We will be traveling to Ireland and Scotland this summer. We will start our trip with 4 nights in Edinburgh as we wanted to get a little taste of Scotland. We will spend a day (or more) exploring Edinburgh, but would like to take at least one day trip (may two depending on jet lag). Any suggestions? Our kids are 15, 16, 18, 21. We would be fine with a small group tour, but don't want to be on a bus all day. We won't have a car while in Scotland.
We took a bus out of town to see Rosslyn Chapel one afternoon. It was easy and inexpensive, although I don't remember the route number exactly. It is available in guide books and on Trip Advisor. We loved looking at the ornate carvings in the stone, but it is a very small site so you won't need to spend very long there. Your kids may be interested in this if they have any interest in the DaVinci Code.
We also went to Craigmillar Castle on the outskirts of town. We took a city bus to this location as well, and you do have to walk a little bit from the bus stop to the castle, but we told the bus driver where we were going and he was friendly enough to explain how to get there from the bus stop. This was one of our favorite castle experiences in Scotland because we had the whole place almost to ourselves and you have freedom to roam throughout for just a few dollars. It is a ruined castle, but it is in very good shape. So don't expect any furniture or decorations, but we thought it was fun to wander through the stairs and passageways and imagine what it used to look like. Hope you have a wonderful time!
You might consider thehairycoo.com. I hope to take their Scottish Highlands tour from Edinburgh when I'm there later this year. It is all day, but the description doesn't sound like you're stuck on a bus the whole time. The group is limited to 24, so if all of you went you'd be 1/4 of the group.
It is also easy to use the train for day trips out of Edinburgh. Linlithgow Palace and Stirling Castle are both easy day trips from Edinburgh by train and you can walk from the train station to the palace or castle. I did them on two separate days since I didn't want to be rushed and I wanted to have time to look around each town a bit as well. I'm sure there are other options of day trips you could do on the train, but those are the two that I've done personally.
Let me, despite your concern about being in a bus, put in a nomination for exactly that. Last summer I did two such trips, one with Highland Express and one with Rabbies. The HE one was Stirling Castle, Loch Lomand and Glengoyne distillery, and the Rabbies one was mostly St.Andrews. Great way to see sights around a wide area. And, as for the bus rides, they are enjoyable...the drivers give history, context, jokes and take questions. And they do the driving so you can relax!
I second a trip to Linlithgiw Palace. We were staying just outside of town but it is very easy to get to town from Edinburgh via the train and then a short walk. The castle is in ruins but you can still walk through most of it, including the top (where there is a beautiful view) and see where a lot of the rooms are. I have a picture of my 6'2" husband standing inside one of the fireplaces. The chapel next door can be toured as well and it is a beautiful little town.