Scotland is a beautiful country in a beautiful part of the world, with lots of history, culture, and attractions. It’s a destination that everyone should visit and experience at least once in their lifetime. Like many travel destinations, it can be a bit overwhelming to figure out where to go and what to see. This is even more of a consideration when you are travelling with children, as a family. But never fear! Our guide provides you with insight to the top 10 places to visit in Scotland for families. You’ll know what to see, where to go, what to do, and be a real Scotland travel pro by the time you’re done reading through this guide.
Before you book a trip to Scotland, you have to figure out when you want to go. A trip to Scotland for families is often governed by the school schedules of children, meaning summer months are most popular. But how does this line up with the weather and climate in Scotland? Scotland is located in the northern part of the United Kingdom, bordering with England to the south and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on all other sides. It’s on about the same latitude as Alaska, and therefore has a similar climate. This means it’s cool and temperate in the warmer months than more southern cities, and cold, snowy, and windy during the winter months.
Purely based on the weather, the best time to visit Scotland is the summer months. This fortunately dovetails with the ideal time to visit Scotland for families, when children are home from school on summer vacation. Summer is also a great time to visit Scotland due to the wealth of sunshine. With the high latitude, Scotland can get as much as 17 hours of sunlight a day during the peak of summer!
A Note on Temperature and Clothing
Though the summer is the best time to visit, and the warmest part of the year, warm is a relative term. This isn’t the tropics, after all. If you want to know what to expect, what to wear, and what to pack, think about what you’d wear to visit Alaska or Canada during the summer months. Multiple layers that you can mix and match are recommended. The high during the summer months is typically in the 60s Fahrenheit. Rain-resistant or rain proof outerwear is also recommended, as rain can come and go in Scotland, often at a moment’s notice. So it’s not sweltering hot, and can be a bit wet, even at the peak of summer – plan accordingly!
Major Scottish Cities
The capital of Scotland is Edinburgh, which has enough to see and do for one trip on its own. It is the second-largest city in Scotland. The largest one is Glasgow, and the third-largest is Aberdeen. A lot of attractions and Scotland points of interest are centered in these areas, which make them ideal places to focus on for starters. If you are looking for places to visit in Scotland by car, looking to its major cities and things to do just outside them will also give you a wealth of options. Depending on the age(s) of your children, you can almost always find several different things to do in Scotland for families in any of the major city areas.
One of the most basic questions that those travelling to Scotland with their family typically ask is, “Where can I take my kids in Scotland?” The easiest answer that springs to the top of most experts’ lists is Edinburgh, the capital. Edinburgh definitely has a lot to do that is kid-friendly. Some of these attractions are included as part of the top 10 list, below. Besides these options, Edinburgh has a lot of theaters and performance venues. If you are looking to go to a play or other kind of performance on your vacation, this is definitely the place to do it. While Glasgow has a larger music scene, the classical music venues here in Edinburgh are nothing to dismiss, either.
#1. Edinburgh Fringe Festival
If you are going to Scotland in August, Edinburgh becomes home to the biggest arts festival in the world, called the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This goes on for most of the month of August (three weeks). There are lots of performers and kinds of entertainment to choose from, with lots of kid-friendly options. It’s a perfect choice of a place to visit in Scotland for families. And, it provides all the elements of Scottish culture in one place. There are also other festivals that precede and follow this one, too. So, if you are in town during the summer and fall, there is bound to be some sort of festival going on as well.
#2. Camera Obscura, the World of Illusions
This is a fun place to go to change your perspective on things. You can feel like Alice from Alice in Wonderland as you become a giant looking down on the city. You can do reality-defying feats such as grabbing your own shadow. The whole exhibit is dedicated to stretching your brain. This is definitely a fun attraction for all ages, and a perfect destination in Scotland for families.
#3. Edinburgh Castle
Besides the National War Museum that it houses, which covers hundreds of years of history, the Edinburgh Castle also has many events that it holds throughout the year. Of course there are tours of the castle itself, of varying length and detail. History, architecture, and culture all collide in this iconic fortress over the city. So, no matter what time of year you are going to visit, be sure to add the Edinburgh Castle as one of your first places to visit! It’s an ideal locale when searching for what to do in Scotland for families. There is even a cannon that they set off every day at noon – little ones might want to cover their ears, though!
This is actually not one, but three different attractions for your stay in Edinburgh. All three are kid-friendly to varying degrees, and will have interest for kids of different ages, along with adults. These are the Museum of Scotland, the Modern Art Museum, and— perhaps the most original out of the three— the Museum of Childhood. This museum is dedicated to showcasing the lives that children have led in different time periods. It includes exhibits on what they wore, what they did in school, how they spent their time, etc. There are activities that are interactive as well. Though it is geared towards children, this should be on everyone’s list of things to see in Scotland.
Honorable Mention: Edinburgh Dungeon
If you have children that are older, then checking out some of Scotland’s darker history may be perfectly acceptable, and both educational and entertaining. At the Edinburgh Dungeon, there is an immersive theater experience to do just that. Here you can learn about famous killers, torture methods, and much more. It’s around an 80 minute tour that takes you through 11 different stages and settings, all of which are from different periods of Edingburgh and Scotland’s history.
Outside the City
If you are looking for best places to visit in Scotland for families, that are near Edinburgh but outside the city limits, there’s plenty to do and see. Jupiter Artland, a park full of sculptures that is open to the public in the summer months, is a very popular destination with people of all ages. There’s also the Edinburgh Zoo – for many, no vacation or holiday is complete with their families without visiting the local zoo. And there are endless numbers of local eateries, shops, and points of interest all throughout the countryside.
Next, we move on to Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland. There are a wealth of things to do here as well. It, too, is a must-visit stop on most any trip to Scotland for families. We’ve picked out just some of the best options for our top 10 list. In addition, there are lots of performing arts venues, restaurants, events and festivals, and cultural exhibits that are worth checking out. It all depends on how much time you have on your stay. It can be hard to keep up with everything going on, so be sure to check with your hotel or do some online searching before you visit.
#5. Blair Drummond Safari & Adventure Park
If you’re looking for adventure parks in Scotland that are fun for the family, this definitely fits the bill. The Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park has something for everyone. There are tons of animals to see as well as face painting and other classic amusement attractions that are sure to appeal to kids of all ages. These include a bouncy castle, mazes, and much more. You can have a great time, spending just a few hours or an entire day here on your trip to Scotland.
There are a large number of public and national parks in the Glasgow area that are great to visit. Each and every one of them offers something unique and special, and deserve a spot on the list. However, to keep it to a top 10 (and not top 100), we’ve grouped them all together in this entry.
Some of the best parks to visit in Scotland for families include Mugdock Country Park, the Pollock Country Park, and Battery Park. They’re all outdoor parks full of natural beauty that can be visited during their operating hours. Typically admission is either free or a small entrance fee. They also play home to various events and festivals throughout the year. But even if nothing is going on, they are great for their natural beauty. They also make a great, quiet change of pace – a chance to relax – from the more active and guided tour-type attractions on our list.
Honorable Mention: The Riverside Museum of Transport
People of all ages love transportation – cars, planes, trains, and everything in between. This fun museum is one-of-a-kid, putting a new spin on a classic transportation museum feel. In fact, in that regard, it’s not unlike the Children’s Museum in Edinburgh. The Riverside Museum of Transport is dedicated to the history of transportation. It features informative videos and interactive displays, trains, skateboards, and much more. All of that is presented in an entertaining and engaging way that makes it an ideal place to visit in Scotland for families.
Other Attractions In and Near Glasgow
Besides these attractions geared towards families with small children, there is a wealth of culture and arts available in and around Glasgow. These attractions can be especially appreciated by adults and older children. Glasgow plays home to a lot of the national arts scene, including the Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet. Well-behaved or mature children and teens may enjoy taking in a show at either of these locations as part of the vacation experience in Scotland.
And, if you happen to have a night away from the kids, and a chance to explore Glasgow on your own or with your spouse, there’s even more to do. There are a plethora of live music venues to choose from, and many pubs where you can enjoy a pint. Many internationally-known bands and musicians got their start in the Glasgow area, including Texas, Franz Ferdinand, Belle and Sebastian, and The Fratellis, to name just a few. A little drinking, songs, and night life can be just what the doctor ordered for a vacation respite.
Aberdeen is located in the northeast corner of Scotland, and is more remote (though still a major city) than the others featured on our list thus far. While we’ve only included one major attraction there in our list of places to visit in Scotland for families, there are a ton of things to see and do that simply we didn’t have room for on our list. It also has quite a great deal of its own history to learn about, and cultural, heritage, and art sites, venues, and exhibits that are worth checking out.
#7. Codonas Amusement Park
A quintessential part of many people’s vacation plans is a visit to an amusement park. Codonas in Aberdeen is considered Scotland’s favorite amusement park for a reason. There’s almost no end to the variety of rides and experiences available. It’s located right next to a beach, which is an attraction unto its own. Some of the best things to do there include mini-golf, a number of roller coasters, and a log flume ride that’s incredible fun for children and adults alike. This is definitely an ideal place to visit in Scotland for families, no matter what age your children might be.
The Scottish Highlands region is home to some of the most amazing natural beauty in all of Scotland. It is also a seat of history and Scottish culture and lore that dates back for centuries. Most travelers to Scotland would not consider their trip complete without spending at least some time in the Highlands. Like most of the other areas we’ve covered, it’s hard to pick just a few locales to visit. Indeed, you could spend an entire trip to Scotland just in the Highlands. Below are just some of the most outstanding, must-visit attractions in the Scottish Highlands for you to check out with your family. There are many more that are worth exploring as well, so do your research!
#8. Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition
Yes, it is that Loch Ness, famous for the enigmatic Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. The Scottish Highlands are home to the urban legend of the Loch Ness Monster, which originates from the lake (loch). It’s incredibly beautiful, tucked between the mountains and lush surrounding terrain, and worth a visit in and of itself. Not to mention the mythical cryptozoological creatures that may or may not lurk beneath the water. The Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition takes you through the history of the loch from the beginnings of recorded time, up through the current day. This is accomplished via a series of themed rooms and exhibits that are full of information. They make a great complement to the spectacular outdoor views of the loch, that are sure to be a great backdrop for a few memorable vacation photos and selfies.
#9. Cairngorms National Park
On the topic of natural beauty, most experts agree that you can’t miss a trip to Cairngorms National Park. This is doubly true if your visit to Scotland for families is focused on outdoor, active adventures. Hiking, biking, kayaking, and much more are all available in this pristine example of natural Scottish Highlands terrain. There is a tremendous diversity of flora and fauna, too. And it is all set amidst dramatic peaks and valleys. And, in fact, the highest mountain range in all of the UK can be found here. With nine visitor centers located throughout the park, there’s plenty to do and explore, regardless of your level of desired outdoor activity on your vacation in Scotland for families.
Other Attractions In and Near the Scottish Highlands
Aside from the above attractions, the Scottish Highlands really are known as an almost non-stop feast of outdoor and natural beauty. Sightseeing opportunities, parks, lochs, and much more abound in this region. Many natives and visitors alike consider the Cairngorm region, and the Scottish Highlands as a whole, to be the most beautiful area of Scotland. Forge your own path and find out-of-the-way scenic beauty on your trip to Scotland for families. You’ll make memories that will last a lifetime.
The Northern Lights
Ok, you caught us – the Northern Lights aren’t a place. But, they are something that you can view from northern latitudes, and Scotland is a perfect place in which to do so. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting when the sky is clear, and solar activity is high, you might just manage to witness this natural phenomena that inspires wonder in all who see it. Where should you go to see the Northern Lights? And what exactly are they? We’ll explain all of this in our number 10 pick below.
#10. The Northern Lights
Scotland is far enough north that you can see the northern lights, in optimal conditions. Long nights in the winter months, from November to March, make the best viewing times for the northern lights. They also peak with solar activity, typically being more vibrant and active during solar discharges and solar storms, which are hard to predict. Still, you can often catch glimpses at almost any time of year, during the night time hours. Some of the best places to go in Scotland for families to see the Northern Lights phenomenon include the NC500 highway, and from the islands off the northern coast, particularly Shetland and Orkney. As a general rule, your chances of seeing the Northern Lights are better the further north you go in Scotland. And what are these lights? They’re actually charged solar radiation particles hitting the Earth’s atmosphere. But, science aside, they look otherworldly and lovely, and aren’t something to miss.
Extra Fun for Adults
Even a family vacation shouldn’t be 100% about kid-friendly activities and destinations. Parents should manage to find some time to have an afternoon or an evening to themselves, or at least do a few things on the trip that they want to do and see, too. So, we’ve included a few notes in this section to provide guidance on more grown-up activities and destinations that are worth checking out during your trip to Scotland.
Adult-Oriented Activities and Destinations
If you’re looking for fun days out in Scotland for adults— which is another article’s worth of lists unto its own— visiting a distillery comes very high up on among most people’s recommendations. After all, Scotch Whiskey is Scotland’s biggest export and the national drink. Scotch whiskey isn’t technically Scotch unless it’s made in Scotland – it’s just whiskey. This means that Scotland is the only place to tour an authentic distillery! Notable distilleries that have tours include the Speyside Whiskey distillery, Islay Whiskey distillery and Highland Whiskey distillery. Many of these locations offer tours, and, what’s more, free samples for those of legal drinking age.
If you’re looking for what to buy in Scotland (aside from souvenirs at the top 10 locales you visit), one place worth checking out is Randall’s Antique and Vintage Centre. They have a bunch of older, vintage, antique and unusual items than the tourist-heavy novelties you’ll find in a museum or exhibit gift shop. Randall’s is located in Glasgow, which is one of the most popular regions for shopping.
Additionally within Glasgow you can find many high-end shops and boutiques. These are always worth a visit, even if it’s just for window shopping. Princes Square is a great region for this kind of shopping experience, as well as Howe Street in Edinburgh.
Where is the best place to go in Scotland? What is the most beautiful place in Scotland? There are simply too many options to determine one place as being the best or the most beautiful. There is too much to do in just one trip! Our top 10 places to visit in Scotland for families is just the tip of the iceberg. We hope it serves as a starting point to give you ideas for a trip itinerary. But there’s much, much more to explore in this wonderful part of the world. There are lots of things to do for all ages, and some truly spectacular sights to see that are unmatched anywhere else on the planet.
For Further Reading…
Fodor’s guides are well-known, reliable, written-by-locals travel guides to some of the most amazing travel destinations around the world. Their Scotland guide sticks to this time-tested formula. It contains local insights, tips, and info on out-of-the-way spots that are can’t-miss on your visit to Scotland for families. Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, the Highlands, and many other destinations within the country are covered in detail. All of the useful information is sure to help make your vacation a memorable one.
The DK Eyewitness Travel Guides have won numerous awards for their depth and accessibility. With color maps, photos, diagrams, and information, you’ll be able to find your way to all of the top destinations in Scotland. That includes every destination we’ve highlighted on our list of the 10 best places to visit in Scotland for families. All of it is done with the usual DK charm and panache, too. Don’t leave home without it!
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