My name is Jenni, I am 39 and live in Bonnie Edinburgh with my husband and two sons, aged 3 and 7. On my blog, The Bear & The Fox (www.thebearandthefox.com), I share family-friendly recipes, craft ideas, travel tips and book reviews. I am originally from Germany but have lived in Edinburgh more than half my life. I have moved away several times, but keep coming back – once you fall in love with this city, you can’t stay away!
Edinburgh is an amazing city to visit with kids. It’s small enough to reach most things on foot, but as a capital city has lots of great visitor attractions, play parks and green spaces, and family friendly cafes and restaurants. It wasn’t easy choosing favourites, but here are our Top 5 things we love to do as a family and with visiting guests, and most of them are completely free!
- The National Museum of Scotland (https://www.nms.ac.uk/national-museum-of-scotland/)
The National Museum of Scotland is our happy place. I myself have been coming here since I was five, and both my boys first saw the inside of it at a couple of weeks old. Fast forward a few years, and “the museum!” is most often the first place they want to go when you ask them what we should do. It has the whole world under one roof: natural history, science & technology, world cultures, history, art… There are interactive, hands-on galleries for families and more quiet, contemplative spaces for others. The staff are always super friendly, and the architecture of the building itself is a must see. The light-flooded Grand Gallery, with its Victorian glass roof, is often the venue for performances, and we enjoy nothing more than sitting at the foot of the Millennium Clock watching it come to life on the hour. You can easily spend a whole day here. It’s open daily, except for Christmas Day, and admission is free.
- The Royal Botanic Garden (https://www.thebearandthefox.com/2017/09/edinburgh-exploring-royal-botanic-garden/)
The Royal Botanic Garden – or the ‘Botanics’ as it’s known colloquially – is another place I have fond memories of spending time as a child and I’m pleased to say my boys now love it just as much. There is lots of open space to run around, plants to discover and learn about, squirrels to spot. The Rock Garden is our favourite part, with its water features and lots of winding little paths to explore. Other favourites include the Chinese Pavilion, the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden with its mini maze, and the vegetable garden. Admission to the Botanics is free, except for the Glass Houses and some special events, and it’s open all year round, except on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The John Hope Gateway building at the West Gate entrance boasts a restaurant, shop, and exhibition space where visitors can further discover the world of plants through interactive experiences. Across the road from the West Gate entrance, in Inverleith Park, there is also a great play park so we often combine that with a visit to the Botanics.
- Gorgie City Farm (https://www.thebearandthefox.com/2017/08/edinburgh-down-on-the-farm/)
A little gem in the heart of the city is Gorgie City Farm. It’s been around since 1982, but I’ve only really discovered it since having kids myself and we visit quite regularly now. Tucked in between a railway line and the main road, you really wouldn’t believe you are about to stumble across a farm as you are approaching, though you can smell it before you can see it, haha. There are animals there to see of course, including ducks, chickens, pigs, goats, cows and sheep. Depending what time of year you are visiting, you may also see newborn animals – the piglets are always a big hit with the boys. As well as the animals, there are gardens too, such as the Herb Garden, Vegetable Garden and Wildlife Garden. There is also a play park on site, which boasts a tractor and giant model of a cow you can ‘milk’, alongside slides and climbing frames. The on-site cafe offers snacks, cakes, soup and drinks.
- Edinburgh Castle (https://www.thebearandthefox.com/2018/02/edinburgh-castle-with-kids/)
So this recommendation isn’t free, in fact, a visit to Edinburgh Castle with cost you a fair penny, but I’d still say it is a ‘must see’. There’s the Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny, the Royal Palace and impressive Great Hall, a dog cemetery, lots of big canons including the great Mons Meg, three different military museums of which my boys most like the National War Museum – especially the uniforms, weaponry, and Bob the dog – and lots more. If you’re there at 1 pm you can witness the famous one o’clock gun going off, and not to forget the amazing view of the city you get from the Castle ramparts! If you are planning on visiting more than once within a year or touring the rest of the country, then you could consider a membership to Historic Scotland to save yourself some money. Edinburgh Castle also has free open days every so often, e.g. around St Andrews Day in November, so that’s something to keep your eyes open for.
A popular day-trip destination with Edinburgh locals is Portobello, a coastal suburb of Edinburgh to the east of the city. It’s about three miles from the city centre, and boasts two miles of award-winning beach! It’s super popular in Summer, but many people head there the rest of the year too. There are half a dozen buses or so that take you to Portobello from Edinburgh city centre in around half an hour, or a little longer depending on where your starting point is. The main attraction, of course, is the beach itself, whether you’re hunting for shells, building sandcastles, or dipping your toes in the water. Other points of interest along the promenade worth noting are the amusement arcades, the Beach House Cafe – which offers generous and tasty portions, including kids lunch boxes, at a reasonable price – and Portobello Swim Centre, home to Edinburgh’s only authentic and publicly available Turkish Baths. There’s also a small play park alongside the promenade, and in the Summer an ice cream van is never far away.
If you are planning on spending any significant amount of time with kids in Edinburgh, I would also really recommend getting a copy of the book ‘Edinburgh for Under 5s’, which is bursting full of tips for family-friendly cafes, restaurants, shops, play parks and other city facilities and attractions.