Breathtaking scenery, historic castles, a dramatic coastline and storybook wonder are just a few words that begin to describe a family vacation in Scotland.
Scotland is one of Europe's best kept secrets and a perfect destination for a family vacation with kids of all ages. Sure you can trudge the kids thru museums if that's your thing but in Scotland, history simply surrounds and embraces you. In addition there is plenty of wide open spaces for hiking, biking, kayaking or whatever kind of wilderness adventures you're family is into.
It's certainly worth a visit to Scotland's cities like Edinburgh, Stirling, Glasgow and Inverness. That said, the true magic of Scotland is found north of Glencoe. This is the entrance to the Highlands and renown places like Loch Ness, the Isle of Skye and Scotland's Outter islands.
The weather in Scotland is extremely fickle throughout the year. This is part of it's charm. Parents need to plan and pack accordingly. Summer is high season. Many popular attractions are only open during the summer months so tickets do sell out quickly due to high demand and a short season. One example is the Jacobite Steam Train, aka "Hogwart's Express" made so very popular by Harry Potter books and movies.
Scotland is very family friendly with accommodates to suit every budget and travel style. Here you'll find everything from family run B&Bs, AirBnBs, chain hotels, short stay apartments for larger families and even 5 star castle stays complete with falconry classes. Bear in mind that many of the Highland areas are very remote and accommodations are limited. Scotland is renown for many of it's summer festivals like the Fringe Festival and The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Visitors come from all over the world to attend these events and tickets sell out months in advance. Unlike Americans, most foreigners enjoy 4-6 weeks vacation per year. Those who come to Scotland tend to stay for several weeks. Highland accommodations during summer peak season, especially those that accommodate families of 4, 5 or more are always the first to sell out. This is why making early travel plans is very important. You'll need to start planning 1 year to 9 months in advance of your departure for the best availability.
Guided Tour or Independent Vacation?
This is the number one question we hear from clients planning a family vacation to Scotland. Really there is no right or wrong answer here. There are pros and cons to both types of vacations. It truly depends on your family's travel style, preferences and budget.
Independent vacations means your family can enjoy a truly customized itinerary. It gives you the freedom to travel at your own pace. Having a car in the Highlands means your family can travel to some of the most beautiful "off beaten path" spots and explore some of the hidden treasures Scotland offers. From my many trips to Scotland, some of my most vivid vacation memories came from driving it's back roads, serendipitously meeting the locals and discovering it's ancient wonders.
In Scotland, they drive on the left side of the road. City driving is congested and most airports include exits with "roundabouts" or traffic circles. Up in the Highlands, there are many remote areas where you will find yourself miles from civilization on mountain roads with dodgy cell service. If your family are experienced travelers and comfortable in these situations, then independent travel would work well for you. If reading this stresses you out, then a guided tour would be a better choice for you and your family.
With a guided vacation, parents get to relax and simply participate in their own vacation. Your tour guide handles dealing with individual reservations, confirmations, check ins, luggage, transportation, travel times and every other detail along the way. In addition, your guide's extensive knowledge and expertise will certainly add an additional layer of insight and interest to all the place your family will be visiting in Scotland. Last but certainly not least, tour guides are experts when it comes to encouraging friendships and group camaraderie with everyone traveling together. Depending on the specific tour you select, there may be multiple guides offering separate adult and children activities. For example, parents might visit a distillery while kids enjoy a guided hike an visit local musicians. Then everyone comes together to share their day's experiences at dinner.
Most guided tours do have age requirements for children generally starting around age 6. Also tours have specific departure dates that wait for no one. It's important to plan your flights so that you arrive in Scotland a day or two prior to your tour's actual departure day. This will also allow you to recover from any jet lag so that everyone is bright and ready to enjoy your tour. Your tour will have a specific, scheduled itinerary. If your family has something on your vacation wish list that is not covered during your tour, it's possible to also add extra time at the end of your tour to include some extra sightseeing time. We would just need to arrange your flights and additional accommodations accordingly.
So whether your family is looking for lore or legend, fun or fantasy Scotland will not disappoint. There is always the temptation to include Scotland in an itinerary that includes England, Ireland and/or Wales. If your family has the additional time to travel then by all means do so. At the very minimum, we suggest you allow at least 7 days to explore the wonders of Scotland. Anything less and you'll be missing out on the magic and mystery of Scotland.