Scotland is a land of myth and mystery, the Loch Ness monster, clan wars and fallen kings. It is also one of the friendliest places to travel to in Europe with kids. If you are headed to the continent for the first time, but need a slower pace, Scotland is where you should head.
Don’t get bogged down in the cities. Although an itinerary in Scotland with kids should include Edinburgh, make sure you head into the Scottish Highlands and out to the islands. You could easily spend a month exploring, or just move over so you can discover every nook and cranny, but we are breaking your journey into ten days. This is just a taste, but sometimes a taste is what you need to start a lifelong love affair with a magical land and her people.
Quick Scotland with kids itinerary breakdown
- Arrive in Edinburgh
- Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace tour
- Drive to Oban, stops along the way
- Explore Glencoe
- Hike around Glencoe
- Ferry to Isle of Mull
- Tobermory and island driving tour
- Southern Isle of Mull and Isle of Iona
- Drive back to Edinburgh, stops along the way
- Depart Edinburgh
Day 1: Arrive in Edinburgh
- Lovecrumbs Bakery, 155 West Port, Edinburgh EH3 9DP, UK. You’ve had a long flight, so grab a fresh coffee, a scone loaded with butter and jam, some cakes for the kids and get ready to explore.
- Hike Arthur’s Seat: Yes, your jet lag is brutal, especially if you have the lethal combo of babies and jet lag, but you can power through with a nice breakfast and some hiking. Take a cab up as far as you can go to Arthur’s Seat (here’s your cheat sheet to Arthur’s Seat). Pop the baby in a carrier like this one, and tell older kids to get walking. Nothing beats jet lag like fresh air and sunshine (hopefully you get some sunshine). At the top of Arthur’s Seat you will get a panoramic view of the city.
- Walk the Royal Mile. Your body and mind still aren’t quite connected, so take a stroll down the Royal Mile to get the lay of the land. Walk from Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood Palace for the full stretch. If you’ve just walked Arthur’s Seat, you can hike down to Holyrood Palace and up to Edinburgh Castle. Stop for sweets or lunch along the way.
- Take it easy tonight. Today is not the day to push yourselves. You’re laughing. I know, I just made you walk all day. Grab some takeout for dinner or have an early meal at a pub. The locals understand when families show up a bit tired. They are used to tourists being jet lagged and needing an early meal so they can go back to bed.
Day 2: Edinburgh Castle and Palace tour
You made it! You are now awake and ready to really start your Scotland adventure. It’s time to tackle to castles and palaces of Edinburgh.
- Edinburgh Castle. Start at Edinburgh Castle with the kids in the morning. It’s time to work your way forward through history. Many palaces in Scotland have kid activity booklets and Edinburgh Castle is no different. Pick one up at the front desk and start exploring. Hold a replica broadsword (sometimes more popular with adults than kids), chat with historians and find out why this strategic location helped the inhabitants win more than one battle.
- Lunch on the Royal Mile. Stop for lunch as you walk from the castle to the palace. Now that you are awake, you can actually check out the history that you missed as you did your zombie march by yesterday.
- Holyrood Palace. Spend your afternoon at this thriving royal residence that is still active today. Make sure you check if the Queen is in residence. If she is, you will not be able to visit. Pick up your audio guide that (last we visited) came with your entry fee. There are special Holyrood children’s audio guides as well. Find out why we love them so much and you shouldn’t skip one Holyrood Palace with kids.
Scotch Tasting Tip
If you love Scotch and want to do a quick tasting, stop in at Cadenhead’s Whisky Shop (172 Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH8 8BN, UK). This tiny shop has a very knowledgeable staff and well-priced scotch that is still in the cask when you taste it. Tell them which one you like, what size you would like to buy and they will bottle it right there in front of you.
Day 3: Drive to Oban
It’s time to start driving west! Oban is about a three-hour drive with a few stops worth making along the way.
Stops along the way
- Stirling Castle, Castle Esplanade, Stirling FK8 1EJ, UK. Outside of Edinburgh you will find the well-preserved Stirling Castle, former palace of James V. The Stirling Castle Explorer’s Quiz will keep your kids moving from room to room. The kids section has multiple rooms for dress up and exhibits where children can learn about the everyday life of the inhabitants.
- The National Wallace Monument, Abbey Craig, Hillfoots Rd, Stirling FK9 5LF, UK. Long before Mel Gibson stole his face, William Wallace was the hero of Scotland. This tower stands on the summit of Abbey Craig, a hilltop that can be seen from Stirling Castle. It is easy to see both on your way to Oban, and learn about these two important monuments to Scottish history.
Arrive in Oban. Once you arrive in Oban, get settled into your hotel. Kick back and relax, walk along the waterfront and let the kids run off some steam. They have seen a lot today. They deserve some downtime and a treat.
Days 4: Explore Glencoe
Today you drive, hike, stop to eat and repeat. The southern part of the Highlands should not be dismissed and are a hiker’s dream. Along the A828 up to the A82 from Oban into Glencoe you will see parking pull offs and cars parked. Hikers are roaming down trails in search of waterfalls, or simply to connect back with nature.
Glencoe Visitor Centre
The best place to start when you want to hike is the Glencoe Visitor Centre. There is a gift shop, and a small pay-to-enter museum that tells you more about the history and landscape of the area. Local guides are available to help you sort through the trails to find the best ones for you and your children. There are public toilets, Wi-Fi, a picnic area and a café available to the public as well. The hike behind the visitor’s center is a great place to start, but don’t get stuck there. Farther up the road there is a lot more to see in Glencoe.
Lunch at Clachaig Inn
East of the visitor’s center, along the A82, you will find the Clachaig Inn. It seems like a random white house in the middle of nowhere, which essentially it is. This Inn is active and a place where hikers, walkers, drivers, bikers, families and wanderings come together for meals throughout the day, as well as to sleep when they need a rest. The food is superb and brings in the local, traditional flavors from the highlands. If you want blood pudding and haggis you can have it, but it won’t be slop on a plate. This Inn is serving up high cuisine at a fabulous price and in good portions that even your kids will enjoy. The meat pies are divine and always save room for dessert and a pint (or half pint if you have to drive). And yes kids, there is a playground outside with epic views of rolling hills for mom and dad.
Day 5: Hike around Glencoe
Continue to drive around the A82, as you make a circle back into Oban. If you headed west yesterday, head east along the A85 until it hooks up with the A82 again if you want a different variety of terrain. If you want to do the entire loop, plan on devoting the entire day to it. You will want to stop a lot to take photos and to take a few hikes. As much as you will want the perfect trail to take, you really just need to check out the scenery and stop where your fancy takes you. It is really that simple when it comes to hiking in Glencoe.
Day 6: Lochaline Ferry to the Isle of Mull
You could take the ferry directly from Oban to the Isle of Mull OR you could take the scenic route to the ferry at Lochaline, which we highly recommend. There are multiple stops along the way, a delectable spot for lunch, and estate gardens that will make you think you entered a quiet fairy wonderland.
Stops along the way:
- Ardtornish Estate. While the house is actually closed to the public, the gardens are open for a small donation. Park in the lot, pop your money in the box if no one is around to collect it and go for a stroll. The views of the Loch from the house are exquisite. Hike behind the house and up the hill for an even better look (and a little fairy hunting with the kids). For the best colors, visit in the autumn months. The garden was originally planted to highlight the colors available during this season.
- Lunch at the Whitehouse Restaurant. Right near the ferry you will find the Whitehouse Restaurant. This surprising spot is one of the top restaurants in the region and for good reason. They adopted the slow food movement before such thing even existed. Linger over your meal and save room for dessert.
Riding the Ferry
Keep your warm layers handy if you want to go above deck to watch the mainland fade away as you head to the Isle of Mull. It’s breezy up on deck, but the views are worth the windswept hair you are sure to walk away with.
Arriving on the Isle of Mull
When you take the ferry at Lochalini, you will arrive at Garmony Point, north of Craignure, the more popular and faster ferry route from Oban. This will put you closer to Tobermory, your home base for the next few nights. Stay at a little B&B or rent a flat or cottage above town to get some extra space with your family.
Tobermory is a quiet fishing town, but worth exploring and definitely photographing as the sun begins to set. Park your car at your hotel, B&B or rental cottage. You can get everywhere you want to go on foot. Pop into the local grocery store, do not miss out on a morning of treats at the bakery, and end your day at one of the pubs where you can watch a football (soccer) match and talk over pints with the locals.
Days 7: Tobermory and Island Tour
Driving is the best way to see the Isle of Mull, and this is one island you don’t want to miss a foot of. The terrain changes from mountains to beach, forest to flat plains. Highland coos (cows), sheeps and baby lambs (in spring) are littered across the island, so much so that you will begin to think they outnumber the residents (they do) and run the place (yup, pretty much). You can take a tour around the top half of the island using the B8073 road. This connects with the B8035 and across the A849, which gets you to Duart Castle if you are up for a little local clan history tour.
The Isle of Mull has one functioning castle and the 13th Century Duart Castle is it. The Clan exhibition shows off the McLean family’s ancestral history, and also a few photographs of the more recent descendants. Visitors are welcome to tour the Great Hall, the State Bedroom and Dressing Rooms. The castle sits on top of a hill, giving it strategic placement against enemies, but also a beautiful view of Loch Linnhe and the Firth of Lorn. Walk towards the water and you may see a seal pop its head out of the water. The Tearoom and gift shop are the perfect end to your time at the castle and a great place to load up on goodies before you head back up north towards Tobermory.
Day 8: Southern Isle of Mull and Iona
The Isle of Mull is not a large island, but it also doesn’t have a single highway, and many times is a single lane road with passing pull offs. Drivers are meant to take their time, get stuck in a Highland traffic jam (i.e. cows and sheep taking over the road), and savor every moment of the majestic landscape before them.
If you love rocky coast lines and old, seemingly haunted castles, Moy was made (or is crumbling) just for you. This castle ruin is still standing by sheer will, and a little help from the owners, but not much restoration has happened or probably ever will happen. It just costs too much to fully renovate old Scottish castles once they really deteriorate. You can’t go inside Moy, but you can walk around the beach, have sword fights on the rocks, and enjoy the sea spray as it hits you in the knees.
Telephone Booth near a Waterfall
When heading south, there is one detour you must take that isn’t on the map. Randomly, there is a red telephone booth next to a waterfall on a side road on the south side of the island. This phone booth was featured in the 1947 black and white classic film “I Know Where I’m Going.” There isn’t a lot else to do or see down this road, but it is still fun to take photos. And yes, the phone still works.
How to get to the red phone booth near the waterfall:
- Take the A849 (southern road on Mull).
- Turn left at signs for Carsaig
- 20 minutes down the road you will see the phone booth on the left
To turn around you either need to do a multi-point turn or continue down a one lane road to the water (not towards the private property on the right).
Isle of Iona
After your detour at the phone booth, continue down the A849 to the ferry to the Isle of Iona. This walkable island is best known for the Iona Abbey. There are several cute shops, more than enough stops for ice cream for the kids, and just enough to fill a morning or afternoon with the family. Grab lunch before your get on the ferry on the Isle of Mull or while you are on Iona. You’ll see others setting up a picnic lunch on both sides of the ferry as well. Feel free to join in the fun and have your own picnic.
Day 9: Drive back to Edinburgh
It’s time to pack your bags and drive back to Edinburgh. You can skip the scenic route and take the ferry from Craignure to Oban, which will take about 45 minutes. Once you are in Oban it would be a great time to grab that Oban Scotch you had your eye on when you first got to town. The drive from Oban to Edinburgh will take about three hours, but plan to make at least one stop along the way to tour Linlithgow Palace for a few hours.
Linlithgow Palace is just 15 miles west of Edinburgh and was one of the residences of royal monarchs of Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries. Unlike other castles you have seen so far, this is a mere shell of what this palace once was. Hike the towers to get a panoramic view of Loch Linlithgow down below. Both James V and Mary Queen of Scots were born here. Dance through the main hall that is mainly stone slabs now, and stand in the original fire place in the kitchens. The ornamental grandeur may be gone, but the epic scale and majesty is still there for you to use your imagination.
Day 10: Depart Edinburgh
Sadly, it is time to fly home or go off to your next destination. Chances are, if you are headed back to the states, you will be on an early flight home. If this is the case, you have a few options to stay the night before your departure.
Hotels Near the Edinburgh Airport
- Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh Airport
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Edinburgh Airport
- Other Close Alternatives
- Edinburgh Marriott Hotel
- Novotel Edinburgh Park
Check reviews, rates and availability at the Edinburgh Airport here.
MONEY SAVING TIPS IN SCOTLAND
Explorer Pass. Similar to a CityPASS in the U.S., the Explorer Pass allows you to enter a number of attractions under one pass. The 7-day family pass will cover most castles and palaces on this itinerary. You can buy the pass ahead of time, print it out and be ready to hit the ground running when you arrive in Edinburgh.
- Passes are sold through Historic Scotland
- A Family Pass covers two adults and up to six children.
- Passes must be bought for specific dates and used before they expire.
- The pass works at all Historic Scotland attractions.
- It does not work at Holyrood Palace.
Hotel or Vacation Rental?
Depending on the size of your party, a vacation rental may be the better choice for your family. Check HomeAway.com for excellent properties around Scotland. If hotels are more your speed, make sure you read a few reviews to find the best one that fits your exact needs.