Scotland is a stronghold of child-friendly favorites, and you’re here for superlative, soul-stirring experiences that ambush parents as much as itchy-footed kids.
Take the road north from Edinburgh — leaving behind three fantasy brick-block castles and passing through a storied countryside home to tales of giant water spirits and a humped, ancient loch monster— and, between the fairy glens and newfangled Harry Potter tradition, you’ll find yourself transported into a moody landscape ripe for a travel-bragging family adventure.
This is a country brimming with family-first cultural and wildlife encounters and a wealth of hill, loch and river adventures for bigger kids. Plus, it tastes as good as it looks — sugar-sweet fudge, tablet, shortbread, Tunnock’s teacakes and fizzy Irn Bru will fuel even the stubbornest, tantrum-throwing toddler.
Indeed, a trip to Scotland is the connoisseur’s alternative to an all-inclusive resort or theme park holiday — less a Disneyworld, more a Caledonian magic kingdom — and, at the end of it all, the reward isn’t so much the place, but the open-armed hospitality and absurdly friendly people.
Is Scotland good for kids?
In one word: yes. Traveling with children is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy (as locals say) and the combination of plenty of public amenities, wallet-friendly family tickets at attractions and short distances to travel (compared to many other kid-friendly destinations, at least) is an irresistible proposition. Then there’s Scotland’s trump card: the great outdoors. It’s a brazen, open-air playground and escapist joy, with trees for climbing, beaches for castle building and rivers, waterfalls and lochs to splash and dip toes in.
Comfort is also king. Breastfeeding in public is widely accepted and encouraged by government campaigns, while restaurants regularly have high chairs, dedicated children’s menus and kids-eat-free deals. Equally critical to know is licensing laws mean pubs have to have a special Children's License for children to be able to eat there. Check with the bar staff to be sure.
For those with little ones, a stroller or buggy is also perfect for roaming all towns and cities, even if Edinburgh’s medieval cobblestone parades take no prisoners; at times, you feel as if you’re mere moments away from a puncture. Also a non-negotiable for outdoorsy families is a baby carrier or backpack.
Perhaps the biggest factor to consider before visiting is the weather. Notoriously fickle, heavy rain and midge clouds can blot even the most glorious summer day, while a simple forest walk, picnic, or bike ride can be ruined by a carousel of conditions. A sturdy pair of shoes or waterproof jacket is no match for the lashing rain and high velocity gusts that often play peekaboo from Perth to Paisley to Portree.
Where is best in Scotland for kids?
You’re in Scotland for the history, so start in Edinburgh with its rock-topped castle and wizard-worthy Royal Mile; equally, Stirling is a more manageable version for those with short legs. Leave for Aviemore in the Cairngorms, a mountain amusement park with plenty of adventures, then Loch Ness, where the prospect of realizing the childhood fantasy of monster hunting is only a short boat trip away. To the west, Glencoe and Glenfinnan deliver Harry Potter movie magic. And the beaches? You’re spoilt for choice in Argyll and the Northwest Highlands, particularly on Barra, Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
Best things to do in Scotland with babies and toddlers
Cruise The Kelpies by canal boat
The Kelpies, two gigantic, 30m-high (98ft) equine sculptures at the eastern gateway of the Forth and Clyde canal, deliver more than a wow factor for wee kids. Rather, they have come to embody a new-found spirit around Falkirk in Scotland’s Central Belt.
Start close by examining the almost dragon scale-plates, then head to the nearby monster-sized playground at Helix Park. Better still is to cruise from the Falkirk Wheel — the only rotating boat lift in the world — to eyeball them, pirate-style, from the water. For the uninitiated, Scottish myth holds that kelpies are water spirit demons with humongous horse heads — maybe, best not tell any younger kids that.
See a show at the world-beating Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Over the past few years, the world’s largest arts festival has had to evolve, with venues changing to become more accessible and the program for children more inclusive than ever. From master magicians and puppet dragons to balloon-bending acrobats and a soap bubble circus, this month-long cultural extravaganza every August has something for every age group, every taste, every mood, every huff.
For first-time parents, there’s no shame in being intimidated. Count around 3500 shows across 300 city-wide venues and it can be hard to know where to start. Ask around: locals rely on newspaper and digital reviews as well as word of mouth to find out what not to miss. Lastly, book ahead. It means you’ll miss the freedom of spontaneity, but this is particularly advised when traveling with younger children — especially as the most popular shows tend to sell out long in advance.
Best things to do in Scotland with kids
Follow the whale trail in the Hebrides
The Isle of Mull, with its cliffs tumbling down to pogoing seas, has many of the magic properties of the west coast islands. But it is also an entry point for the Hebridean Whale Trail, a self-guided route that encourages accessible, low-impact wildlife-spotting from land. Silhouettes creep from the depths. Shadows swirl below the surface. Rolls of dark skin emerge from the water.
In total, 33 sites have been tagged for their extraordinary marine diversity and these are scattered from Mull right along the west coast, around Ardnamurchan and all the way to the tip of Lewis. For kids and adults who have never seen bottlenose or common dolphin, harbor porpoise, basking shark, or humpback, minke, fin, beaked, pilot, or killer whale, the prospect is a pure, undiluted thrill.
Feel the magic of Harry Potter
Diagon Alley is based on Victoria Street in Edinburgh. George Heriot’s School is the precursor to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Several wizards, witches and mad-eyed loons are named after those laid to rest in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard.
J.K. Rowling was inspired by the city’s magician’s hat spires, Gothic steepled schools and squiggly lanes and, just as Edinburgh is the city of Harry Potter, Scotland is a Potter fan’s dream. For the ultimate kid-friendly trip, follow The Road to the Isles towards Mallaig, stopping in Glencoe, Glen Nevis and then Glenfinnan. All were production locations for the big-screen wizarding saga and few can resist stopping to see where Harry Potter and pals rode the Hogwarts Express over the Glenfinnan Viaduct railway bridge.
For further literary inspiration, check out Dumfries. It’s home to the National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling, and where Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie found inspiration for Neverland.
Best things to do in Scotland with tweens and teenagers
Go wild in the Cairngorms
The itinerary looks like this: canoeing on Loch Morlich in the morning, off-trail biking through stag-filled Rothiemurchus Forest shortly after lunch, then finishing with a trip up Cairngorm Mountain on Britain’s only summit funicular. The problem with Aviemore, the basecamp for adventures in Scotland’s largest national park, isn’t the lack of things to do. It’s having time to catch your breath.
Timing in the Cairngorms is everything, of course. In winter, skiing and snowboarding are the buzzwords, while summer is for watersports galore and autumn brings out the rutting stags — an off-road Highland safari to see osprey, black grouse and red deer has a bit more grit for the older kids.
A word of warning: Aviemore can get mobbed in summer, so book your activities in advance. For a quieter, if more expensive alternative, consider Braemar on the eastern side of the national park in Aberdeenshire.
Bike the 7Stanes
There’s no better way to pull teenagers away from their smartphones — and, possibly, out of their comfort zones — than to take them downhill biking in southern Scotland. Both the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway are wellsprings of gnarly biking trails and home to the 7Stanes, a matrix of dedicated centers including competitive hot spots Glentress, Innerleithen, Glentrool, Newcastleton and Kirroughtree.
While many of them are all about the teen- and adult-appropriate downhill roller coasters, wooded chicanes and face-slapping descents, there are plenty of easier routes for novices and kids keen to push their skills beyond the pump track.
As easy as it is to travel with children around Scotland, a few in-the-know insider tips will certainly help you — and your budget — go the extra mile.
Traveling at the weekend? ScotRail’s Kids for a Quid promotion means tickets only cost £1 return each for up to four children for every paying adult at the weekend. Added to that, kids under five always travel free.
Many museums and galleries are also free of charge for all ages. Three standouts are the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow and V&A Dundee on the city’s river esplanade. Otherwise, plenty of attractions, activities and transport options offer discounts and savings for families.
With so many islands to explore, island-hopping by ferry is an affordable and thrilling way to see everywhere from Islay all the way to Shetland in the far northeast. A more digestible journey to Gigha, Cumbrae or Arran — from 20 minutes to less than 1 hour — is a great way to introduce toddlers to sea travel, but bear in mind Atlantic swells can make journeys uncomfortable and sailings do get cancelled. Check the forecast before travel.