I grew up in Scotland so I know first hand what a great place it is. It’s an amazing country for many different reasons and that’s why we return year on year for a family holiday in Scotland. Read on for some great ideas of what you can do in Scotland for kids, some great Scotland vacation ideas and tips on keeping the budget down. Cheap holidays to Scotland can be done!
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Things to do in Scotland for kids
If you’re wondering what things to do in Scotland with kids then perhaps this list of 23 things to do will pique your interest!
1. Visit a castle
Scotland is brimming with castles from the amazing Edinburgh castle in the capital city, to the quiet and lonesome Eilean Donan out on the road to Skye. You can get a feel for the different and sometimes bloody history of this battled land and kids just love to run around pretending to be knights!
2. Go on a train ride
Not any old train ride though! You can actually ride on a steam train from Fort William to Mallaig which takes you over the famous viaduct bridge from the Harry Potter films. No flying cars that I’ve seen though! You can find out about the journey here.
3. Swim in a loch
This one might depend on what time of year you arrive in Scotland, but if you are there when the sun shines in the summer then finding a small loch to take a paddle in, like we did at Loch Garten, is an unforgettable moment. Many lochs have water sports too if you’re a bit more adventurous.
4. Eat deep fried pizzas and mars bars!
For some reason there is a tradition nowadays of deep frying everything in Scotland! You can order deep fried haggis, pizza and even mars bars (a candy bar like a Milky Way that you get in the US). This is my son feeling very pleased with himself after ordering one in Edinburgh. Look our for traditional fish and chip shops and see what they offer. Not my cup of tea and normally after ordering my son has a look of regret – but a fun thing that he always remembers!
5. Watch a Highland Games
Throughout the summer months many villages put on Highland Games shows. You can watch traditional highland dancing, listen to pipe bands and watch as men compete in traditional Scottish events like tossing the caber. We visited one in Dufftown which you can read about here.
6. Search for Nessie
If you go to the highlands then you HAVE to try and spot Nessie, our long time resident monster of Loch Ness. I’ve never seen her, but that doesn’t mean she’s not there! You can get boat trips from many different parts of Loch Ness – it’s a long narrow loch, so find one closest to you. Alternatively there are many tours from the bigger cities – see here for more details.
7. Watch dolphins up close
Every time I talk of Scotland I urge people to go Chanonry Point which is on the Black Isle up near Inverness. The reason I tell people to go here is because you can see dolphins daily and without needing to go on a boat trip! The place you stand at is next to the convergence of the moray firth and the sea and so is an excellent feeding ground for the dolphins. They can be seen year round, but more regularly in the summer months.
8. Go bird watching
There is a huge variety of birds to see in Scotland, from the Golden Eagle to Puffins. If you’re child loves nature then they’ll see all sorts in Scotland!
9. Try your hand at skiing
In the winter months we have ski runs at Aviemore in the Cairngorms, at the Nevis Range and a few more. You can find out more here.
10. Visit a whisky distillery and see it being made
I know that kids can’t drink the stuff, but since it’s such an important export of Scotland then I think it’s a great idea to find out about it, its history and how it’s made. There are LOTS of distilleries in Scotland to visit, not all of them allow kids though, so do check in advance. If you’d like to read more about our trips to some in the Speyside area click here.
11. Watch street performers in Edinburgh
Edinburgh has lots and lots of performers on the Royal Mile, but if you’re visiting in August don’t forget that the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is on too. It has lots of exciting events going on that are family friendly. It will make Edinburgh really busy, but a time to remember!
12. Visit battle sites
From the Battle of Bannockburn (remember at the end of Braveheart?) where the Scots defeated the English to the Battle of Culloden where, many, many years later, the English defeated the Scots again, there is a wealth of history to be learned and enjoyed in Scotland. We visited Culloden and there is a really great exhibition there to get your head around the Jacobite history and what went on there.
13. Take a trip to an island
There are lots and lots of islands in Scotland, each with their own unique character and charm. I’ve only been to a few – I’ve been to Skye, Rum (where we visit friends often) and Canna, another of the Small Isles. The scenery is stunning and you might be lucky to see some dolphins on your boat trip over!
14. Play on the world’s most stunning beaches
Scotland isn’t really a beach destination in the sense that you’ll probably not pack your bikini. But for kids it can be a great place. There really are some amazing beaches, like this one that is near Mallaig on the west coast of Scotland. Kids can play to their hearts content, splashing in the cold water or just exploring and when you need time out, just take a look at the view around!
This is Camusdarach beach (from the film Local Hero) which looks to Skye and the Small Isles.
15. Visit the tip of Scotland – John o’Groats
Although not the most prettiest of areas in Scotland, if you’re far north then you might want to visit John o’Groats which is at the tip of Scotland and where many people take epic journeys to Land’s End in England! You can get your photo taken there with the sign posts telling you how far you are from your home town.
16. Wild camp under the stars
You can wild camp in Scotland so if you have kids yearning for the great outdoors, why not take a tent and see where you end up? Watch out for the amazing sky at night which is so clear. You might even spot the Northern Lights!
17. Eat haggis on Burns night
Haggis has to be done! It’s actually a really tasty dish, although admittedly doesn’t sound too appetising. It’s sheep’s innards, encased in a stomach. Yup. Sounds bad! I urge you to try it, even if you’re not going to be around for the famous Burns Night in January. Excellent with tatties and neeps (potatoes and turnips!).
18. Dance at a Ceilidh
You’ll have amazing fun dancing at a traditional ceilidh. Most dances can be picked up easily and they’ll help you out! Give it a go. Even watching from the side is fun.
19. Take a one of a kind canal trip
Canal trips can be fun at the best of times but there’s one unique thing you can do in Scotland and that’s take a trip on the Falkirk Wheel on a canal boat! The canals are at different levels and to help join them up, engineers came up with this awesome engineering feat! It looks so unique and it’s even more so when you realise it transports the boats! If you don’t want to go on a boat, you can visit the site for free and learn about how it was built.
20. Discover the ghosts on a ghost walk
Edinburgh has a lot of history and it’s told often with ghost walks. There are plenty of kid friendly ghost walks so if they’re up for it and especially if they like history why not give it a go? Not too intrigued by real ghosts? How about a Harry Potter walk?
21. Visit reindeer
You can visit Britain’s only reindeer herd in the Cairngorm mountains. You can visit year round, although be aware that the weather can be nasty in the winter. Check out more here.
22. Read about and visit the world of Greyfriars Bobby
A lovely story about a dog who remained loyal to his owner when he died by staying by his grave. Greyfriars Bobby is a small dog who is remembered with a small statue in Edinburgh. You can also visit the graveyard nearby and find his grave. See below for books that are great to read!
Visiting Bobby’s Grave – people bring sticks to lay on it instead of flowers!
23. See Ancient Scotland up close
Ancient Scotland is also not to be missed and there are many standing stones in the country – the most famous being Callanish on the island of Lewis in the outer Hebrides.
If you’re staying on Mainland Scotland – check out the Clava Cairns which is near Culloden.
As you can see, a load of things to do with kids in Scotland – where will you start??
Best places in Scotland to visit
When working out your Scotland itinerary and all the amazing places in Scotland to visit it’s helpful to have a starting point. Scotland isn’t a huge country, but if you’re wanting the amazing scenery then you’ll want to make sure you’re based right for that and if you’re wanting city living, being on the Isle of Skye probably won’t suit!
The capital of Scotland is a great place to base yourself and would be my choice if you only had a short time in Scotland. It’s well set up for tourists, even getting a little too touristy on the Royal Mile, but it’s all good fun. Plenty of tours and trips go from Edinburgh to other areas, so if you’re not renting a car it might be worth looking at these too.
It’s well connected with trains and buses to many areas as well.
If you’re on a tight budget and want to stay away from hostels, try Travelodge which has a few hotels in the city and I always find are good value. Check here for latest prices.
If you have a little more to spend and want a bit more luxury try The Carlton Hotel which is in the Old Town and is great value. Click here for latest prices.
Glasgow is Scotland’s 2nd city and has a lot to offer for family vacations in Scotland. There are art galleries, museums and plenty of shopping to do also.
Glasgow is a great base for the West side of the country and for Loch Lomond.
With prices for hotels being much cheaper than in Edinburgh, The Hilton in Glasgow is a great option for families. Check out latest prices here.
Centrally located, Stirling is a recommended for a base that’s close to both the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and also a jumping off point in to the Highlands. With the Ochil hills as a back drop, the scenery is beautiful. For kids you can learn about the battle of Bannockburn, William Wallace and you can also visit the gorgeous Stirling Castle.
With family rooms and breakfast included the Holiday Inn Express in Stirling would be a great choice. Check out the latest prices here.
The capital of the highlands! This is a great base for many things including Loch Ness, dolphin spotting, whisky tours and many more. You can see my guide to day trips from Inverness here.
The Arduous Glencairn Hotel is a great choice, being close to the city and also good value for family rooms. Check out the latest prices here.
The Highlands and Islands
For many this is the real Scotland, the one that the tourists brochures sell to you and what they want! There are a great many things to do in the Highlands for kids, such as walking in nature, boat trips, museums (check out the Glencoe Visitors Centre for history about the Glencoe Massacre), gorgeous beaches, train trips and much more.
As well as Inverness, which I spoke of previously, another good base, especially if islands are on your radar, is Fort William. This is where you can get the steam train to Mallaig and pretend you’re off to Hogwarts!
For a budget hotel in Fort William try Travelodge which do family rooms. Check them out here.
For a bigger budget I’d recommend the Cruachan Hotel in Fort William which has family rooms and great reviews. Check here for latest prices.
As you can see there really are some amazing places in Scotland – now the choice is which city to base yourself in!
Scotland on a budget – my top tips
If you need to travel Scotland on a budget then I have a few insider tips for you!
Accommodation wise, definitely check out Travelodge for hotels as they can be a really cheap option. Lots of them are based outside of the city centres and cars would be needed, but there are many in the centres too. Other than that I recommend checking the HotelsCombined site as they check all the hotel booking sites and will let you know the cheapest one to book through.
Self catering in Scotland is probably the easiest way to keep costs down with food. Look out for Aldi, Lidl, Asda, Morrisons or Tesco supermarkets for the cheapest food. Co-operative shops are found in many smaller villages and towns and can be good in a pinch, but it’s not the cheapest option.
There are many bakeries offering pastries and ready made sandwiches at reasonable prices too for a quick lunch. You’ll find good local options in most places.
Definitely try Fish and Chips as a fairly low cost meal option. You might find somewhere you can eat inside, but many places are to take away and eat in the fresh air (if it’s not raining!)
There are also plenty of free things to do in scotland, especially for kids. Many museums are free and there are visitors centres in many areas of interest that will provide some history and local background to areas.
Children’s books about Scotland – bring the trip alive!
Horrible Histories Scotland is perfect for many kids – just enough facts, and presented in a way that isn’t boring, to make an impression on kids. These books don’t hold back! But we love them and have learned lots from the whole series. Check it out here
There’s also an Edinburgh version which we have as well, so if you’re just visiting that city I’d suggest that one. See it on Amazon here
Greyfriars Bobby is a beautiful picture book about the tale of the little dog in Edinburgh that would not leave his owners side, even in death. If you’re visiting Edinburgh definitely check this one out!
See it on Amazon
What’s the weather like in Scotland
Depending on what time of year you go, you could get rain, or more rain! I’m joking of course. Scotland is definitely known for it’s rain, but it also gets beautiful sunny weather also.
If you’re travelling in the summer I’d recommend rain jackets and shoes that will be ok for walking in the rain, and probably layers for the rest of your clothes. Some days can be beautiful, hot and can leave you susceptible to sun burn and other days you’ll want a big jumper on to keep the chill off!
Winter travelling will require warm jackets, waterproof items and gloves and scarves. It doesn’t always snow in Scotland in winter, often it will just be rainy with snow in the hills, but it can be very cold.
It’s also worth remembering that the days are very long in the summer, often not getting dark until after 10pm, but the opposite is true in winter with very short daylight hours and often being dark by 4pm. One to remember if you are coming in winter and have lots of sightseeing planned!
How to get to Scotland
Getting there can be easy with many cheap tickets to Scotland. If you’re flying and looking for flights to Scotland then I recommend Skyscanner which finds the best flights from your destination.
The major airports in Scotland are at both Glasgow and Edinburgh. There are many other smaller airports such as Inverness and Aberdeen.
It’s also easy to reach Scotland by train. There are many services from London, including sleeper services. I recommend the Seat61 blog if you’re interested in this!
How to get around in Scotland
If you’re staying in one city then you might be fine getting around on foot and the occasional local bus or taxi. If you’re exploring further afield then you’ll either want to investigate car hire or bus and train travel in Scotland.
There are some lovely train journeys in Scotland and travelling by train is a great way to get around. The country is well connected with both trains and buses. Check out ScotRail for train times and routes.
If you have plenty of exploring in mind, especially in the Highlands, then I recommend car hire in Scotland. Many places are off the beaten track and having your own transport will make life much easier. It will also be better value if you are travelling in a family group.
Accommodation in Scotland
For hotel stays I recommend searching HotelsCombined. They’re my new favourite as they search all the big booking sites to get you the best price from all of them. Just type your destination in and it will give you your results.
There are also many hostels in Scotland as it’s a popular backpacking area. Just check out the style of hostel and whether it may be suitable for your family before booking. I once stayed in a very loud hostel in Edinburgh with our kids – not to be repeated!
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