Scotland may be a small country, but it’s still a huge expanse of land for any family to cover in a single holiday. Where do you start?
From the snow-capped mountains in the north, to the lowlands that flank the English border, the terrain is as varied as the culture. While the largest urban areas are equipped with a host of kid-friendly amenities, the more isolated parts of Scotland offer little more than the lure of the natural world. Thankfully, the great outdoors can occupy an entire holiday in its own right, with vast swathes of hills and glens just begging to be explored. The prospect of being dragged around the furthest reaches of Scotland may sound like a step too far for little legs; as it would happen however, there are enough trails, beaches and outdoor adventure courses to keep kids entertained.
The best way to get around Scotland is by car, with the occasional help of the ferry, should you decide to engage in a spot of island-hopping. While there is no right or wrong way to ‘do’ Scotland, you may elect to start off in Glasgow on the West Coast. Scotland’s largest city is packed with children’s activities, including the Science Centre, which offers a range of interactive science shows and fun workshops, including the intriguingly-named Egg Drop Challenge and Perception Deception. Glasgow also features Jurassic Jungle - a capacious indoor soft play area - the Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre and a host of water-based amenities including Lagoon Leisure Centre. Fun as such indoor activities may be, Scotland isn’t supposed to be admired from the inside of a plastic flume; to experience the best this country has to offer, you’ll need to leave such contemporary pleasures behind and head north.
From Glasgow, a leisurely drive towards the Scottish Highlands will take you through the beautiful Perthshire countryside via the quaint town of Pitlochry. Known as the steppingstone to the Highlands, Pitlochry has a range of family accommodation including caravan parks and self-catering cottages, should you decide to check in and check out the sights. One of the best ways to explore the area is to hire out mountain bikes and set off on one of the many woodland trails that criss-cross the area. As you set off once again and drive through the spectacular wilderness of the Cairngorms National Park, keep an eye out for wildlife darting across the road or soaring overhead. Deer, pheasants and birds of prey are just some of the creatures you can expect to come your way - plus a whole lot of sheep, of course.
Your Scottish jaunt will presently take you to Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. This charming town provides a typical range of local amenities, with guesthouses, cafes and restaurants aplenty. While it is up to you - and your brood - how you choose to fill your time in Inverness, one ‘must-visit’ attraction on the list should be a Jacobite Cruise. Sailing out of the River Ness every day during the high season, these luxury cruises take visitors into the famous waters of Loch Ness. At this juncture, the spectre of the Loch Ness monster will naturally raise its head, figuratively at least. While a bona fide sighting of this elusive beast may not be possible, the loch itself offers more than enough to entertain the whole family. The Jacobite cruises include a stop-off to tour Urquhart Castle, the iconic ruin that overlooks the loch. Children will be happy to let their imagination run wild as they explore the ancient fortification, while adults will enjoy soaking up the history and taking in the spectacular views across the loch.
Having come this far north, your best bet is to keep going, either west to the Isle of Skye or north to John O’Groats and on to the Orkney Islands. Should you elect for the latter, the kids will be fascinated by the sight of Skara Brae, a Neolithic fort that provides a fascinating insight into Orcadian life 4,000 years ago, complete with stone tools and weapons.
Children will also appreciate Scapa Flow, the bay filled with the decaying wrecks of the German fleet that was scuttled during wartime. Those old enough and bold enough to don a wetsuit will discover all kinds of marine life swimming amidst the remains of the rusting ships.
Should your travels take you over the bridge to Skye instead, the rustic delights of The Three Chimneys, one of Scotland’s top seafood restaurants, await. Children may not be impressed by the locally-caught scallops, but they’ll enjoy crab-fishing off the end of the adjacent harbour.
Having methodically worked your way around some of the most northerly spots in Scotland, the only thing for it is to head south again, retracing your steps before turning towards Edinburgh on the East Coast. The capital’s attractions are as diverse as those of Glasgow, although Edinburgh has an artier feel to it. Thus, in addition to the usual parks and play centres, there is an abundance of children’s theatre and pantomime to be savoured, especially during August when the Fringe festival is in full swing. For children enchanted by Disney tales of princes and princesses, Edinburgh Castle naturally demands a visit.
If you can fit all of the foregoing into a fortnight in Scotland you’ll be doing well. Should you end up eking out your holiday in just one or two preferred spots, it really doesn’t matter, provided the whole family have a great time. Besides, if you enjoyed your trip to Scotland that much, there’s always next time to go gallivanting around the country. And the next time. And maybe even the time after that.
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