Scotland With Kids
With mystical castles, legendary monsters and a bit of a rambunctiousness to it, Scotland will turn the kids’ imaginations upside down and make for a fantastic family vacation destination.
Located on the north of the island of Great Britain, Scotland is has fiercely maintained an identity apart from England. Although closely tied through history, England’s kings and queens used Scotland’s Stone of Destiny for their coronations until the 1950s, the Scottish culture is very different than that of its neighbors to the south. Bag pipes and clans, tartan kilts and a bit of brogue – all make Scotland a very unique place to travel with kids.
Rooted by the soaring Edinburgh Castle, which stands at the top of a street know as the Royal Mile, which runs through Old Town to Holyrood Palace, another major tourist attraction, Old Town Edinburgh has a medieval feel. Narrow cobble stone alleys lead off the Royal Mile. The main avenue is lined by cafes and shops, and just outside the castle, a tartan plaid weaving factory. The Royal Mile is easily walkable and holds many tourist attractions along the way.
Perched high on Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle affords excellent views over the city. There has been a castle here since the 1100s; however, only the chapel still stands from that time. In the 1600s, it was used as military barracks. It was involved in many conflicts through the years. Today, visitors can tour the castle; however it is still a military garrison as well. Army regiment assigned here guard the entry gate as well as the Scottish Crown Jewels. As well, a cannon is fired from here daily (except Sundays) to mark the 1:00pm hour. Don’t miss visiting the dungeons and, of course, the Crown Jewels!
– Holyrood Palace, official Scottish residence of the Royal Family (although they are there very infrequently). Visitors can tour the apartments here, including one where Mary, Queen of Scots, lived. You can also see the ruins of Holyrood Abbey here.
– Museum of Edinburgh: Housing important documents and artifacts from early Edinburgh
– Dynamic Earth: If the kids need a break from Scottish history, this museum offers a broader scope in history with interactive exhibits covering ice ages, dinosaurs and more!
– Woolen Mills: Kids can see Scottish tartan plaids being woven at this factory just outside Edinburgh Castle.
– Music Store: Kids will love learning about Scottish musical instruments including having a go at playing the bag pipes along the Royal Mile!
The north of Scotland is covered by craggily mountains punctuated by vast lochs, the most famous of which is Loch Ness. With one of the lowest population density rates in all of Europe, the Highlands can feel remote and filled with dramatic natural vistas, or you can visit one of the many charming towns along the way and immerse in the Gaelic culture that is so prominent here. Hearing bag pipes warmly vibrating in the distance as you hike through green glens…well, you know you are in magical Scotland!
We stayed at Aviemore Highlands Resort, which is located about smack in the center of the Scottish Highlands at the base of Caringorms National Park, which hosts five of the six highest mountains in the United Kingdom. With pony trekking, windsurfing, skiing, fishing and more family activities, the area makes for a wonderful place for families to explore the Scottish Highlands. One of the things kids will love about this area of Scotland is the reindeers! The Caringorm Reindeer herd is the United Kingdom’s only free roaming reindeer herd. There are about 200 reindeers and while these are wild animals, they are very used to human contact. The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre offers once a day walks out to the herd through beautiful mountain landscapes. Once you find the herd, there is opportunity to hand feed and pet the animals.
For a great view over Cairngorms National Park, take the furnicular – the highest one in Britain – to over 3,500 feet. The views are fantastic. And while, there was temperate weather for hiking in the lower areas of the park while we were there (June), there was snow on the mountain. The kids loved playing in it!
Just north of Aviemore, is the town of Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands. It lies at the point where the River Ness enters the Moray Firth and is surrounded by green glens. The town is anchored by the red sand stone Inverness Castle, which overlooks the River Ness. And, of course, the River Ness leads to an even more famous site…Loch Ness. Loch Ness is a giant freshwater lake, the largest in volume in Scotland. Its deepest point is almost 800-feet deep, which is why many believe that the Loch Ness Monster resides here spending most of its time at depth. Also known as Nessie, many believe the Loch Ness Monster to be a descendant of the plesiosaurs. It was first brought to the world’s attention when it allegedly crossed the road in front of tourists in the 1930s and again when it was photographed around that time, although many claim the photos to be fake. Whatever you believe, Loch Ness makes for a great family outing in Scotland. Relax and take in the incredible vistas of the loch and surrounding mountains as you make your way down to Urquhart Castle, where you sill have time to explore. Kids will love crossing the drawbridge and climbing the tower and views from here are breathtaking!
Getting There and Around:
Scotland is connected to England by train and its an easy 4-hour jaunt to London. BritRail passes are good in Scotland as well as England and Wales, which makes for a great way for families to get around Great Britain! Kids will love the “Harry Potter” train where you can visit Harry Potter filming sites throughout England and Scotland especially the spot where the train crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct, famous for being featured in the Harry Potter movies. There is also ferry service from Glasgow to Belfast in Northern Ireland. For more information on BritRail’s Family Pass, check out this video: