If you had told me 3 months ago that I would be willingly traveling to Scotland in the middle of winter, I would’ve called you crazy. Cold and rain…no thank you. Then I happened to read BassetWrangler’s blog article discussing her January trip to Scotland. It didn’t sound so bad. So three days before our Presidents’ Day 4-day weekend, we booked a family trip to Edinburgh. We were so excited until we began researching specific restaurants, tours, and destinations and found that many prohibited kids under 5 from entering. We have a 2-year-old, so that automatically sent up some red flags. Still, we were about €1000 invested into the trip (airfare and 3 nights in a two-bedroom apartment), so of course we went. Long story short, Edinburgh with kids is not only doable, it’s a lot of fun.
Flight and Accommodations
We’ve been flying EasyJet a lot lately. Flights are inexpensive–we paid €500 for two adults and two children with pre-assigned seats and no checked bags. The thing is, you have to follow their rules to the letter or else that cheap flight becomes more expensive than a big-name airline. For only 4 days, it was worth the hassle of carry-ons. Knowing what to expect and being prepared, the flight was simple as we expected.
The star of our weekend was the rental apartment. We found the Edinburgh City Center Rose Street flat on Booking.com (our favorite hotel booking site here in Europe and the UK). For a family of four, it was perfect. We were a block from Princes Street with all its tram and bus stops, 15 minutes from Waverly bridge, and 30 minutes from Edinburgh Castle (figure half the time walking if you aren’t toting or walking with a toddler). For a couple without small kids, Dirty Dick’s pub next door to the flat would be so fantastic. They wouldn’t allow us in with the toddler, so all I have to go on is the fact that the drunken revelers seemed to love the place at 3 a.m. Back to the flat…the kitchen was awesome, the bathroom was small but functional, the bedrooms were inviting and comfortable, and the whole place was spotless.
Getting Around Edinburgh with Kids
Just a few disjointed notes about getting around: Edinburgh is an amazingly compact, walkable city. We took taxis a fair amount in Paris back in December, but even with the cold temperatures and carrying Harper on my hip 90% of the time, we mainly walked during our four days in Edinburgh. Staying in New Town, which is pretty centrally located, practically everything was a 30-minute or less walk. We did Hop On buses occasionally (more on that below) and the city buses twice but it was more to see the city than to go from point A to point B. It wasn’t worth the €50 fee to check a stroller on the flight, but if we’d had ours, it would’ve been easy to get around. As a whole, Edinburgh’s sidewalks and streets are very stroller-friendly.
The Scotch Whisky Experience and Amber Restaurant
While I think 2-year-olds are probably too young in hindsight for the tours at The Scotch Whisky Experience, we did buy the Silver Tour Family Ticket (£36). The tour begins with a ride in a huge whisky barrel (whiskey in the U.S., whisky in the U.K.) that takes you through the history of Scotch whisky-making and the brewing process. At the end, the group gathers for a tasting. Kids get Irn Bru, Scotland’s best-selling soda, and adults get to taste one whisky. The barrel ride scared the crap out of 2-year-old Harper; it took fruit gummies and coloring pages to get both girls through the tasting.
The Whisky Experience wasn’t all rough. We booked reservations for an early (5:00 p.m.) dinner at the venue’s Amber Restaurant. Since it was Valentine’s Day weekend, we opted for the three course tapas-style dinner with pink champagne, whisky chocolates, and Scottish whisky coffee (think Irish Coffee but in Scotland). The girls ate a la carte off the kids’ menu. I thought ahead and brought crayons, coloring pages, and two iPads. This was a smart move since the courses didn’t all line up. Still, this was a great dinner, and I highly recommend Amber to families. (about £100, so it was an expensive albeit enjoyable dinner)
Riding the tram into the city center from Edinburgh’s airport, the castle was one of the first things we saw. It’s pretty majestic, too, especially when it’s set against a grey, gloomy sky. Despite so much to see–the Scottish Crown Jewels, the Scottish War Memorial, the Royal Palace–we spent very little time here. The weather stopped cooperating completely while we were up there, and Harper wound up in tears because she was “so code, mama” (so cold, mama). Obviously we had to put our own interests on the back-burner and get the baby warmed up. Had the weather been a bit warmer, this would’ve been a great family destination. It is a working military installation and some of the more austere places require silence, but it has plenty of room to explore.
Note: If you plan to visit Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Yacht Britannia, Holyroodhouse, or any combination of those, check out The Royal Edinburgh Ticket. For £49.50 per adult and £27 per child (5-years-old and under are free), you get fast-track tickets to all three venues, as well as 48 hours on the Hop On, Hop Off buses (three routes in total). We crunched numbers and this was our best option with Harper falling into the free category.
Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith
With the temperature hovering around 20F/-5C, we opted to use our tickets for the Hop On, Hop Off bus and head to the port area to visit the Royal Yacht Britannia. Using the Majestic/blue route bus, we were in Leith in about 30 minutes. The HMY Britannia is decommissioned and is anchored at the Leith Terminal, which is conveniently also a large shopping mall. Ticketing begins on the 2nd floor of the mall, then you use a series of staircases to view each level of the yacht. Other than spotting the stuffed Corgi puppies scattered throughout the ship, my kids were fairly uninterested in the yacht…until we allowed them to have chocolate cake and ice cream in the yacht’s tea room. Suddenly we were the best parents until we started saying ‘no’ again in the gift shop. (Tickets included in our tour package noted above; £60 for cakes, ice cream, coffee, scones, and a beer for Eddie.)
Palace of Holyroodhouse
Chasing a toddler, I often miss the finer points of information provided during tours. A few interesting (to me) things stood out about the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Queen Elizabeth spends a minimum of 6 consecutive days each year in Scotland. When she visits the country, she takes residence in Holyroodhouse. The interior is exactly what you would expect from an ages-old royal palace. Unfortunately, visitors aren’t allowed to take photos. It’s a shame because there are some fantastic rooms to share. I’ve always been a fan of royal history, so seeing Mary, Queen of Scots’ chambers was a real treat. It’s the abbey–founded in 1128 by King David I of Scotland–that steals the show, in my opinion. With carved faces, huge arches, and gorgeous stone, it even entranced the girls. They half expected a dragon to uncurl from behind a column. (Tickets included in our tour package.)
As a lifelong fan of mythology and tales related to the Holy Grail and Knights Templar, Rosslyn Chapel was a must. The rest of the family? Not so much but they indulged me. For £8.50, we bought a family day ticket for Edinburgh buses and trams and took the #37 bus from Princes Street to Rosslyn Hotel, which is just a short walk from the chapel.
We were all starving and a brief-but-heavy snow was falling, so we took our chances and ducked into a pub connected to The Original Rosslyn Inn. They were happy to have the kids and even offered us kids’ menus complete with coloring pages and Crayons. I had a curry, Eddie did fish and chips, and both girls did macaroni and cheese. For those traveling with little ones, I can’t recommend this place highly enough. (About £60 for lunch and two pints.)
The chapel’s interior is…well, there are just no words. Again here, photography was restricted to the exterior only, so I sadly don’t have images. Inside, you get the most interesting mixture of pagan and religious imagery. And as our guide explained, the chapel is often said to be the Bible in sculpture form since every major Biblical story appears somewhere on the walls. Incidentally, ley lines (like the Earth’s circulatory system) are said to converge under the chapel’s cornerstone. Eddie stood and felt a little dizzy; I stood there with Harper on my hip and felt…nothing. Absolutely nothing. I had hoped for a slight tingle or something but nada. Two souvenirs and 60 minutes later, we were back at our hotel.
All-in-all, this is one of our family’s favorite trips since we began avid international travel. In fact, it might surpass Paris, which was pretty spectacular. Four days didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of Edinburgh, so there really isn’t a shortage of things to see and do. Will we go back? Absolutely. We hope to visit the Highlands in the next year. So much to see…so little time.