10 Travel Tips: Take Your Kids to Scotland
Scotland is a land of mystery, history, and the great outdoors. It’s a perfect place for family travel – your kids will LOVE everything about Scotland! From looking for unexplained wave patterns to trying haggis, Scotland is full of hidden and obvious joys. It’s also a place for all ages, where activities can be enjoyed by all. Here are my top travel tips for taking your kids to Scotland:
1. Harry Potter. Much of the Harry Potter movie series was filmed here, and author J.K. Rowling is from Scotland. It’s a glorious trail to explore, and one that will start them on a lifetime of literary travel. You, too, can travel in Harry Potter’s footsteps by visiting the Scottish locations of the Harry Potter movies. Many of the scenes from the grounds of Hogwarts were filmed in the Scottish Highlands. You can see the Glenfinnan Viaduct (where the train that took the students to Hogwarts went), the backgrounds from the Quidditch games, the scene from the Triwizard Tournament is at Steal Falls, Ben Nevis, and Hagrid’s Hut was filmed near Glencoe – where you can STAY and walk there!
Loch Torren, where the Hagrid's Hut scenes were filmed
2. The Food. Not only will your kids get lifetime bragging rights for trying haggis (a mixture of oatmeal, organ meat, and garlic), but they might LIKE it, as our daughter does. Also try blood sausage, for unique foods. But you’ll also love exploring Tesco grocery stores, finding new breads and jams and meats and candies. And, you might find new things to love – like pickled onion meanies, super yummy chips. There are also lots of delicious flavors that we don’t get at home, like rhubarb or black currant yogurt. And, plenty of fresh seafood. YUM.
3. Get outside. Walk the beaches – there are 6158 miles of coastline in Scotland. Hike the bens – those are mountains! Find waterfalls, poke around Lochs, play in the yard of your rental house, watch for dolphins at Chanonry Point. Don’t mind the occasional rain, but soak it all in, like a plant. The islands (Skye, Eigg, Shetland, etc.) are particularly beautiful.
4. History. Scotland has an amazing history, rich with personal stories of hardship and triumph. Read all you can before you go, and then explore on your own. Spend a whole day at Culloden, where the future of Scotland was decided in an uneven battle between the rebels and the English. Head to Clava Cairns, where you can clamber around bronze age burial chambers. Visit Cawdor Castle, where MacBeth was set (Out, Damn Spot!). If you’re like our family, you’ll find yourself reciting lines on the whole drive there. Head to Edinburgh, and climb Arthur’s Seat to get a glimpse of the city. Or, visit Edinburgh Castle, where history comes alive. In Stirling, you can see the William Wallace Monument, and visit Stirling Castle. In fact, there are castles and forts (and history) all over Scotland.
5. Music. Scottish music is joyful and infectious. Head to any pub where there’s live music! There are musical activities almost every day – check the local guides and immerse yourselves in Scottish culture, musically. If you are around for a military tattoo, you’ll get goosebumps from the huge troops of bagpipers in formation.
6. Nessie. One of the main reasons to go to anywhere near Loch Ness is to look for unexplained wave patterns. Take a Jacobite boat cruise to the ruins of Urquhart Castle, and keep a sharp eye out for Nessie. You can also visit the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre in Drumnadrochit to learn more.
Urquhart Castle in the mist, Loch Ness
waves, Loch Ness
7. Shopping. There are lots of great places to shop, and get fashions that are a bit different from home. Visits to bookstores will yield great treasures, as will toy shops. Don’t forget thrift stores – we found the cutest flower fairy game that we love to play, and a wool tartan blanket that resides in the trunk of our car for impromptu picnics.
8. Get active! There are tons of outdoor things to do, from scuba diving to whitewater rafting. You can kayak and look for seals, hike the bens (be sure to get a good map or a guide for the bigger ones), paintball, geocaching, paintball, skiing, canyoning, biking, and of course, golfing (golf was invented in Scotland!).
on the beach, Mallaig, Scotland
9. Highland Games. History and activity come together in the Highland Games. It’s worth planning a trip around different Highland games, which are huge local celebrations that include music, events, and great food. They are held from spring until autumn – do your research where you’re going, and plan around that!
10. The people. Scots are very kind and it’s a great idea to get to know them, while you’re traveling. While it’s difficult to meet locals as a tourist, you can do things to meet locals – stay in a B&B, or make friends on Tripping.com (join our Wandering Educators network and others of interest to you – it’s free) and set up playdates for your kids, or meet for coffee and shortbread. One of our favorite afternoons in Scotland was spent with an artist and the singing postie.
Our daughter said, “It was so colorful there, so beautiful. I loved the rain, because you could see rainbows a lot. I loved going to different islands, seeing the beaches and the creatures on them. I loved the food – so much different stuff (especially the meanies and the black currant jam). I loved shopping, and learning history, especially at Culloden.”
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