Places to Visit in Scotland
- Edinburgh for The Family
So you are going to Edinburgh this year and Mum and Dad want to see "King Lear" and a Wagner opera during the International Festival? But the kids are coming too. How do you keep them entertained? Here are a number of places in Edinburgh and close by, most of which have been tried and tested by your Scottish Culture Guide (and his children) which will help you with your planning for a real or a "virtual" trip. And there are links for many of the selected attractions so that you can find out even more about them.
Understandably the top attraction in Scotland, far less Edinburgh, you do not need to be a history fanatic to enjoy the castle. Wander around the battlements, watch the "One O'Clock Gun" being fired (these days by an army howitzer rather than a cannon, but it still makes a noise to startle the pedestrians in Princes Street below). There is the huge "Mons Meg" (see right) - a massive cannon from the 15th century, swords and other weapons galore. There are reminders scratched on the walls of the dungeons from the days when the castle was a prison for the Frenchmen captured during the Napoleonic wars. The crown jewels of Scotland and the "Stone of Destiny" on which generations of Scottish and British kings and queens have been crowned. And if you are in Edinburgh during the Festival then the world famous military tattoo on the castle esplanade in the evening is an exciting affair (if you are lucky enough to get a ticket).
Perched on the side of Corstorphine Hill, ten minutes from the city centre, Edinburgh Zoo is another of Scotland's top tourist attractions. The zoo is particularly noted for its large collection of penguins and when they parade, outside of their pens, in front of the visitors at feeding time the cameras click furiously to capture the moment. The penguin enclosure is the largest in the world and a suspension bridge gives visitors a great view of the pool (which has glass sides too). There are over 1,000 other animals there, including polar bears and monkeys and tigers. There is a "Magic Forest" with marmosets and tamarins and the lions are in a shady enclosure at the top of the zoo.
Museum of Childhood>
A magical world of dolls, toys, teddy bears, games, puzzles, train sets, models and loads of other items from all over the world to keep children delighted. It has been described as the "noisiest museum in the world" and, when it opened in 1955, was believed to be the first museum in the world to specialise in the history of childhood. You can hear children in the 1930s chanting their multiplication tables and watch Edinburgh street games of the 1950s. And admission is free!
Museum of Scotland>
This is really two museums in one. The Royal Museum has a wide range of exhibits and in many places there are interactive exhibits which children enjoy. Next door, is the "Museum of Scotland" which focuses on all aspects of Scotland. There is a fascinating diorama of Scotland's wildlife as it was after the last ice age and there is audio-visual equipment to explain. Each floor in the museum takes you through different ages of Scotland's history, from the ancient Picts through to Bonnie Prince Charlie and the present day - the top floor has a selection of items which illustrate the 20th century, including an electric guitar selected by the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
Greyfriar's Bobby> The statue to the faithful dog that remained by its master's grave is across the road from the Museum of Scotland (above). If your children (or you!) like spooky places, then the adjoining Greyfriar's Churchyard> contains a vast collection of monuments to many of the celebrities of Edinburgh from the 17th century onwards - including that grave which Bobby would not leave.
This is the latest attraction to appear in Edinburgh with a "time machine" that whisks you from the time of the "Big Bang" and the formation of the universe, through 4,500 years of planet earth. You will be shaken by earthquakes, chill in the ice ages and see tropical rainstorms. Travel to the depths of the oceans and fly high above towering glaciers and mountains. You will see, hear, feel and smell the planet as it was millions of years ago and how it might be in the future with a myriad of interactive exhibits and the very latest interpretative technology and special effects. The Website takes you on a virtual tour around the 11 Earthscapes to see some of the special effects.
The People's Story at Canongate Tolbooth
Located in a late 16th century prison, this is a museum which uses oral history as well as written resources to tell the story of Edinburgh using the sights, sounds and smells of the past - a prison cell, a town crier, a cooper's workshop, a servant at work, a kitchen and wash house, a pub and a tea-room. There is a video presentation and displays of everyday as well as rare items.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions
Just a few yards down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle, the Camera Obscura, set up in 1853, was adopted by Sir Patrick Geddes, the "father of town planning" in 1895. There are magnificent views from the top of the tower and to help you is what is described as the "most powerful public telescope in Britain". The Camera Obscura is an amazing device which was installed long before video cameras, using daylight and a powerful mirror and lens system to project a live picture of the views from the top of the tower onto a screen below. The ability to spy on and pick up passing pedestrians onto slips of card from the street below is quite amazing. The rooftop views are also spectacular, and distant sights are easily visible through free high magnification telescopes. The building also incorporates the World of Illusions, three floors of hands on exhibitions and curiosities to do with light, colour and optical illusions, chock-full of amazing optical illusions which provide a lot of fun and fascination for all ages.
Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre>
At the top of the Royal Mile, the Scotch Whisky Centre is a literally a barrel of fun - you board an electrically driven whisky barrel-car to take you through a 300 years of making whisky in Scotland - seeing, hearing and smelling! And at the end, all the adults get a free "dram" of whisky (Walt Disney can't match that!) and a helium balloon and soft drinks for children. There is also a resident "ghost" of a Master Blender who emerges like a genie from a bottle to stand behind the bar and talks about his life as a Scotch Whisky Blender. The self-service restaurant serves traditional Scottish fayre and a gift shop with a huge collection of malt and blended whisky.
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