The hilly Scottish capital of Edinburgh is a wonderful destination for families, with a huge amount of kid-friendly things to see and do.
With its medieval Old Town and elegant Georgian New Town dotted with pristine gardens and neoclassical buildings, Edinburgh is one of Britain’s most visually arresting cities. But as well as its picturesque setting, Edinburgh is also packed full of fun and engaging attractions and activities, including many that will captivate little ones of all ages and predilections. Here are 20 of the best.
Explore an iconic 11th century fortress
Perched on a hill high above the bustling streets below, Edinburgh Castle is arguably the city’s most famous – and distinctive – landmark. Dating back to the 11th century, the royal fortress is packed full of fascinating exhibits, artifacts and areas of interest for adults and kids alike including the Honours of Scotland – the Scotch version of the Crown Jewels – the Stone of Destiny. the Mons Meg cannon, and the giant Great Hall. Visitors can explore the castle and its grounds either on an organised tour or independently at your own pace.
Castlehill / Mon-Sun 9.30am-6pm
Immerse yourselves in the story of Earth
Situated at the foot of Edinburgh’s spectacular Salisbury Crags, Dynamic Earth is one of the city’s most popular family attractions. Taking you on an immersive and interactive journey through time to witness the story of planet Earth, you’ll get to experience some of the primeval forces of nature as they shaped our planet. Highlights include the Deep Time Machine that lets you witness the big bang first hand, plunging into the ocean depths aboard a yellow submarine, and watching a movie in a unique cinema featuring 360 degree digital dome technology.
Holyrood Road / Thurs-Sun 10am-5.30pm Closed Mon-Weds
Attend a fun-packed festival
For more than three weeks each year, the streets of Edinburgh become flooded with performers and tourists from all round the globe who descend on the city for the internationally acclaimed Edinburgh Festival Fringe. While many of the scheduled shows cater for an adult audience, there’s still plenty of things to do to keep your children entertained – ranging from kid-friendly performances to dazzling street entertainment. Be sure to head to Princes Street and the gardens near the train station where you’ll find tons of family-themed activities and even a Ferris wheel.
Venues across Edinburgh / August each year
If your kids aren’t quite ready for the Fringe, Edinburgh also stages a festival each year that’s designed entirely for children. Showcasing high quality Scottish and international performances to an audience of around 10,000 children, their teachers, and families, the Edinburgh International Children’s Festival presents some of the world’s best theatre and dance for children, with performances that are deeply engaging, innovative and inspiring.
Venues across Edinburgh / May-June each year
Discover some world class museums
Edinburgh is blessed with some great museums and among the most illustrious is the National Museum of Scotland. Home to several collections that take you on a journey of discovery through the nation’s long history, as well as the wonders of nature, art and design, science and technology, and world cultures, the museum has been curated to capture the attention and imagination of children of all ages, with a number of interactive exhibits for them to explore.
Chambers Street / Mon-Sun 10am-4.30pm
For a more quirky cultural experience, the Museum of Childhood is a perennial favourite with families visiting Edinburgh. Situated on the city’s Royal Mile, the museum is a veritable treasure trove of objects that tell the story of childhood, past and present. Split into 5 galleries over several floors, among the most popular exhibits are a puppetry display, a vast dolls collection, and a section dedicated to home movies and cine equipment.
42 High Street / Mon & Thurs-Sat 10am–5pm Sun 12pm-5pm Closed Tues-Weds
Enjoy the serenity of a botanic garden
Children aren’t always the greatest appreciators of horticulture, but even your most surly teenager would struggle to turn their nose up at the abundant beauty of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden. Spread across 72 acres of stunning scenery, it is widely considered one of the finest botanic gardens in the world. Highlights include the serenity of the Chinese Hillside, the world-famous Rock Garden, and the magnificent Giant Redwood trees in the Woodland Garden.
Marvel at exotic wildlife
No activity is guaranteed to more reliably please your little ones than a day out at a zoo. Spread over some 82 acres of wooded hillside and within easy reach of the city centre, Edinburgh Zoo is home to over 2,500 animals – including a number of endangered species. The zoo also hosts a busy programme of educational events and activities, ranging from keeper talks through to hands-on animal encounters. There are also plenty of dining options and a well-stocked gift shop.
Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, 134 Corstorphine Road, Corstorphine / Mon-Sun 10am-6pm
Witness a creative extravaganza
Created to celebrate musicians and performers from all around the world, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an iconic Edinburgh institution that draws huge grounds every year. Taking place in the dramatic setting of the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade each summer , the event features music, dance, precision display, and the poignant refrain of the Lone Piper. What’s more, with changing yearly themes, each Tattoo is different, with past themes including Scotland’s homecoming, creativity and nature.
Edinburgh Castle Esplanade / August each year
Delve into the magical world of Harry Potter
While none of the filming for the Harry Potter movies actually took place in Edinburgh, the city has become indelibly linked with the iconic fantasy-genre series. Fans of the globally popular franchise can indulge their passion by joining a Harry Potter Magical Guided Walking Tour, which invites you to see some of the places that helped inspire JK Rowling’s immersive stories and characters. The two-hour walking tour is available as either a small-group or private guided experience and includes an audio-visual quiz.
Step into Edinburgh’s murky underbelly
Live actors, a thrilling ride and amazing special effects are just some of what you have to look forward to at Edinburgh Dungeon. The award-winning, 70-minute underground walk-through experience brings 1000’s of years of Scottish history to life before your very eyes (and ears and nose), as you journey through Edinburgh’s dark history. The dungeon is recommended for children aged 8 and up.
31 Market Street / Mon-Fri 12pm-4pm Sat-Sun 11am-5pm
Test your detective skills
Sherlock Holmes may have resided on Baker Street, but Edinburgh, the birthplace of Holmes’ originator Conan Doyle, played an important part in his creation. The Sherlock Holmes Adventure invites guests to discover the secret behind the famous character, test your wits with a series of creative puzzles, and immerse yourself in Edinburgh’s New Town. Spy kits are given to all participants and a guide will brief you on the instructions before you head off to try to solve the kind of brain teasers that were the legendary detective’s hallmark.
Kick back and relax in a vast public park
For respite from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, Inverleith Park provides the perfect antidote. Situated next to the Royal Botanic Gardens, the well maintained public park is an ideal place to take the kids after a day’s sightseeing. Beyond its grand gated entrances are a whole host of facilities to complement the wide open spaces including a play area, a pond, the Sundial Garden, sports pitches, club pavilions, bowling greens, allotments, and even a petanque square. .
Arboretum Place / 24/7
Learn about the history of chocolate
Let’s be honest, sightseeing tours aren’t always a winner with kids. But what about a tour that included the chance to eat lashings of chocolate? Now we’re talking. The Chocolatarium Tour allows sweet-toothed Edinburgh visitors to embark on an interactive chocolate experience in the company of an expert guide. During the tour you’ll learn about the history of chocolate from the Aztecs to modern innovations, make your own Edinburgh-themed chocolates, and taste chocolates from around the world, including malt whisky-infused and haggis-inspired chocolate.
Step aboard a historic royal yacht
For almost half-a-century, the Royal Yacht Britannia carried the British royal family across the high seas to destinations near and far. After retiring from duty in 1997, the vessel took up permanent residence at the historic port of Leith in Edinburgh, where visitors now come to discover more about royal life at sea. Tours of the historic yacht are self-led and there are audio narrations available in 30 languages, including a specially curated one for children.
Ocean Drive, Leith / Mon-Sun 9.30am-4pm
Take a stroll around Edinburgh’s Old Town
Whatever your age or tastes, no visit to Edinburgh is complete without an amble around the city’s Old Town – and at its heart is the iconic Royal Mile. Connecting Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse, The Mile is overlooked by impressive, towering tenements, between which cobbled closes and narrow stairways interlock to create a secret subterranean world. The area is dotted with attractions and historical sites, as well as some of the best eating and drinking spots in the city.
Enter a captivating world of illusions
Spread across five floors jam-packed with over 100 mind-bending exhibits, Camera Obscura & World of Illusions is one of Edinburgh’s most enduringly popular family days out. A huge variety of interactive hands-on optical illusions, tricks and fun-filled things to do including a vortex tunnel, mirror maze and shrinking room never fails to captivate those who visit, while elsewhere at the venue a Rooftop Terrace offers spectacular 360 degree views of Edinburgh.
Try your hand at pottery
Established in 1999, Doodles is a popular independent ceramics workshop that invites visitors to unleash their creativity during fun-filled sessions with family or friends. The venue hosts daily pottery and painting tutorials for both adults and children of all ages in a friendly atmosphere that encourages participants to delve into their imagination and create a personalised gift to take away as a memento. They also run Holiday Ceramic Workshops for kids.
27-29 Marchmont Cres / Fri-Sat & Mon 10am-6pm Sun 11am-6pm Tues-Thurs 10.30am-9pm
Join a spine-tingling ghost tour
Kids love a spooky story and this evening ghost bus tour invites you to delve into Edinburgh’s ghoulish history. From your seat in a double-decker vintage bus and in the company of a local guide you’ll visit the city’s most terrifying locations, said to be haunted by infamy and restless spirits. Throughout the trip, you’ll hear anecdotes and facts about Edinburgh’s chilling past, replete with bloody executions, unspeakable tortures, and murder. Tours last approximately one hour.
Catch a live performing arts show
One of Edinburgh’s most acclaimed cultural venues, the Scottish Storytelling Centre is a great place for introducing kids to the magic of traditional storytelling. Housed in an architecturally impressive public building, the arts centre plays host to a diverse programme of live performances and interactive displays, including a permanent exhibition tailored to children called Scotland’s Stories. There’s also an on-site café and a well stocked book and gift shop.
43-45 High Street / Mon-Sun 10am-6pm