Edinburgh’s Old Town is a labyrinth of cobbled streets, narrow alleyways and hidden courtyards, all filled with history. Perched high atop a rocky crag, in the heart of the well-preserved Old Town, is the Royal Mile. It boasts the Edinburgh Castle, the magnificent St. Giles’ Cathedral topped with a 15th century crown steeple, and many more stunning buildings with Medieval, Gothic, and Victorian charm.
Cockburn Street descends from the Royal Mile, slicing through the pattern of alleys, to give a gentler gradient and wider passage as it snakes its way down to the New Town of Princes Street Gardens, High Street shops, and Waverly Station. Here you’ll find restaurants beckoning with delicious aromas, lambswool Scottish tartans tempting you to touch, stunning buildings and bustling streets that can inspire days of exploration.
If your family is heading to Scotland, it may be hard to know where to begin. So here are 4 great activities to start with, along with 1 great place to stay, and 1 great place to eat while visiting Edinburgh with kids.
Activity 1: Descend Beneath The City
Enjoy meandering the old streets of Edinburgh on a family-friendly ghost tour. A cloaked tour guide will take you along the narrow alley and fill your minds with images of the past. Learn all about “the nasties” and why all of the streets have access points which flow to the river. Have the kids take part in some of the stories, so they can get a feel for old Edingburgh. Once you’ve spent a bit of time above ground, it is time to descend beneath the city.
Walk down stone steps into the amazing candlelit underground world, which was once bustling with shops, traders, and activity (some legal, others not so much). These are dark streets untouched by daylight, filled with a strange silence, their damp stone walls carrying only the faintest echo of the crowds on the high street you’ve left behind. Now these old shops, haunted vaults, and secret passages are empty, but you can get a feel for what it was like long ago, from the few rooms staged to depict the past.
Hear stories and tales of old shop keepers and how people lived in the underground world. Some of the stories set the stage, which allow your mind to conjure up a few spooky moments, but it is all family friendly. The kids over 5 will love it! Website: https://www.mercattours.com/tours/ghost-tours/view-tour/ghostly-underground
Activity 2: Startle Your Senses at Camera Obscura
The Camera Obscura itself is like a 19th-century webcam, projecting live images of Edinburgh through a pinhole camera in the roof on to a viewing table, but it is even more fun when you can hold buildings or people in your hands! With six floors of amazement, optical illusions, all mixed with an interactive science museum, it is guaranteed fun for everyone. Lose yourself in the mirror maze; get shrunk by giant children in the big-small room; see what you will look like at an older age; and stagger through the vortex tunnel. You will also see some of the most spectacular views of Edinburgh, from the rooftop terrace.
PSSSST! Don’t miss the map and pinnable at the end of this feature to help with your trip planning.
They open at 10am and it is best to be there ready and waiting, as it can get very crowded. You could easily spend a few hours here and there isn’t an onsite café, so come prepared with snacks for the little ones. Website: http://www.camera-obscura.co.uk/
Activity 3: Walk The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is the name given to a succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of Edinburgh’s Old Town. It runs about 1.2 miles from Edinburgh Castle down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, resting in the shadows of Arthur’s Seat. Walking along the cobblestone streets, you will pass old and new residential brick buildings, with narrow closes and stairways leading to the secret underground world. There will be plenty of plaques to read, closes to wander, and little hidden gardens.
At street level, you will be able to visit several interesting sights for all ages, from the free Museum of Childhood (with toys from the past), to Gladstones Land, and so much more. Perhaps there will even be a proclamation announced from Mercat Cross while you are there. The streets are vibrant and alive with plenty of shops to taste whisky or buy tartan knitwear, but it is also great to stop and watch buskers performing their talents, perhaps with a bagpipe. Website: https://www.visitscotland.com/info/towns-villages/royal-mile-and-grassmarket-p918401
Activity 4: Step Into The Past at Edinburgh Castle
A visit to Edinburgh just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Edinburgh Castle, which dominates the city. Located at the top end of the Royal Mile, it’s perched high up on the volcanic rock, which was formed millions of years ago. There is over 1,000 years of history to discover and it’s in excellent condition. You will find it to be the perfect setting and size for the kids to learn a bit of history, but not be overwhelmed with too much. If you are in or near the castle at 1:00 pm, you will hear them set off a cannon.
When roaming the cobblestone streets within the castle grounds, you will have stunning 360-degree views of the city, but you will also be able to get a feel for how it was used hundreds of years ago. You may enter many of the buildings to view the crown jewels, museums, and even the prison. It’s great fun to let your imagination run wild and pretend you are in the past. Website: https://www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk/
Tip: Remember to order your tickets in advance online so you can avoid standing in the ticket line for 30 to 60 minutes.
1 Great Place to Stay: Ice Cream Suite
This clean and modern 2-bedroom apartment will tick all the boxes and give the family the space they need after a long day exploring the city. The apartment is bright with good space and very well equipped, offering a flat-screen TV, a DVD player, free Wi-Fi, a dining area and a seating area for a comfortable stay in Edinburgh. The rooms have a grey modern interior, with an ice cream theme. It also has the rare find of a king sized and single beds. Just a 10-minute walk from the city center and about 5 minutes from Holyrood Park. An ideal location to enjoy the city, nature and shops. Website: http://ice-cream-suite-gb.book.direct/
1 Great Place to Eat: Kyloe Restaurant & Grill
Chances are, if you’re spending some time in Edinburgh, you’ll find yourself walking along Princes Street, and there you’ll find Kyloe Restaurant & Grill. Scotland is known throughout the world for some of the finest beef available and here steak is the specialty. If you choose, it can be an educational experience to have the waiter bring out a board with various cuts of beef. He will explain each cut, how long they were aged, and recommend the best degree of doneness for each one.
If steak everyone’s favorite in the family, they have other options on the menu and incredible side dishes made to perfection. The broccoli and portabella mushrooms are highly recommended. Don’t forget to save room for dessert. If you are a chocolate lover, the Kyloe Knickerbocker Glory is for you. It is a stunning combination of a large chewy brownie, thick hot fudge, fresh blackberries, sprinkled with pomegranates and topped with vanilla ice cream. Wow!
Kids will enjoy the fun cow motif, with cowhide covered furniture and the surrounding Neo-classical artwork. The adults may find a bit of humor in the cow compositions from masters such as Moonet and Vincent van Bovine, to name a few. Website: http://www.kyloerestaurant.com/
Tip: Ask for the corner widow table for spectacular views of Edinburgh Castle.
For more ideas on what to do in Edinburgh with kids, you might like this guide to Edinburgh activities with tweens and teens.