Falcons, Castles and Kilts: Five Family-Friendly Things To Do In Scotland
When you think of Scotland, what comes to mind? Whiskey, perhaps, or haggis? Since my kids aren’t legally allowed to drink whiskey, and I could not convince them to even poke their fork at haggis during our recent trip to Scotland, my family vacation with Kensington Tours was uniquely designed to meet my family’s needs. Though the rugged and charming country has an overabundance of fun things to do with children, my family’s privately guided journey was focused on the country’s popular east coast.
These five fun, family-friendly things to do will enhance any family vacation in Scotland.
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile
From its base at Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle at its Castle Hill apex, the Royal Mile is a fantastic road to stroll for travelers of all ages. Our private tour guide carefully planned our stops to suit my two daughters’ ideal points of interest. In their minds, tales of royalty and accused witches reigned supreme over highlights such as the Scottish Parliament building and the various historic pubs (some of which piqued my keen interest, but that’s another story). A tour of Mary King’s Close was exceptionably memorable for all of us; “closes” are small courtyards that branch off from the main street of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, and Mary King’s Close is the most famous. What was once very popular and busy marketplace run by Mary Close was built upon and preserved as a testament to what life in Scotland was like in the 1600’s. Be forewarned: it’s dark and it’s underground, which adds to its eerie appeal.
The World Famous Taste of Scotland at Prestonfield
The Scottish Banquet at Prestonfield in Edinburgh is a great experience to include on a Scottish vacation with an eye on history and culture, food and drink and camaraderie. Because our Kensington Tours Scotland Destination Expert knew that I wanted my kids to learn the country’s history and culture, she scheduled my family to enjoy a night of traditional Scottish dances and music, different types of whiskey for the adults, and delicious Scottish fare. It was a pretty touristy experience, popular with travelers, and fun for kids. I recommend that guests who visit Prestonfield should arrive an hour early, because the hotel grounds are gorgeous and the bagpipe players make for great photos with the kids.
Falconry at Gleneagles
The Gleneagles Hotel is a 5-star property internationally known for its golf courses (it’s the host venue for PGA National Golf Academy and the 2014 Ryder Cup), but non-golfers have plenty of options here too. Besides archery and ATVing, the activity that we loved the most — and felt was the most “Scottish” — was falconry. At Gleneagles, the falconry experience goes beyond someone chucking an object in the air and having a peregrine retrieve it. Families enjoy several hours with their falcons; including a drive to a forested part of the property with a guide who carefully handles the majestic birds, and quick lessons regarding how to walk with the falcons on gloved hands. Soon we were chasing falcons through the trees and high grasses as they pursued their quarry. Our falcons caught 4 or 5 crows during our falconry experience. This was beyond a doubt my family’s favorite activity at Gleneagles.
Tour of St. Andrews
St. Andrews is one of the world’s most renowned and historic golf courses, but also has much to explore besides the sport. Our KensingtonTours.com privately guided tour of St. Andrews was a wonderful opportunity to learn about the city’s history, spanning from ancient times to modernity. My daughters were charmed by the historical ruins of St Andrews, which traces its past to a monastery built in the 8th century. St. Andrews Cathedral, which was first built in 1160, stands roofless and almost wall less as well, with grass where stone and wood floor panels once were. My teenager was particularly excited to learn about the University of St. Andrews, where Prince William famously fell in love with Kate Middleton.
The ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral have their counterpoint in the remarkably well preserved Stirling Castle. Once a hub of art and culture in the 1500s, the property includes ramparts, historic battlefields, and Stirling Bridge, which is where William Wallace defeated the encroaching English army in 1297. Costumed performers bring the castle’s history to life for children, who can sometimes have a harder time relating to portraits and descriptive plaques. Kids also have the opportunity to learn about various jobs they may have had if they were growing up in 16th or 17th century Scotland. How does working as a step scrubber sound? Or even worse, a tooth donor (which is exactly what you’d think it is)?
These five fun, family-friendly things to do in Scotland are hardly inclusive. However, together, they help add to the richness and meaning of a vacation in Scotland. Other fun, enriching activities for kids include an exploration of Dunnottar Castle and Stonehaven, Beecraigs Country Park.
Jennifer Miner is a travel journalist and editor of The Vacation Gals, an award-winning travel website.