Edinburgh with kids, really? I know what your thinking. What could a city known for whisky, kilts and questionable accents have to offer for a family holiday? Well, surprisingly– a lot. Scotland may be my home, but I still find myself constantly surprised at just how much it has to offer. Living just outside of Glasgow, a trip to Edinburgh is a bi-annual for us, and every single time I find myself with a new favourite restaurant, museum or park, and a load of fresh love for the capital. Edinburgh is somewhere I’ve always loved, it’s a city with a buzz, plenty of history and so much on offer for all ages. We made our first trip of the summer there last weekend, and I thought it was about time I finally got around to sharing the good, the bad and the ugly to navigating Edinburgh with kids.
Edinburgh is not the place to drive. If you are travelling for an extended period of time, I would rent a car to travel a bit futher out, but for the sake of a a day trip or even a weekend break, the last thing you want is to spend 85% of the day in traffic, trying to navigate bus lanes, or ranting over that inevitable parking ticket. We chose to travel to Edinburgh by coach with National Express, and it took all of the stress out of our journey. When I think of a coach journey, I think to back to years gone by on school trips, when the boys would block the toilet and there was always chewing gum under the seats. It’s safe to say I had nothing to worry about, and it was without a doubt the easiest way to get into the city centre. Harrison had his own seat (a plush leather one, at that) not that we used it, but had we been travelling further we would have been able to bring a child-seat. We had some fancy reading material to keep us occupied – think sub-standard in flight magazine, but with a bit more grit, a TV for us to watch, and USB sockets for when Jordan starts to panic (it is the World Cup After all, phone charge is sacred). Our tickets would have cost a fraction of what we would have paid in petrol and parking, and gave us a chance to sit back and relax – by relax I mean endlessly repeat the wheels on the bus for an hour straight…
When your in Edinburgh, getting around is just as easy. 90% of the big attractions are within a comfortable walking distance of each other and we navigated the streets with our smart trike as we no longer have a travel stroller. If your new to Edinburgh and have older children, it may be worth grabbing a City Sightseeing Bus Pass. It’ll set you back £15 per adult, which is hefty for a bus ticket, but they have stops at every attraction, the busses come every few minutes and the narrated tour gives a nice little intro to the city. If your a bit of a cheapskate like me, a day pass for the standard bus costs £4, arm yourself with a bus timetable and create your own (un)narrated tour. Failing that, it’s fairly easy to hail down a black cab if you really need to get somewhere quickly.
Edinburgh is filled to the brim with family friendly restaurants and coffee shops, it’s just a case of finding one that isn’t too busy, which can be a challenge. Our approach to food while travelling is probably not the most appealing: quick, easy and in a restaurant with crayons. Our real focus is on the ice cream and a half decent coffee. Hula is the place to go for that half decent coffee. It also has great healthy options and juices, and decor I would to take home with me. For something sweeter, Mary’s Milk Bar is famous for it’s ice cream, and it’s no wonder, as it’s worth the journey for. Be prepared to queue for it though, it’s a small cafe and really popular.
For real, adult food, Hemma is perfect for lunch if you need to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for an hour. It’s Scandinavian, which really does say it all, but it’s got a decent menu, it’s not too expensive and has an all important kid zone. You can’t go wrong with an Italian, and Vittoria’s caters to the entire family (but mainly to me and my love of all things pasta). Of course, a family friendly eating guide wouldn’t be complete without a good old Wetherspoons. When all else fails, The Booking Office is right outside Waverley and without a doubt the easiest option for a quick meal. If your further out by the seaside, The Espy is always an option in Portobello. Pre-warning, it’s a bit shabby, typical pub grub, but it’s dog friendly and Harrison loved gawking over the pups while waiting on our food.
First things first, ditch the itinerary. If you are there over a weekend, choose two or three things you really want to see or do, and focus on them. There is so much in one area that you will probably find yourself dipping in and out of tours, or coming across things you would never have thought of, so having a list of ten excursions just isn’t going to be doable. I’ve already mentioned the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tours, if it’s your first time in Edinburgh and you have kids who will be able to appreciate the guided tour it’s worth the money, if you already know the area or your kids wouldn’t be able to make the most of it, I’d give it a miss.
Of course, Edinburgh Castle is the attraction. Truth be told, you could not pay me to go near it anymore. It gets very very busy, and with small children it’s just not practical. Queues can be mammoth just to wander around the crown jewels, and it’s nearly £20 for an adult ticket, so it’s not cheap. There is no denying the atmosphere in the surrounding areas is brilliant, and it’s worth a wander up just to experience that, but if I were you I’d wander up, take a picture then wander straight back down. While you are wandering back down, you’ll pass Camera Obscura and World Of Illusions. I’ve not visited for years, but I loved this when I was younger, and I’ll be taking Harrison when he is old enough to warrant it. There are no lifts and it is set over six floors, so definitely not the best option for tinies. Also on the Royal Mile is the Museum Of Childhood, which is a lovely nostalgic one for the adults, and a bit of fun for the kids. You can’t really go wrong as entry is free, but if your pushed for time and you want to tick off a museum, the National Museum Of Scotland is your best option. Again, it’s free entry, but it always has loads of different displays and it’s a big open space for little’s to run mad in. A short walk from the National Museum are Princes Street Gardens, which is a perfect stop off for a coffee, or a picnic in the park if you want to avoid the crowds.
If you were in Edinburgh for longer than 24 hours, Edinburgh Zoo is a great one for kids. It has some mammoth hills, so it’s a workout with a pram, but it’s always worth a visit to see the pandas that are on loan from China. Top tip, we’ve visited a good few times, and for some reason, on a Tuesday it’s practically empty. Try a weekday if you want to get a really good look at the displays. Portobello is also a short twenty minute journey out of the city centre, and it’s a perfect escape to the seaside. Kids can run free on the promenade, there are loads of seafront cafe’s, two play parks and a good chance of a decent ice cream. Also slightly further afield is The Botanic Gardens, which boasts over 70 acres of stunning scenery and a lovely little cafe. Again, worth a visit if you have the time.
If all else fails, you can always just go to soft play…
I’ll keep this short and sweet, as I’ve only stayed in a handful of places and I would not recommend them all. Accommodation in Edinburgh is pricey, especially if you travel around the Edinburgh Fringe (dollar required) or Christmas time. I am an Air B&B gal at heart, and I would always recommend going through the site yourself to find accommodation that suits your needs. We need central, affordable and clean, but then I’m also a sucker for a good light and airy space. We’ve stayed here before and it was great, if I returned (and wanted to really splash out) this would be my go to. If Air B&B isn’t your first choice, the Apex Grassmarket Hotel is a great alternative.
1. Having visited on what may well be the hottest week of the year (or the century) I feel like I need to preface this with a disclaimer. Don’t be fooled by the sunkissed pictures, the weather in Scotland is not reliable. Bring sunglasses. Bring a brolly. Heck, bring snow boots because whether you travel in July or January, there is absolutely no predicting what you will get (80% chance of rain though, sorry about that).
2. Edinburgh can be very busy, so pick the time you visit wisely. If you know you’ll be visiting the castle, 12pm on a Saturday in the height of June is probably not going to be your best bet. Get the main sights seen earlier in the day or later in the afternoon, and spend peak periods’ mooching in Princes Street Gardens or grabbing something to eat off the beaten track. If crowds and noise is not your thing, avoid the Fringe at all cost.
3. Do not shop for essentials in gift shops if you want to have money left at the end of the day. And trust me, you do not need that tartan scarf.
Disclaimer: This city guide was written in collaboration with National Express. We did receive a complimentary voucher towards our journey with them, however all opinions expressed about our travel experience are entirely my own.