Exploring Edinburgh with Kids
Edinburgh is just one of those cities I instantly fell in love with. Jeff had a work conference in the city. The kids and I spent a week exploring the city, somewhat on our own, before heading out as a family on a driving tour. (Check out my practical tips for having kids in Edinburg.)
We stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn, in Quartermile, a new build area of the city. The hotel was convenient to public transportation and is located in a complex with a few restaurants, a grocery store and a Starbucks. (Perfect!) Breakfast is included with your stay and all rooms have a small kitchen. Rooms were spacious for Europe. We met quite a few other families staying there. Our only complaint was temperature. We were in Edinburgh during record heat and the rooms just would not cool down. The hotel did provide us with fans, but the windows open facing downward so they were never able to bring cool air into the room.
Once we were all settled into the hotel we walked a few blocks to this highly rated burrito joint, Illegal Jack’s Tex Mex Grill. The store had plenty of room for the pram and everything was served with a huge helping of sour cream! All the ingredients are sourced locally. The food was a bit on the spicy side but we drenched the kids portions in sour cream and they happily ate it all up!
We took a bus out to the Ocean Terminal, a mall on the North Sea coast that is home to the Royal Yacht, Brittania. The mall has clean bathrooms, a soft play area for kids, a two story carousel and plenty of food options. We were able to grab two plug converters since we completely forgot the UK has different power plugs than the rest of Europe!
We took the escalators all the way to the top floor to enter the Royal Yacht Brittania . The exhibit starts with info on the yacht’s history of sailing the British Royal Family around the world. There are so many great photos! Tickets include an audio tour. They even have a kids audio tour which kept our four-year old entertained for most of the visit.
The yacht is completely stroller friendly which meant O got to stay in his stroller and enjoy being on the boat. H was plenty entertained by punching in numbers on the audio tour and listening to the kids tour.
There are also bears hidden throughout the ship. Kids are asked to count the bears and submit their final count in the gift shop. They get a small pin and a chance to win a yacht bear of their own.
The yacht is truly fascinating. A peek into another time and another world. The tour takes you through both the Royal quarters and living rooms as well as the ship’s staff quarters. Jeff loved the peek into the boat’s engine room. The tour is incredibly well done and everyone can find something interesting! Our only regret is that we didn’t go have tea in the Royal Deck Tea Room.
Once the kids were in bed Jeff took the evening to go see the Real Mary King’s Close on a walking tour.
The next morning, with Jeff off to his conference, I took the boys to the Edinburgh Zoo. The weather was perfect and the boys had seen posters for the zoo and wanted to go. The zoo is easy to reach by bus but is quite vertical, so prepare to do a bunch of uphill walking. You will want a stroller if you have little ones. Zoo admission includes a timed ticket to see the Panda Bears as long as they last (the tickets, not the bears). We were able to get an early time slot and headed right toward the pandas when we arrived.
The Edinburgh Zoo has a wide variety of animals and most of the exhibits look spacious and updated. The animals were all quite active while we were there.
The zoo also has several large playgrounds. We ate lunch at the zoo in the Gorilla Cafe, which had plenty of options, both hot and cold. We spent the whole day at the zoo. Our last act was to catch the world famous penguin parade – the perfect way to end your zoo visit.
Just behind our hotel, The Meadows, a wonderful green space in the heart of the city turned out to be the perfect place to end our day. There are several playgrounds, and we met up with Jeff for some playtime before heading back to the hotel for showers and bed.
Day two, the boys were up early so we walked down to the grounds of the Queen’s Royal Palace in Scotland, Holyrood House.
We took a small stroll around the palace staying outside the gates and peered over the wall to see the abbey ruins. This little walk also provided stunning morning views of Arthur’s Seat.
We were the first ones in the door at Dynamic Earth and had the exhibit space to ourselves. I had read it might be a bit over our kids’ heads, which it was, but they still enjoyed it. The museum takes you back in time to discover how the earth was created from the Big Bang to modern day ecospheres. The whole visit is stroller friendly and the staff quickly provided access to elevators as I needed them. There are so many fun rooms and we were literally on our own for our whole visit despite it being high season. In the attic room the kids loved touching the icebergs, we searched for animals in the rainforest and even experienced a volcanic lava flow.
Tickets to Dynamic Earth include a movie in the Dome Theater. We saw one about becoming an astronaut which was a huge hit with both boys who were riveted and sat quietly staring at the screen above our heads. (Sit toward the back for the best views.)
In the back of the gift shop is a soft play room that is included in admission (or you can pay just to play!) the kids spent an hour here, again having the room all to themselves.
We spent so long in the playroom that we ended up just grabbing lunch at the cafe in the museum instead of the amazing place (Hemma) just down the street I had scouted. The museum cafe has decent enough food. The kids lunch bags let you pick a sandwich, chips and two other items. I had a loaded baked potato which was nice and filling.
After lunch we did some of the additional outer space activities they had in the lobby while O slept in the stroller. H loved taking green screen photos of us in space, coloring and making paper rockets.
We met Jeff back at the hotel so he could take the boys while I caught the 2pm Potter Trail walking tour. The tour takes you around a small area of Edinburgh’s Old Town where JK Rowling spent time writing Harry Potter. It’s so interesting to see things that influenced her writing.
The tour also takes you into Greyfriars Kirkyard where you can see Tom Riddle’s grave. Our tour guide was fun, wearing a wizard cape and armed with wands for the crowd. There were plenty of kids on the tour and ours would have been welcome, but it was nice to enjoy the tour on my own.
Jeff took the boys to the Museum on the Mound (free) where they learned about money and got to strike their own coins! The museum had a children’s packet that was much too difficult for our boys, but they enjoyed coloring in it later in the week.
When I was done with the tour I walked a few blocks to meet Jeff and the boys at the Edinburgh Museum of Childhood (free). The museum has just about every toy you could imagine displayed. Each room has a selection of toys available for kids to play with too. You will need to park your stroller on the ground floor and take the stairs to the exhibit space. They are also quite prompt at closing the museum and store.
It must have been all the snacking, but for most of our time in Edinburgh the boys and I were not hungry for dinner, so when we happened upon my Harry Potter tour guide sitting outside the Hula Juice Bar on the hottest day of the year we didn’t need much encouraging to pop in and have smoothies for dinner.
With the boys in bed, Jeff took advantage of the beautiful evening weather to go for a run from the hotel to Arthur’s Seat. He got a bit confused and chose the wrong path first so he ran both Arthur’s seat and the neighboring Salisbury Crags. He said the views were lovely, but failed to bring a camera or phone!
The next day the rain came down literally the moment we stepped out of the hotel. Jeff had suggested we all wear our rain boots, which I stupidly poo-pooed, so we spent the day with wet feet. A bit of rain can’t scare us off though, we’ve grown accustomed to it here in the Netherlands.
We spent the first hour of our day letting the kids play on the amazing Meadows Playground in light rain. When we heard thunder in the distance and could see the storm front headed our way we headed toward a coffee shop. (The blog, Meldrums on the Move, love this park. You can read about their experience and learn more about the park here.)
We popped into the Black Medicine Coffee Company owned by JK Rowling’s brother-in- law. Rowling wrote much of the first book upstairs in this coffee shop. We had delicious smoothies, shared a bagel and waited for the worst of the storm to pass. This coffee shop has lots of cute little nooks and would be perfect to enjoy a book or do some writing of your own. We, of course, terrorized the place.
We mistakenly thought Edinburgh Castle would be less crowded in the rain. It was quite crowded and we were overwhelmed. The castle is also not stroller friendly. We had trouble finding places to park the stroller so we could go through exhibits. Visiting the castle is an indoor/outdoor experience. You move between exhibits set in different rooms of the castle, almost all having stairs or other stroller obstacles.
Despite the rain we still enjoyed the marvelous views from the castle. The Scotland Crown Jewels exhibit and the exhibit on castle prisoners were the kids’ favorites. H loved learning about how they buried the Crown Jewels beneath part of the castle when they were worried a German invasion was imminent. I thought the castle was going to be a slam dunk for the kids, and it just wasn’t. I’m glad we went but it turned out to be one of the least kid friendly things we did on the trip.
We popped back down to Victoria Street for an outstanding lunch at Howies, a little restaurant we had seen the day before. The place had a kids menu, kids cups and straws, coloring and even baby changing in the bathroom. O was fast asleep in the stroller when we arrived and they were happy to make room to park his stroller at the table. The food was excellent and we left with full bellies. Ask for the homemade focaccia!
The Edinburgh Central Children’s Library was just around the corner and the perfect place for some post lunch/post nap quiet time. There is a craft room and two big book rooms. There are tons of fun seating options for adults and kids.
Our kids were of course over the moon to discover so many books in English.
I spent some time reorganizing the bookshelves and found many of my favorite little kid books! As the library got crowded we left and pushed to the National Museum.
The National Museum of Scotland (free) has everything! The kids got a bit over stimulated after exploring the kids area on the fifth floor and we had an epic meltdown. Jeff ran downstairs to see Dolly the Sheep and the Chessmen while I waited for the elevators (they are incredibly slow!).
We headed outside and boarded the Edinburgh Bus Tour. You should know that weirdly, all four hop-on hop-off bus tours are run by the same company, which is incidentally also the company that runs the public buses (Lothian). We just used the Edinburgh Bus Tour (the green bus) because it had a live narrator. We were able to park the pram downstairs on the bus and head upstairs on the uncovered deck to enjoy the scenery.
Brenda, our tour guide was amazing. She had so much good information to offer. Our kids were just tired enough to sit quietly and enjoy the fresh air. We had a handful of snacks to offer them as well when they got restless. The full circle took just over an hour and was packed with interesting information. I’m usually not a fan of the hop-on hop-off tours but this was so worth it.
We also made a quick stop at the Elephant House, since it claims to be the “birthplace of Harry Potter.”
I initially wrote off Holyrood House because I didn’t think it would be manageable with the boys. I had read we would need to leave the stroller behind and wasn’t sure how that was going to go. Turns out the palace is prepared for little visitors and my kids had a blast.
The Holyrood House is the Royal Family’s Scottish Palace. They typically spend one to two weeks a year here holding formal events and visiting Scottish Parliament. Admission into the palace includes an audio guide. They come in a variety of languages and one option is the family tour. H loved his tour and combined with the friendly guides in each room he was entertained. I just knew I wouldn’t be able to listen to the full tour in each room and chose the rooms most interesting to me.
The stroller can’t be used inside the palace but can be used in the garden. The guards locked it up in their office for safe keeping during our visit. I put O in the carrier and he enjoyed listening to the music on his audio guide over and over (track 0). You also are free to explore the old abbey.
You can not take any photos inside the palace, but you get to see many of the rooms that are still in use when the Royal family comes to Scotland each summer. You also get lots of information on Mary, Queen of Scotts and her tragic life.
For Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday they had a special exhibition on her clothing which was fascinating. The actual dresses plus photos of her wearing them at different events are displayed in a special exhibitions area.
The castle also has a children’s room with dress up, coloring and toys. We did not spend a lot of time here, but it looks like they also have activities and events in the room for kids.We caught the 11 am children’s garden tour. The kids were led off the normal garden path on a hunt for the Queens lost Corgis.
When they find them they are all invited to the Royal tea party. We parked on the lawn and learned all about this yearly event. Parents will enjoy seeing an actual copy of the invitation and menu from this year’s tea.
There is also a children’s pavilion set up in the garden. Our kids would have played here for hours, hosting their own tea party for the stuffed animals, reading a few cheeky books about the Queen and dressing up like insects.
We grabbed lunch at the palace cafe, which offered outside seating and a children’s lunch bag big enough for the boys to share. The best choices though were the tea time treats offered here – the strawberry scone was amazing.
The boys couldn’t stop talking about the lost Corgis so I let them each pick one from the shop before leaving.
We popped into the Museum of Edinburgh, just a few blocks up the Royal Mile. O had fallen asleep in the stroller and the museum doesn’t have a lift so we were limited to ground floor exhibits. H and I watched the movie which outlined the importance of the castle and how the Royal Mile came to be. The museum houses a variety of objects, but the bowl and collar of Edinburgh’s beloved dog are highlights.
We hopped on our favorite bus 35 and went back to the National Museum of Scotland. We picked up where we had left off and hit some kid highlights. The discovery area in the Scottish history section was a big hit. H played with a trebuchet, dressed a knight in his armor and designed his own coat of arms. We also explored the ground floor of the animal exhibit, which we had bypassed on our previous visit. We also paid our respect to Dolly the cloned sheep one more time.
The evening plan had two options which we ended up scrapping when Jeff’s conference ran late. The first plan was to send Jeff and H to the Scottish Whisky Experience. The Silver Tour is child friendly and a family ticket is offered. It’s a ride in a barrel that tells you about how whisky is made. There is a children’s guide and Pete the Cat is hidden throughout. At the end of the tour the child is given a sample of Irn Bru, Scotland’s national soft drink.
The second option was to head out to the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh since it is open till 6pm in summer. There are several “child friendly” pubs in that area.
Instead, Jeff got back late and the boys were a bit weary. We picked up Chinese food from one of the restaurants in the hotel plaza area and headed back into The Meadows for a picnic. All the playgrounds seem to have picnic tables so we ate and played until everyone was ready to go home.
As you can tell Edinburgh is a delightful city to explore with kids. It truly feels like a small town and a big city all at once. I would come back here in a heartbeat!
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