As a travel writer I’ve visited over 100 countries and many more cities. I’m proud as a Scot to say that Edinburgh stacks up against any of them. What many people don’t realise is that as well as being great for a romantic escape for two or as a party place, it’s also ideal for families. So join me now as I take my young family into the capital for a weekend discovering Edinburgh’s sights and some new restaurants from our base at a SYHA youth hostel.
We found the 271 bed Edinburgh Central Youth Hostel a perfect bolthole. It’s up at the top of Leith Walk just a stone’s throw from the tram terminus and brings most places in the centre within walking distance. Edinburgh Central is an impressive, budget conscious option. Why take the last train home when you can stay over here?
My seven-year-old Tara and four-year-old Emma both declared Edinburgh Central was ‘like a hotel’. It was. It’s slick and modern inside with a bright, airy restaurant and Haddington Place café bar. They do excellent breakfasts, lunches and dinners with prices very reasonable, so dining in is a serious option. There is also a self-catering kitchen if you prefer. The youth hostel boasts loads of space for relaxing and even a wee soft play area for young kids. Forget old images of draughty dorms too. We had a family room, which came complete with a proper double bed (with a bunk for the kids), a TV, a table for four with a tea tray and our own large bathroom.
We used Edinburgh Central as a base for exploring all over, visiting five of our favourite places. Edinburgh overflows with family friendly attractions. First up was Edinburgh Castle. You can easily spend a half day here (or a full one if it’s your first time) exploring the ramparts, the great halls and seeing the Crown Jewels of ‘a real queen’. They lay on live performances for the wee ones and the gift shops tempt too.
Next was the National Museum of Scotland. This free attraction is brilliant for families. There are loads of touchy feely hands-on exhibits all over the old and new parts. Look out for the big play area on the ground floor behind the Millennium Clock. Many families miss it. You will soon see why I recommend it!
The weather was good so we made a trip to Princes Street Gardens, which I’ve enjoyed visiting ever since I was a wee laddie myself. The western end of Princes Street Gardens is home to a great wee kids’ playground. Grab a takeaway coffee and keep one eye on the wee ones and the other on the knockout view of the castle that looms up above.
We caught a bus a little outside the centre too to take in another superb oasis for all the family. The Royal Botanic Garden. This is a perennial McKelvie family favourite. Again free, there are myriad trails to explore, all laden with epic trees and other impressive fauna. It’s worth paying the extra to enter the tropical glasshouses. There is a choice of restaurants and cafes too.
Last but not least was Craigmillar Castle, which we took in on our way home. A bit of a secret this one, ‘Edinburgh’s other castle’, as my girls call it, is totally different to its more celebrated sibling. It is a ruin and you need to bring your own imagination to this historic charmer. My girls love tearing around the old halls and the spiral staircases. I love the great views out over Edinburgh from the ramparts. On this visit I stared back towards Edinburgh Central glad we’d chosen it as our base for a capital break.
Tara and Emma’s 5 Edinburgh Restaurant Tips – My girls love dining out and not just on lazy fast food. On this weekend away we checked out some hot new places that worked well for families we’d like to share with you:
1. Lobster for the Kids - Mumbai Mansion is part of the general sprucing up of the area around Haymarket that the tram has kicked off. They don’t just do curries. The girls loved the slow cooked leg of lamb and mildly spiced lobster too.
2. Taste of Mexico - El Toro Loco (60 Grassmarket) is a welcoming, buzzy little new place that offers Mexican street food. We shared seriously tasty burritos, and tacos, while mummy and daddy enjoyed a sneaky Margarita slushie too.
3. Proper Steaks – Edinburgh boasts a few steak restaurants these days. Another newcomer Chop House, lies in Leith. They conjure up proper steaks here, with the prime beef butchered on site and dry aged for up to 90 days to add flavour and tenderness, before being cooked on an open flame charcoal grill.
4. Beer for Parents – I’m sneaking this one in for all you knackered, hard working parents. When we get away for a weekend we always try to get out for a bit on our own so we sorted a babysitter for the Saturday night. We had heard great things about the new Beer Kitchen on Lothian Road. We were not disappointed nor expected to be as it’s the brainchild of switched on and rapidly expanding Scottish beer producers Innis & Gunn. Unusually you can try most of their range here on draught and the creative modern Scottish food is spot on too.
5. Foodie Trail - Another exciting new development on the foodie front, which ties in well with Edinburgh’s rich history and heritage, is the Edinburgh World Heritage 21 stop food trail. On our last morning I took my girls around a section of it, taking in the Gardener’s Cottage (which looks like something out of Hansel and Gretel), Newhaven Harbour and Welch’s Fishmongers. I plan on coming back to cover the entire trail myself next time I visit without the kids in tow. My base then? Well it may well be Edinburgh Central Youth Hostel after this brilliant weekend!
Biography for Robin McKelvie
Robin McKelvie (www.robinmckelvie.com) is a Scottish travel writer, broadcaster and blogger who has been covering his native land since the 1990s. A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, Robin is the author of a number of guidebooks, including National Geographic’s Scotland guide. He regularly contributes to a variety of newspapers and magazines across five continents, such as the Times and the Scotsman, as well as doing travel slots for BBC radio. Robin can be found on Twitter at www.twitter.com/robinmckelvie.