There’s no doubt about it: Edinburgh is definitely one of the best cities in the UK. There are so many things to do in Edinburgh with kids of any age – this city is full of history; quirky and fun attractions; and there are plenty of ways to enjoy the great outdoors too. We highly recommend taking a trip to Scotland’s capital.
With so much to do, the choice can seem overwhelming. We’ve done the hard work for you – read on to find out about the best things to do in Edinburgh with kids. It’s one of our favourite cities, anywhere!
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17 of the best things to do in Edinburgh with kids
Edinburgh is an old, old city, with signs of habitation dating back to the Iron Age. It has a mile-long medieval heart stretching from its ancient castle down to the more modern Holyrood Palace. Down the hill and past the filled in Loch that is now Princes Street Gardens, sits the 18th century addition of New Town.
Edinburgh was our last stop on our two week summer holiday in Scotland. We spent four full days in Edinburgh and so we had plenty of time to explore the best attractions and get a feel for the city. Edinburgh is fantastic for families – it’s got history, castles and palaces, great parks and plenty of quirky attractions.
Keep an eye out for our Edinburgh itinerary to help you make the best use of your time.
In our opinion, in no particular order, these are the top things to do in Edinburgh for families.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
Hands down, this was our kids’ favourite thing to do in Edinburgh, and I bet it’ll be your kids’ favourite too!
Camera Obscura is one of Edinburgh’s oldest attractions. The Camera Obscura was first built by Maria Short and opened in 1853.
The camera itself is a pinhole camera that uses mirrors to look out all over the city, and project the images onto a table in a darkened room (inside the black dome in the above photo). When you arrive at Camera Obscura you’ll be given a time slot for the next available demonstration.
In the meantime, there are five floors of illusions and visual trickery to explore, in the World of Illusions. This is what our kids loved the most – the farting chairs were my boy’s favourite (of course they were, I’ve never seen him cackle so much) while my daughter loved the mirror maze and the Vortex rotating tunnel.
It was especially fun to spy on the unsuspecting pedestrians walking around Castlehill. The cameras mounted on the outside of the building allow you to zoom in on people in the street, up at the castle and take a closer look at the surrounding buildings. So remember this and be sure to smile as you’re walking past the Camera Obscura!
The demonstration of the camera was witty and short enough for kids to enjoy. A tip – try to be one of the first in the door and sit close to the table. We were standing at the back and our view wasn’t as good.
We probably spent a good couple of hours at Camera Obscura; it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Edinburgh with kids!
Book skip the line tickets here. As with many of Edinburgh’s attractions it does get busy so it’s best to pre-book tickets.
See the crown jewels at Edinburgh castle
Edinburgh Castle is probably the first place that most tourists visit in the city. You can’t miss this ancient castle. Sitting high on one of Edinburgh’s many hills, it has a commanding view of the surrounding area; just as well as it was used for defense of the city which was the most besieged place in Britain.
People have been living on the site of the castle for thousands of years, but the oldest of the main castle buildings date from the 12th Century.
There is a huge amount to see at Edinburgh Castle, so plan on spending a few hours here. It’s a bit of a maze as well so pick up a map to make sure you don’t miss anything!
The top highlights are playing with the cannon and looking out over the city; finding the Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny; and seeing the enormous banqueting hall with its suits of armour and wooden ceiling.
As well as all of this there are chapels, museums and exhibits on the history of the castle and Scotland’s regiments, the original castle dungeons and much more.
Kids will also probably want to listen out for the 1 o’clock firing of the guns from the castle, and make sure they find the famous cannon Mons Meg.
Click here to book skip the line tickets. Booking tickets in advance is recommended as otherwise you’ll spend a long time queueing for them. It’s usually best to arrive first thing in the morning as the castle gets very busy.
Play in Prince’s Street Gardens
Princes Street Gardens sit at the foot of Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, with Princes Street and the New Town on the other side. Today they’re among the most beautiful gardens in Edinburgh; filled with flowers in the summer and also used for Edinburgh’s Winter Wonderland around Christmas.
The gardens have a grim history. The site was once a lake, Nor Loch, originally flooded for defence of Edinburgh Castle. It had other uses too; the citizens of Edinburgh used it as their drinking water supply. It was also where their sewage ended up, and a site of execution by drowning – whether or not this included witch trials by “ducking” is not entirely clear.
The lake was eventually drained to allow the building of the New Town. Some 300 bodies were recovered from their resting place at the bottom of the loch. The gardens were split into two, divided by a connection between the old city and the new.
Today Princes Street gardens are perfect for summer picnics and a secure place for small children to play. Things you might want to look out for here include the famous Ross Fountain and the many statues and memorials dotted about the gardens. My daughter also recognised the Gardener’s Cottage from one of the shows on CBeebies.
Climb Arthur’s Seat
You can climb a volcano while you’re visiting Edinburgh! Arthur’s Seat isn’t just a hill, it’s an extinct volcano (and we don’t have many of those in Britain). You’ll get some of the best views over Edinburgh from the summit so I’d encourage you to tackle it. It also means a break from the usual city sightseeing!
Most children aged 5+ should be able to walk up Arthur’s Seat with few problems. There are several routes to the top of Arthur’s Seat, and they’re of varying difficulty. Sometimes the more difficult routes may be closed due to rockfalls so don’t try to walk up them if they’re closed.
We walked up the main path which starts from just outside Holyrood Palace. Until you get right to the rocky top the path is very obvious and there’s no way you’ll get lost.
The main path is fairly easy but it’s quite rocky and right at the top you have to watch your step carefully; small kids might have to scramble up. Make sure they’re wearing good shoes! It should take about 30 to 45 minutes to climb up (longer if your kids are very young) and only about 15 – 20 to descend.
But the views mean that it’s worth the climb. If you wait for a clear day to climb Arthur’s Seat then you’ll be able to see out over the Firth of Forth. You can easily pick out the Palace of Holyrood and Edinburgh Castle.
Just make sure you’ve got a windproof jacket with you as it’s very windy and cold at the top!
National Museum of Scotland
If you visit one museum in Edinburgh, then make it the National Museum of Scotland. There’s a huge amount to see here including cultural exhibits and an incredible natural history display.
The unmissable things at the National Museum include meeting the T-rex, watching the incredible Millennium Clock strike the hour, meeting Dolly the Sheep, and dressing up!
The Imagine Gallery has lots of hands on things for younger kids to try, and children can run in a human hamster wheel, dig for fossils and much more.
As there’s so much to see and do here, it’s worth picking up a trail map or taking a tour. Tours run several times a day and there are both free and paid options. Click here for more information.
Museums can be a bit hit and miss with our kids but they loved this one. My son was bowled over by the enormous T-Rex and my daughter loved all of the displays on space and geology. They wouldn’t let us leave!
Entry to the National Museum of Scotland is free – good times!
Find out about whisky (and Irn Bru) at the Scotch Whisky Experience
Yes, really. Most adults will want to do a whisky tour when they’re in Scotland; we tried but failed on the Isle of Skye as there was an age limit on visiting the distilleries and our kids weren’t old enough.
But at the end of the Royal Mile, and just opposite Camera Obscura, is the Scotch Whisky Experience. This is one whisky tour that you can take your kids on in Scotland. We all had a fun time here, and my husband doesn’t even like whisky that much! It was definitely one of our favourite things to do with kids in Edinburgh.
The hour long tour starts off with a gentle ride in a whisky barrel while you’re told about how whisky is distilled (by the “ghost” of Douglas McIntyre. Of course, our kids weren’t interested in the distilling of whisky at all but they loved the ride as there was lots of animation, lights and noise! There are information boards for children featuring a black cat called Peat, which appealed to my daughter.
Next there’s a short but beautiful film about the five different whisky producing areas of Scotland, and the unique aromas and flavours that the whiskies have depending on where they were distilled. A scratch and sniff card helped us all to imagine the flavours and kept the kids busy.
You then get to choose your whisky depending on the flavour that you prefer; more animation and the return of the ghost kept our small kids interested. The highlight of the tour is of course the tasting itself which is in a room filled with the largest collection of unopened whisky bottles in the world.
Kids aren’t left out when it comes to the tasting either; they get a taste of Irn Bru instead! If you’ve never tried Irn Bru, then you absolutely must give Scotland’s national soft drink a try. Vivid orange and fizzy, its flavour is indescribable; you’ll have to try it for yourself. Did our kids like their first taste of Irn Bru? Unfortunately not!
Book tours online at the Scotch Whisky Experience website. Silver tours are suitable for families.
Royal Yacht Britannia
The Royal Yacht Britannia is a highlight of any visit to Edinburgh. I wasn’t that bothered about going there myself but Derek insisted and it turned out to be a brilliant visit.
Britannia was the Queen’s personal ship; she was used for travel, functions and the Royal Family’s personal holidays. She was launched in 1953 and sailed over a million miles during her 44 years in service. Britannia was decommissioned in 1997 and she’s now a museum, moored down at Leith, a short drive from Edinburgh City Centre.
If you’ve watched The Crown, or you’re a fan of the British Royal Family, then you’ll know a little about Britannia and the round the world tour that the Queen and Prince Philip took on her. Britannia was also used as a pleasure craft and the family would take a holiday around the Scottish islands on her every year. Amazingly, she has sailed to 135 countries and travelled the equivalent of once around the world every year.
Everything on Britannia is original, including personal photos and other items loaned from the Royal Collection. What you see here is how it looked when the Queen used it. But just as interesting as the Royal quarters is seeing where and how the crew lived.
While some of the rooms and contents are off limits, such as the beautiful conservatory and the Royal bedrooms, there is plenty that kids can interact with. Kids’ activities at attractions like Britannia are often too advanced or complicated for small children (too much writing), but at Britannia all they had to do was to find toy corgis hidden around the ship. This simple activity kept them busy and happy, and they got a badge at the end which delighted them.
I don’t normally manage to listen to audio guides as I’m either busy taking photos or running after the kids, but the audio guide here is definitely worth it. It’s included in your admission fee and the audio snippets in each room or area of the ship are interesting, informative and mercifully brief.
It’s not really surprising that Britannia has been voted Scotland’s top attraction several years in a row.
You’ll need about two hours to look around Britannia. We spent a bit longer as we had lunch in the tea room.
The Real Mary King’s Close
If you’d like to find out more about Edinburgh’s gruesome past then you should visit The Real Mary King’s Close. This is an almost-complete medieval street preserved underneath the modern Royal Mile. The homes in the narrow street were originally up to 10 storeys high and ran almost right down to Loch Nor, now Princes Street Gardens, on a steep hill.
The street was at its peak in the 1600s, but abandoned when some of the more modern buildings on the Royal Mile were built, basically on top of the old houses. These homes and part of the main street were opened as a museum in 2003. The highest homes in the street have not survived – and the top floors were probably made of wood as you could only build eight storeys high in stone.
Today you can take a guided tour through these homes, starting with a room that would have been shared by a large family, moving on to a cell where Mary Queen of Scots spent a night, and to a house where most of the inhabitants died from the plague. There’s even a more modern ghost story to hear.
We found the visit to The Real Mary King’s Close to be funny (gardyloo), horrific (the plague) and moving all at once. It’s educational but fun at the same time. You can also feel the weight of history as you explore the block of homes and hear the inhabitants’ stories, and finally walk up the main street for yourself.
The Real Mary King’s Close is suitable for kids aged 5+ (so only my daughter and I visited; the boy was too young). Very sensitive small children might be upset by the models of plague victims. No photography inside is allowed.
You should probably book tickets a few days in advance as we called in on our first day in Edinburgh and it was fully booked for that day and the next. Click here to book tickets.
A note: The Real Mary King’s Close shouldn’t be confused with the Edinburgh Vaults tour, which can be booked here.
Harry Potter Walking Tour
As you walk around Edinburgh, you’ll see an awful lot of Harry Potter themed shops. Although Edinburgh wasn’t used as a filming location, JK Rowling wrote the first stories here. If you look around the city carefully then you can see where she got some of her ideas from. Surely Edinburgh Castle, perched high on a rock overlooking the city, served as an inspiration for Hogwarts, along with the George Heriot School nearby.
To save you from researching and visiting these places yourself you can take Harry Potter walking tours, which are some of the most popular walking tours in Edinburgh. In these tours you’ll visit the Elephant House near Greyfriars Bobby which used to be the cafe where JK Rowling would work from. Just around the back of the Elephant House is Greyfriars churchyard, where you can find gravestones with some of the famous names in the Potter books, like Tom Riddle and more.
There are several free and paid Harry Potter walking tours in Edinburgh; here are some of the best.
This highly rated tour takes you on a two hour walk around Edinburgh and includes audio-visual quizzes, allowing you to find out what house you’re in and to score house points using your Potter knowledge! Click here to book.
This tour takes you on a two hour walk to see where JK Rowling got her inspiration from and where she wrote some of the novels. Click here to book.
For a free Harry Potter walking tour, click here.
If you’d like to go further afield and see some of the other Potter sites in Scotland on a day tour, then click here for options.
For the ultimate Harry Potter experience in Scotland, take a ride on the Hogwarts Express. Click here to find out how.
We thought that the Palace of Holyroodhouse was actually better than Edinburgh Castle. The Palace is at the far end of the Royal Mile from the castle, and it’s the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh.
As with Edinburgh Castle, there’s a huge amount of history here. Some of the more famous historical figures whose stories are told here include Bonnie Prince Charlie and Mary Queen of Scots.
Mary’s apartments are a highlight. She lived in the Palace of Holyroodhouse from 1561 – 1567 and you have to climb up a narrow staircase in the oldest part of the palace to reach it. Her private secretary was murdered in one of the rooms and marks on the floor are said to be bloodstains (my boy liked this gory detail!).
Other interesting things here are the state apartments, and the throne room with the original thrones made for George V and Mary. The Grand Gallery with its enormous collection of paintings and treasures is impressive to say the least.
The kids thought the multimedia guide here was brilliant, as it came with an interactive screen for them to answer questions, or to visualise how many elephants can fit inside the Great Gallery, for example. There are also family trails for kids to follow.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse also has a fantastic kids’ room where children (and adults!) can dress up and play. There are kid friendly information boards and plenty of things for them to do here; ideal for little ones if the full tour is too much for them.
The gardens and ruined abbey are also a good place for kids to run around. Holyrood Abbey was once one of the most important Abbeys in Scotland. Today it’s in ruins but you can still get an idea of how magnificent it used to be. Tours are available of the gardens and the abbey.
Calton Hill is one of the best places to take kids to in Edinburgh to let them run free and wild! Kids will be mostly interested in tearing about in this park, and playing in and around the monuments here. The entrance is at the far end of Princes Street where there’s a staircase that takes you up the hill.
The views from Calton Hill rival those from Edinburgh Castle; these views are going to be what interests adults the most here. You can see over the city to the castle, and over to Arthur’s Seat in the other direction.
As well as its lovely views, Calton Hill is also home to several interesting buildings; two observatories, and an Athenian style acropolis which looks a little out of place.
This was meant to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, but money ran out before it was finished. It was supposed to be a National Monument and a memorial to those who died in the Napoleonic Wars; and the failure to finish it led it to be dubbed “Scotland’s shame.”
There’s also the enormous Nelson Monument, based on an inverted telescope. You might want to visit it at 1pm as there’s a time ball which drops when the guns are sounded from Edinburgh Castle. It has a free museum on the ground floor but if you want to climb to the top it’s £6.
The Edinburgh Dungeon is highly rated, but we didn’t take our kids here as it’s only really suitable for children aged 8+. Kids under 5 won’t be allowed in.
But if you’ve got older kids who don’t mind listening to some gory stories and are OK with a jump scare or two, then the Edinburgh Dungeon is for them.
Much like the London and York Dungeons, the Edinburgh Dungeon is staffed by professional actors who will take you on a tour of Edinburgh’s most gruesome stories. Expect to hear much more about Mary Queen of Scots (who was beheaded on orders of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I), a witch, surgery gone wrong, cannibals, serial killers and more.
There are even two thrill rides. The whole experience is meant to be very entertaining. We’ll definitely go when the kids are older!
Learn the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby
Much more suitable for small children is the story of Greyfriars Bobby. Just like Hachiko in Tokyo, Greyfriars Bobby was a dog famous for loyalty to his master, and as with his Japanese counterpart, there’s a statue in his memory.
Bobby, a Skye terrier, and his master John (known as Auld Jock), a night watchman, used to walk Edinburgh’s streets together after dark. When John died in 1858 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard (just behind Bobby’s statue and the pub that bears his name), Bobby refused to leave his graveside.
The only time the dog could be persuaded to leave the churchyard was for a meal, signalled by the one o’clock firing of guns from Edinburgh Castle. Word soon got out about the faithful dog and he started to draw crowds and became famous.
Greyfriars Bobby sat by John’s grave for 14 years until his death in 1872, and a year later the statue was put up near the churchyard. If you go into Greyfriars Kirkyard, you can see Bobby’s grave not far from John’s resting place.
Some believe the story to be a cynical hoax designed to draw tourism to a less popular part of Edinburgh, but I’d just let the kids believe it’s true! What do you think?
Climb the Scott Monument
You won’t miss the enormous gothic Scott Monument as you’re walking around Edinburgh. The Scott Monument is just on the side of Princes Street, in East Princes Street Gardens.
The monument was built after the death of the writer Sir Walter Scott in 1832, and it’s decorated with characters from Scott’s novels. In the centre is a statue of Scott himself, in white marble.
On your visit to the monument you can look around the museum on the first floor before climbing all the way to the top – up all 287 steps! The staircase is narrow so if you’re claustrophobic best to give it a miss! If you do make it then you’ll be treated to more stunning views out over Edinburgh.
Entry costs £8 per adult and £6 per child. Family tickets are £20.
Edinburgh Botanical Gardens
Another lovely place to let the kids loose is at Edinburgh Botanical Gardens. Here you can explore 70 acres of gardens, which include 10 glasshouses with plants from all over the world.
There are also great views out over Edinburgh from the gardens, which are on a hill.
Entry to the gardens is free but if you’d like to go inside the glasshouses then a ticket costs £7 per adult and £6 per child. Click here to go to the website to find out what’s on for your visit.
The gardens are about a mile outside of the city centre so it’s best to take a bus. You can get Lothian numbers 8, 23, 27 from the city centre to the East Gate.
Dynamic Earth is a science museum which show you how the Earth formed, going all the way back to the Big Bang. You can explore under the sea, learn about volcanoes, evolution and much more.
There’s loads of interactive exhibits to keep kids of all ages amused and interested. And if it all gets a bit much then there’s a soft play area that small kids will love. Dynamic Earth also has a 360° onsite cinema which shows a variety of educational and scientific films every day.
Kids will also enjoy the time travelling augmented reality experience, Mission Earth, which is running through 2019. During school holidays special events, activities and talks are put on – these vary so check online before you go.
This is a great rainy day activity in Edinburgh.
I have to admit that we didn’t visit Edinburgh Zoo as we aren’t massive zoo fans. However plenty of other people are, so here it is in the list! Edinburgh Zoo has good conservation credentials and works hard at improving the living conditions of its animals (including increasing the enclosure sizes for some of its larger animals).
Edinburgh Zoo is most famous for its giant pandas. Tian Tian and Yung Guang are two of the very few pandas outside of China, and the only pandas in the UK. Other animal attractions here include lions, tigers, chimpanzees, penguins, and koalas.
The gardens at Edinburgh Zoo shouldn’t be missed either. The zoo was originally a tree nursery so there are a huge number of different variety of plants here, as well as animals.
Click here to buy your tickets for Edinburgh Zoo.
The Zoo is located just outside Edinburgh City Centre. If you don’t have a car, take bus 12, 26, or 31 from the city centre.
Edinburgh with kids: Know before you go
Edinburgh is a great city whatever time of year you visit. We planned our visit for late August, just after the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. While visiting Edinburgh during the festival is no doubt a fantastic time to go, hotel prices almost double at this time.
We’re not exactly budget travellers but we try to find the cheapest hotels going, and visiting during the Fringe put Edinburgh way above our limited budget. If you don’t have hundreds to spend on hotel rooms you’ll need to avoid most of August!
There are plenty of winter attractions in Edinburgh if you’re visiting over the festive period; try the illuminations at the Botanical Gardens or visit Winter Wonderland in Princes Street Gardens. Of course, it could rain at any time so going in the summer is no guarantee of good weather!
Where to stay in Edinburgh with kids
There are plenty of family friendly hotels in Edinburgh.
Premier Inn are always a good bet; Edinburgh has several, some more central than the others. We stayed in a Permier Inn when we visited Edinburgh, and they’re our budget hotel of choice. They have family friendly rooms and often have a restaurant attached. The best located one is on the Royal Mile. Click here to book.
How to get around Edinburgh with kids
Edinburgh is a very walkable city, and many things you’ll want to see are in the city centre. Be aware that Edinburgh is very hilly (if you hadn’t already realised) and that there are some cobbled streets which might make the going difficult if you have kids in a buggy (so bring a sling too).
If you want to visit some of the attractions outside the city centre and you don’t have a car then you’ll need to use the bus. Edinburgh’s bus network isn’t too bad, and other than taxis it’s the main way to get around.
If you’re using Lothian services then you need to have the cash fare on you (single fares are £1.70 for an adult; 80p for kids aged 5+). The drivers won’t give change and can get a bit snippy if you don’t have the money ready!
Alternatively there are prepaid cards and an app that you can use instead.
You can buy tickets and find timetables here.
How to save money in Edinburgh
Like many cities with tons of attractions, Edinburgh has the Edinburgh Pass which may be of value to you, depending on what you’d like to visit. We didn’t buy it as we weren’t planning on visiting many of the included attractions.
There’s also a Royal Pass which is more helpful as it includes the Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Royal Yacht Britannia.
Click here to take a look at the passes and see if they suit you.
Has this guide to the best things to do in Edinburgh with kids been helpful? Let us know if we missed anything!
Take a look at our guides for visiting other UK cities with kids: