Plenty of cities have castles, but not many have a castle perched on an extinct volcano – a double whammy for kid-friendly Edinburgh. A fun way to get an overview of this bonny World-Heritage-listed city is to take a ride through the medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town with Edinburgh Bus Tours (edinburghtour.com). Next, visit Edinburgh Castle (historic-scotland.gov.uk) to see Scotland’s Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny. Listen out for the One O’clock Gun and visit the dungeons to see the Prisoners of War exhibition.
Just below the castle, West Princes Street Gardens is ideal for letting youngsters burn off energy, while teenagers will prefer to exercise their wallets along adjacent Princes Street. Alternatively, head east from Castle Hill along the Royal Mile – once the main thoroughfare of medieval Edinburgh, linking the castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (royal.gov. uk). Flanked by impressive buildings like St Giles Cathedral and Parliament House, it’s the toy-crammed Museum of Childhood (edinburghmuseums.org.uk) that will appeal most to kids. On nearby Holyrood Road, Our Dynamic Earth (dynamicearth.co.uk) has an earthquake simulator, a time machine that will whisk you back 15 billion years and a FutureDome where you decide the fate of the planet.
Rearing behind this ultra-modern science centre, you can explore the ancient lava flows of Arthur’s Seat, a volcano that blew its top between 350 and 400 million years ago. Rainy-day favorites for younger children include the Brass Rubbing Centre and The Ceramic Experience (theceramicexperience.com), while the excellent Edinburgh Zoo (edinburghzoo.org.uk) is a long-established favorite, whatever the weather.
Edinburgh’s most notorious ghost tour, City of the Dead, is hosted nightly by Blackheart Entertainment (blackhart.uk.com) – but be warned: a possible encounter with the MacKenzie Poltergeist is not for the faint-hearted. The Secret City Tour, meanwhile, is suitable for all ages and features stories as diverse as Harry Potter, the invention of Christmas and the origin of Frankenstein’s monster.
There are several fine beaches close to Edinburgh, including the popular surf spot of Gullane Bents, the wildlife-rich Longniddry Bents and Cramond where you can walk and cycle on beachside paths.
To escape the city, head east towards North Berwick, taking in the 12th-century Dirleton Castle, the long sandy beach of Yellowcraig and the Scottish Seabird Centre (seabird.org) where you can watch footage beamed live from Bass Rock, 5 km offshore and smothered in over 100,000 gannets between January and October.