What to see in Scotland – particularly Edinburgh, but also the surrounding area. A guide to visiting Scotland, and places to see in Scotland while traveling with kids.
Last summer, Mike took 16 college students to Edinburgh. I tagged along with the kids. We were in Edinburgh for a month, with a few outings outside the capital city on weekends.
Mike and I know Edinburgh and the surrounding area fairly well, because we lived in Scotland for three years as grad students at the University of Edinburgh. Our oldest daughter, Emma, was born inEdinburgh. We’ll return to Edinburgh in 2018 with a new set of students. Today I’m sharing our favorite things to do in Edinburgh and our favorite things to see in Scotland. We’re planning our 2018 trip right now, so please do chime in with recommendations of any places we need to add to our itinerary!
What to See in Scotland
I have slowly been writing up posts about our visit to Scotland in the summer of 2016, and here are our recommendations so far. Be sure to also check my recommendations of places we loved visiting when we first lived in Edinburgh in our twenties. I also recommend these insider tips for getting around Edinburgh with kids.
What to See in Edinburgh, Scotland
- Edinburgh Castle. This ancient castle overlooks the city from the top of an extinct volcano, and we consider it a must-visit.
- Holyrood Palace is at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle. The Queen spends part of each summer there, but if are in town when she is not, this palace is worth seeing as a working royal residence.
- The Scottish Parliament building sits across the street from Holyrood Palace. Tours are free. While the young government is worth a look on its own, the unique architecture provides another reason for a visit here.
- Arthur’s Seat is an 823 foot high peak in Holyrood Park, which is right next to Holyrood Palace and Scottish Parliament.Hike to the top and you’ll get an incredible 360 degree view of Edinburgh.
- If you are traveling with Harry Potter fans, you’ll want to stop in The Elephant House Cafe, where J.K. Rowling worked on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, as it was inexplicably renamed for the US market). We recommend their hot chocolate and gluten-free brownies.
- A monument to Greyfriars Bobby stands not far from The Elephant House Cafe. Learn the story behind this famous Edinburgh dog statue. Visit his grave on the edge of Greyfriars Kirkyard. While you’re there, take a look at some of the other tombstones, and you’ll find where J.K. Rowling found names for some of the characters in her books.
- Craigmillar Castle is a ruined medieval castle you’ll find on the southern end of the city. You get a great view of the city from the battlements, and it fueled some incredible imaginative play. We followed our visit up with these resources for teaching kids about castles.
What to See in Scotland Outside Edinburgh
As you can see, I’m much more of an expert on Edinburgh than the surrounding regions, but here are some places we have loved visiting. Three towns that I haven’t written about yet that we also recommend are Oban, St. Andrews, and Stirling.
- Loch Ness is a great place to visit in Edinburgh! Reviews are mixed as to whether or not we saw Nessie during our visit, but we all agree we learned a lot about canal locks.
- An elevator for boats requires some serious engineering! We enjoyed seeing this brilliance in person at the Falkirk Wheel.
Have you ever been to Edinburgh, or anywhere else in Scotland? What are your top recommendations of things to see in Scotland? Please share in the comments below, on my Facebook page, or tag me with a recommended site to see on Instagram.