While flying back home through London in early July we were thinking about going up to Scotland for a few days. How is the best (and cheapest) way for a family of 5 to get from London to Scotland? Also, any recommendations? Things to do? Places to stay? My boys are 10 and 16 and we like history, museums, churches, etc.
I'm not sure what would be the cheapest way, but I would check out some of the bargain airlines. Just watch out for extra charges. But once you get there, I would recommend Edinburgh. There's Edinburg castle and other castles within easy reach. Dynamic Earth is a great museum on the geology of Scotland--very interactive. The Museum of Scotland is terrific. You might rent a car for a day or so and drive up to the Trossachs or into Perthshire to see the countryside. From Stirling Castle you can see the countryside of Wallace and Robert the Bruce. Or go further west to Doune Castle of Monty Python fame. In the Trossachs you can see Rob Roy's grave and take a ride on a true steamboat and see some spectacular scenery.
We flew from Gatwick to Edinburg taking a discount cab from London. After figuring everything out, including time to Gatwick, (checking in ahead at airport for 2 hours), I'd rather take the train. (No reasonable fares from Heathrow) Your sons will get to move around, everyone will get to see the countryside and the time is about a wash (except on weekends when they work on the lines). The train station in Edinburgh is very central. Bet the boys will like Greyfiars Kirk and the whole Greyfriars Bobby thing (a faithful dog from 1870's). Tour Edinburgh and then rent a van to tour the highlands for example. Driving in Scotland is reasonably easy as traffic is very low. If you can't drive a stick be specific on asking for an automatic when making reservations (it'll cost you alot more). Just remember, right shoulder to the line and have a co-pilot to navigate and keep you on the right side of the road. After day one it'll be a snap. LOVED driving in the Highlands. Buy a DK book.
Realize it is a long way and costly from London. If you still want to go take the train and stay in Edinburgh. With 3 days you do not have much time for much else unless you take a bus tour.
Scotland is fine for a few days' trip, and it's NOT that expensive to get there if you book train or plane tickets ahead of time. I think there might even be family train ticket deals.
Plane or train, it takes about 5 hours to get to Scotland, so you'd probably want to be able to spend at least two nights in Scotland to make the extra travel worthwhile.
If you only have a couple of days, it's probably best to stick with Edinburgh and possibly take a trip out to Rosslyn or Linlithgow. The day trips to the Highlands are more time in the bus than actual sightseeing. In Edinburgh you have Edinburgh Castle, Holrood Palace, the Royal Mile, the Museum of Scotland, St. Giles Cathedral etc. Lots to keep you busy.
As a note, July can be very busy as it's the only month UK schoolchildren are all on summer break. So you should book accommodations well ahead of time.
Also check out the Elephant House Restaurant, close to the Museum of Scotland, where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosphers Stone (Sorcerers Stone in the US) nice food and a good view of Edinburgh Castle from the tables in the back.
Don't know how early they start preparations for the Tattoo, but Edinburgh Castle may have some obstacles in front of it due to that.
How to get there? I'd take the train.
Thank you for all the suggestions. This has been very helpful. Any ideas on inexpensive places to stay with kids?
I also say take the train. I spent a semester in London, and our last weekend in there, we took a long-weekend trip to Edinburgh via the Flying Scotsman (train). In the three days we had there, we saw plenty -- Edinburgh castle, climbed Arthur's Seat, took a haunted Edinburgh tour, visited a Christmas market (it was mid-December), saw the Scottish Museum, walked up and down the Royal Mile numerous times, etc.
Can't make any recommendations for a hotel, though. We were in a hostel, and I'm not sure you want to go that route!
If you decide to fly, consider Inverness rather than edinburgh. We love that city!!! There is so much more to do and see. If you do stay in Edinburgh, the Royal British is directly across the street from the train station. It is a nice, but reasonably priced hotel and we took our kids there at similar ages. In Inverness we like the Royal Highland, the hotle adajcent to the train station.