Our A-Z of Edinburgh Fun
We visit a lot of places, but there are some days out that stick in our heads. Some that just work, places that the boys love and where we’ll all happily return to over and over. I asked my boys (aged 3 and 6) to tell me their favourite days out and things to do in and around Edinburgh. It took a while and a lot of guesswork from their vague descriptions, but we got there eventually. Some are indoors, the majority out and some great day trips for the weeks of no school and sunshine (?) on the horizon. Even better, many of them are totally free. There’s a lot of letters we could have duplicated and so many more places we wanted to feature. These are our absolute favourites right now.
Almond Valley: Fun fun fun! We’ve bought an annual pass for Almond Valley and it’s well worth it. Lovely to be able to pop in for an hour or 2 when we don’t always have a full day to spend there. 38 acres of animals, tire out your kid style activities and a fabulous restaurant using food grown within their own gardens. Good points: Hoopla cows (cows which you play hoopla on their horns), huge rain friendly undercover sand pit, trolley rides. Bad points: the wall of dummies (scariest thing ever).
Beecraigs Park: Totally designed to fit into the curve of the land, this is an amazing play park built up in the hills between Livingston and Linlithgow. Split across 2 sites it’s pretty large and caters for all ages. It has a massive spiders web to climb, 2 big aerial slides, a great sandpit with diggers, a super wide seesaw so plenty room to share the seats, slides and more. Good points: Free. Tunnel slide that goes through the hill. Occasional ice cream van. Toilets. Bad points: Not much shelter so can get very windy.
Conifox: A new favourite of ours, so much so we bought annual membership on our first visit. Large play area, giant chess set, football golf, jellybelly bouncy pillow, trampolines, go karts, wee tractors, play houses and more. Under 3’s go free. Good points: All of the above. Great cafe with fantastic food. Go karts (with back seats for childen) all in great condition and totally flat track so even I could drive them. One way in, one way out of the play area so you can be sure wee folk aren’t running out a random exit. Giant chess. Bad points: Zero shelter so if it rains you will get wet. Only toilets are quite far away in the cafe (new ones closer to the park activities are being built later this year I believe).
Dobbies: We spend a lot of time in Dobbies, the Dalkeith and the Livingston branches. Have been known to spend 6 hours in there. My boys LOVE going to Dobbies. An all in one restaurant, toy shop, book shop, pet shop, play area, home wares, furniture, cards, garden sheds (which we absolutely do not play in). I often use lunch at Dobbies as a bribe as my boys love getting the children’s boxes and choosing their own. Good points: Free. Dobbies card, free drinks every month. Everything above and the cake selection. Bad points: The salad bar is a bit dismal at the Livingston branch.
Edinburgh Leisure: I can’t commit to monthly swim membership (time or expense wise) and I know a lot of other people can’t either. I recently found out you can now buy 10 swimming passes for just £40. These are valid across all 10 Edinburgh Leisure pools and valid for 12 months. Even I can manage to go swimming 10 times in one year, I think. Over 6’s generally start at £5 so some good savings to be made. Good points: A year to use them. A choice of 10 pools including the brilliant Portobello Turkish Baths. Bad points: Motivation to get there in the first place. Changing rooms!
Five Sisters Zoo: About a 20 minute drive outside Edinburgh this is another place we’ve loved so much we’ve had annual membership for and will be renewing this year. Fantastic zoo, very well kept, huge variety of animals, many of them rescued such as the lions and bears. They’ve also recently opened a brand new huge soft play within the grounds. Good points: Easy to spot animals, rarely have empty enclosures. Small enough for children to walk around without moaning (too much), few hills. Brilliant big pirate ship with loads of slides. Constantly updating and improving the facilities. Bad points: None.
Gorgie City Farm: Loved by Edinburgh locals for more than 40 years this volunteer led attraction is a brilliant wee find in the city centre. Animals, tractors, gardens, slides – if you have children I’d say aged 5 and under, you can easily spend hours here. Gorgie Farm is also the home of my favourite glass collages in the city, take a look. Good points: Free (although you REALLY REALLY should donate). Toilets. Bad points: Cafe only open at weekends.
Hot Flame: Yes I have put an all you can eat restaurant in our favourite things to do. It’s amazing. My 6 and 3 year old both love it, unlimited pasta, watermelon, tomatoes, pizza and garlic bread. And for me unlimited veg sushi, noodles, curry, roast tatties yummm! We go to Hot Flame in Livingston but Cosmo at the Omni or Mr Basrai in Fountainbridge are also worth a try. Good points: Food is fresh, hugely varied and replenished constantly. Bad points: It’s very hard to stop at
1, 2, 3, 4 platefuls and you will come away totally fit tae burst.
Inchcolm Island: A huge day of adventure which has been on our to do list for a while. Four miles of exciting sailing along the Firth of Forth brings you to Inchcolm Island (the Iona of the East). There is loads to do once you’re on the island; exploring the beautiful Abbey which dates back to the 12th century, climbing the tower for brilliant views and you can easily spend hours playing on the sandy beaches. There’s even a gift shop. You can sail to Inchcolm with both Forth Boat Tours and Maid of the Forth. Good points: 9 hectares of island to explore. Toilets. Bad points: Choppy seas + children, often = chunder.
Jupiter Artland: So close to Edinburgh and so close to us yet we’re never properly visited, that will be rectified in the next few months. An open air art gallery full of conceptual artwork, changing exhibitions and thought provoking features set throughout a stunning location. Here you can also find some of Edinburgh’s most impressive landscaping and water features, also known as the Cells of Life by Charles Jencks. Good points: Space to run. Different to anything you’ll have seen before. Cafe. Toilets. Bad points: The single track road can make for some tricky reversing over the water feature.
Kyoto Friendship Garden, even prettier when the blossom is out
Kyoto Friendship Garden: Based within the grounds of Lauriston Castle is the most tranquil and beautiful Japanese inspired garden. We only discovered it through word of mouth a couple of years back, and still know so many local people who have never been. It really is a hidden gem. Opened in 2002 to celebrate the twinning of Edinburgh and the prefecture of Kyoto, this little haven of peace is a walkway of pretty Japanese pagodas, calming water features and stunning cherry blossom trees. Good points: Free. Stunning views over the Forth to Fife. Peace in a busy city. Bad points: You have to be fast to stop your children jumping the stepping stones. The peace might be shattered when your brood arrive.
Library: Simple and obvious, yet free, fun and overlooked by so many. We’re so lucky to have such wonderful libraries in Edinburgh. Our local library holds twice weekly BookBugs sessions, a free music and singing class for wee ones. We also often pop in after school to get new books, lounge and read to each other on the beanbags, play with jigsaws and toys and a whole huge corner of the building decorated for and devoted to children. Good points: Free. No fines on overdue books for children. Bad points: If your memory is as bad as mine you may incur the wrath of the librarian for overdue books.
Museum of Childhood: I took my boys here for their first visit during the summer holidays last year. After that we returned twice more that month and spent a minimum 2 hours each time. The exhibits behind glass didn’t hold much interest for them but what they did love were the interactive toys. Old style jigsaws, magnetic blocks, cars and garages, puppet shows and the praxinoscope. They loved it, so much so the staff had to come round and tell us it was time to leave. Good points: Free. Retro toys, no screens. Bad points: realising toys I played with as a child are now in a museum.
National Museum of Scotland: Since my oldest could walk he’s been tearing round this museum on a regular basis. Sure a lot of it passes
me him by, but the wide open spaces, animals, space and sounds, music, dinosaurs, dressing up, games, interactive fun, science – he just loves it. My other half regularly takes the boys here and they’ll quite happily spend a day running round. Good points: Free. So much to see and do for inquisitive absorbent little minds. Bad points: So big and so much to see it can be hard to keep track of more than 1 child at a time.
Odeon: Everyone in my family loves the cinema and thanks to Odeon Kids we are regular visitors. At weekends and most days during holidays Odeon Kids films are around £2.50 per ticket. No stress and if your toddler decides to sing or walk up and down the stairs it’s fine, cause the likelihood there’s always another doing it first. Perfect start to a weekend. We always go to Odeon as it’s closest but I know loads of other cinemas like Vue and Cineworld do similar. Good points: Huge discounts, stress free. Bad points: Films are often a few months old (my 2 couldn’t care less about this).
Princes Street Gardens: Never ending grass to run on, a stage to perform on, a tiny (hard to find) bridge where you can train spot from above to your hearts content, absolute bonus that the train drivers wave back, toot their horns and flash their lights. Granny’s cottage from Teapot Tales on CBBC is the old Gardeners Cottage in West Princes Street Gardens. Two minutes (well 20mins with a small person) walk away there’s also a brilliant and busy little play park at the far west of the gardens, handily it also has public toilets right next to it. Positive: Free. Easy to reach. So much space to run. Clean, tidy and safe. Toilets. Negative: Little shelter from the rain, a mini Nor Loch regularly appears when there’s a prolonged downpour.
Q: Yep, stuck!
Royal Botanical Gardens: When we’re out and about spotting Monkey Puzzle trees is a huge source of arguments for my boys “I saw it first”. No, I saw it first”. At the Botanics recently Monkey Puzzle trees galore, everyone was happy. We had a good few hours there, running about, puddle jumping, in and out of greenhouses, running round the mini maze, sneaking up close to squirrels, running away from each other. General exploring, shouting, having fun and doing what kids do. Great morning out. Positive: Free. Imagination is the only limit. Lovely child friendly cafe. Negative: Can’t think of any!
Scavenger Hunt: Who would have thought looking for a piece of dirty string could be so exciting? A zip lock bag each, a list, a pen and away we go. I used to do this when I was little and they love it just as much as I did. Acorns, a pine cone, a sycamore leaf, string, pennies, a feather, a daisy, a sweetie wrapper – anything can be treasure. Positive: Free. Old school fun. Can be done anywhere. Negative: Two wee folk fighting over who gets to keep a dirty wrapper is so undignified!
TurtleDove Cafe: We love it here and generally visit about once a month, more if time allows. Just under a fiver (2-6 year olds) entry and stay as long as you like, or monthly passes for £15. Pitched mainly at preschool children Turtledove (formally Jenn’s Den) has a great mix of toys, puzzles, a mini adventure run, books, imaginative play and a pirate ship. They also offer a lovely wee tapas menu for children and my 3 year old will quite happily run from wall puzzle to pirate ship to slide until he spots his food arriving. Sad my oldest is nearly 7 and growing out of the fun here. Good points: The chicken and avocado wrap is amazing. Free on street parking. Bad points: Got rid of customer WiFi after updating their systems and needing the connection for payments. A second WiFi line wouldn’t go amiss.
U: Stumped again. Go to Glasgow and go on the Underground.
Vogrie Park: Yes, Vogrie Park has an impressive baronial manor house, woodland walks and a golf course. But we miss most of that and head straight to the amazing play park (which I enjoy just as much as my children do). Some of the equipment I’ve never seen elsewhere, the swings in particular, set in a star shape with everyone facing each other (totally not trying to kick each other, how irresponsible would that be?!) are always a huge laugh. There’s a huge spiders web with platforms to climb. On the short walk from the car park (£1) to the play park there’s also some wonderful art play installations such as an over sized bicycle and chairs, great photo ops. Good points: Free. Leapfrog play equipment to test your fitness (and pelvic floor). Cafe. Toilets. Bad points: None, lack of rain shelters at a push.
Weehailes Playpark: Recently opened on the outskirts of Musselburgh, Weehailes set in the grounds of Newhailes House is a brilliantly designed outdoor play area aimed at children from 3-12. The park includes some highly impressive architecture, scrambling towers, two aerial slides (one specifically for wee ones that you sit in not on, bonus no falling from height at speed), a maze, sandpits, and lots of walkways and adventure. We were there for approximately 3 hours and my boys loved every second. Positive: Free (to NTS members). Cafe on site. Toilets. Negative: £3 parking can sting if you’re not a member.
X: X is always for x-ray or xylophone!
YouTube: Umm yep, if all of the above fails, turn on your phone, click on YouTube and put on Pigface. My 3 year old would still quite happily watch Peppa Pig or Ben & Holly on repeat for hours on end. With all the best and good intentions sometimes we are just not up for facing the world, and that’s ok. Positive: Free(ish). Endless. Negative: Endless.
Zzzzzzzzzzz: Yep, nothing starts with Z. Already did Zoo. Lets just go to sleep, zzzzzzzzzz. Good points: Free. A 5 minute power nap might energize me. Bad points: Sleep? During the day? Hahahahaha my boys don’t sleep during the day and not a chance they’d let me have 5mins kip. When I’ve tried to the 3 year old just shouts Cockadoodledoooo in my ear. Z is for Zambucca. That should help us all sleep. Positive: Power naps are amazing. Negative: Never happens.
Yes, we got stumped on Q, U and X. Sure there’s some obvious places that we just couldn’t think of. We’d love to hear what you think of our favourite places, have you been to any of them recently? And if there’s any top visits you can recommend, please do, we’re always on the look out for exciting and fun new places to go. Especially with 6 weeks of holidays looming ….