A trip to Scotland is always a good idea but is it a good place for a family vacation? If you’re wondering about the kinds of things to do in Scotland for kids then read on – spoiler alert, I love it as a family destination!
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 returned year on year for family vacations in Scotland (and still do now my kids have grown).
I hope you find some great ideas of what you can do in Scotland for kids here and feel free to click around the site as there’s a lot of Scotland content to help you plan your trip!
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
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 with swords! Many of the popular castles will have kid friendly activities to do as well.
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 like the Harry Potter train. No flying cars that I’ve seen though!
The steam train is obviously the big draw here but if you’re on a budget you could also just take a regular train across the viaduct – it’s still as special and runs through amazing scenery.
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 in the Cairngorms, is an unforgettable moment.
Many lochs have water sports too if you’re a bit more adventurous from canoeing to paddle boarding which kids love.
4. Eat deep fried pizzas and mars bars!
For some reason there is a tradition nowadays of deep frying all sorts of food in Scotland! We don’t tend to have the healthiest of foods here and this is another terrible health choice – but a little bit of fun!
You can order deep fried haggis, pizza and even mars bars (a chocolate candy bar like a Milky Way that you get in the US). You’ll find them for sale in traditional fish and chip shops all over the country.
This is my son feeling very pleased with himself after ordering one in Edinburgh – he did regret it after but it has always been a fun memory for him.
5. Watch a Highland Games
Throughout the summer months, from May to the beginning of September, many villages and towns put on traditional Scottish 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 in the Speyside region and had a great time but they take place all over Scotland, not just in the Highlands.
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. Inverness is the closest city to the loch and it’s easy to get to from there.
7. Watch dolphins up close
Every time I talk of Scotland I urge people to go and search out Chanonry Point which is in the Highlands on the Black Isle. It’s an easy day trip from Inverness and is very close to there.
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!
We’ve enjoyed lots of boat trips around the coast to see sea birds and also have been to RSPB reserves where we saw ospreys in their native habitat. Great days out to get some fresh air and enjoy the scenery too!
9. Try your hand at skiing
In the winter months it’s possibly to try out skiing and winter sports. We have ski runs at Aviemore in the Cairngorms, at the Nevis Range and even near Glencoe.
You can find out more about the winter sports available 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. The ones that do tend to be great at speaking to the kids and including them as well.
You can read more about our trips to some distilleries near Inverness here.
11. Watch street performers in Edinburgh
Edinburgh has lots and lots of performers on the Royal Mile whenever you come to explore
If you’re happening to be 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 definitely 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. Some of it was a little hard for my youngest to see so do bear that in mind.
13. Take a trip to an island
There are lots and lots of islands in Scotland, each with their own unique character and charm. Kids who enjoy nature and wide open spaces will love them as will those who enjoy boat trips since all but one (Skye) need to be accessed that way.
We’ve been to Skye, Rum and Canna, another of the Small Isles. The scenery is stunning and you might be lucky to see some dolphins or porpoises 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 the one in the picture above that is near Mallaig on the west coast of Scotland.
Kids can play to their hearts content, splashing in the cold water or playing ball games. Or you could spend your time exploring the marine life around and when you need time out, just take a look at the view!
15. Visit the tip of Scotland – John o’Groats
Although admittedly not the most prettiest of areas in Scotland, if you’re far north (perhaps doing the NC500?) then you might want to visit John o’Groats which is at the tip of Scotland. It’s where many people take epic journeys across the country to the opposite spot in England – Lands End in Cornwall!
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 – if you stay outside of the cities you’ll get a great chance to do some stargazing.
17. Eat haggis on Burns night
Haggis has to be tried! It’s actually a really tasty dish, although admittedly doesn’t sound too appetising: it’s made from 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!).
Vegetarian version are also really good if you can’t manage the meat kind – we’re now vegan and have the Macsween variety that you can get in supermarkets!
18. Dance at a Ceilidh
You’ll have amazing fun dancing at a traditional ceilidh. Most dances can be picked up easily and the organisers will help you out! Kids love to be energetic and this is definitely one way of tiring them out.
If you can’t encourage your kids to take part watching from the side is still fun and you never know, they might join in!
Not all ceilidhs will be family friendly so check before heading along – if you’re in Oban on the west coast then this one is definitely worth checking out!
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
One lovely story about Scotland’s history is about a dog who remained loyal to his owner when he died by staying by his grave. Greyfriars Bobby is this small dog and he is remembered with a small statue in Edinburgh.
You can also visit the Greyfriars kirkyard, where he got his name, nearby and find his grave.
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??
Tips for booking a family friendly trip to Scotland
If you’re convinced to take your kids to Scotland here are some tips for your trip:
Accommodation: some hotels will have family or adjoining rooms. Vacation Rental properties are a good idea in both cities and when exploring the more remote areas.
Booking in advance is also recommended especially if travelling in high season.
Getting Around: Public transport will be fine if you’re just staying in Edinburgh or Glasgow although costs can mount up for lots of people. For exploring I really recommend hiring a car if you can.
Check DiscoverCars.com for the best deals.
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