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Recommendations around Scotland with kids

My husband, myself, and two children are planning a summer trip to Scotland in Summer 2022. We will be based around Culloden area for several weeks, but would also like to explore other parts of Scotland. I would really appreciate any advice from someone who has been to several locations and has a young heart. My children will be 8 and 6 at the time of travel. We enjoy moderate level hikes, nature, stately homes, castles, playgrounds, and historical places and family friendly events. It looks like great food is easy to find in all locations. Brodick looks fun on Arran, but I know many travel to Skye. I am a bit worried that there will be more tourists and traffic on Skye than locals and experiences. I have a very distance ancestor that came from Clan McLean on Mull but I am not sure it makes for the best destination. St. Andrews seems great too, and the midges report looks better on that side. Looks like we would be flying in and out of Edinburgh and hiring a car for our trip.

Posted by
826 posts

Are you going to The Fringe in Edinburg, which runs most of August? It's an incredible performing arts festival. There are activities for all ages and interests. I think your children would enjoy the street theater, and the Tatoo.
In any event, either plan to attend or avoid, but know that it happens. Hotels book up early, and the prices increase greatly. I've been there twice, and plan to go again.
Have a great trip!

Posted by
17896 posts

One tip when you're traveling in the highly popular areas, including the busiest towns on the islands (like Portree on Skye): the infrastructure hasn't kept up with the demand. If you want to have dinner sitting down, you will need to make a reservation somewhere. Traveling with young children, you might be able to have your main meal at lunchtime and do something casual for dinner. My travel mate and I were happy with the food we found at the nicer grocery chains (Sainsbury's, M&S, etc.). We ate a lot of main-course salads. I realize you'd probably need a different option for the children. There will usually be some sort of fish-and-chips option (a truck or an order-at-the-counter spot); unfortunately, my digestive system can't deal with that much fried food.

Posted by
18 posts

We would have to travel on school holidays in June-July, which means sadly we would miss the Fringe in August.

Posted by
18 posts

Completely with you on limiting fried foods. We really enjoyed fresh ready-made meals from Co-ops and Marks and Spencer’s on our previous trip to the Peak District in the UK Summer 2019. Since the pandemic I found out that both my spouse and myself come from 28 different Scottish clans! The point of this trip would not be to drag our kids around to every ancestral connection from the 18th century, but to experience Scotland as it is today.

Posted by
17896 posts

Poke around the internet (probably closer to the time of your trip) for information on the Highland Games. We hit one unexpectedly in Inveraray, but we didn't have time to enjoy it because we were in transit to Oban by bus and had just stopped long enough to see Inveraray Castle.

There are castles all over the place, so I think you can probably start your planning with other types of sights and then see what castles are near them or between them. I'm not big on castles and stately homes but do enjoy gardens. It seemed that most of the non-ruined castles had very nice gardens; they kept me nicely occupied while my travel mate visited the castle interiors.

It's my impression (I skipped it) Edinburgh Castle has a lot that appeals to children. They'd probably get a kick out of seeing the Kelpies in Falkirk, too, if you happen to pass near that area.

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is a modern museum that had a lot of happy young visitors on the day of my visit, yet there was plenty that appealed to me as well. I think it's one museum you could be sure your children would enjoy.

Simply being on one of the ferries to an island (with or without your car) would probably also be a hit. If you stay in Oban you can take a one-day tour to Mull and Iona (or a longer, probably somewhat tiring tour to Mull, Iona and Staffa) through West Coast Motors and not have to worry about driving/navigating yourself. Rick discusses this in his books covering Scotland (of which I recommend the "Scotland Guidebook" for you, since it has more information on Scotland than "Best of Scotland" or "Great Britain Guidebook").

Caveat: I do not have kids myself.

Posted by
1178 posts

The castle in Edinburgh would probably appeal to kids. I was there in July when it opened and it was crowded, but even more crowded by the time we left. However, two colleagues of mine went at 3 pm the day before and it was pretty empty. So you might try that. The problem is the opening time is not early enough to discourage too many people.

There is a free tour which we enjoyed. You might try and if your kids lose interest just drop out.

Posted by
18 posts

Thank you the suggestions! My two girls are usually very patient and if we make a tour seem exciting enough, they are all about it. We just make sure we take time for playground days and get them adjusted early to the time change. Comically enough it is usually the grown ups being cranky if we can’t find a strong enough cup of coffee! We do enjoy theater and music but tire of museums and have to space them out. We love being outdoors, and pack or just purchase once there plenty of gear for the rain.

Posted by
2597 posts

When we were there in 2015, the National Museum had a fashion display that your girls would enjoy.

Posted by
283 posts

We took our kids to Scotland when they were 8 and 10. We were there in the winter though (Feb), so it was snowy and cold. We started in Edinburgh and were there for about 3 days and then we rented a car and went up to the Grampians. We stopped at various castles and let the kids run. Everything was closed as a big storm was rolling in, but we still had fun. In Edinburgh we all enjoyed walking to the top of Arthur's Seat one day, climbed the Scott Monument, and wandered the castle. I can't help with other areas, but we had a great trip and just sort of took it as it came.

Posted by
152 posts

From what you have said your summer trip to Scotland in 2022 sounds as though it might give you time to stay in the Ballater area and take advantage of their annual Victoria Week which is very family orientated.

Obviously in 2020 as many events as possible were held on-line, but by 2022 I would expect life will have settled into the new normal of the post covid world, whatever that may be.

You say you plan to stay in the Culloden area for several weeks but want to explore other areas of Scotland. Whilst it is perfectly possible to have a day trip to Ballater from Culloden (I've done it the other way round several times) you may want to think about booking accommodation in Ballater for a few nights instead. Luckily you have plenty of time to find something which suits your needs.

This is the website for Ballater Victoria Week for 2020, although plans are afoot for the 2021 event.

www.ballatervictoriaweek.co.uk

It's too early to say what events will be held as part of the week, but it is hoped the Ballater Highland Games will be one of them. Last year's event was cancelled, but fingers crossed the games will go ahead this August and next year too. The Ballater Highland Games are always held on the second Thursday in August and Ballater Victoria Week grew up around the event. If a highland games is something which would be of interest to your family, then perhaps Ballater is one which you might consider.

www.ballaterhighlandgames.com

Posted by
1239 posts

The big National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is great for kids, and there is also the Museum of Childhood on the Royal Mile, which is full of toys through the ages.
I used to go there in the 60's as a child living in Edinburgh.
Both have been renovated a few years ago.

(BTW: my ancestors were Macleans from Mull too...though it was/is a very common surname there, and spelt in different ways!)

Posted by
45 posts

Scotland is a delight with kids! The wide open spaces and friendly people are welcoming to young bairns. Both my husband and I have family ties to Scotland so we dragged our daughter across the pond several times throughout her youth. I remember visiting an attraction one time when she gently tugged at sleeve and whispered, “Mom, there aren’t any red ropes”. Confused by what she was talking about, I asked her to explain what she meant by “red ropes”. She replied, “you know, those red ropes they have everywhere in the US that mean stay back and don’t touch”. We cracked up. Sure enough, Scotland invited you into its history to touch, feel and be part of it; not sit back and look at it from behind a red rope cordoning it off.

I’d recommend these four activities with younger kids, two based in Dundee and two in Falkirk, easy to work into your driving route between Edinburgh and Culloden area. In Falkirk, visit the giant Kelpies and then take a spin on a boat around the Falkirk Wheel. It’s a great day outing and would break up travel time nicely. Dundee, I feel, is under rated though it’s starting to receive attention with GQ and the WSJ featuring articles about it. Two great, young kid friendly attractions are Verdant Works and the RRS Discovery. The RRS Discovery gives a great opportunity to explore the ship Captain Scott used for his exploration of the Antarctic and allows you to roam the ship to your pirate hearted content, no red ropes in sight. Verdant Works is a restored jute factory with lots of interactive stuff and working machines. These jute factories turned Dundee in the 19th century into one of the richest cities in Britain on the hard labor of woman and children working in them. My grandmother’s older siblings started working the looms at the age of nine. She was the youngest of 12 and sent to live in the US fortunately. The history of whaling, ship building, trade with India and the importance of jute are all exceptionally explained here. The new V&A Dundee museum is there too. I haven’t been as it was set to open two weeks after our last visit in September 2018 so I can’t rate it’s kid friendliness.

And of course, a ferry ride to anywhere is also a winner with kids. Have a fabulous time and let us know how it goes. Cheers!

Posted by
17896 posts

The new V&A Dundee is a design museum. My travel mate and I both really liked it, but I wouldn't expect it to be particularly popular with children. You can take a look at the website and see what you think. https://www.vam.ac.uk/dundee

Posted by
18 posts

Thank you for the wonderful suggestions. I got lost spending way too much time on the V&A museum website poking around. We would really enjoy experiencing a Highland Games event but not sure that there are any early in the summer. Looks like I just need to find a way to move there to fit all the different areas and options in!

Posted by
1190 posts

As an adult, I became moderately obsessed with how the Scottish coo (cow) looks so different from any cow my iowa childhood exposed me to. I also was amused by the many cute souvenirs celebrating the loch Ness monster. That might just be something to help generate interest before you go, as long as your kids don't expect a bona fide sighting (of Nessie, exposure to a Coo should be easy to arrange)