Take a walk down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and explore the city’s medieval past, architectural wonder, sordid tales of gore, cosmopolitan flavor, and kid-friendly attractions.
Edinburgh, Scotland evokes a sense of whimsical charm with its looming castles, sloping hills, cobble stone streets, and the smell of hops drifting over the city. Pronounced by locals as “Edinburro” the city is also a family-friendly destination with plenty to do for kids, history buffs, literary mavens, and adventurers alike. Visitors can stroll through the Royal Mile and across town to admire the city’s medieval and Georgian architecture while learning about Edinburgh’s rich history.
Edinburgh is also the second most visited tourist destination in the United Kingdom, after London, and attracts over 1 million visitors a year. Its proximity to the famous Loch Ness and short flights to both London and Dublin make it a convenient destination to overseas travelers looking for cultural variety.
The Royal Mile
Families should start a walk down the Royal Mile with a visit to Edinburgh Castle (44 (0) 131 225 9846, Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG). Draped against a cosmopolitan backdrop, the site of this famed castle gives visitors an immediate sense of the city’s roots dating back as early as 638 AD. The castle gives kids that fairytale sense of adventure they dream about back home. It’s also a prime location for kids to stretch their legs and sprint around corridors and open courtyards while parents learn about the Scottish crown jewels and history of the castle. If you show up on any day except Sunday, stay for the one o’clock gunfire and get a taste of local tradition.
After your visit to Scottish royalty, stop by the nearby Camera Obscura (44 (0) 131 226 3709 Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 2ND) for optical illusions, light shows, rooftop views, magic gallery, and video on the history of Edinburgh. The building delights visitors by utilizing the concept of a pinhole camera and periscope. The top of the tower houses a dark chamber with mirror on top to reflect light downwards. It passes through three lenses to project an image of the city onto a large white table. The guide then turns and tilts a mirror to give a 360° tour of Edinburgh. Kids are highly entertained by the illusion while learning more about the city’s history.
Across the street from Camera Obscura, look for the Scotch Whiskey Experience (44 (0) 131 220 0441, 354 Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 2NE). Despite the theme of exploring Scotland’s whiskey heritage complete with a tasting, the tour is kid-friendly. Local school groups frequent the tour and videos, puppets, live guides, and a barrel ride entertain visitors. Pricing and packages vary, but multiple tastings at the end of the tour can be purchased while kids sip on juice and sodas. The tour and facility recently underwent a renovation and in 2009 unveiled a brand new experience where kids can follow their own guide “Peat” the cat and discover fun facts about various about barley, barrels, casks and of course, cats.
Tourists making their way down the Royal Mile will discover a wide array of souvenir shops selling everything from kilts with bright tartan patterns, to whiskey, shirts, and hats. You can also buy sporrans, which are the small purses that men wear on the front of their kilts. After all, there are no pockets! As you make the way down the mile, haggis and local dishes can be found as well as pizza and burger options. For a little more variety, try Maxies Bistro and Wine Bar (44 (0) 131 226 7770, 5b Johnston Terrace, Edinburgh, EH1 2PW) for pastas, haggis, king prawns, fried Brie, seafood, and wine.
A Regal & Cruel History
Although the Royal Mile evokes whimsical fantasies of Queens and crowned jewels, it was once part of Edinburgh’s most dreaded slums. The city grew during the Victorian era, but the Old Town tenements around the Royal Mile were full of impoverished Scots living in cramped and deplorable conditions. The city’s growth helped to ease some of the stigma around The Royal Mile and gradually the area attracted an influx of professionals. Around the 1960’s, Edinburgh underwent intense reconstruction, but the New Town Conservation Committee intervened to restore historical buildings and protect the city’s traditional architectural beauty along The Royal Mile and beyond.
Keep making your way down the mile to its end at the Palace of Holyrood (44 (0)131 556 5100, The Official Residences of The Queen, Edinburgh) Queen Elizabeth’s Scottish home. Founded as a monastery in 1128, the palace has a sordid history dating from the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, who witnessed the slaying of her secretary by her jealous husband. The palace now holds official State ceremonies and is used for entertaining dignitaries and esteemed visitors. Tourists can peruse the grounds and learn more about Scotland’s royal past.
Just across the street from Holyrood Palace lies The Parliament Building (444 (0) 131 348 5000, Edinburgh, EH99 1SP), a building featuring a surprisingly modern design in a city full of medieval history. Visitors can take guided tours or peruse the exhibition area, watch proceedings from monitors, and see the Parliament in action in public galleries during business days.
After your tour along the Royal Mile, take the kids to see an interactive history including a ride and special effects of Edinburgh’s more gruesome past at The Edinburgh Dungeon. Although an entertaining way to learn about Edinburgh, cannibal Sawney Bean, and Mary King’s Ghost, this probably isn’t a suitable excursion for younger children who scare easily.
If you’re still looking for a thrill, sign up for a Cadies and Witchery Tour (44 (0) 131 2256745, 84 West Bow Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2HH). The Murder and Mystery or Ghost and Gore tours features stories of Edinburgh’s past with witchcraft, plague and torture. Caddies and Witchery welcomes children of all ages and state that young children are rarely frightened during tours. However, kids nervous about ghost stories should skip the excursion all together.
With younger kids or squeamish older ones, stop by the Edinburgh Zoo (44 (0) 131 334 9171, Edinburgh, EH12 6TS), the largest wildlife attraction in Scotland housing over 1,000 animals. Guests can visit rainbow lorikeets, chimpanzees, join a hilltop safari, and more.
Young children and adults alike might also enjoy The Museum of Childhood (44 (0) 131 529 4142, 42 High Street, Old Town, Edinburgh, EH1 1TG), a gentle place dedicated to the history of toys. Dubbed “the noisiest museum in the world,” the museum honors the history of childhood with games, teddy bears, train sets, and toys from around the world and throughout the ages. Temporary exhibitions and events are offered year-round and foster a variety of childhood stories. The museum offers a fun stop for kids while teaching about diversity and culture through the universal magic of childhood.
Edinburgh Trip Planning Details
For family-friendly amenities in proximity to the city center, but removed from the hustle and bustle, The Best Western Bruntsfield Hotel (44 (0) 131 2291393, 69 Bruntsfield Place, Lothian) boasts spacious, family-friendly accommodations. Unlike most European hotels with tight quarters, the Bruntsfield can arrange for a room with multiple beds or inter-connecting rooms. The Bisque Brasserie and Bisque Bar offer a variety of entrees, sandwiches, snacks, and beer. The hotel also faces a sprawling park with room for running and playing, sidewalks for tree-lined strolling, and benches for relaxing. Ask for a room facing the park to wake up to views of rolling lawns and locals with morning coffee on their way to work.
For a luxurious splurge, check out the Balmoral Hotel (44 (0) 131 556 2414, 1 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ) in the city center. J.K. Rowling of the Harry Potter phenomenon finished her final novel in room 552, which is available for overnight visitors. The room includes the bed Rowling slept in, the desk she penned the final lines of the book, and a marble bust of the Greek god Hermes where she wrote: “JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007.” While the current £1,000 a rate may be a bit steep for a family budget, you could stop by the hotel for sodas and local beer and take a break from sightseeing.
Families looking to visit a variety of city attractions should consider The Edinburgh Pass for entry into 30 attractions, free public bus transportation, guide book, itineraries, and discount offers at restaurants and gift shops. Child passes currently run £16 and adult £24 for a one-day pass.
Edinburgh is about an hour train ride from the nearby Glasgow, making for a convenient day trip to see more of the region. The low cost airline carrier, Ryan Air, also flies in and out of Edinburgh to cities including Dublin for fares as low as £1. The hour flight is the perfect way to spend a few days seeing what the UK has to offer.
Regardless of your travel plans, you’ll find Edinburgh’s charming cobble stone streets, friendly locals, and historical attractions will leave your family with a cultural impact and unique memories to last a lifetime. For more information about Edinburgh, please visit www.visitbritain.com and www.edinburgh.org.
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