhibits. One gallery is dedicated to the history of Scotland from the Iron Age through to modern-day. Another focuses on art, design and fashion. You’ll also find galleries exploring the natural world, including a T-Rex skeleton. 

There are also a number of exhibits that are particularly aimed at young visitors. Dig for a dinosaur on a digital display, discover which animal they are the same weight as, or pick up a trail map to look for certain displays.

It’s also worth checking the website to see if there are any special events for families when you are there. The museum hosts both free and paid sessions for children at various points throughout the year. 

The Chocolatarium

For something a little different, try a chocolate tour! The Chocolatarium offers tours demonstrating the journey from cacao tree to chocolate bar. You can also make your own chocolate bar, and try some unusual flavours in their tasting room.

The tour is suitable for 6+, but if you return without the kids another time, you could try either their chocolate and wine tour or the chocolate and whisky tour!

 

The Real Mary King’s Close 

This unusual attraction is underneath the city centre streets. 

Your costumed guide will take you through a recreation of 17th-century Edinburgh, telling stories of their lives. Perhaps you’ll meet a housemaid, a poet, or even a plague doctor. 

The guides will share entertaining and informative stories about life for Edinburgh’s residents 400 years ago, as well as what happened during a plague outbreak in 1645. 

Unlike most attractions which provide written information on displays, the guides at the Real Mary King’s Close are known for their ability to bring history to life while wandering through these historic streets. 

Children must be at least 5 years old to visit, and due to the nature of the attraction, there are some small spaces which may be difficult for anyone with claustrophobia. Unfortunately, it is also inaccessible to wheelchair users, due to the nature and age of the underground streets. 

Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official Scottish residence of King Charles III. The palace has a fascinating history, and is especially associated with Mary Queen of Scots. Her rooms are some of the earliest remaining parts of the palace, built almost 500 years ago. 

In addition to exploring the palace, throne room, and gardens, you’ll have access to a free multimedia tour for families. There is also a Family Room with games, activities and dressing up clothes. 

Dynamic Earth

Dynamic Earth sits on the edge of Holyrood Park, where you can find Arthur’s Seat.

This science centre tells the story of our planet, from the Big Bang to the modern age. 

Visitors can experience an earthquake and find out what causes them. Learn about evolution, extinction and the development of life on earth. Discover the ocean depths and the animals which live there. Cross the Arctic to learn about the polar regions.

There’s a lot to see, and it is a perfect choice for children with an interest in science. 

The visit concludes with a show in the Planetarium, included in your admission ticket. The schedule varies, so visit the website to check what shows will be on when you visit. 

Arthur’s Seat

For families with some energy to burn, consider hiking up to Arthur’s Seat. This extinct volcano can be found to the east of the city centre and offers excellent views over Edinburgh. 

There are some steep parts of the path so this might be one to avoid with very young children, but if you have kids that are used to doing walks like this then you’ll be rewarded with the best views of the area.  

Make sure you have good footwear, especially on rainy days as there are several rocky sections which can be quite slippery. Also, it’s worth noting that the only toilet facilities in the park are attached to the Education Centre at the northwest entrance and they have limited opening times. 

Visit the official website (https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/holyrood-park/) to get maps and guides. Check before you go to make sure that the paths are open.

Edinburgh Zoo 

If your kids like to learn about different animals, consider taking them to Edinburgh Zoo. From otters to lions, this zoo is home to a wide variety of animals. 

Penguins, meerkats, tigers, kangaroos, giraffes and more, the zoo has plenty of animals to visit. They also have live feeds for some of the enclosures on the website so you can get a sample of the experience in advance. 

The zoo is run by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, a conservation charity that is working with its partners to reverse the decline of several species around the world. 

Edinburgh Dungeon 

Families with older children who enjoy a spooky story might enjoy this darker attraction. The minimum age to enter is 5, but it is only recommended for children who are at least 8. Check the website first to see if you think it would be suitable for your children. 

The Edinburgh Dungeon is a theatrical tour, that tells stories from the more gruesome side of Scottish history. Enter a courtroom to be judged, hear stories about some of Scotland’s notorious criminals, and experience a ghostly encounter. 

If you have older children who enjoy the darker side of history, this might be a good choice for them. 

Conclusion

Edinburgh is a wonderful city to visit, and a great starting point for a longer journey around Scotland. 

As you can see there are plenty of things to do for families of all ages, with free as well as paid options. Whether your children want to meet historical characters, hike up a volcano or have fun with some optical illusions, Edinburgh offers lots of options. 

Enjoy your Scottish adventure!

Read Next:

Things to Do in the North of Scotland

Isle of Skye, Scotland

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