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Things to do in Edinburgh for Families

Scotland’s capital is a captivating city to visit and makes for a great family weekend city break. Visually stunning and unique there are so many exciting things to do in Edinburgh, it can be hard to know where to start. With endless cobbled backstreets to roam, narrow stairways to discover, a pilgrimage site for all Harry Potter fans and a historic castle sat on a dormant volcano, Edinburgh is a city like no other.

View of Edinburgh from the rooftop of Camera Obscura and The World of Illusions - Things to do in Edinburgh for Families

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links whereby I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. Thanks as always for your support! See my disclosure policy here.

Exploring the beautiful Scottish city with kids is fun and exciting. Here is a guide full of things to do in Edinburgh for families. Make the most of your trip with this selection of the best family activities and places to stay in Edinburgh:

Family Days Out in Edinburgh

Explore Edinburgh Castle

Dominating the city skyline and perched high on a volcanic plug, a visit to Edinburgh isn’t complete without exploring Scotland’s number one tourist attraction. Edinburgh Castle has been a Royal fortress since the 12th century and today is a working military barrack and home to some important Scottish artefacts, such as the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny; an ancient symbol of the Scottish monarchy.

View of Edinburgh Castle for the Vennel Steps - Things to do in Edinburgh for Families

Enjoy some of the best views of the city from its gun-holes and don’t forget to pick up an ‘Explorer Quiz’ from the audio counter to help keep the kids engaged through challenges and activities. Listen out for the famous firing of the One O’Clock Gun which takes place daily, except on Sundays from the castle grounds.

View of Edinburgh from the gun holes in Edinburgh Castle - Things to do in Edinburgh for Families

There are various ways to explore the castle to suit time constraints. Choose either a guided tour or stroll around at your own pace.

Walk the Royal Mile

The Royal Mile runs through the heart of Edinburgh Old Town, connecting two royal residences – Edinburgh Castle and Holyroodhouse Palace. Despite being full of tourists Edinburgh’s famous street is a great sightseeing walk and full of historic treasures. From Scottish pubs to museums and the magnificent spire of St Giles Cathedral to the Scottish Parliament there is plenty to see.

The Royal Mile - Things to do in Edinburgh for Families

Don’t miss exploring the numerous narrow passageways known as closes and courts, that provide a glimpse into the city’s medieval architecture. Walking along the length of the Royal Mile is one of the best free things to do in Edinburgh.

Climb Scott Monument for Epic Views

Built-in 1840, it’s the largest monument dedicated to a writer in the world – Sir Walter Scott. Standing just over 200 feet tall the gothic tower adorned with characters from his novels stands at the eastern end of Princes Street Gardens.

Scott Monument - Things to do in Edinburgh for Families

Climb the narrow 287 steps of this iconic Edinburgh landmark to an observation platform for superb 360-degree panoramic views of the city. There is also a museum inside the monument that showcases Scott’s life and works.

STroll Through Princes Street Gardens

Princes Street Gardens - Things to do in Edinburgh for Families

Princes Street Gardens separates the Old Town from the New Town. The gardens are over 37 acres and beautiful to wander through any time of the year. In summer there are plenty of areas to relax and enjoy a picnic or during the Christmas period visit the festive Christmas markets and ice rink.

Art lovers will find the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Academy located near the Mound, the artificial hill.

Go Underground at The Real Mary King’s Close

Beneath Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is a warren of streets frozen in time that now helps to bring history to life. Mary King’s Close still remains but was blocked off over the centuries when more buildings were constructed over the old homes. Take a one-hour tour led by a character tour guide as one of the residents. Learn about the myths, stories of the plague and murder and the haunted happenings and ghostly sightings. It’s a fascinating insight into the people that lived, worked and died on the street between the 17th and 19th century.

Perfect for older kids who love history and the gruesome elements associated with it. The preserved street definitely makes learning history fun and entertaining.

Visit Palace of HolyroodHouse

Palac of HolyroodHouse - Things to do in Edinburgh for Families

Her Majesty’s The Queen’s official residence in Scotland can be found at the end of the historic Royal Mile. The Palace of Holyroodhouse is one of the most beautiful palaces in Scotland. Best known for being the home of Mary Queen of Scots, who lived in the oldest part of the palace dating back to the 16th century.

Palace of Holyroodhouse - Things to do in Edinburgh for Families

Visitors can explore the 14 impressive State Apartments, the romantic ruins of the 12th century Augustinian Holyrood Abbey and the stunning royal gardens with a complimentary multimedia tour. Kids, also have the option to follow the family travel and dress up for some added fun.

A state room inside Palace of Holyroodhouse - Things to do in Edinburgh for Families

The Palace can only be visited if the Queen is not in residence. If you haven’t coincided with her visit, don’t miss seeing this architectural gem of a palace with an extraordinary history.

Hike Arthur’s Seat

View of Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat - Things to do in Edinburgh for Families

Not many cities can boast a dormant volcano right in the middle of it, but Scotland has two – Arthur’s Seat and the other has a castle on top of it. Located within Holyrood Park Arthur’ Seat sits 251 metres above sea level giving some incredible views of the city and the North Sea.

There are many myths and legends that surround the peak, one predates even Celtic times of a dragon that once terrorised the area. Over weeks and months, it ate so much that it fell into a deep sleep and never woke again and became the hill we now know as Arthur’s Seat.

Walk up to Arthur's Seat - Things to do in Edinburgh for Families

From the base of Holyrood Park, it takes just under an hour to climb to the top and is a great hike. Arthur’s seat can also be approached from various directions. With young kids, the easiest is via the grassy slope on the east rising from Dunsapie Loch on Queen’s Drive.

Have Fun at Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

Camera Obscura and The World of Illusions - Things to do in Edinburgh for Families

One of the most unusual things to do in Edinburgh with kids is visiting Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions. Beside the Castle on the Royal Mile, it houses a collection of amazing interactive exhibits over five floors themed around optical illusions.

The Camera Obscura from the 1850s still delights projecting the whole cityscape onto a broad viewing table. Although visitors now also have the Mirror Maze, Vortex Tunnel, Magic Gallery, a Light Fantastic exhibition and many more mind-boggling optically illusions to enjoy.

At the top of the World Heritage Site is a rooftop terrace not to miss with spectacular views of all of Edinburgh’s famous landmarks.

Join the Harry Potter Trail

This is a must for all Harry Potter fans as it lets you see Edinburgh through the eyes of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. The 2-hour walking tour will take you around locations in the city that inspired Hogwarts, the characters and where she wrote the books. Enjoy an audio-visual quiz and visit the grave of Tom Riddle. You’re guaranteed to be spellbound.

Victoria Street one of the most photographed streets in Edinburgh is said to be is the inspiration for the amazing Diagon Alley. Easy to see why with its higgledy-piggledy colourful buildings, arches and cobblestones and array of independent shops, oozing old-world eccentric charm.

Discover Dean Village

A short walk away from Princes Street is Dean village, a beautiful oasis by the Water of Leith. It’s a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle and discover quiet residential streets and the history of Edinburgh’s mill. Walking around the cobbled streets, surrounded by picturesque colourful houses and a beautiful river and bridge, the scene is more reminiscent of France or Belgium, not Scotland.

The charming Wells Court stands at the heart of the village, built in the 1880s it housed local workers who worked in the watermills.

Places To Stay In Edinburgh

There are so many options for places to stay in Edinburgh for all budgets. Below are some top picks:

Luxury Hotels In Edinburgh

THE BALMORAL HOTEL

An Edinburgh landmark for more than a century this flagship Rocco Forte hotel is filled with history, offers stunning views, warm hospitality and world-class facilities. Many of the rooms have views towards Edinburgh Castle or the Old Town and it’s home to a Michelin-starred restaurant and The Balmoral Spa which has a Turkish steam room.

The hotel is also very family-friendly, kids are offered special services and amenities depending on their age, for example, pint-sized slippers and robes, milk and cookies at turndown and teen spa treatments. Located right next to Waverley Station, makes it super convenient when travelling by train with a family.

Below is a selection of a few more luxury hotels in Edinburgh:

Just over an hour’s drive from Edinburgh is the prestigious luxury resort Gleneagles. Home to three championship golf courses, a spa and the only restaurant in Scotland with two Michelin stars.

Mid-Range Hotels in Edinburgh

THE RUTLAND HOTEL & APARTMENTS

Credit: Rutland Hotel & Apartments

This boutique hotel is located in the west end of Edinburgh at the end of Princes Street with views of Edinburgh Castle. Stylish and glamourous, the decor is bold and all about the designer wallpaper and retro references. It has a luxurious late lounge and the Kyloe Restaurant and Grill also serves a children menu

The hotel also has nine serviced apartments that are perfect for families. Choose between one and two-bedroom apartments, and one even has a garden space. They all come with Nintendo Wiis, rainfall showers, freestanding baths and hair straighteners.

Below are more hotel options in the mid-range price bracket

Budget Places to Stay in Edinburgh

CITYROOMZ EDINBURGH

Credit: Cityroomz Edinburgh

Not far from Princes Street, Cityroomz has a central location and is a fantastic budget stay option. They offer a range of rooms types, double, twin, superior, suites and family rooms. Contemporary in style the family rooms come with custom-designed bunk beds.

Take a look at some more budget accommodation options:

How to Get to edinburgh

BY PLANE

One option is to fly depending on where in the country you’re travelling from, for example, Edinburgh is around 411 miles away from London. Flying is the quickest way to travel and takes around 1 hour and 20 minutes. Edinburgh airport has good public transport links and is only 8 miles out of the city centre.

BY RAIL

Waverley and Haymarket are Edinburgh’s two main railway stations that operate services to Scotland and the rest of the UK. There are numerous direct services running between London and Edinburgh and a fast train takes around 4 hours and 40 minutes. Highly recommend booking as far in advance as possible for the best price.

BY ROAD

Edinburgh is linked to the rest of Scotland and the UK with extensive road networks and access to the capital is easy. A car journey from London to Edinburgh with good traffic conditions is around a 7-hour drive. Allowing food and rest breaks you’re probably looking at around 8 – 9 hours.

Be warned Edinburgh city centre is busy and driving around can be difficult and expensive. Driving is recommended and makes sense if you plan to make stops along the route or wish to travel further in Scotland.

BY TOURS

If time constraints is a big issue there is a one day trip you can book:

TRAVEL TOOLKIT TO HELP PLAN YOUR TRIP


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