10 of the best family days out in Scotland in 2023
MadeForMums has researched the best days out in Scotland for families with different interests and budgets, bringing you our top 10 attractions for kids
If you’re exploring Scotland with the family, you’ll want to get the most out of this beautiful and diverse part of the UK.
Whether it’s major sights in bustling city hotspots like Edinburgh and Glasgow, historic castles or simply enjoying Scotland's famously great outdoors, there’s plenty of activities and attractions for families with young children.
While no UK family holiday is complete without wellies and an emergency poncho, we’ve included a mix of outdoor gems like Landmark Forest Adventure Park, as well as indoor attractions like St Andrews Aquarium, that will keep youngsters enthralled whatever the weather.
So what are the best days out for families with young children visiting Scotland? Our top 10 should help families large and small plan a fun travel itinerary for a range of needs and budgets.
Best days out in Scotland - at a glance
- Best for animal lovers: Edinburgh Zoo - Edinburgh Zoo tickets, Picniq and Kids Pass
- Best for history-loving kids: Stirling Castle - Stirling Castle tickets and Picniq
- Best for outdoor families: Landmark Forest Adventure Park - Landmark Forest Adventure Park tickets and Picniq
- Best for curious kids: Glasgow Science Centre - Glasgow Science Centre tickets and Picniq
- Best for rainy days: St Andrews Aquarium - St Andrews Aquarium tickets, Picniq and TripAdvisor
- Best budget day out: Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel - Riverside Museum tickets, Picniq and TripAdvisor
- Best for engaging young and old: Camera Obscura and World of Illusions - Camera Obscura tickets, TripAdvisor and Picniq
- Best for young adventurers: RRS Discovery - RRS Discovery tickets and TripAdvisor
- Best for dinosaur lovers: Dino Park - Dino Park tickets, TripAdvisor and Picniq
- Best for families with mobility issues: Blair Drummond Safari Park - Blair Drummond Safari Park tickets and Picniq
What are the best free attractions in Scotland?
Our list includes options for a range of budgets, from free entry to those worth saving up for to celebrate a special occasion. You can also see MadeForMums' suggestions for the best free family activities in Edinburgh, and best free family activities in Glasgow for even more ideas on a budget.
1. Edinburgh Zoo, Edinburgh
— Best for animal lovers
Family ticket from £65 | Best for all ages | Best in good weather | Free onsite parking | Haymarket Station 2 miles | Buy tickets in advance for best prices
There are more than a couple of reasons to visit Edinburgh Zoo, but two of the best are Yang Guang and Tian Tian. The pair are the UK’s only giant pandas and they’ll be calling Edinburgh home for at least another 18 months before they’re returned to China.
But with 2,500 creatures living here - from the cute and cuddly to the truly roarsome - there’s much more to Edinburgh Zoo. And plenty of it is under cover, in case of rain.
Lucy, mum to Alasdair, five, rates the additional facilities like the cafe and gift shop, and says: “Edinburgh Zoo’s not the cheapest attraction, but there’s loads to see. Alasdair liked watching the monkeys climbing in the trees and thought the meerkats were funny.”
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The zoo is set over 82 acres within the city but it’s buggy friendly, so it’s no problem if little legs tire before you’ve covered the whole site. It is hilly though, so do bear in mind bigger legs might feel the burn!
Pros: Something for everyone; picnics allowed
Cons: Hillside setting might be tricky for those with limited mobility; queues can be long in the school holidays
If you want to stay the night in Edinburgh, take a look at our pick of the best family hotels in Edinburgh.
2. Stirling Castle, Stirling
— Best for history-loving kids
Family ticket: from £47.50 | Best for: 5+ | Best on a clear day | Limited, paid onsite parking | Stirling station 0.5 mile | Check website for special events
Who doesn’t love a castle on a hill? Edinburgh Castle might get all the attention, but for families with young children Stirling is the unsung hero.
From plush royal chambers to the obligatory cannons, there’s plenty to excite little people. Staff aren’t averse to a bit of period costume either, bringing all the history to life for younger visitors. The castle vaults now house loads of fun and interactive displays especially for kids, including historic musical instruments, the secrets of dressing like a king or queen and how jesters kept their monarch entertained.
The Unicorn Cafe does kids’ lunchboxes and has a good offering for adults too, at reasonable prices. Oh, and did we mention it’s not really on a hill? It’s actually an extinct volcano!
Pros: Educational, great views from the battlements
Cons: Lots of ground to cover and some steps, can get very busy, parking is pretty limited
3. Landmark Forest Adventure Park, Cartridge
— Best for outdoor families
Family ticket from £92 | Best for 3+ | Good-weather attraction | Free, pre-booked onsite parking | Carrbridge station 1 mile | Online booking only
Set over acres of beautiful Highland forestry, Landmark is a theme park like no other. Expect dry and wet rides (which might be a bit tame by the bigger parks’ standards) and plenty more besides.
Head indoors for the Bamboozeleum, which is full of optical illusions and general oddities that kids will love, then pull on a harness for the Tarzan Trail high ropes challenge (or the Wee Monkey Trail for, well, wee monkeys).
Dinosaur Kingdom and the Butterfly House will also keep little ones engaged. To escape the crowds during busier times, head into the Ancient Forest Adventure for a wander among the pines to see if you can spot a red squirrel. Picnics are allowed, but there are also three food outlets in the park.
Pros: Unique experience, variety of attractions, beautiful location
Cons: Not great value for money for younger kids; queues for the more popular attractions
4. Glasgow Science Centre, Glasgow
— Best for curious kids
Family ticket from £47 | Best for 7+ | All-weather attraction | Paid on-site parking | Exhibition Centre station 1 mile | Hosts Little Explorer Days and other special events, see website
You can’t miss Glasgow Science Centre on the banks of the River Clyde – its shiny IMAX is bound to attract kids’ attention for starters. Then there’s the 127-metre tower and the glass-fronted museum itself that on a sunny day reflect in the water, and visually add to the general buzz of this reinvigorated former industrial area.
Inside there’s lots of interactive fun for youngsters - from how our bodies work, to the make-up of the universe and how we’ll power the future. Under-7s can get busy at The Big Explorer, where they can don a hard hat and keep the GSC’s cargo ship afloat.
Jo, mum to Jenna, 7, said the water play was a hit. “It’s basically like a giant water table, and she was in her element,” she said. “It was great to see her working out how she could influence the path of the water.” If that’s not enough wow for you, the Planetarium and IMAX (costs from £3 extra) take a visit to the next level.
Pros: Hands-on fun and learning, great rainy day out
Cons: Car park can be tricky to find, some exhibits are too advanced for younger kids
5. St Andrews Aquarium, St Andrews
— Best for rainy days
Family ticket from £44 | Great for all ages | All-weather attraction although seal feeding and talks take place outside | Paid parking Bruce Embankment 100 yards | Leuchars station 6 miles | Feeding sessions for ages 8+
It’s not Scotland’s biggest aquarium but – thanks to a flexible interpretation of what constitutes aquatic life – it is one of the most diverse.
There are fish, of course, from all climates, as well as sharks, rays, seals, penguins and reptiles. More unexpectedly, you will find meerkats and a pair of rescued marmosets too.
Thanks to the compact design of the aquarium’s enclosures, kids can get right up close and watch as staff hand-feed these hilarious little characters. The harbour seals aren’t at all shy, in fact they seem more curious than the visitors, and put on a good show for kids.
Pros: St Andrews is perfect for a wander afterwards, small and friendly
Cons: Not currently wheelchair friendly, less glitzy than bigger aquariums
6. Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel, Glasgow
— Best budget day out
Free entry | Ideal for all ages | All-weather attraction | Paid onsite parking | Partick station 0.6 miles | No need to book
If you’re looking for a cheap but entertaining day out with the kids, you’d be hard pressed to find anything more interesting than the Riverside Museum.
Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects to replace the city’s musty and ageing transport museum in 2011, the site is bright, airy and accessible for all. If it rolls, floats or chugs it’s in here – there’s everything from steam engines to skateboards.
Kids can climb aboard a tram from the city’s now defunct system, as well as a jiggling historic carriage from Glasgow’s ‘Clockwork Orange’ underground. There’s also a recreated street scene from the early 1900s, where kids can explore the shops and buildings.
As the name suggests, the museum sits at the meeting of the Rivers Clyde and Kelvin and there’s a display dedicated to the area’s shipbuilding tradition. The Clydebuilt Tall Ship Glenlee is next door and is also free with no need to book. Ahoy!
Pros: Free and flexible, picnic area inside
Cons: You need to like transport, fewer hands-on activities than other museums
7. Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, Edinburgh
— Best for engaging young and old
Family ticket from £55 | Best for 3+ | All-weather attraction | Discounted parking at Castle Terrace NCP 0.4 miles| Waverley station 0.5 miles | Visitors can borrow baby carriers
Nothing is what it seems is the catchline at Camera Obscura, and it’s definitely a fair description. There are more than 100 mind-bending hands-on exhibits over the six floors of the museum, which was the city’s first ever purpose-built attraction (and a lot of its offering has a real old-school circus feel).
While the building makes access tricky for those with mobility issues, the cityscape views from its rooftop terrace are among the best you’ll find in Edinburgh.
It’s not unknown for even the accompanying grown-up (ahem) to get well and truly lost in their baffling Mirror Maze. And your kids will probably never let you forget it (once they’ve stopped laughing). Get your own back by navigating the Vortex ‘spinning’ tunnel like a pro while they scream and grab for the railings.
Pros: Situated right in old Edinburgh beside the Castle, something for the whole family
Cons: The 6 floors aren’t accessible for all, there’s a gift shop but no cafe
8. RRS Discovery, Dundee
— Best for young adventurers
Family ticket from £27.75 | Good for all ages | Best in good weather | Discovery Point car park 0.05 miles | Dundee station directly opposite | You don’t have to pre-book but you can
When you clap eyes on RRS Discovery, you’ll struggle to believe this ship has been to the most inhospitable place on Earth. To younger visitors it’ll look like a pirate ship, but this incredible vessel was actually built for exploring Antarctica in 1900.
The museum takes kids through the conditions Captain Scott and his crew faced on the voyage with displays about food, clothing and equipment, as well as first-hand accounts. Then for the best bit – they can climb aboard the ship herself in the city of its construction and explore everything from the Galley to the Mess Deck and Scott’s own cabin, which was said to be the coldest part of the ship. And in Antarctica you can bet that was chilly!
Pros: Unique experience, good-value cafe on site
Cons: Construction works may cause disruption (ticket prices have been discounted), the ship is not fully accessible
9. Dino Park, near Dumfries
— Best for dinosaur lovers
Family ticket from £37 | Best for pre-school children | Soft play on site in case of bad weather | Free on-site parking | Dumfries station 8 miles | Outdoor park is open summertime only (April-October)
If your little one is dino-mad, take them on a dinosaur safari on the trail of velociraptors, triceratops and T-Rex (and those are just the big-ticket names). They can also play at being a palaeontologist for the day in the Dino Dig section, where they can search for fossils and bones, while learning about where they came from.
There’s also a Dino Mine, taking visitors underground among yet more lurking creatures and the Dino Den, where staff teach kids about dinosaurs.
If the weather takes a turn for the worse, the combined ticket covers 2 hours in the extensive indoor soft play. There’s also a snack bar on site and illuminated tours are available at night time.
Pros: Great for dino fans, accessible and buggy-friendly
Cons: Food options are quite limited, probably won’t fill a whole day
10. Blair Drummond Safari Park, near Stirling
— Best for families with mobility issues
Family ticket from £65 | Best for 3+ | Best in good weather | Free onsite parking | Stirling Station 6 miles | Discounted entry for late time slots | Advance booking essential
You get a lot of park for your money at Blair Drummond – the site covers a massive 160 acres in the grounds of a mansion house.
The varied attractions include rides, adventure playground, slides, zip lines and pedal boats, alongside a whole host of animals. As you’d expect from a safari park they have all the big names – lions, tigers, white rhino, giraffes, zebra and elephants. Some of them are in enclosures kids can walk right up to, while the big cats are in larger, car-only sections.
There’s also a lovely pets farm where children can get close to donkeys, pigs, llamas and other friendly faces. Sea lion shows take place indoors.
Fiona, mum to Bethany, 4, says taking your own lunch helps to keep the costs down. “They also provide barbecues free of charge,” she says. “Bethany also loves the various swing parks.” The main adventure playground, situated near the park’s new dinosaur attraction, is one of the best in the area and gives parents a well-earned rest after pounding the pavements around the vast site.
Pros: Flat and accessible for buggies, lots of varied attractions
Cons: Queues for the boat trip to Chimp Island; large site with a walk to reach the toilets
How we tested
When testing these days out, we looked at age suitability, entertainment value, location and whether it’s good value for money.
Our 10 of the Best lists are compiled by qualified and experienced parenting journalists. They rely on a number of sources, including their own experience, independent reviews and feedback from friends and contacts.
Our list is not an ordered ranking from 1-10, instead it is a carefully selected group of tried and tested days out, each of which we believe is best for different weather and families. We don’t just tell you what is best, we help you discover what is best for your family.
About the author
Sarah Reid is a journalist and mum of 2, which means she spends a lot of time asking and answering questions. She is editor of Quids in!, which is a money magazine aimed at people on low incomes.
Based in Scotland, Sarah has explored the country’s many camping and self-catering in recent years, seeking the best family travel options in Scotland with her two daughters, aged 12 and 9.
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