We love to stand on the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle and wait for the one o’clock canon to fire. It always makes us jump, even though we know it’s coming, but there are just such wonderful views across the city, and to the sea beyond, from here.
To get a different perspective on this fascinating city, go from high to low, and head underground. The Real Mary King’s Close (adult £16.50, 5-15s £9.95, family 2+2 £43.50) offers a journey under the streets to a preserved 17th-century street, courtesy of costumed storytellers and with plenty of spooky moments. It’s fun for all but the youngest children.
We are huge Harry Potter fans in our house and have had great adventures exploring a city closely associated with the author JK Rowling, who wrote the books here. Visit Greyfriars Kirkyard and see names on graves that inspired some of her characters; peep through the gates to the imposing 17th-century school Heriot’s (or is it Hogwarts?); walk the colourful, curving, cobbled Diagon Alley-like Victoria Street, and find the wonderful Ahaha joke shop. It’s been a firm favourite of our family for a couple of generations, with its giant pair of glasses and false nose across the shopfront. Inside is a wonderful collection of pocket-money friendly toys.
With its free admission, the National Museum of Scotland is a gem for all ages. It’s packed with exhibits and a good spot to wait out a rainstorm or escape the crowds. The energy wheel is just like a giant hamster wheel and kids love the challenge of running around it to turn the lights on, before collapsing in a heap of giggles. The Planet Adventure area is perfect for younger children, with dinosaur-bone excavating, hands-on exhibits and dressing-up outfits.
Edinburgh also has wonderful beaches, in the city itself and along the coast. Portobello beach is a sandy two-mile stretch, a wonderful place for kids to run and play. Cafes on its promenade allow you to sit and watch your kids as they build sandcastles and you enjoy coffee and homemade cakes, with a view over to Fife. We love Miro’s and The Beach House and, on the High Street, Bross Bagels is great for picnic essentials, including Montreal-style bagels. It’s always busy with children and dogs along the front, and there is also a playground, and a large softplay area if it rains. There is also a huge community of year-round sea swimmers.
Cramond Island is an uninhabited island in the Firth of Forth connected to the mainland via a causeway when the tide is low. We love the walk over; there are always crabs to pick up, sometimes starfish, and loads of seabirds. The walk takes longer than you might imagine and isn’t suitable for buggies, though. If you are lucky you may spot dolphins, whales or seals from here. Cramond also has a long beach with a promenade that’s perfect for scooters and bikes, while the Boardwalk Beach Club is a fun refuelling pitstop – with tables made of surfboards.
Where are all the other kids?
Edinburgh has a superb network of cycle paths on the old railway lines that once criss-crossed the city, providing miles of traffic-free, tree-lined pathways that are particularly good for those with younger children. You can get around most of Edinburgh on them and there are playgrounds and food pitstops along the way, notably brunch at Milk at the Sculpture Workshop .
A climb up Arthur’s Seat is a good hike for children. Though it’s a bit of a scramble towards the top the views are worth it. This extinct volcano is in Holyrood Park, an untamed 263-hectare park in the midst of the city, with a ruined castle to explore, a loch with swans to feed, trails and hikes all around.
The Botanic Gardens are a good spot for walking with buggies, playing hide and seek and exploring. There are little bridges over streams where you can play pooh sticks, plus an amazing rock garden with a waterfall, Victorian greenhouses, squirrels and kingfishers to spot. Our favourite is the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden, with its little maze, perfect for playing tag with little ones, and a pavilion decorated inside with seashells and pine cones.
Just outside the city, within Dalkeith country park, is the Fort Douglas adventure playground, with ziplines, tunnels across the River Esk, fortresses and slides (from £5 for 5-12s). Next to the fort are the old stables, which now feature two restaurants and a shop.
For a sprinkle of magic, we love the Archerfield Walled Garden trail around the woods leading to beautiful fairy houses hidden in the trees, with teeny, tiny ladders, windows and doors, and houses made from teapots or old shoes. The attention to detail is amazing. You can buy a vial of fairy dust to sprinkle and a ribbon to tie on the wishing tree for £1 and run around and play hide and seek in the the willow structures on the way back. Entry is free.
Edinburgh has a huge selection of independent cafes and restaurants. Our neighbourhood favourite is Herringbone, in Goldenacre. It’s a laid-back bistro with varied menus and great kids’ options. For superb fish and chips with a view across the harbour to the three bridges try The Fishmarket at Newhaven Harbour – there will always be a queue but it’s worth the wait. The Scran and Scallie in Stockbridge is Michelin-starred chef Tom Kitchin’s gastropub and it has a kids’ play area and mini versions of the adult meals. Mary’s Milk Bar on the Grassmarket is the place to go for gelato and has funky stools and a bar made from old milk bottles. Sugar Daddy’s Bakery is a good place for anyone with allergies, with a delectable selection of gluten-free cakes, sandwiches and soups; most are also dairy- and soy-free. Beetroot Sauvage is a plant-based cafe with a children’s play corner and delicious vegan food.
B+B Edinburgh (family rooms from £69 a night) is a boutique property near the West End with large bedrooms, a library with board games, and it’s also pet friendly. Apex Grassmarket (family rooms from £153) is within toddling distance of all the main sights, has a pool and does great breakfasts. Edinburgh Castle Apartments offers 12 simple, serviced apartments from £149 a night in a great location in the New Town.
It is worth downloading the Dribble app, which is a fabulous resource for family-friendly locations and events in the city.