Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh is vibrant and easy to explore with kids – quite different from the old, stodgy perception we may have had before visiting. Sure there are castles and museums, but you get the feeling walking around that there is also a youthfulness to it as well. In many ways we liked Edinburgh better than London and Dublin (although they are excellent, too).
Edinburgh just feels more fun and hip, and it’s a city we’re eager explore further. If you have a day or two in Edinburgh with kids, here are some things you should definitely do.
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1 Perfect Day in Edinburgh with Kids
9:30 a.m. – Visit Edinburgh Castle
Perched on top of a dormant volcano, Edinburgh Castle dominates the city’s skyline. This formidable structure dates back hundreds of years and is one of the finest castles in all of the UK. In 1995, the old and new towns of Edinburgh were adopted on to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, and Edinburgh Castle is really the centerpiece of it all.
As you might expect, the castle is also the busiest attraction in the city, so be sure you arrive when it opens or wait until later in the afternoon when the crowds begin to thin. We arrived after lunch, just in time to hear the daily cannon erupt at 1:00 pm. as it has done since 1861. If you’re not ready for it, it’ll make you jump out of your skin!
Included with your ticket is a guided tour offered by one of the knowledgeable tour guides. We recommend it, as you’ll learn some cool history you might not have learned otherwise. In the summer, tours get underway every 30 minutes right after the entrance gate. Just look for the guides with the red jackets.
After our tour, we headed straight for the Crown Jewels since we knew it would be busy. No photos are allowed (just like at Tower of London), but trust us – they’re cool. We spent the next few hours roaming the place and taking a look at some of the things pointed out on our tour like The Great Hall, Mons Meg, and the lovely St. Margaret’s Chapel – Edinburgh’s oldest building. No matter how many times the castle fell and traded hands, St. Margaret’s Chapel persisted.
Below Crown Square lie the vaults and prisons of war where you can find recreations of what they may have looked like. Over the centuries, these vaults held prisoners from many different countries, including from the United States in its infancy. We were particularly interested in one of the old doors with a depiction of the US flag etched into it from a prisoner during America’s Revolutionary War.
As one of the largest attractions in Edinburgh, Edinburgh Castle is not to be missed. Plan on spending at least a few hours here, and we think you’ll come away impressed. For things to do in Edinburgh with kids, this is an easy choice.
Tickets can be bought online here, and you will save 2 pounds per ticket over the gate price by purchasing online before your trip.
Edinburgh Castle Hours
9:30 am. – 6:00 pm. Last entry to the castle is at 5:00 pm.
Adults – £19.50
Children 5-15 – £11.50
Children under 5 go free
Adults – £17.50
Children 5-15 – £10.50
How to get here
From most parts of the city, just look up – Edinburgh Castle is hard to miss. If you are staying in Old Town, it’s a short walk to the castle from just about anywhere.
Download a map of Edinburgh Castle
This is easily one of the best things to do in Edinburgh.
Grab a good guide book before touring Scotland here.
12 p.m. – Enjoy lunch
After a morning at the castle, you’ll have worked up an appetite, so find a place to enjoy lunch. Fortunately, Edinburgh has many excellent places to do this. One of our favorite places in London and now Edinburgh is called Yo! Sushi. It’s a conveyor-belt-style sushi place that serves up delicious small plates in a fun atmosphere.
Gyozas, rolls, noodles – they have it all. If you see something on the menu you’d like, just order it and the kitchen will prep it and send it your way. Otherwise, just take what looks good right off the #nomtrain. When you’re finished, the waitress will add up the colored plates and calculate your total.
Our kids love this place not just for the novelty of having your meal delivered by conveyor belt, but because it’s fresh and delicious as well. Mom and Dad agree – yum!
Yo! Sushi Edinburgh is open for lunch at 11:30 am. and closes at 9:30 pm.
Plates vary between £2.30 and £5.50 depending on the dish (color of the plate). Check out a menu here.
How to get here
Yo! Sushi is located on Princes Street about halfway between the Scott Monument and the Royal Scots Greys Monument.
Other places to consider
If you don’t think your kids will be up for Japanese cuisine, there are plenty of other options. Stand-bys like McDonalds exist, but for something local, try one of the pubs or bakeries on High Street. For a burger, Hard Rock Cafe is nearby and Byron is also good. We tried Byron in London, and their Edinburgh shop is located on the corner of High Street and North Bridge.
1:30 p.m. – Explore the shops along Edinburgh’s Royal Mile
Edinburgh has no shortage of fun shops, stores, and places to part with your money, so carve out some time to walk around and explore. We like finding small, independent bookstores when we travel to cities like this, so we looked up a few and popped in.
Scottish knitwear is a popular item also, so if you need to take the chill off, get yourself a nice scarf or sweater to wear and take home with you. The Royal Mile is also where you can find plenty of street performers, fantastic architecture, and a tasty snack or two to keep everyone going. It’s a cool place to explore and feels like you’re stepping back in time.
4 p.m. – Take a walking tour along the Potter Trail
We’re big fans of Harry Potter (proof here, here, and here), so part of our attraction to Edinburgh was J.K. Rowling herself. This is her home and where she created her magnificent wizarding world. We had to find out all about it!
To do this, we hopped on the Potter Trail walking tour. Potter Trail is one of the highest rated tours in Edinburgh, and it is free! Our tour left at 4 pm. and lasted about 90 minutes. It’s a fun way to continue your Edinburgh sightseeing tour.
Our knowledgeable guide showed us many of the places around Edinburgh where Rowling got her inspiration for many of the characters, places, and events in her books. If you enjoy Harry Potter, then you must take this tour – you’ll love it!
April-August, tours leave at 12 pm. and 4 pm.
September-March, tours leave at 2 pm.
The tour is free to go on, but they do pass the sorting hat around at the end for donations. Contribute what you feel it was worth.
How to get here
Tours leave from the statue of Greyfriars Bobby at the intersection of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge. Simply gather around the statue about 10 minutes before your tour begins.
6:30 p.m. – Try something amazing for dinner
We discovered that one of our very favorite UK restaurants – Dishoom – is here in Edinburgh also, so we made a point to drop by. Dishoom is serving up the best of Bombay cuisine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and their food and branding are so on-point, you’d think you were actually in India.
We try to order several different small plates when we’re here because it’s more fun to share and try new things. So far, this has worked without fail, and we can say we’ve never had a bad dish. A new favorite on this visit was the chilli chicken and okra fries. We also love the grilled lamb kebabs and chicken ruby. Paired with warm garlic naan and roomala roti, it’s unbeatable.
Dishoom is hands-down one of our favorite place we’ve eaten anywhere. Trust us on this one! If you’re looking for good Edinburgh restaurants, put this on the top of your list.
Typically 8 am. until midnight.
How to get here
Dishoom Edinburgh is located by St. Andrew’s Square near Princes Street and within walking distance of Waverly Station, the National Gallery, Edinburgh Castle, etc.
Looking for more things to do in Edinburgh Scotland?
Our trip to Scotland primarily focused on visiting the Highlands, so we only had one full day in Edinburgh. Clearly this isn’t enough for a large city like this, and there is plenty more to do if you have longer than just one day. Edinburgh cast a bit of a spell on us (not sure if it’s because of Harry Potter or not), but we’d definitely like to explore more of this city.
Other Edinburgh attractions and things to do in Edinburgh.
Real Mary King’s Close
Discover the story of Edinburgh from hundreds of years ago – right under the Royal Mile.
National Museum of Scotland
From Dolly the sheep to Scotland’s ancient treasures, you can find them all here. Admission is free, making this one of the top things to do in Edinburgh.
Hike to the top of Authur’s Seat
Hike up to the highest point in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park. It will take some work, but if it’s view of the city you’re after, this is one of the best places to visit in Edinburgh.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
Illusions, puzzles, and mind-bending tricks – fun for the entire family!
Where to stay in Edinburgh
For our short stay in Edinburgh, we stayed at the Hilton Edinburgh Carlton near Waverly Station. The hotel is centrally located with easy access to the Royal Mile, shopping, Edinburgh Castle, and everything listed in this post. We used Hilton points to stay which helped us with our budget. The breakfast is good, the rooms are nice and clean, and it’s where we tried haggis for the first time. It’s also where we tried haggis for the last time. 😉 We felt this was a good family hotel in Edinburgh.
Check here for the latest prices at the Hilton.
There are plenty of other hotels in the area as well, ranging from modest to opulent. For something completely over-the-top, book the Rowling Suite at the Balmoral Hotel. It’s where J.K. Rowling penned the last of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and where she defaced – ahem – autographed a lamp in the room for others to see. The hotel took advantage of her graffiti, renamed the room, and now rents it for an obscene nightly rate.
If this is for you, plan ahead because it’s booked pretty solid for the next two years! Also, if you visit Edinburgh and stay here, share some photos with us!
Compare Edinburgh hotels on TripAdvisor here.
Have you visited Edinburgh? What was your favorite thing to do?
If you're planning a trip to Scotland, check out our United Kingdom Destination Guide.
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