Edinburgh is a family-friendly destination with a diverse selection of things to do. It’s our kinda town; it’s beautiful, has great culture and fun outdoor activities.
We visited Edinburgh in July with our two kids aged 3 & 6. Here is our two days itinerary for Edinburgh with kids:
Disclosure: This post contains compensated links.
Getting to Edinburg with Kids
If you are bringing your own child seats (as we did), it’s super-easy to just hop into an Uber at the Edinburgh airport and get to your Edinburgh accommodation.
Normally we don’t travel with our own child seats, but knowing how much we were going to be driving in the UK on this trip, we bought some booster seats at Argos at the beginning of our trip and lugged them around with us.
If you are flying into Edinburgh without car seats and would like to avoid buying your own, we can recommend the Taxi2Airport service, who we used at the beginning of our trip in Glasgow.
Booking through Taxi2Airport provided us safety (free child seats for both kids) and convenience (our driver met us at the gate). These services come at a small premium to just taking a normal taxi or Uber, but when it comes to child safety we don’t mind paying a little extra.
For more thoughts on the car seat debate, read our Traveling with Car Seats post.
Where to Stay in Edinburgh
Most visitors to Edinburgh will want to stay within a convenient walking distance to the Royal Mile. Edinburgh’s Royal Mile extends from the Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This area is home to most of Edinburgh’s attractions, restaurants and shopping and is our recommended area to stay.
The convenience of staying in this area comes at a cost and accommodations can be very expensive in this area. You can browse a wide-variety of family-friendly Edinburgh accommodations on Booking.com.
We visited Edinburgh in late July and were shocked by some of the hotel prices. To find affordable Edinburgh accommodation, we ended up renting a nice 3-bedroom Airbnb about a 6-minute walk east of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Abbeyhill. (The place we stayed is not an active listing on Airbnb anymore). We liked how close it was to both the Royal Mile and Holyrood Park, home of the excellent Arthur’s Seat hike.
If you are new to Airbnb, you can sign up with our link and get a $35USD credit towards your first stay.
Getting Around Edinburg with Kids
As mentioned, we arrived at the Edinburgh Airport with our own car seats, enabling us to take an Uber to our Airbnb. If you don’t have car seats, a Taxi2Airport private transfer will enable you to get to your Edinburgh accommodation safely.
Once you get to central Edinburgh, getting around Edinburgh without car seats was super easy. We ended up using a variety of methods:
Walking: staying near the Palace of Holyroodhouse made it convenient to walk to the Royal Mile and Arthur’s Seat.
Hop-On Hop-Off bus: Edinburgh is not a flat city and the climb up to see the Edinburgh Castle is a bit of a slog. If you don’t want to make this climb, a fun solution is a hop-on hop-off Edinburgh sightseeing bus.
We tried a City Sightseeing hop-on hop-off bus for the first time in Glasgow and really enjoyed it. We loved the vantage point from the open-air upper deck and felt it was a fun way to get introduced to the city.
2 Day Edinburg Itinerary with Kids
There are so many fun things to do in Edinburgh with kids that you’ll have trouble deciding. We found the variety of Edinburgh attractions enabled us to have a balanced visit, with things that everyone in the family enjoyed.
Arthur’s Seat Hike
Arthur’s Seat looms over the old town of Edinburgh and just begs to be climbed. Arthur’s Seat is the remnants of a 300 million year old volcano and is the tallest of the several hills in Holyrood Park.
The challenging hike to the top is a popular activity for locals and visitors alike, who go up for the exercise and the outstanding views of Edinburgh and beyond.
There are several access points to Holyrood Park with a multitude of walking paths to choose from. If you are unsure of how to get to the summit of Arthur’s Seat, just follow the signs and/or the hordes of people.
The hills in the park are quite beautiful with an explosion of colorful wildflowers and fields of grasses blowing in the wind. As you get higher, the views of the city become better and better.
The walk to the summit is short, but steep. We started at the Queen’s Street trailhead on the north side of the park. We made a quick pitstop to the Chapel of St. Anthony (highly recommended – a great photo op!) on our way to the top.
It took us about 45-50 minutes to walk the 1 mile / 1.7km to the summit of Arthur’s Seat. From the trailhead we climbed a total of 680 feet / 208m to get to the top.
As you can imagine on a hike this popular, the scene at the top is a bit crazy with everyone clamoring to get the best picture, but for the most part, people are considerate and will take turns getting the photo at the summit marker.
The path to the top varies widely from a paved trail to uneven rock. You could do the hike in normal shoes, but we recommend something with a better grip. We did the hike in our Keen sandals, but any hiking shoe would do. We saw some people attempting it in flip-flops and were struggling.
One caution for parents with small kids: Make sure your kids wear good, close-toed shoes as there is a decent amount of broken glass on the trail. .
If your kids like wildlife, there is a pond below the Chapel of St. Anthony which had the largest number of swans I’ve ever seen at one time. There must have been 30-40 of them!
Full Day 1
We did a ton of walking during our first full day of Edinburgh sightseeing.
We first noticed the monuments atop Calton Hill when we climbed Arthur’s Seat the day before. Our plan for the day was to be at the Edinburgh Castle right when it opens, but we were ready to go before 8am, so we decided to walk to the top of Calton Hill.
Perfectly located between Holyrood Park and Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill is a perfect spot to get some up-close views of Edinburgh. At 338ft / 103m above sea level, you are high enough to see the major Edinburgh sights and the ocean. With this altitude, it’s a bit of a grind to the top, but anyone is reasonable shape should be able to do it.
Calton Hill is not just about amazing views; it’s filled with important buildings and monuments. Two of the most notable are the National Monument of Scotland and the Nelson Monument: The National Monument of Scotland, which looks like a set of Roman pillars, is a memorial to the Scottish soldiers who died during the Napoleonic Wars. The Nelson Monument is a tall tower which honors Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson.
The Edinburgh Castle is the most visited attraction in this very popular city. It’s everything a castle should be and is a must visit while in Edinburgh. Normally we find visiting castles a little boring (we’re looking at you antique furniture), but there are plenty of interesting things to see here.
Perched way up high on top of the remains of an ancient volcano, the Edinburgh Castle dominates the city skyline. The views from the top of Edinburgh Castle are as good as you’d expect. There are many buildings and exhibits you can visit within the castle, including many that your kids will enjoy.
Our 3-year old son had a great time running from canon to canon. He just loves canons and will immediately climb on them and ride them pretending to fire them on stuff down below. The incredibly big Mons Meg canon was so cool – even our 3-year old could tell this canon was special; it’s a monster! Just imagine the damage the 300 lb cannonballs could inflict on enemy walls!
Our 6-year old daughter loved the Honours of Scotland, where the oldest crown jewels in Britain are on display. She especially loved the crown made for James V in 1540, which is made with gold, silver and priceless gems. She also loved the large and sparkly jewelry on display near the crown.
Both our kids loved the Prisons of War displays within the castle. They both have a thing for dungeons and prisons – maybe because they love causing so much trouble? The Prisons of War displays are very well done and are quite interesting for kids and adults alike.
We had heard scary stories from fellow travellers about how long the lineups can get at the Edinburgh Castle, so we made sure to get there right when it opened. We thought we were pretty on top of things getting there so early, but our jaws dropped when we saw the line-up of several hundred people waiting to get in!
When the line started moving shortly after 9:30, it actually moved pretty quickly. But then we noticed about 80% of the people were moving into the “Pre-paid Tickets” line. We hadn’t ordered ours online… ugh… I guess we’re not as awesome as we thought. We joined the other 20% who didn’t plan very well and got into the ticket lineup. To their credit, the line moved pretty quickly, but it still took about 20 minutes to get our tickets.
Edinburgh Castle Info for Families:
- There are plenty of benches and picnic tables around if you wish to have a snack or picnic lunch.
- There is a café (with toilets) if you wish to buy refreshments.
- There are guidebooks for children available for purchase at the ticket counter.
- The entry to the castle has steep cobblestone streets, making it very impractical for a stroller.
- Do yourself a favor and buy your Edinburgh Castle skip-the-line tickets ahead of time.
Princes Street Gardens
Looking at Google Maps Princes Street Gardens is right next door to the Edinburgh Castle, so we thought we’d simply walk next door and go to the park for a picnic lunch. Wrong. It’s right next door to the castle, but it’s way, way, way below the castle. It’s about a 7 minute walk down the hill to get to the entrance to the park, but once you are there, it’s a very nice place to visit.
The park features a main thoroughfare lined with park benches the whole way down. There are sculptures and monuments throughout the well-treed park, making it an interesting place for a stroll. There’s a playground in the north-west corner of the park.
National Museum of Scotland
We’ve visited a ton of museums around the world, but the National Museum of Scotland may be the best museum for kids we’ve seen anywhere. We think it’s one of the best things to do in Edinburgh with kids. With barely a painting to be seen anywhere, this museum is a visual wonderland for kids and adults alike.
We began our visit in the Explore Gallery on Level 1 and we thought our kids would never leave! This gallery is jam packed with so many fun activities for kids, we couldn’t believe it.
The exhibits were also educational, but the kids would never know. We were able to talk to our kids about what they were learning, while they were playing – a powerful combination for a parent.
There were robotic arms to control, miniature high speed trains to drive, hot air balloons to fill, pulleys to pull, gears to turn, spacesuits to climb into, etc. I was especially surprised to see Dolly the Sheep in this exhibit! She was the world’s first cloned mammal back in 1996, created from just a single cell.
But the fun didn’t stop there… we saw all sorts of stuffed land and aquatic animals, dinosaur and whale bones, precious stones and tons of incredible rocks and minerals. Every step of the way the museum made it fun and interesting, and where possible, interactive for the kids.
We barely saw half of it, when we had to press the “pause” button – we could clearly see the kids had played themselves out and needed to stop. They absolutely loved this place and we’d highly recommend it to anyone traveling with kids.
Full Day 2
National Museum of Scotland
We’ve never gone to a museum 2 days in a row – not the Louvre, not the British Museum, not anywhere. But when we decided what to do on our second day in Edinburgh, we all wanted to go back to the National Museum of Scotland to see the rest of it.
Our 3-year old requested we start at the top this time, so we took the glass elevator up to the fifth floor. The animal theme extends all the way to the top floor and we spent a lot of time looking at survival strategies of animals, including some good exhibits on extinction. As usual, there was plenty of interesting stuff for the kids, including a full room of interactive displays and activities for the kids to have fun with.
We skipped some of the boring ceramics and design rooms, but we always have time for Egyptian artifacts. The kids have read enough books about mummies that they always love seeing more. We had a good laugh when our three-year old walked into the East Asia room and asked quite correctly, “Is that Bhudda?”. (They learned about Bhudda when we traveled to Thailand with kids the year previously).
The room about Energy was a lot of fun for the kids. The feature display is a human-sized hamster wheel which kids run on to create enough electricity to turn on the overhead lights.
By the time we finished the top floor, it was lunch so we went up to the rooftop terrace on the 7th floor for a picnic lunch. The views of Edinburgh are really good from up there and it’s worth a trip up to see them.
We finished our visit by working our way down through the Scottish exhibits. It was a little less interesting and interactive for the kids, but there was a huge train engine and a bunch of model trains and ships which the kids found fun.
Princes Street Gardens
We weren’t intentionally replicating the previous day’s activities, but we needed to find a camera store to replace our DSLR which died the day before. The Princes Street Gardens playground was a few minutes from the Jessops camera store, so we let them play here as a reward for sitting quietly in the camera store.
(We ended up buying a Sony A6000 mirrorless digital camera and couldn’t be happier about traveling with this much smaller camera.)
Scottish Parliament Building Splash Pool
Yep – you read that right… the Scottish Parliament Building. It sounds boring (and it probably is), but there’s a series of splash pools outside the Scottish Parliament buildings. It was 84F / 29C and sunny outside – by far our hottest day in 3.5 weeks in Scotland, so we were looking for ways to cool down and the splash pool sounded perfect.
We didn’t pack bathing suits for our kids on this trip, but our nearby Airbnb had a dryer, so we just let them jump into the water, clothes and all. We topped it off with some pool-side ice cream before heading home for dinner.