The city of Edinburgh is a great one to visit with kids older than 5. The younger ones might enjoy it, too, but you might find the stairs and hills of the city to be a bit much to maneuver with toddlers.
Take a Ghost Tour: Start with a ghost tour, which will give you some history of the city, while also giving some great stories that the kids will surely remember. Some are more scary and grisly than others. We found the Witchery Murder and Mystery Tour to be just the right mix of fact and silliness for our twelve-year-olds. (One of the spirits we met along the way even did a Gangnam Style dance for us.)
Visit the Edinburgh Dungeons: Once you’ve got the basics of Edinburgh’s grisly history down, You may want to take it to the next level – down – and go to the Edinburgh Dungeons. Here costumed actors take you through some deep dark dungeons to reenact some of the more terrifying stories of Edinburgh’s past – witch trials, the cannibal Sawney Bean, and the murderers Burke and Hare. Though it’s a little pricey, and the “rides” are really underwhelming, my kids declared it their second-favorite thing.
Experience the Camera Obscura: So what was their favorite thing? That would be the Camera Obscura, a museum dedicated to optical illusions. The museum was built around an actual camera obscura — a dark room at the top of the building with a lens built into the top which projects a real-time view of the city outside onto a table surface, where you can try some visual tricks of your own. The rest of the museum is just as clever, if not more so. A mirror maze, 3D experiments, and a spinning light wind tunnel will leave you questioning the reliability of your senses.
Tour the Royal Yacht Brittania: “Mum, is this where the Queen had her dinner?” the little girl asked. We were in the large dining room of the Brittania, the retired Royal Yacht now moored in Leith, not far from the center of Edinburgh. It is both more and less luxe than you might imagine. The way the ship is set up, you first see the somewhat stodgy but lovely royal accommodations, and work your way down to where the crew of more than 100 shared very tight quarters. The audio guide does a good job of describing the functions of the many people required to run the ship in its heyday. Some of it gets into detail that might not be so interesting to the little ones, but you can bribe them with promises of something from the sweet shop midway through the tour. You could also opt for sit-down meal or tea in the Royal Deck tea room, which looks out over the harbor.
Climb Something: Edinburgh is full of hills and stairs, and even a dormant volcano. If your you are visiting Edinburgh with kids who need to burn off even more energy, there are plenty of things to climb to get a great view of the panorama.
- Edinburgh Castle was built on top of another volcano, which last erupted 340 million years ago. It is probably the most visible landmark in Edinburgh, and will probably be at the center of your visit to the city. Unless a car or bus drops you there, you will be walking uphill or up stairs for quite a ways.
- Arthur’s Seat is a long-dormant volcano about a mile east of Edinburgh Castle. It is a popular spot for walks, and it’s an easy walk to the summit from its eastern side.
- Calton Hill, just to the east of New Town, provides one of the best views of the city. You can take the stairs from Regent Road on the hill’s south side, or you can drive or take a cab to the top of the hill. (But what kind of fun would that be?)
- The Scott Monument, a huge tower built in memory of Sir Walter Scott, offers a 287-step spiral staircase to challenge even the most energetic climbers. But if you make it to the top, you will be rewarded with a certificate to prove you’ve done it. There is a fee of £3 to climb, and you’ll want to arrive early to avoid crowds on the stairs.
Best times to visit: August is the time of the Edinburgh Festival, the Military Tattoo, and the Fringe Festival, which gives the city a serious buzz, and fills all the rooms in the city. If you’re not visiting any of those, don’t bather to come to Edinburgh at that time. Come earlier in Spring or Summer. Early fall brings an appropriate chill to the city, and you’ll probably be tempted to pick up a nice wool sweater or kilt as a souvenir.
This post is brought to you by Visit Scotland, which provided accommodations and entry passes to some attractions to the writer. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.