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Travel: The best things to do in Edinburgh as a family

© Paul Tomkins / VisitScotland / Scottish Viewpointedinburgh
A City Sightseeing Bus in the Grassmarket with Edinburgh Castle visible beyond, in the city centre of Edinburgh.
edinburgh A City Sightseeing Bus in the Grassmarket with Edinburgh Castle visible beyond, in the city centre of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh has always had a special place in my heart. It’s where I met my husband, went to university, shared my first flat with friends, experienced clubbing for the first time.

Returning to the capital is always a pleasure, particularly as we tend to do it as a treat, without the kids in tow.

Walking the cobbled streets, relaxing dinner and drinks…these are life’s little luxuries that are best enjoyed without sticky hands and a table strewn with crayons.

But this trip is different. With staycations proving the perfect holiday solution this summer, we decide to brave the bright lights of the Burgh as a family of four – and open up the kids’ eyes to a city they had never seen before.

Standing in the pouring rain in the Grassmarket we wait for the tour bus.

As the kids climb the stairs, their screams of excitement say it all. Emily Rose is six and Ollie pushing four but I don’t think either of them has ridden a double-decker bus before, let alone one with half the roof missing!

While my husband and I point out the attractions like Holyrood and Edinburgh Castle, Emily Rose is keen to point out the lesser-known sights of Lidl and KFC!

But a good time is had by all and, afterwards, we decide to step in out of the rain in favour of getting wet in the hotel swimming pool instead.

© Alistair Linford/Shutterstock
Penguins at Edinburgh Zoo.

We are staying at the four-star Novotel, right in the city centre, which is fabulous for families. Not only for the pool, but the guest car park underground means you don’t have the faff of trains and taxis, and have your own wheels to explore attractions on the outskirts.

Our executive room is ideal. A big comfy bed for us and a pull-out sofa bed for the little ones. Cue more excited screams. With their own rooms back home, sharing a bed – and a room with their folks – is certainly a novelty.

A huge big telly and shower complete the package for a perfect family holiday base.

After our swim – the first as a four for a very long time due to Covid restrictions – we head for dinner in the hotel restaurant, The Tap.

The soul food – cheeseburgers and chicken and mash – goes down a treat and the waitresses go out of their way to make a fuss of the little ones.

After a sound night’s sleep, we’re up and out early for a trip to Edinburgh Zoo, which brings back memories for me as I haven’t been since my last school trip (quite a few decades ago).

And it’s just as amazing as I remember, if not better. The addition of the giant pandas, cute koala territory and the gorgeous giraffes are certainly welcome.

Of course, Ollie’s favourite is the tiger and Emily Rose falls in love with the penguins although, sadly, Covid means they are not doing their famous parade.

Between the animals, the playparks dotted around the enclosures and a delicious lunch at Grasslands restaurant, we whittle away a whole day, only heading home as the kids are getting hungry again…and they’re desperate to get to the gift shop for a memento before it closes.

After a little local Italian for dinner, it’s time to hit the hay, ready for more fun tomorrow.

Dynamic Earth is next on our list – which prompts much excitement from Ollie who, like most little boys, is fascinated by space.

He is wowed by the planetarium, where we get a tour of the planets and stars in full 360 degrees, before a walk-through tour where we experience the vibrations of a volcano eruption, the inside of a space shuttle and spot wildlife in the Amazon rainforest before experiencing the chilliness of the Arctic and getting up close with dinosaurs.

We leave not only happy but with a bit more knowledge of the world. The kids now know Saturn is the planet with the ring around it – not a bad piece of info to take home.

Spoiled with glorious sunshine, we make the most of the last day with a wander around Holyrood Park before devouring a well-deserved ice cream from Baskin Robbins.

As we drive out past Arthur’s Seat and the castle, I feel sad to be leaving the city again – but delighted the kids have had the chance to see this glorious part of Scotland too. After all, if it wasn’t for Edinburgh, they might never have made it into the world.

And, from the smiles on their faces, it looks like they love it almost as much as we do.

This year, Forever Edinburgh is bringing the capital’s most fascinating stories to life, so you can learn how to visit, see, touch and experience its history. #ForeverEdinburgh


For more information about hotels, restaurants and attractions to explore visit