I touched on this lightly (and fairly hysterically) before when in the midst of travel hell. Low blood sugar, a cranky baby, and a challenging environment do not lead to good blogging.
We have traveled extensively with Elanor. Several long road trips and two trips to the western states from the East Coast here in the US. The UK was our first time abroad, and our longest trip to date at 19 days.
We were in Edinburgh for 12 of those days, and I found in incredibly difficult. The Scots are a lovely people and I want to say that people went out of their way to talk to Elanor, and (by extension) me. But as a destination, it is not a great option for families with small kids.
Things I wish I had known before we went
—Kids under 4 are not allowed on highland tour expeditions. Period. Even if you offer to bring a car seat. Even if you offer to bring a car seat and pay for a full adult fare. Even if you offer to do both of those AND sign a waiver releasing the company of all liability. I should know…I tried. FAIL.
–Conversely, most tour busses (the big red ones specifically) have a space for a wheelchair bound person OR one unfolded stroller on the ground floor of each bus. The issues with these is that it’s often hard to find one with a real live tour guide, so often you need to use the headphones, which presents multiple issues when with a small child.
–The licensing laws. Now if you’re one of those families where everyone eats before 5 (like my family was growing up) you won’t run into the sort of problems we did. However, should you want to eat after 5 with small kids (up to age 17), good luck. We found that there were two options…very expensive restaurants had paid for the expensive license OR McDonalds or a fast-food equivalent (most of which also close early). This was a HUGE pain in our asses. Scotland has a huge problem with alcoholism and so as a measure to not expose kids to the drinking culture, they’ve made licenses VERY expensive. Only one of our 5 star hotel’s restaurants had coughed up for it, and most restaurants didn’t. There was no comprehensive guide, and there were no signage laws (although the GM of the hotel told me this was changing) so the only way to find out if we could eat somewhere was to go and try to walk through the front door and get yelled at. This was not pleasant.
-Eating, other issues before 5. When traveling alone with an infant who isn’t walking, most eateries on the lower level or upper levels are unattainable. I desperately wanted Indian food. I couldn’t find one at street level, and folding the buggy up and carrying baby, buggy, diaper bag and all was not an option, especially once I tried that in a castle and broke the damn stroller so that it WOULDN’T fold up. Also, most restaurants did not have high chairs that in any way contained the kids…they were older, beat up and often missing straps. The high end places were the exception, as you would expect. But then we were paying the equivalent of over 100 for a two person meal, so there’s that…
-There’s just not much to do in Edinburgh with kids. There aren’t any kids museums or much of anything for them. Towards the end I found Molly’s…a soft-play indoor playground at a shopping Mall (Ocean Terminal, I think it was called…the royal yacht is there) and Elanor thought it was the coolest thing ever. I also heard of a children’s petting zoo that we didn’t make it to, but that’s about it. It’s just not a city with a lot of playgrounds or thought given to kids. This doesn’t make it a bad place, it just makes it a difficult place to bring a young child.
Would I say NEVER EVER go there? No…it would have been more fun with a 5 year old, particularly when we were there-Fringe Fest. There were lots of kids events, but it was made clear to us when we tried to show up at a few of them that the under 2 set was NOT welcome.
There are also some cheats we found to get around the challenges…
–We did a lot of room service, and it wasn’t bad. We also did a lot of stocking up at a local grocery store and making food that didn’t need to be cooked.
–I rented a car and a car seat and drove up to Loch Ness myself. In the end, this was far more fun than a tour group as I got to choose the route, stop whenever I felt the scenery merited a photo and Elanor was a peach, sleeping most of the time as she usually does on long car rides.
–We found a book meant for people who live in Edinburgh called Edinburgh with Under 5’s which does list some family friendly restaurants…it’s a bit heavy on the chains, but it was still a useful tool to find things to do.
Overall, I don’t find Edinburgh to be a great place to take your kids, but with some ingenuity it can still be a fun place. Easier to manage with a second adult or a walking child.