Given the spectacular landscapes, dramatic ruins, wild coastal beauty and wealth of culture, a family trip to Scotland offers so many tempting possibilities that it can feel daunting to choose. The good news? That also means it’s hard to go wrong. Our top itinerary suggestion for first-time visitors pairs a few days of immersion in Edinburgh’s ancient past and modern-day buzz with a retreat to the rural Highlands for a taste of life in the countryside and an eyeful of some of the most stunning scenery on the planet. The list of ideas for a family vacation in Scotland is as vast as the gorgeous views.
If you have time for only one Edinburgh attraction, make it Edinburgh Castle. Hunkered down on a hilltop, this behemoth presides over the city with all the gravitas of its 1,000-plus-year history. You can take as much time as you like to explore the castle and its museums, but plan on at least one and a half to two hours to get a thorough overview. Try to catch the firing of the One O’Clock Gun, which has gone off every day (except Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday) since 1861.
Afterward, make a stop at Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, a 19th-century funhouse right next to the castle that’s filled with mazes, optical illusions, holographs and other interactive fun. Its namesake and showpiece is an old-fashioned camera obscura through which you can peer at the streets below. Or see the Museum of Childhood, a quick but fun — and free — detour on the Royal Mile that highlights the evolution of toys over the years. On a rainy day, its one of our favorite things to do with toddlers in Scotland. If the kids are game for a more intensive museum visit, pop into the National Museum of Scotland. The collection is vast and eclectic, but excellent kids’ programs and cool interactive activities help younger ones get the most out of it.
TIP: If you have two or three days to spare between the city and the Highlands, spend them at Gleneagles, located in the countryside about 60 miles northwest of Edinburgh. This magical luxury retreat is bliss for all ages, offering a nearly endless list of family-friendly activities: pony trekking, fishing, biking, falconry, a gundog school, indoor games, a toy-filled playroom, a teen lounge and many more. Parents, meanwhile, will be partial to the spa, the golf course and the first-rate onsite dining.
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A few hours’ drive west of Edinburgh, Inverness — a hub of the Scottish Highlands — makes a convenient base for one of this region’s signature sights: Loch Ness. Reserve a spot on a Jacobite Cruises boat tour to cruise the waters and keep an eye out for the fabled Loch Ness Monster. Although parents may or may not buy into the Nessie lore, kids will get a kick out of searching for her with the radar monitor that combs the depths of the water. And the setting, with views of evocative Urquhart Castle (an optional stop), is a highlight for everyone.
For a totally unique glimpse into life in the Highlands, plus memorable time together as a family, book a lesson at Scottish Highland Art, deep in the countryside about 30 minutes from Inverness. Artist Ros Rowell welcomes guests to her cozy studio and does a fantastic job instructing families in different painting techniques, making sure they create pieces they’ll be proud to show off at home.
The classic itinerary for a family trip to Scotland includes a visit to the Isle of Skye or another of the Hebrides, and that’s certainly doable from Inverness. But for a more offbeat coastal excursion, drive north to Spey Bay for dolphin watching and strolling along the bay’s pretty beach. The Scottish Dolphin Centre has a staff of naturalists who can help you spot the sea creatures, plus a small educational center. On the way there or back, make time for a stop at Dunrobin Castle. It flies under the radar compared to big-name cousins such as Stirling and Eilean Donan, but its rooms and gardens are well worth touring, and its small museum displays a collection of taxidermy and Celtic stones.
Luxury-loving families will adore the iconic Balmoral Hotel as well as the Waldorf-Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian. Both of these 5-star properties are located on Princes Street a stone’s throw from the Royal Mile, and both pamper guests in every imaginable regard. We offer our clients wonderful perks when their stay is booked through our agency.
Depending on where you travel to in the Scottish countryside, we can recommend full-service resorts or intimate castle stays or quiet bed and breakfasts. Reach out to our family travel advisors to beginning planning your perfect getaway to Scotland!
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