So the Easter holiday are upon us and you’re looking for somewhere to take the kids that’s going to interest and engage them. So where to go ?
This short guide to the Top 10 Days Out isn’t intended to be a definitive listing – it really depends on where you live, what your interests are and the age of your children. However, it does draw on our personal experience of the attractions, sights and experiences that have really captured our kids’ imaginations.
The selections I’ve made are mainly aimed at kids of primary school age – our two kids are aged 12 and 8 now – although I would say that there would enough to interest both toddlers and teenagers alike. I’ve focused on days out that involve some ‘fresh air’ – ie experiencing Scotland’s outdoors – but have also recommended places to eat out and visit nearby to ‘make a day of it’. So get away from the city, plan to do something a little different and enjoy all that Scotland has to offer.
10. Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore
On a large site 15 miles south of Aviemore the Highland Folk Museum is an open air attraction that features re-constructed buildings, a 1700s ‘Township’, a 1940 working farm, old vehicles you can take rides in. There are various collections housed in traditional Highland buldings: a smoke house, school, church, clockmaker’s workshop, croft house, post office, railway halt and joiner’s shop. It has a relaxed feel and the staff in traditional costume are keen to engage kids in learning about how people used to live. It’s really not as stuffy as museums can sometimes be – there’s enough to easily take up half a day. And it’s free.
9. Forest and Mountain Safaris, Perthshire
I wrote a previous post about the great afternoon we had at Highland Safaris near Aberfeldy taking a Forest Safari in a landrover up into the hills. We weren’t really that sure what to expect but our expert guide was so knowledgeable about the wildlife and history of the area that there was always something new to see or do at every point of the safari. The highlight of the afternoon was the exciting four-wheel landrover trip through a river and over bumpy tracks – the kids were squealing with delight. Make sure you stay for lunch at Highland Safaris which is very good, they have gold panning for the kids, a small mountain bike track (you can hire bikes too) and a well stocked shop. A great day out.
8. Blair Castle, Blair Atholl
Right next door to the caravan park in the centre of Blair Atholl (well-run and recommended), Blair Castle is everything a Scottish castle should be – weapons and stags heads adorning the walls, rooms with four-posters and other fine furniture, a ‘lived in’ feel (it’s the ancient home of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl), a good cafe and great grounds with tall trees and tranquil ponds. Check out the staircase with a banister made from Narwhal tusks ! Atholl Estates also organise pony trekking, landrover safaris and ranger activities. Make a day of it and visit the excellent chippy for tea just across the main road (I’m a regular visitor on my way up and down the A9).
7. Culzean Castle, Country Park and beach, Ayrshire
Culzean (pronounced Cullane) Castle is an imposing building sitting within 560 acres of grounds in an impressive cliff-top location 12 miles south of Ayr. The castle was rebuilt by Robert Adam in 1775 and includes impressive drawing rooms, an oval staircase and kitchens. The castle is now run by the National Trust for Scotland but in addition to being able to view its rooms and extensive grounds you can also stay in the exclusive Eisenhower apartment (if you the money …) which looks out to the island of Arran. If it’s a nice day, don’t miss the chance to visit Culzean beach – a real gem with good sand and rock pools. Not so good, however, is the campsite (run by the Camping and Caravanning Club) … unless of course you like your camping to be regimented by lots of rules, rules, rules …
6. Blair Drummond Safari Park, near Stirling
Blair Drummond Safari Park is on our doorstep and a real favourite. Drive through the wild animal reserves and park up just yards away from lions and zebras. Take a boat trip to Chimp Island, enjoy the sea lion show and take a break at the large adventure playground. If the weather’s good, take a picnic and use the barbeques provided – you could easily spend a whole day here.
You might also be interested in visiting Briarlands Farm, just a few hundred metres down the lane from the entrance to the Safari Park. It has indoor and outdoor play activities, a tea room and pick-your-own fruit, and is especially good for younger children. Other good options for days out nearby include the David Marshall Lodge Visitor Centre near Aberfoyle, which also has a Go Ape! treetop adventure course with high wires, zip wires and ladders (best for kids aged over 10 years). Apart from the on-site catering available at all three locations, the Buttercup Cafe in the centre of Doune does really great breakfasts, coffees and lunches.
5. Landmark, Carrbridge
We’ve been going to Landmark for many years – Granny lives just across the road and my nephew worked here in his holidays. Yes, it’s slightly more commercial than some other attractions but I defy you not to get caught up in the kids’ excitement. The best activities include the Wildwatercoaster raft rides, the Runaway Train rollercoaster and the Tarzan Trail and Skydive high up in the trees. Landmark is set right in the middle of a pine woodland – there’s also a working sawmill and a Clydesdale horse – and there are also good walks both on the site and immediately outside so you can enjoy the woodland setting. It does get busy in the school holidays though. Give the food here a wide berth (unless you like standard burger fare) and instead, head to Anderson’s in Boat of Garten (10 mins drive away) for an excellent, family-friendly restaurant. They provide really good quality, freshly-cooked and locally-produced food which is a cut above the food offerings in the Aviemore area.
4. Inchmahome Island, Lake of Menteith
For a relaxing outing, Inchmahome Island lies in splendid isolation in the middle of the Lake of Menteith, near Aberfoyle. Run by Historic Scotland, the ruined priory (established in 1238) is the main attraction although it’s a short walk around the island and great for the kids to explore. A small passenger ferry (seating up to 12) plies its way to and from the Port of Menteith. Go in April/May to enjoy the carpets of bluebells.
If you’re really energetic (and have the time), why not climb Ben A’an, one of the most accessible small mountains in Scotland with fantastic views over the Trossachs (perfectly do-able for kids aged 7-8+, taking about 3 hours) ? For eating options, the Lake of Menteith Hotel does good, upmarket food just beside the pier for the passenger ferry to Inchmahome Island. Alternatively, Mhor Fish in Callander is well worth seeking out for great quality fish and chips (also included in my post on the Top 10 Fish and Chip Shops).
3. Flying, Fulmars and Flumes at East Lothian
We were very pleasantly surprised at the range and quality of attractions on offer in East Lothian when we had a long weekend camping there a few years ago (we must return …). The Museum of Flight at East Fortune Airfield (see Concorde, hangars full of planes and hands-on exhibits) and the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick (wildlife theatre, live webcams of the Bass Rock and Isle of May, boat trips) are well worth visiting. For younger kids, try East Links Family Park near Dunbar. For a wet day, go to Dunbar Leisure Pool (great flumes) or if it’s sunny, the beach at Yellowcraigs. Something for everyone.
2. Loch Lomond National Park – Cycling and water buses
The Loch Lomond National Park Authority are keen to develop a range of cycling, walking and water bus routes across the Park to aid access. The water buses are a great way to get around, linking west, east and south shore locations like Luss & Balmaha, Balloch & Balmaha and Tarbet with Inversnaid & Rowardennan. A few years ago when my daugher was six we camped near Luss, cycled up to Inversnaid, took a boat over to Rowardennan for lunch then made the return journey. There are some excellent cycle paths in the National Park and so with a bit of forward planning you can figure out circular routes that involve a boat ride and some refreshments on the way.
1. Dolphin watching at Chanonry Point, Moray Firth
It’s a great experience to see bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat and Chanonry Point is one of the best places to see them. While boat rides are available to get a close-up view, the best part is you don’t need to do this but can see them while having a picnic on shore. Chanonry Point is near Cromarty, about 15 miles from Inverness. It can sometimes be quite windy here so make sure you take clothes to wrap up warm while you wait for the dolphins to appear. There’s quite often an ice cream / snacks van here which also serves hot drinks. (If you’re interested in this, you may also be interested in my post on Top 10 Places to see Wildlife).