Educational Edinburgh: 11 historic Edinburgh tourist attractions
Steeped in history, Edinburgh has a wealth of museums showcasing the past, present and future. The new tram system makes it even easier to get around, connecting with the airport and railway station. Or you could just walk the length of the Royal Mile and find a whole host of attractions. My husband, Dougie, was born and grew up in Edinburgh so it’s a city we love to visit, sharing its secrets with our son, Rory. Here are some suggestions for your family:
National Museum of Scotland
You can’t fail to find something inspiring in this magnificent museum. Ten new galleries were opened in 2016 including a science and technology gallery where adults and kids can generate their own power on a giant hamster wheel. Fashion, ancient history, 3D printing – and did I mention the National Museum of Scotland is free entry?
Edinburgh Zoo is the only place in the UK where you can see koalas and giant pandas. Book in advance for a timed slot to see Tian Tian and Yang Guang: space is limited. Children will love the meerkats too, especially since they have a new ball pool to play in.
Scottish International Storytelling Festival
The annual Edinburgh Festival and its Fringe are well known but it’s worth making a special effort to visit the city at other times. Held in October, the Scottish International Storytelling Festival will delight all ages. Venues include the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Museum of Childhood.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
Two attractions for one admission price with Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. Climb up to the rooftop chamber to see live images of Edinburgh projected onto a large dish. Younger kids will enjoy pretending to pick up tiny people or, more likely, squashing them with pieces of card. My teen loved the other floors which are full of mad optical illusions from holograms to bendy mirrors. My heart missed a beat to see my son’s head on a plate, with his body mysteriously missing. You can have your hand stamped and return later in the day for more fun.
The Real Mary King’s Close
Ever wanted to know what lurks beneath the streets of the Royal Mile? At The Real Mary King’s Close, guided by a storyteller dressed as a local character from the past, visitors can explore these previously undiscovered streets from the 17th century and hear tales of murder, plague and poo. Over 5's only, as it can be a little scary. I would wear sensible shoes too as it can get a little slippy underfoot.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
This gallery is one of Edinburgh’s finest buildings and, as a free attraction, is ideal for a rainy day. It’s not just old faces that might amuse your kids; contemporary portraits here range from President Obama to Susan Boyle.
The history buffs in your family will be wowed by the Stone of Destiny and the National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle; others might prefer to see some impressive bling as the crown jewels of Scotland are kept here. Listen out for the firing of the one o’clock gun.
Take a trip in the time machine elevator back to the Big Bang. Learn how our planet developed: its oceans, rainforests and ice caps. There’s a new thrilling 4D expedition: will you escape the scorpion’s sting? The award-winning Food Chain Café is also worth a visit with its family meal deal.
No trip to Edinburgh is complete without knowing the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the faithful dog whose statue can be seen just outside the gates. I always make a beeline for the statue and, like many others, stroke his nose for luck. Tourists are also seeking out the graves of Thomas Riddell and William McGonagall, possible inspiration for characters in the Harry Potter books. JK Rowling spent many hours writing in the nearby Elephant House café.
An ancient volcano in the middle of the city? Arthur’s Seat is the perfect place to discharge some energy and is my husband’s favourite spot in the city. Choose your path up to the top wisely: the route from the east is gentler. Seek out the Iron Age forts in the 640-acre park and admire the views across the city from the very top.
Edinburgh International Science Festival
In April one of Europe’s largest science festivals is held, with a particular focus on education for primary school kids. Events are held across the city; this year they included workshops such as Pongy Potions and ER Surgery.