Family Trip to EdinburghExploring Edinburgh
Munching on a hot scone as you stroll through the cobbled streets, it’s easy to see how J.K. Rowling brought Harry Potter to life from a table in an Edinburgh café. If you’re looking for a flight of fancy, Edinburgh is the perfect vacation spot for your clan. And, for more adult play time, check out our Things to Do in Edinburgh feature.
Good For: Active families eager to experience a broad range of activities in a breathtaking, cultural locale.
- Soaking up folklore at the Scottish Storytelling Center
- Toe-tapping the night away at the Ceilidh Club
- Edinburgh Military Tattoo puts on a military musical (yes, really)
- “Night at the Museum” at the National Museum of Scotland
- Getting interactive with Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
Suggested Stay: 4 Days
What to Know: August is the hottest month for both special events and the weather, making it peak travel season. Reserve as much as possible in advance, but also watch for last-minute opportunities, because sold-out festivals often offer impromptu events.
The best way to explore Edinburgh’s legacy is by visiting Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and other celebrated sights along the Royal Mile. This is also where tams, kilts, plaid skirts, and traditional accessories abound. Once you and the “wee-ans” are appropriately attired, check out the sweet shops for old-fashioned treats and sample the local shortbread and “tablet” (fudge). Get your hands dirty in a fudge-making class at Fudge Kitchen. And then – if you’re brave enough – burn off some sugar-induced heroism by shouting “Freedom!” as you charge down Calton Hill.
Getting Jiggy With It
Birthplace of the ceilidh, Edinburgh has a long tradition of fun and funky dance parties. For some vigorous foot-tapping, head to the Ceilidh Club, which features live music as well as enthusiastic callers to assist with your dance moves. Accompanied by accordion, fiddle, tin whistle and, of course, bagpipes, it’s a raucous cultural experience that you and the family won’t forget.
Festivals and Folklore
Edinburgh is famous for its year-round festivals, celebrating everything from comedy to books to ghosts. In August, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe showcases music, dance, theater, and comedy on stages throughout the city.
Bookworms will love the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. Each celebrates the art of Scottish storytelling and offers unique opportunities to interact with emerging and established authors. Plus, you can explore the Edinburgh Bookshop Trail year-round. Also, the Scottish Storytelling Centre has a regular schedule of unusual exhibitions, workshops, and events.
The Scotch Whisky Experience is a great introduction to the whisky-making tradition, while rolling along in a whisky barrel. The private tours cater to the entire family, with a Scottish food tasting followed by a trip to the Sense of Scotland room for a lesson in whisky flavor profiles.
For those who enjoy a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is a funhouse filled with interactive optical exhibits that you have to see to believe, and even then, you might not be so sure. However, be sure to bring along a camera for family snapshots.
A Night on the Town
In the summer, the city turns on when the sun sets. At the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, just outside the Edinburgh Castle, performers from around the world put on a military pageant and musical, with a light show to boot. Tickets for the August show go on sale the prior December and sell out quickly, so advance planning is a must. The VIP packages are well worth it, both for the opportunity to dine inside Edinburgh Castle and for the viewpoint from covered seats.
The National Museum of Scotland puts its own spin on Night at the Museum with RBS Museum Lates, with live music and themes ranging from Wonderland to Dino-Safari to Mary, Queen of Scots. Throw on some event-themed wardrobe and enjoy an elegant, offbeat night exploring museum exhibits.
Scottish cuisine has come a long way from haggis, mystery meat pies, and hot toddies. Today, Edinburgh is bursting with Michelin-star restaurants, including the consistently delicious Number One at Balmoral Hotel. The elegant hotel also has deluxe rooms, a prime location with spectacular views, and a superb hotel staff. You know you’ve checked into a foodie family favorite when even the Little Angels Menu at Hadrian’s Brasserie is by the Michelin-star chef Jeff Bland.
For more casual dining, head to Edinburgh’s whisky bars featuring local eats and beats. Whiski Bar and Restaurant on High Street has more than 300 whiskies to accompany their upscale spin on a traditional Scottish menu, with several excellent vegetarian options.
Finally, no trip would be complete without a stop at the Edinburgh Farmers’ Market. Grab a loaf of ale bread, some marmalade and cheese, and snack away. Beyond the market, Edinburgh is a boon for cheese-lovers, from I.J. Mellis to the Cheesee Peasee cheese truck.
Before you depart Edinburgh, grab a notebook, wander into a café, and get started on that novel you’ve been meaning to write. Afer all, if J.K. Rowling can do it...
(Select photos courtesy of Balmoral)