Scotland has never been known as the most kid-friendly destination in Europe. And indeed, many of its pleasures and pastimes, such as playing golf or drinking whisky, are adult-oriented. Nevertheless, there are a number of attractions that all the family can enjoy, especially in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Perhaps the main concern with having children along is pacing yourself, particularly in the museums. Our suggestion is to spend 2 days in Edinburgh and 2 days in Glasgow before venturing into the countryside. Children generally delight in exploring spooky old castles, heading up to the Highlands -- where there are all those bagpipe players -- and looking for the Loch Ness Monster in Inverness.
Days 1 & 2: Edinburgh, Gateway to Scotland
By train, plane, or bus -- usually from London -- families descend on the capital of Scotland. Try to arrive as early in the day as you can and check into a hotel. If your timing is right, you'll have virtually a full day of sightseeing in the capital instead of spending it in transit. Start at Edinburgh Castle at the beginning of the Royal Mile in the Old Town. Kids may be a bit bored with the State Apartments where Mary Queen of Scots once lived, but they delight in the spooky 18th-century prisons and the batteries of cannons that used to protect the fortress. After a visit, pay a call on the Museum of Childhood, found along High Street. Everything is here, from antique toys to games. Kids also enjoy the nearby Outlook Tower and Camera Obscura, especially those who like their history told with an optical theme.
After lunch in the Old Town, descend on Princes Street, the main drag in the New Town. At the Scott Monument, it's fun for the whole family to climb the 287 steps for the most panoramic view of the city. Before the afternoon ends, spend at least an hour and a half taking in Our Dynamic Earth, whose exhibits have been compared to an interpretation by Walt Disney. Kids push buttons to simulate everything from earthquakes to meteor showers.
On Day 2 in Edinburgh, get an early start for another busy round of sightseeing. Take your kids aboard the luxury yacht Britannia, once used by Queen Elizabeth II herself. After that, a visit to Edinburgh Zoo is called for, with its more than 1,500 animals, including some endangered species. Have lunch in the New Town, and then visit the spectacular Royal Botanic Garden, one of the best and grandest in Britain, before ending your day by wandering through The Real Mary King's Close, which stays open until 9pm in summer. This was the once-thriving underground part of the Old Town, where the "deepest secrets" are hidden in the warren of almost buried streets, or "closes." Kids seem to expect Robert Louis Stevenson's "Mr. Hyde" to emerge at any minute.
Day 3: Deep Sea World & Stirling Castle
On Day 3, after checking out of your hotel in Edinburgh, drive to Deep Sea World to visit Scotland's most comprehensive and dramatic menagerie of water creatures, including its most ferocious sharks. Allow 90 minutes for this attraction, which is 19km (12 miles) west of Edinburgh's center.
Next, make your way to Stirling. This ancient town, lying between the rivers Forth and Clyde, is famed for its castle. After checking into a hotel, you'll want to have lunch. In the afternoon, take your kids to Stirling Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots lived as an infant monarch. Children especially enjoy going through the on-site Museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, with all the pipe banners and other paraphernalia. For the rest of the afternoon, you can drive to Bannockburn nearby, where Robert the Bruce once summoned his "Braveheart" army to defeat Edward II in 1314. Kids find the audiovisual presentation of this violent story at the Bannockburn Heritage Centre as fascinating as Mel Gibson's own Braveheart movie. Return to Stirling for the night.
Days 4 & 5: Glasgow
On Day 4, drive 45km (28 miles) southwest to Glasgow. Make a bargain with your kids: If they'll accompany you to The Burrell Collection, you'll fill up the rest of the day with amusements designed primarily for them. The collection is one of the greatest repositories of art in Britain. Allow about 2 hours here -- less if your kids get bored looking at such art as Rodin's The Thinker.
Now take the kids on a trip aboard the Waverley, the world's last seagoing paddle steamer, which will carry you to scenic places along the Firth of Clyde. You can have lunch aboard. Back in Glasgow, spend 2 hours visiting the Glasgow Science Centre, a kid-friendly favorite complete with a Space Theatre and plenty of hands-on activities for children.
On the morning of Day 5, make another compromise with your kids so you can spend at least an hour and a half at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Even if your children aren't interested in art, they'll be intrigued by the ethnography collections, which display everything from artifacts from the Eskimos to Oceania, with mammoth galleries devoted to natural history. Later in the morning, spend an hour or so wandering about the Museum of Transport. The varied ship models seem to intrigue kids the most here. Follow these visits with lunch at the Willow Tea Room, where kids especially enjoy the homemade pastries and ice-cream dishes.
In the afternoon, take the family to the Scottish Maritime Museum, before descending on Linn Park, spread across 86 hectares (213 acres). There are many attractions for kids here, including a special children's zoo and pony rides.
Day 6: Oban & Fort William
On the morning of Day 6, drive northwest from Glasgow along the western banks of Loch Lomond, heading for the town of Oban. The distance between Glasgow and Oban is 81km (50 miles). Once in Oban, take your kids on a tour of Dunstaffnage Castle and up to McCaig's Tower, an unfinished replica of the Colosseum of Rome.
After lunch, proceed north to the town of Fort William, 81km (50 miles) from Oban. Check into a hotel in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest mountain. In the afternoon, you can drive through the hauntingly beautiful Glencoe, scene of the famous massacre of 1692, when the Campbells did in the MacDonalds. Kids are fascinated by the audiovisual presentation shown at the Glencoe Visitor Center. Return to Fort William for the night.
Day 7: Loch Ness & Inverness
On Day 7, leave Fort William and continue north to Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, a distance of 109km (68 miles). Along the way you can stop at the little village of Drumnadrochit to see the official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition. With its lasers and visual effects, this exhibition is definitely a kid pleaser. After you've seen the exhibition, it's great fun for families to explore the ruins of Urquhart Castle, which overlooks the loch. It is from here that most sightings of the Loch Ness Monster are reported.
Proceed north, to Inverness, and check into a hotel. After lunch, families can explore the Culloden Battlefield, where Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite army were crushed by the English. Kids also like to walk the ramparts, a distance of 1.6km (1 mile), found at the Fort George/Queen's Own Highlanders Regimental Museum. Inverness has a variety of options for dining that evening. Following a night in Inverness, most visitors drive back to Glasgow or Edinburgh for their adieu to Scotland.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.