Edinburgh is one of the UK’s and Europe’s most beautiful cities, with stunning architecture, great restaurants and so many things to do to keep your family entertained.
Take a look at some of my favourite things to do while you’re in this gorgeous city with your children.
Ride a Tram
Getting into the city from the airport now is easier than ever with the opening of the new tram system. This takes you straight from the airport into the city centre which makes a fun start for children on arrival into Edinburgh. Alternatively buses and taxis are also plentiful from outside the airport terminal.
Get close to nature at Edinburgh Zoo
Located just a short bus or taxi ride from the city centre this is one the best zoos in the country. Visitors flock here to see the iconic giant pandas and koalas as it’s the only place in the UK where you can see them.
One of our favourite areas is Penguins Rock which is Europe’s largest outdoor penguin pool and don’t forget to watch the world famous penguin parade. The impressive Budongo trail lets you get up close and personal with the chimps and there are lots of interactive activities for children to do around the Zoo.
Another fantastic new attraction is Tiger tracks which allows you to get closer than ever before as you come face to face with Sumatran tigers in their new enclosure.
Explore and learn at the National Museum of Scotland
This world class museum has been ranked as one of the top 20 most visited museums and galleries in the world and for good reason. We loved exploring its many exhibits including dinosaurs such as a life size T Rex as well as learning about ancient Scotland, natural history and science and technology.
Children can get behind the wheel of a formula 1 car, dig for dinosaur bones and lots of other interactive activities perfect for the whole family.
And don’t forget to visit the 7th floor of the museum which offers some of the best panoramic views of the skyline of Edinburgh.
Step back in time at the Museum of Childhood
I love the Royal Mile and just a short walk down it you will come across the Museum of Childhood. It’s free to enter and it contains so many toys and games from yesteryear over its 3 floors which you and your children can enjoy.
The Camera Obscura and it’s World of Illusions
At the top of the Royal Mile next to the castle is the excellent Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. There are six floors of interactive exhibitions in the Camera Obscura Tower, and it’s the oldest purpose built attraction in Edinburgh.
It might not look much from the outside but there is so much for the kids to explore including puzzles, optical illusions, a vortex tunnel and a mirror maze.
The camera obscure itself is in the top of the tower, and live images of Edinburgh are projected onto a circular table which you can interact with. The roof terrace of The Camera Obscura also provides some of the best views of Edinburgh.
Visit the Gorgie City Farm
Just to the west of the city centre is a great little community led charity farm that children will love. The farm houses everything from farm animals such as cows and pigs to pets like chinchillas.
Smell the flowers at the Royal Botanical Gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh is an oasis of peace in the centre of Edinburgh. Although it wouldn’t be top of many parents bucket lists to take children when visiting Edinburgh, it should be as there is plenty here to keep children occupied.
With acres of open space for children to run and explore, there are also lots of fun things to learn about and enjoy in stunning surroundings and scenery.
Learn about our planet at Our Dynamic Earth
Our Dynamic Earth is a fantastic interactive attraction that families love and the girls had a fantastic time here. There are some amazing interactive exhibits that take you back to the beginning of time to the formation of Earth.
You will experience earthquakes, glaciers, crash land in a rainforest, endure tropical rainstorms, explore the ocean, the stars and the universe and more. Our Dynamic Earth is a fantastic educational and fun day out for the family.
Go on a Harry Potter Trail
J.K Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books whilst living in Edinburgh and had lots of inspiration for the locations and characters in the books from the city.
If your children are Harry Potter fans then its great fun spotting landmarks including the colourful buildings of Victoria Street which was the inspiration for Diagon Alley and George Heriot’s School which was the inspiration for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
You can have a tea or coffee at the famous Elephant House cafe, where J.K Rowling wrote some of the books to shopping at the Harry Potter themed store Diagon Alley on Victoria Street.
Finally stop off at the luxury Balmoral hotel where in 2007 J.K Rowling checked into room 552 where she completed her final Harry Potter book -Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The hotel has since renamed this room the ‘J.K. Rowling suite which you can stay in (if you have the budget!).
Visit Edinburgh’s disgrace – Calton Hill for great views of the city
It’s a bit of a climb to get to the top, but Calton Hill offers the best views of the city of Edinburgh complete with its unfinished Athenian acropolis (nicknamed Edinburgh’s disgrace).
Who needs skyscrapers to get a fantastic view of the city when you have this natural wonder. You will get a wonderful view of the city and Holyrood Palace. Plus you also get a perfect view of extinct volcano Arthur’s Seat, the Salisbury Crags and maybe a photo opportunity sitting on the famous Portuguese Cannon.
Sail like a Royal on the Royal Yacht Britannia
Located at Ocean Terminal in the Leith area of Edinburgh is the Queen’s Yacht Britannia which was used by the Royal Family from 1954 until 1997. The tour takes you on a wonderful interactive journey about the Royal family and their life on-board Britannia.
There are lots of fun opportunities for children to learn about the Royal Yacht Britannia and searching for the Queens toy corgi dogs hidden around the ship is a fun way to ensure you fully explore this large ship.
You can read our review of the Royal Yacht Britannia here
Walk along the historic Royal Mile
One of Edinburgh’s most famous streets is the Royal Mile which runs from the Palace at Holyrood house up to Edinburgh Castle at the other end. The sound of bagpipes fill the air and shops selling kilts and tartan outfits make walking along this street which contains some of Old Town Edinburgh’s most impressive buildings such a quintessentially Scottish experience.
During the Fringe, the historic Royal Mile turns into a procession of street performers, buskers and free entertainment. You can’t visit Edinburgh without walking along this world famous street.
See £1,000,000 at The Museum on the Mound
You will get the chance to see an actual million pounds and Scotland’s oldest banknote at this great museum! It’s free to enter and shows the history of money and you can even have a go at cracking a safe. During school holidays the museum often runs workshops for children. You can read our review of the Museum on the mound here
Climb an extinct Volcano – Arthur’s Seat
It so cool for kids to be able to tell their friends that they have climbed to a top of a volcano, and this is exactly what you do when you scale its 251 metres, but relax as it is now extinct. Once at the top you will have some fantastic views of one of the world most beautiful cities below.
See the Scottish Crown Jewels – Edinburgh Castle
With it domineering over the city on an ancient volcanic crag, no visit to Edinburgh is complete without a visit to the Castle. It’s a fantastic day out for families and one that the girls loved as you learn about its history, see the Scottish crown jewels, the Stone of Destiny, walk on the battlements and again fantastic views of the city of Edinburgh. There is also the famous Mons Meg – a medieval cannon and one of the largest in the world.
Finally don’t forget the 1 o clock gun, the cannon fires every day except Sundays, Christmas Day or Good Friday, with crowds gathering to enjoy the spectacle.
Remember to pick up an Explorer Quiz from the audio tour counter or download a copy from the Edinburgh Castle website too which makes it even more fun and interactive for children, with challenges and questions.
Visit the Royal Palace at Holyrood House
At the other end of the Royal Mile is Holyrood Palace which is still used by the Queen and the Royal family when they visit Edinburgh. Originally an abbey when built in 1128 by Kind David it was converted into a palace by James IV before being transformed into its current form by Charles II in 1670.
Its a fascinating place to visit and the audio guide takes you through the hundreds of years of history of the palace and every royal who has lived there from Mary Queen of Scots to Queen Victoria.
The tour takes you through rooms including the throne room, state apartments and the impressive great gallery. Behind the castle are the remains of the abbey along with the palace gardens.
Climb the Scott Monument
Dominating the skyline over Princes Street is the Scott Monument located in Princes Street Gardens. Opened in 1844 its the largest monument to commemorate an author in the world, dedicated to Sir Walter Scott. As you climb its 287 steps you are rewarded with one of the best views of Edinburgh.
Chocolicious dining at The Chocolate Lounge
There are so many amazing places to eat & drink in Edinburgh for families but if you are looking for a very special experience then take a look at The Chocolate Lounge. Located on the top floor of Harvey Nichols is the fantastic chocolate lounge which your children will love. Its YO Sushi style conveyor belts carry delicious deserts around in front of you waiting to be picked up and eaten. Our girls had so much fun here and it’s a lovely twist on a traditional lunchtime treat. It can get very busy however so it is worth booking ahead in case of disappointment.
Take a stroll around Prince’s Street Gardens
The gardens are beautiful whatever time of the year you visit Edinburgh. The gardens are split into two sections east and west dividing the old and new towns of Edinburgh with lots of green space, benches and lots of space to enjoy a family picnic with a perfect view of the castle. In the summer the gardens are beautiful and look out for the stunning floral clock now in its 200th year – it’s not just a stunning flower display you can actually set your watch by it.
At Christmas the gardens are also great for families. Our girls love it as they are transformed into a winter wonderland with a Christmas market, ice rink, fairground rides and the giant ferris wheel providing a fantastic vantage point to see this fantastic city.
Get scared at the Edinburgh Dungeons
More suited for older children and teenagers is the Edinburgh Dungeon, located next to the main railway station Waverley. This attraction takes you on a journey through Edinburgh’s spooky past whilst you wait to be frightened at every turn.
Have fun at Ocean Play
I know you must be thinking why a soft play, but there are not many soft plays like Oceanplay in the UK that have fabulous views of the Firth of Forth and the Royal Yacht Britannia. It’s also a fantastic soft play for younger children with great interactive areas including a mini supermarket, pizza delivery play area and garage with real scooters!
A city of festivals
For the month of August every year you will find a myriad of shows for children of all ages including plays such as The First Hippo on the Moon, musical singalongs, magicians, comedy etc as well as famous authors talking about characters from their much loved books eg. Julia Donaldson from the the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Edinburgh International Book Festival respectively. These shows are very popular so its essential to book early and last approximately one hour.
Also in August is the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo held at the iconic Edinburgh castle whilst at Christmas the city is world famous for its New Year’s Hogmanay celebrations (you can read about Christmas and New Year in Edinburgh here)