Top 10 Things to do With Families in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is my favorite city in the entire world. Although it’s an ancient city that has evolved and grown over time, walking its cobblestone streets still feels as if you’ve travelled back in time. Edinburgh offers visitors fascinating history, vibrant city life, an incredible castle AND a grand palace all in a very compact area. One could easily spend a week in the city and still not see it all. Edinburgh offers something of interest for the entire family and although this is a top 10 list, there are many other things to do and see as well. 

Top 10 Things to do With Families in Edinburgh

1. Edinburgh Castle

Although Edinburgh Castle is the most popular tourist destination in Scotland, it is so for good reason. An impressive structure built atop a 700 million-year-old extinct volcano, it has withstood many wars, political strife, as well as housed generations of kings and queens. Fantastically preserved and well planned, this castle is a must-see for all ages.

Tips

  • The castle gets crowded especially as the day goes on, so pack your patience when planning your visit.
  • Beat the lines and save money by purchasing tickets in advance. Or better yet, buy an Explorer Pass which will give you admission to many of Scotland’s main attractions.
  • The Stone of Destiny and Crown Jewels are pretty great to see, as well as the place where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI (make sure when you’re there you read the fascinating mystery surrounding the details of the birth). There’s typically a line to get in but it tends to move pretty quickly. Once inside the Crown Jewels/Stone of Destiny room, you will also move through pretty quickly so make sure you’ve done your research on their history ahead of time. This is a great movie about the rather funny history of the Stone of Destiny that the family can watch before you go: The Stone of Destiny. It can be purchased on Amazon.
  • Make sure you’re there for the 1 o’clock gun, fired every day except Sunday. There are usually large crowds that gather for the gun firing so claim your desired spot early.
  • The Redcoat Cafe offers many delicious choices for a cafeteria-style meal.
  • Check https://www.edinburghcastle.scot/visit/itineraries for some great suggested itineraries.
  • read more interesting facts about the castle here.

2. The Palace of Holyroodhouse (Holyrood Palace)

At the bottom of the Royal Mile sits Holyrood Palace, a sprawling residence that has been used consistently since before the time of Mary, Queen of Scots. Queen Elizabeth still frequents the palace as it is her official residence in Scotland. Take an audio tour through the palace to learn all about it’s fascinating history.

Tips

  • Be aware that the palace is closed to the public when the Queen is in residence. We wanted to visit last July but she was there so we were out of luck. 
  • Book tickets online or at the palace.
  • Be sure to catch the tragic but fascinating story of the murder of David Rizzio, Mary, Queen of Scot’s secretary, through the audio tour.
  • Take time to walk the grounds after your audio tour. My favorite part of the palace was the remains of the Holyrood Abbey. It’s absolutely stunning.

3. Hike King Arthur’s Seat

Because Holyrood Palace was closed to the public, we decided to hike King Arthur’s Seat instead. I mean, who wouldn’t want to say they hiked to the top of an ancient volcano? King Arthur’s Seat is located in Holyrood Park very close to the palace. Although it’s a steep hike, walking trails and the views from the top make it a very enjoyable experience. This is a great active activity to do with the kids, especially when they seem to have a bit too much energy.

Tips

  • Although walking trails are accessible, it’s still a hefty hike. Make sure to wear appropriate footwear and bring water. 
  • Be sure to find Holyrood Palace once you reach the top. The views are spectacular!

4. SANDEMAN’s FREE city tour

I’ve mentioned before that we love SANDEMAN’s tours because they offer an interesting FREE overview of the city, giving you the opportunity to quickly get your bearings and learn some history about the area. The SANDEMAN’s FREE walking tour of Edinburgh is one of the best ones we have taken (in all, we’ve gone on 5 SANDEMAN’s tours throughout Europe). The boys were especially interested in our guide’s way of teaching through stories.

Oh no! It looks like Jack’s been caught for stealing a loaf of bread! I guess he’ll get his hand nailed to the wall as punishment.

You can easily sign up for a tour here.

Tips

  • Although the tour is free, tipping at the end is highly encouraged.
  • The tour is over two hours in length so make sure you wear comfortable footwear and bring water if it’s hot (yes, it can get hot in Scotland), or an umbrella (because although the forecast may call for sunny skies, you just never know).

5. SANDEMAN’s Dark Side tour

If you’re traveling with older kids, this evening tour is an interesting way to learn about some of Edinburgh’s dark history. Grave robbers, witchcraft, and other spooky stories are told as your guide walks you around the places where these stories occurred. Although we decided not to let our younger son go on the tour, it proved to be not quite as scary as we thought it could be. Just something to take into consideration if you’re on the fence about booking this tour. If you have older kids who love to get really scared, other ghost tours may be more frightening, and there are plenty of tours of this kind to be found in an old city like Edinburgh!

Tips

  • Unlike the FREE SANDEMAN’s tour, this one does incur a fee, but you really get a lot for your money. Easily book online directly through SANDEMAN’s.
  • The tour is in the evening and lasts 2 hours so make sure you eat dinner before you go.

6. Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura was by far our boy’s (ages 12 and 16) favorite place to visit in Edinburgh. They had a great time exploring this museum where things are not always as they seem. 

Tips

  • Tickets are available at the door. Make sure to get there early since it gets busier as the day goes on.
  • Part of the draw of Camera Obscura is your ability to see the city in a unique way through cameras situated atop the building. If it’s a foggy or rainy day the city cameras from the top may be obscured (for lack of a better term). If this is the case, Camera Obscura kindly offers a subsequent day ticket so you can come back again and see the city in all it’s glory. 
  • Allow 1-2 hours to get through the museum.

7. Shop for souvenirs on The Royal Mile

The Royal Mile is exactly what it’s name says. A street that spans a mile connecting the Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. Along the way are shops and restaurants galore. It would be easy to spend and entire day shopping here. Need a kilt? Check! A souvenir magnet? Check! Bagpipes? Check! Whiskey? Check! You get it. It’s a fun place to be super touristy and get all this souvenirs you just can’t live without.

8. Have a picnic in the Princess Street Gardens

This is quite a view for a picnic!

The first time I visited Edinburgh, I was so focused on Old Town (The Royal Mile Area), that I hardly noticed there was also a New Town directly north of The Royal Mile. Although New Town is also pretty old, it offers a completely different vibe than Old Town. Shopping, high-end stores, fine dining, and the Princess Street Gardens offer an entirely different take on the city. Enjoying a picnic lunch in the garden is a great way to relax, let the kids run around, and enjoy unique views of the castle up atop the hill. Just don’t tell the kids that this location used to be a loch where people would be tried and executed for witchcraft. That may not sit too well as you’re trying to eat your delicious sandwich.

9. Take a spin on the Edinburgh Festival Wheel

This huge 42-meter high ferris wheel can be found in Princess Gardens. It offers families a different perspective of the city while enjoying some good old-fashioned fun. Check out their website here.

Tips

  • Book online up to the day before your visit, or purchase on site.
  • Summer operating dates are around June 30-September 2, and winter operating dates are around November 18th to January 6th. Check here to find the latest operating information.

10. Watch street performers

How does he do that?
OUCH!

There is no shortage of entertainment along The Royal Mile. Street performers are busy from 9am-9pm every day playing bagpipes, dressing in crazy costumes, and putting on fascinating shows. We’ve seen everything from a floating Yoda to a guy who can lay on a bed of nails. This is a great way to pass some time and enjoy a photo op or keep the kids (and yourselves) entertained. 

Tips

  • As far as I could tell, all street performers ask for tips. This includes the ones you may just want a photo with.
  • If you really love the arts and street performances, plan your trip in the month of August to see The Fringe, a festival with over 54,000 performances!

5 More Honorable Mentions

Practically anything you chose to do in Edinburgh is going to be fantastic. Unfortunately there are just too many things to do all in one visit. The following suggestions attain honorable mention status because in my two visits I either haven’t had time to visit them myself or I felt as if the aforementioned 10 take priority if you only have a limited amount of time to take in the city. However, I’ve heard the following are also fantastic, and are definitely on our list for subsequent visits.

1. The Royal Botanic Garden 

Because I travel with my brood of boys who aren’t very interested in anything botanical, we haven’t yet ventured to the Royal Botanic Gardens, However, it’s top on my list for next time. It is one of the world’s leading botanical gardens and looks beautiful.

2. Greyfriars Bobby

We have seen this site and it’s definitely worth a quick side trip if you’re in the area. I don’t want to completely give away the sweetness of the story because it’s always most powerful the first time you hear it, but if you have dog lovers in your family, you owe to them to tell them the tale of the little Skye Terrier named Bobby. It’s a true story of a loving loyalty that went beyond the grave, and brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. Today a statue stands in memorial of Greyfriars Bobby just outside the south (main) entrance to Greyfriars Kirkyard. 

3. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo 

For three weeks in August, Edinburgh is home to the famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a demonstration of world-class public military events rooted in Scottish tradition. A massive grandstand is erected on the Edinburgh Castle esplanade, and shows take place every weekday evening and twice on Saturdays. Kids will especially love the fireworks at the conclusion of the show.

Tips

  • Shows tend to sell out in advance so make sure to book your tickets online as early as possible.
  • Shows happen in all weather conditions so plan appropriately.

4. Edinburgh Zoo

A fun excursion for animal lovers both old and young. The Edinburgh Zoo is the second most popular paying attraction in the city. Some of the more notable creatures at the zoo are; penguins, koalas, and giant pandas.

5. The Royal Yacht Britannia

Visiting The Royal Yacht Britannia is high on my list of things to do in Edinburgh. This massive ship was Queen Elizabeth’s former floating palace for over 40 years. It would be fascinating to see how the royals lived life out on the open seas. 

Tips

  • Located in the city of Leith just outside of Edinburgh, this attraction would require a train ride to get to if you’re staying in the city.

Thoughts and Things

  • One thing that’s really great about the city is that even though these top things to do are geared towards families, they are indeed interesting and fun for all ages.
  • The most popular time to visit Edinburgh is in August due to the many festivals and The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. That being said, it will be massively crowded, and accommodation prices may be higher. 
  • Edinburgh is walkable and a very easy city to navigate. A car is not necessary and public transportation is readily available and easy to figure out. 
  • We usually stay in an Airbnb or vacation rental located within walking distance to where we want to be. Book early if you’re going in the summer as these places tend to fill up quickly. 
  • Just be aware that in the rare instances it gets hot (which has happened both times we went in June/July), most lodging does not offer a/c or fans so if you’re traveling in the summer, you might want to look for a place with a/c if you can find it. Trust me, it can get really hot inside and if you’re located near The Royal Mile, the street noise can be loud so you may not necessarily want to sleep with your windows open.
  • In the summer it’s light until around 11:30 pm, and in the winter it is only light until about 3:30pm.

As you can see, there are many things for families to do in Edinburgh. From festivals and cool history to castles and palaces, there’s truly something for everyone to enjoy. So put this amazing city on your list of places to go. If you do, Edinburgh just might become your favorite city in the entire world too!

Want more? Read about our crazy adventures driving around Scotland in this post ⬇️

White Knuckles, Curb Hopping, & Coo Crossing, OH MY! Our Family’s Adventure Driving Through Scotland.

10 Ways to Help you Overcome Jet Lag

Jet Lag Isn’t For the Faint of Heart!

When our oldest son, Hunter came from Detroit to visit us for the first time in Shanghai, he thought he had the whole jet lag thing figured out. “I’m going to pull an all-nighter the day before I leave so I’ll be really tired and sleep on the plane the whole way there. That way, once I get there, I’ll be wide awake and ready to go”. Brett and I just nodded our head’s and told him we would see how that theory played out. Sure enough, he was exhausted, but still couldn’t sleep well on the plane so wound up arriving in Shanghai 15 hours later even more tired than he would have been if he had prepared for the journey like a normal person. 

I’ve heard every theory under the sun for how people plan on attacking jet lag, and although there are those rare people to whom it doesn’t seem to affect (and I truly hate those people), 9.999 times out of 10, every attempt ends in failure. Not only that, but I’ve gone through this grueling process so many times now that I can almost predict how the majority of people will react. Here’s how it plays out:

Night 1: The first night you arrive at your destination, you’ll be so exhausted from travel that you will actually sleep really well. Don’t be fooled! This is just your body’s way of tricking you into thinking you’ve beat the system. 

Night 2: The next day you’ll hit your jet-lagged wall about 3:00 pm. If you manage to make it through until a decent bedtime, more power to you, but don’t think this means you’re going to sleep through the night again. You silly person! No, you’ll most certainly fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, but then sometime between 4-5 am, BOING! Your eyes will open and you’ll be wide awake (perhaps until morning) thinking about all kinds of irrelevant things like, “if airlines were smart, they’d put a spa on the plane so travelers can schedule an inflight massage.”. I’m here to tell you, I’ve planned out all the details of such spas throughout many a sleepless jet-lagged night!

Nights 3-6: Like Groundhog Day, repeat the process from night 2 for the next three days, with each subsequent night offering one extra hour’s sleep before wake up and voila, after about a week, you’ve finally fully adjusted. Hallelujah! Hopefully, this won’t be just in time for you to return home and start the entire process over again.

Jet lag is even so kind as to be nondiscriminatory. Trust me on the one. It doesn’t matter if you’re 12 or 82, a college partier or a homebody, an early bird or a night owl. Nope, everyone gets hit the same. There’s simply just no way to avoid it. So don’t get cocky by pinning 15 different jet lag busters on Pinterest, and think you’ll somehow beat the system because it’s just not gonna happen. Instead, simply buckle up and prepare for the ride. 

Since I’ve been down this road so many times, I’m here to tell you that there are some tricks of the jet lag trade that will help you power through. Although you will still be jet-lagged, at least you’ll know the best ways to attack it head on, and perhaps relieve some of your suffering in the process. I should add as a side note, that we typically face a 12-hour time change when we travel to/from home and although other time differences will be difficult, this one is the grand daddy of them all.

1. Take advantage of that first good night’s sleep. 

You’ve been through a lot throughout your travel and your body’s exhausted. Take advantage of this fact. I typically sleep almost 12 hours the first night after a long-haul flight. Nothing feels better than a shower and lying horizontal after traveling for 12+ hours (our last trip from the US to Bangkok was 25 hours! Now that one’s a doozy).

2. Don’t be afraid to seek help.

Meaning, sleeping pills or supplements to help you sleep. I’ve tried sleeping pills, melatonin, and diffusing lavender essential oil help me. Now, I don’t recommend using them all at once, of course, but find one or two that work for you and use them the first few nights. In addition, having a houseful of screaming kids will help you sleep at night too. If you want some, I’m happy to put some of mine on loan to you. 😉

3. The first 3 days are the worst.

You know how Jesus rose again on the third day? Well my friend, so will you. I wish I could sugar-coat it and tell you that you won’t feel like you are walking around with a fog hanging over your head but then I would just be lying. It’s the strangest feeling. Sometimes I even still feel like I’m on the plane. But for some reason, after the third day, the fog lifts and you can begin to once again function like a normal human being. It’s always funny walking through the grocery store the first few days after a big expat holiday. It looks like the store has been overrun by the zombie apocalypse. Everyone’s walking around with a glazed look in their eyes while putting who knows what into their cart.

4. Strive to stay awake until at least 8 pm.

This will help your body adapt to your new time zone and ultimately help you more effectively overcome jet lag. Sounds easy, right? Haha! We’ll see.

5. Go back to kindergarten.

Nap time may be your best friend when fighting jet lag. Just make sure you nap carefully. I highly recommend napping before 3pm, and only for 30 minutes. Now I know you may have hit your wall and just want to go to bed for good at 3:00, but fight that urge with everything you have. After all, you aren’t going to get adjusted to your new time zone if you have an afternoon bedtime.  In addition, if you nap longer than 30 minutes, you run the risk of not being able to fall asleep when it is actually time to go to dreamland. Trust me on this one, there’s scientific evidence to back me up here.

6. Embrace the tired.

It’s important not to push yourself too hard in the first few days while adjusting to your new timezone. Instead, simply enjoy this time with family or friends. Get a massage. Maybe go check-out a site or two, but remember that 3:00 witching hour will be lurking at your door and when it arrives, be sure to cut yourself some slack. The same goes for moodiness or, dare I say, grumpiness? Remember, your poor body is exhausted so it’s ok to cry if someone doesn’t pass you the ketchup fast enough. Sounds weird, but I’ve cried over things way more stupid than that. 

7. Figure out what’s going to work best for you at 4am.

Brett and I take very different approaches to this problem. I become a fierce fighter and stubbornly lay in bed looking at the ceiling because, “darn it, I WILL adjust”. While he embraces the early wake up by getting out of bed, making coffee, and watching the sunrise in quiet peace. However, no matter what, we both end up adjusting at the same speed so it’s just important to figure out what will help get you through those frustratingly early hours so you don’t go crazy. 

8. Give working out a try.

Although the last thing you may want to do is go for a run, studies have shown that working out helps improve sleep, and at this point I’m sure you’re willing to try anything to help you make it through the night!

9. Plan enough time in your trip to adjust to jet lag.

I always tell people who are planning on a trip to our side of the world to allow a minimum of 2 weeks vacation if possible. The first three days are really rough, and considering it takes a full week to get adjusted to the time difference (we’re 12 hours ahead of the US), wouldn’t it be nice to have a full week after you’ve adjusted and feel human again to sightsee or do activities without feeling as if you will pass out if you merely sit down?

10. East to West is best.

It’s easier to overcome jet lag when traveling from East to West. I don’t know why, but for some reason this is the case every single time, and not just for us. I’ve talked to other expats who experience the same thing. Weird, right? I’m sure there’s some science-y reason behind it but that’s beyond my expertise, sorry.

As I said before, Jet lag is not for the faint of heart. But take heart! This too shall pass and you will soon be back to your good-old magnanimous self, ready to take on this new adventure before you.

Good luck, and sweet dreams!

Special thanks to Autumn Lytle for organizing all our awkward family photos I know the amount available was endless). Who knew they would be perfect for this post? 😉

4 Days on The Isle of Mull

The Isle of Mull is a quiet, and beautiful island. One of the largest islands in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, it offers picturesque coastal towns, rugged cliffs, and beautiful white sand beaches. Cows and sheep outnumber people and seem to dot the windswept landscape everywhere you go. Winding, single track roads carry you from the green coast through the Scottish wilderness with a vast array of topography and wildlife.

When I scheduled our trip to Scotland with Absolute Escapes, I asked them for suggestions on where to go. I was looking for places that were off the beaten path, but with enough to do so that my travel companions (Hunter, 21, and Jack, 12) wouldn’t get bored. Mull was suggested as offering a little something for us all, and it truly did. Mull felt like a much different vacation than we typically had. Things moved more slowly on the island. There wasn’t something to do 24/7, but this became quite a nice change of pace. The boys had time to explore and come up with their own entertainment which ended up being their most enjoyable part of our entire trip to Scotland. I enjoyed watching them bond over things like hiking and swimming instead of simply sitting in front of a tv or glued to their phones.

4 days is just enough time to hit the highlights of Mull. We enjoyed every minute and appreciated the opportunity to slow down a bit. Intrigued? Here’s what we did:

4 Day Isle of Mull Itinerary

Day 1

We boarded the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Oban to Craignure after spending the morning exploring the town of Oban. In this cute coastal town, we found many shops and places to eat.

We all enjoyed Oban very much, and I would highly recommend putting it on your list of places to visit in Scotland. Upon arrival to Craignure, we continued on to Tobermory, a picturesque fishing village lined with brightly painted buildings situated along the harbor.

On our way, we came across two abandoned ships on the side of the road that looked as if they had quite a story to tell.

By the time we arrived in Tobermory, all the shops were closed so we simply walked around and enjoyed a lovely dinner by the water. 

Day 2

This was the day we were all excited for! We booked a boat tour to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles through Staffa Tours. Oh, what a wonderful day it was! We had never seen anything like the Isles of Staffa and Lunga. The way the volcanic basalt rocks jutted sharply out of the sea looked as if someone had chiseled them away by hand.

Fingal’s Cave was remarkable, and we had time to simply explore the island, taking in the stunning view from the top.

The Isle of Lunga was home to the most adorable bird in the world-the puffin. We had time to hike around and watch these little creatures in their natural habitat. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Day 3

Since Mull is so large, and the roads so small, it took us almost a full day to cross the island in order to get to our next destination-Fionnphort (believe it or not, pronounced Finn-a-furt). Along the way, we stopped at the Isle of Mull Cheese Farm where we enjoyed a self-guided tour and snack in an adorable cafe.

Next, we made our way halfway around the island to the Killiechronan Pony Trekking farm and enjoyed an hour riding horses over hill and dale.

Back on the road, we made a quick stop at Calgary Bay, a beautiful white sand beach but didn’t have much time since the drive was so long (about 5 1/2 hours since the roads are so small). Upon our arrival in Fionnphort, we couldn’t believe how tiny it was. I’d say it was 1/2 mile in length at the most.

The entire town of Fionnphort.

A few B&B’s, one restaurant/bar, and one convenience store were about all it had to offer. I’ll admit, I was a bit worried about filling time for the boys, but in all honesty, I think this became their favorite destination. After dinner, we went out to explore. The weather had been unseasonably warm (almost hot), and the boys decided they wanted to go swimming. So at 10 pm, in full daylight, they jumped into the Atlantic Ocean. Well, although the air temperature was warm, the water temperature was not. However, they were having such a great time they ignored the fact that their bodies were numb and swam around for quite a while.

Day 4

Another highly anticipated day of exploring. In the morning we hopped on the 10 minute passenger ferry to the Isle of Iona. This was the place that captured my heart. This island is very small and totally walkable. We visited the remains of a nunnery founded in the 1200’s.

Then we went to the Iona Abbey, the location where Christianity was brought to Scotland. It was truly a sacred, beautiful sight to see.

After that we were feeling pretty adventurous so decided to walk to a nearby abandoned quarry. Typical of us, we found ourselves lost so we climbed a sea cliff and hiked around the island a bit. Just us, the sheep, and endless gorgeous views.

When we returned to Mull, we ate dinner and the boys decided they wanted to go on another hike and swim. We spent the rest of the evening adventuring around Fionnphort hiking, getting stuck in the mud, laughing, and just having a great time.

The next morning we made our way back to Craignure and headed back to the mainland. We all agreed what memorable fun we had and would love to do it again. 

All the facts

Where we Stayed

Tobermory

Harbour View B&B

This lovely little Bed & Breakfast is situated atop a steep hill offering stunning views of the harbor and the rooftops of Tobermory. We occupied both the Rose and Lavender cottages behind the B&B. Although they were small, they were private and cozy.

www.tobermorybandb.com

1 Argyll Terrace

Argyll, PA75

Telephone:

01688 301111

Fionnphort

Caol-lthe Guest House 

Don’t even try to pronounce this one. I never could get it right. But I can say this B&B was the most professionally run one I have ever visited. The accommodations were very comfortable and breakfasts were delicious.

www.holidayisleofmull.co.uk

Address:

You don’t really need one. Just look for the sign. It’s on the one and only main road.

Telephone:

01681 700375

What we Did

Tobormory Distillery

Staffa and Treshnish Isles boat tour

Isle of Mull Cheese

Killechronan Pony trekking

Day trip to the Isle of Iona

hiking

swimming

shopping

eating

Thoughts and Things

Since Mull is such a large island, 4 days is really the minimum amount of time you will want to spend here. The longer the better. 

In the summer, it’s light until about 11:30pm. However, most of the shops and restaurants close early (shops around 6, restaurants a bit later). That being said, you’ll have quite a few hours of daylight left to fill so perhaps save some exploring or nature walks until evening.

Some of our best moments on Mull were those that weren’t planned. Make sure you leave time in your schedule to relax and make things up as you go. Who knows, maybe you too will find yourself freezing in the Atlantic Ocean and loving every cold minute of it!

The island is mainly made up of single track roads. Prepare yourself. These driving conditions are very different from what you may be used to, and getting places tends to take way longer than you would expect. It is 48 miles from Tobermory to Fionnphort but it took us 5 1/2 hours to make the journey. We did stop a lot to look around, and I was pretty nervous driving on the roads at first which is most likely why it took so long. Read more about our adventures driving in Scotland here.

We weren’t huge fans of the food selections on the island. Lots of bar food and seafood which is fine, but just don’t expect to find any Michelin Star restaurants. 

On your next visit to Scotland, put the Isle of Mull on your itinerary. From boat trips and cheese farms to pony trekking and hiking, Mull is a large, diverse island that’s sure to leave you with happy memories, as it did us. 

White Knuckles, Curb Hopping, & Coo Crossing, OH MY! Our Family’s Adventure Driving Through Scotland.

Today I’m here to tell a tale. One of adventure, intrigue, and death-defying stunt moves. Ok, I exaggerate a bit, but not much when I am talking about our family’s experience driving the streets of Scotland. 

Let me begin at the very beginning…a very good place to start. Wait, I think that’s a song. Hmm. But really, here we go. You know how much I love Scotland, right? I suppose I’ve mentioned that fact a few times.

For the Love of Scotland, Two Girls Take off on the Trip of a Lifetime,

Don’t go to Scotland!

Things We ❤️: Absolute Escapes

 So I was excited to bring my family over for their first visit. My youngest son, Jack and I arrived in Edinburgh last summer after a veeeeerrrry long journey from Shanghai. To say we were exhausted upon our arrival would be an understatement. However, I knew the moment I had been dreading for months had finally arrived. I was going to have to get in a rental car and drive in Scotland. There was simply no way around it. We had a busy 16 days in front of us traveling hither and yon throughout the country so we needed wheels. 

Why was I so scared to drive in Scotland you ask? Well for starters, the Scots drive on the wrong side of the road, according to us Americans!!! I had nightmares of pulling out into the wrong side of traffic, or making a left turn into the wrong lane. Needless to say, I was pretty worked up. However, being the cool, calm and collected mom that I am, I put on my brave girl pants and told Jack to climb in. But before we took off into the wild blue yonder with the wind whipping through our hair, we had to inspect our rental car and note any prior damage. At first glance, I realized this was no ordinary car. It was a Mercedes E-Class Estate Wagon. Why make me even more stressed out by giving me a super expensive Mercedes?! And even worse, it was a brand, spanking new car. I’m talking we were maybe the second drivers to rent this car. Ever. Ok, no pressure. 

Now let’s take a moment to review: I’m exhausted, sitting in an airport parking lot in an unfamiliar foreign city, expected to drive a brand new Mercedes on the opposite side of the road than I’m used to. Ok, just making sure you’ve got a clear picture in your head. Let me add to the story a bit. The Christmas prior to this trip, we rented a car in the States. I got persuaded in to buying the additional insurance on the rental. I never heard the end of it from my husband, saying I never should have agreed and it was a waste of money because our credit card already offered insurance. So this time, I confidently said no to the offer of extra insurance. “Haha, I thought. You aren’t gong to get me this time!”. As we slowly (and when I say slowly, a turtle may have gone faster than us) pulled out of the parking lot, I began questioning that decision. I don’t think I have ever held onto a steering wheel tighter than I did those first few days driving in Scotland. 

So we made it out of the parking lot (woohoo!). Jack was my official navigator so I could focus on nothing but the road. Well, I don’t know how many of you have used a 12-year-old to help navigate, but this can be a bit of a challenge. They can be a bit clueless when it comes to map reading (sorry Jack!). We literally went dizzily around a roundabout three times before we could figure out the right exit, and passed our B&B twice before we could find it. My heart was racing the entire time, and I drove, white-knuckled and owl-eyed the entire way. Funny thing, I wasn’t feeling so tired anymore. As we parked, I accidentally ran over the curb and decided right then and there we would return to the airport in the morning and pay whatever the ridiculous fee would be for the extra insurance, pride be damned. 

It just so happened that as a special treat, Jack’s favorite person in the world, his older brother Hunter, was flying in the next morning to surprise Jack and continue our first week in Scotland with us before the last two members of our family to come would arrive (this is a bit complicated to follow I know, so just don’t even try. 😉 ). We had a lot to do and see in that week, and a lot of driving to do in order to get to all of our destinations. But now I had a 21-year-old navigator in the passenger seat so things were sure to go better right? Ha!

Doesn’t he look fully capable of navigating?

Let me interject here quickly and say that I’m usually a very good driver. I’ve been on the road for many years and have had a very minimal number of accidents (2 to be exact). However, streets in Scotland are old, small, and complicated. There is a different type of roundabout what seems like every 500 feet, and driving a surprisingly wide car like the E-Class Estate is not exactly an ideal way to take on these types of driving conditions for the first time. 

But, onward we went. I was still nervous, but a bit more emboldened when Hunter came up with a safe word I must have heard 1,000 times…“LANE!”, meaning I was drifting to the left and about to run into the curb on the passenger side. It was so hard to get a feel for exactly where I should be especially since most of the lanes were really narrow, and oncoming cars were zooming past us so close we could feel the wind from their speed shake the car. 

Although the scenery was beautiful, I don’t think Hunter and I noticed much of it that first day.

He was busy keeping my lane positioning in check, and I was concentrating with every ounce of my being on the road ahead. But, we had been driving for a while and were getting thirsty so we began looking for a place to safely pull over in order to buy some water. Finally, along came a promising looking gas station on our right side. We all spotted it and as we were looking at it, I somehow drifted over to the left (remember these lanes were small so there wasn’t a lot of drifting room). Like a slow-motion scene out of a movie, the car hopped the curb, continued down the road for what seemed like a mile but was really only a foot or two on only three wheels, and made a horrible scraping sound against the road. “AHHHHH…HHHH…HHHH!!!” All three of screamed in unison, but I managed to get off the curb and pull into the gas station. Hearts pounding, and fear of the damage that may have just happened coursing through our veins, we all sat there for a moment just looking at each other incredulously. I peeled my fingers away from the death grip I had on the steering wheel, and we reluctantly got out of the car in order to assess the damage.  Peeking through one eye, I saw that two of the car’s rims were scraped, there was a gash in the tire, and somehow the front fender of the passenger side was scraped up pretty substantially.

“Boy am I glad I got the extra insurance,” I giggled nervously. Thankfully the car was still completely drivable. So we bought our waters, took a deep breath, and slowly got back on the road. 

The next few drives went about the same way. We drove along narrow two-lane roads throughout the Highlands, missing most of the beautiful scenery around us because we were focussing intently on not crashing the car.

Perhaps Jack would have enjoyed it from the back seat but he slept most of the time since he felt car sick due to the windy roads. After the Highlands, our next destination was the beautiful Isle of Mull. I didn’t sleep at all the night before we journeyed to the island. Instead, I had horrible visions of driving the car off the ferry into the ocean, or something else equally devastating. But lo and behold, the ferry ride went fine. Whew!

We made it onto the ferry!

It was when we got off the ferry that things once again got interesting. 

Have you ever heard of single-track roads? Oh boy, now these are something that will get your heart pumping. Single-track roads are exactly how they sound. One-lane is available to drive on in either direction with passing places for oncoming traffic available at certain points along the road. Imagine playing a game of chicken with cars and you’ll get the gist of the driving conditions on these roads. And to add to the fun, not only is there only one lane, but many times you are driving on very winding roads on the side of a cliff with consistent blind spots as you go up and down hills.

Let me just say, Hunter is a pretty laid back guy. Not much rattles him. However, driving on the Isle of Mull managed to get even him stressed out. We had a lot of quick, face-to-face car encounters that would require one or both cars to back up to a passing area and wait our turn to continue.  One such incident occurred right after we a took a tight corner. As we rounded the corner, a car was coming right at us. The driver was kind enough to back up so we could pass. The problem was, he backed up right into a ditch. Two wheels spinning in mid-air, this guy wasn’t going anywhere without a tow truck. We felt terrible. Not that it was our fault, but I could see myself doing the exact same thing. 

This became a regular occurrance after a day of driving.

Still, after a couple of days driving those single-track roads, I came to kind of like them. They were quiet, could be peaceful, and when there were no other cars to be seen in the distance, it was fun picking up some pretty good speed feeling like I owned the road. Sometimes our only company were the Highland Coo’s that simply stood sleepily in the middle of the road staring at us as if silently daring us to just try and make them move.

When we left the Isle of Mull and worked our way back to Edinburgh, The roads became divided and wider again. It felt like such a luxury having two or more lanes available on which to drive.

When Brett and Elijah finally arrived, I had become pretty comfortable driving. Brett was actually thoroughly impressed by the way I navigated the city streets. I just looked at him and said, ”oh you know, it’s no big deal”. So Brett tried his hand at driving. After the 15th time I yelled, “LANE!” in an hour, we decided to leave the driving to the pro…me.

Who would have guessed? 😉

Take a Trip to Inveraray

Driving around Scotland, one is bound to pass through a plethora of small towns and burgs. Many of the quaint little locations no bigger than a main street with a few shops and restaurants. Since there are so many, it’s easy to simply drive through the majority of them without any thought of stopping. However, I’ve found time and time again that when we’ve taken time to get out of the car and walk around, many of these little towns offer incredible pieces of Scottish of history, cute shops in which to browse, quaint historical architecture, ancient cobblestone streets, and simple beauty that could never be appreciated when zooming by in a car.

Inveraray is one of those towns. A small 18th century planned town on the banks of Loch Fyne, someone could drive all the way from one end of town to the other in less than 5 minutes. Last summer two of my sons and I were on a week-long trip to Scotland and Inveraray was a town in which we were scheduled to stay. We booked a trip through Absolute Escapes and I wasn’t so sure about this stop they had scheduled into our itinerary. Needless to say, I was a bit unimpressed when we first came upon the neat row of simple white buildings which lined the main street.IMG_0991 However, we were scheduled to spend two nights there so I resigned myself to the thought that we may need to figure out some things to do outside the teeny town in order to keep us entertained. 

But as I said before, many small towns in Scotland offer a surprising amount of things to do and see. The boys and I actually enjoyed every minute of our full day in Inveraray and I would love to go back and enjoy the simplicity of the town once again. Although it’s small, there is enough to do to fill a day easily without rushing. It’s a sleepy little town with quaint shops, beautiful views of Loch Fyne, an amazing castle, and even a 19th-century jail the has been turned into a museum, making it easy to find something to do for people of all ages. As an added bonus, Inveraray is also completely walkable so you can park your car for the day and simply head out to see all the sights.IMG_1023

 

Things to do

Stroll down Main Street and visit some of the quaint shops

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Enjoy an ice cream or a coffee depending upon the weather. Maybe pick up a bottle of whiskey from Loch Fyne Whiskies. Upon their recommendation, I gave GlenDronach 12-year a try and it instantly became my favorite scotch of all time. Mmmmm!IMG_0927

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Take a walk to Inveraray Castle

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This impressive functioning castle remains the home of the Duke of Argyle and was featured in Downton Abbey’s 2012 Christmas episode, “A Journey to the Highlands”. The castle boasts an impressive Armory Hall, soaring 21 meters in height and houses weapons as old as the 16th century.IMG_0939 Taking a stroll outside the castle walls will lead you to extensive gardens with numerous marked forest walks, one of which will lead you up 800 feet to the tower at the top of Dun na Cuaiche where you can see all of Inveraray and beyond.IMG_0937 I tried to convince the boys to do the hike, but they were eager to get to the jail so I was outvoted. Instead, we simply walked around the stunning grounds close to the castle which as you can see, did not disappoint!

Become a prisoner at the Inveraray Jail

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Don’t worry, you won’t have to do hard time at Inveraray Jail, but this is an interesting museum that recounts prison conditions from Medieval times to the 19th century. The jail here was considered very advanced for its time, and the boys enjoyed learning about prison conditions of old through hands-on exhibits and interactive storytelling.

Where we stayed 

The Old Rectory Bed & Breakfast

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Owners Cathie & David have worked tirelessly restoring this 200-year-old building overlooking Loch Fyne. Many of the building’s original features remain but have been updated with a cozy, chic feel.IMG_0914 All three of us fit perfectly into one of the B&B’s larger rooms and the bathroom was spectacular! I don’t usually go around rating bathrooms of all things, but this one deserves a special nod.

The Old Rectory

www.oldrectoryinverary.com 

Newton, Inveraray

Argyll, PA32 8UH

01499 302 711

info@oldrectoryinveraray.com

Tasty eats

(MAKE SURE YOU CALL AHEAD FOR A RESERVATION FOR EITHER OF THESE RESTAURANTS)

The George HotelIMG_0925

Want to try a whiskey flight? Then this is the place for you! The George Hotel’s restaurant/pub offers a choice of 100 malt whiskeys, as well as local quality beef, and seafood.IMG_0916 The food was delicious and the building felt like a true Scottish pub with mahogany walls, leather seats, and a warm atmosphere. Plus our server looked like David Beckham so I wasn’t complaining! 

Samphire Seafood Restaurant

Although Inverary is small, we managed to find some amazing places to eat. The Samphire Seafood Restaurant didn’t disappoint. A small space offering locally sourced sustainable seafood, shellfish, meat and game, the menu offers something to please everyone. I was a bit worried because I don’t eat fish and we were going to a seafood restaurant, but I tried the Angus beef burger and it was fantastic. 

How the heck do you get there?

Inveraray is about 2 1/2 hours west of Edinburgh. We took our time driving there, stopping at the adorable burgh of Culross for lunch, then meandered through the Trossachs National Park while enjoying the stunning view of Loch Lomond. It was a very easy and enjoyable drive, but make sure you keep a lookout and don’t end up speeding right through Inveraray once you get there. 😉IMG_0923Although it’s small, Inveraray has a lot to offer. In addition, it’s a good stopping point when on your way to other destinations such as Oban, the Hebrides, or the Cowal Peninsula. It’s a simple, romantic little town that is sure to surprisingly capture your heart as it did mine. In the end, I even decided I liked the plain white buildings that lined the shore, realizing they served as a brilliant backdrop to the still waters and hills of Loch Fyne.IMG_0930 So put Inveraray on your Scotland itinerary and while you’re there pick up a bottle of GlenDronach for me. Oh, and if you see the server at The George Hotel who looks like David Beckham, tell him I said, “hi”!

Things We ❤️: Absolute Escapes

Did you know I love Scotland? Shocker, right? I mean, I did just tell you all the reasons NOT to go to Scotland. But it’s true, this amazing country is first on my list whenever anyone asks me where they should go on a vacation.IMG_2162 Scotland truly offers something for everyone. History, natural beauty, amazing architecture, culture. The list is endless. Yes, I could never get enough of Scotland. So when I had the opportunity to go back for a second visit I was perhaps even more excited than the first time. Don’t get me wrong, the first time was fantastic. My mom and I went on a 10-day Outlander/Mary Queen of Scots tour and loved every goofy, girly minute. But this time my husband and three of our kids would be joining me for a 16-day visit and while they’re adventurous, I knew they wouldn’t want to see all things Outlander. Plus, I really wanted them to love the country as much as I do (no pressure, haha!) so everything had to be planned perfectly. 

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Family bonding

Since I had already been to Scotland once, I knew some of the things we should visit that the family would enjoy. However, I wanted to explore more of the country than I did before and found that I was at a bit of a loss where to start. I mean, how do you know the best route to take or the best B&B to choose? This was the first time I would be driving, and on the wrong side of the road no doubt ;), so I was already a bit nervous about getting around. I began trying to plan the trip by looking at Tripadvisor, Hotels.com, and other search engines but found myself getting overwhelmed quickly, and felt as if there was a lot riding on this trip so didn’t want to be the one to mess it up by making a bad choice. 

 

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I’d say hiking to the top of King Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh was a good choice!

By pure chance and a lot of Google searching, I came across Absolute Escapes. They looked promising, boasting ratings of 4.9 out of 5 on Facebook and 98% on aito.com, so I sent them an inquiry just to see what they had to say. I was connected with Pippa, one of their lovely tour guides who shared with me a little bit of what Absolute Escapes is all about. Here’s what she said:

We believe that travel should be exciting, intriguing, rejuvenating and memorable. That’s why we’ve created a company staffed by the most knowledgeable, passionate and enthusiastic experts available. Our philosophy is to offer special holidays tailored to your individual requirements. We use our expert knowledge to seek out the best that the UK has to offer – the best places to stay, the best experiences, the best routes and we take away the hard work by arranging it all for you.”

Since this was exactly what I was hoping for, I was willing to give Absolute Escapes a try. This trip was going to be a tough one to plan because it was a logistical nightmare. Some of the family was coming on one date. They would leave and others would come. We wanted to see a lot so needed to organize many different places to stay, a car rental, routes, places to eat, etc. Taking all that into consideration, I was happy to get any help I could. Pippa quickly answered all of my questions and was clearly very knowledgeable about all things Scotland. After a few more emails back and forth, I knew this company was going to make my trip planning much more manageable. 

 

 

So patient Pippa and I spent the better part of a month emailing back and forth while working out an itinerary. She was so wonderful, answering all of my questions and really taking the time to listen and understand exactly what it was we wanted to do. She offered many wonderful suggestions on things she thought may be of interest to us and the best way to make it all happen. I honestly cannot say enough good things about her. 

Finally, our trip was all booked through Absolute Escapes. The lodging, car rental, driving routes, everything. And when I say everything, here’s exactly what I mean: 16 days=1 rental car, 2 ferry crossings, 9 B&B’s, 1 boat tour, and Explorer Passes (paid entry into select castles and monuments) for all 5 of us. They even sent us a packet with our detailed itinerary that included drive times, contact information, places to eat and things to do. It was perfect.IMG_5256 All that being said, you never fully know what you’re going to get until you arrive at your destination and see how all the details play out. Since I had never worked with Absolute Escapes before, I’ll admit that I was a bit worried that things might not go as smoothly as they looked on paper, especially considering all the details involved. But I’m pleased to announce they did! Our rental car was waiting for us at the airport, all the B&B’s were wonderful, and the sights we saw were absolutely amazing.

 

 

If you aren’t completely sold yet, according to their website here’s a bit more of what this company has to offer:

Absolute Escapes is a leading specialist in self-guided walking holidays in the UK & Ireland, and tailor-made travel to Scotland. 

  • We offer self-guided walking holidays on some of the finest long-distance trails in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. 
  • We also specialise in tailor-made travel to Scotland including self-drive itineraries and escorted tours. 
  • We customise all of our itineraries to your exact requirements based on our experience and intimate knowledge of Scotland. Whether you’d like to drive the North Coast 500 or island-hop around the Outer Hebrides – choose from the many itineraries, experiences and accommodation options that we offer, then contact one of our specialist consultants who’ll turn your ideas into your perfect tailor-made trip.

I would say they are all this and more! Absolute Escapes is a fantastic company that’s willing to listen to what your interests are and will tailor your trip exactly to what you want. They spend a lot of time working out all the details and have many relationships with local businesses that offer them good rates and in turn, can end up saving you money. From start to finish, I cannot recommend them enough.  Read more