You don’t need to be a princess to stay in a castle. Gather up your favourite folk and head toward the rugged glens for a Scottish Highlands vacation. Here, fairytale fortresses steeped in history are just waiting to make you and your children feel at home. And mysterious legends, such as the one surrounding the Loch Ness Monster, will have everyone enthralled.
Eilean Donan Castle
Where are the Scottish Highlands?
Although you might feel cut off from the rest of the world when you look out onto the purple/green palette of the rolling countryside of the Glens, the Scottish Highlands are really not as remote as you might think. The area’s so-called gateway airport, Inverness, is just a 90-minute flight from London. Depending on which part of the Highlands you want to concentrate on, Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow and even Edinburgh airports (see Edinburgh with kids) can also be good starting points. It’s easy to incorporate this region on larger a trip to other parts of the United Kingdom
Few British families are comfortable with long road trips. It is typically an 11-hour drive to do the 570-odd miles by car, but if you take the scenic route and travel over a few days, it’s a lovely way of really getting to know and enjoy the British Isles.
Providing there hasn’t been a heavy snowfall, once you’re in the Scottish Highlands, it’s easy to get around with the regular bus and train services linking towns and villages. We picked up a rental car at the airport and spent most of our journey playing spot another car on the road and slowing down to let sheep cross in front of us.
With kids-in-tow and just a couple of days to explore, I would stick to the southern Highlands and wouldn’t venture too far north of the City of Inverness. If you think of the UK as taking the shape of a horse rearing up on its hind legs, Inverness is just about at the horse’s neck. And the Highlands reach right across the whole head and down to its shoulders.
Scottish Highlands Attractions
Although its traditionally seen as a winter vacation spot with Brits, with Glenshee, about hundred miles south east of Inverness, being home to the UK’s largest skiing and snow-boarding resort, each season in the Highlands throws up its own source of entertainment. From December to April, depending on snowfall, the whole family can learn to ski at the Glenshee Ski Centre.
On the far west Highlands region, this mountain community is the perfect base if your family is up for a true trek. Hiking Ben Nevis isn’t for the faint of heart, but the beauty of the highest mountain peak in Britain is unmatched.
Meanwhile, if you’ve made the effort to venture further into Scotland than the country’s most popular tourist cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, you can’t really go home without taking the kids up to Loch Ness, a few miles outside of Inverness to see if they can spot the Loch Ness Monster, which is up there in the legend stakes with the Yeti and crop circles.
Scotland is dotted with Lochs or lakes and Loch Ness is famous for being home to an amphibious dinosaur-like creature. However grounded you think you are, standing on the banks of Loch Ness, behind your kids, humouring them to look out for Nessie, you will also find yourself scanning those eerily calm waters for a glimpse of the mythical creature.
When the weather warms up, you’re never far from an opportunity to wander, cycle or pony trekthrough picture postcard scenery of forest and wetland, high and lowland and we were lucky enough to coincide our visit with the Highland Games, we got to watch a hilarious tug o’ war tournament. The Games run from May to September. With their origins in the clan system, welly-boot throwing, shot put and tossing the caber are just some of the competitions you can watch and sometimes participate in.
To follow in the footsteps of Royalty make for the games at The Braemar Gathering, about 17 miles from Glenshee, which is traditionally attended by the Royal Family, whose Scottish residence Balmoral Castle, is just down the road.
Talking of which, a trip to Balmoral Castle, is a summer must-do. Tucked away in equally as scenic Cairngorms National Park, it is open from April through July. You can visit the grounds and gardens and even accompany a ranger on a Land Rover safari to get a possible sighting of birds of prey, red squirrels and red deer.
JM Barrie’s Birthplace
JM Barrie’s birthplace, the home of the creator of Peter Pan, is also worth a visit during Spring and Summer. It’s found in Kirriemuir, about twenty miles from the ski resort of Glenshee. Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, it has a children’s play area, regular family events and boasts a new Peter Pan experience, where children can dress up as the characters in the story and even fly like Peter.
But with its natural unspoilt beauty, if your kids are anything like mine, they won’t need anything hi tech to stimulate their imagination. They will be climbing trees in search of the nearest castle, tumbling across heather hewn hills after unicorns or conjuring up plans to catch Nessie.
Several of our favorite properties in Scotland are located within or near the Scottish Highlands. Our travel advisors can also assist with identifying the perfect home base for your exploration of this world class scenery.
Visiting Dover Castle with kids
Ciao Bambino recommended England family hotels
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