The best days out with the kids and things to do as a family near Edinburgh and Glasgow and around Scotland, including beaches, Scottish Wildlife Trust sites, parks and adventure playgrounds.
Whether you find yourself in the depths of the dark season in Scotland, or glorying in a sunny day, here are 10 great days out for families.
The Firth of Clyde, dubbed the Costa Clyde by Glaswegians, has the best range of beaches within easy travelling distance of the city.
An award-winning sandy beach stretching for almost two miles from the town of Ayr, ideal for picnics and sandcastle building.
The northern end is the most popular with an esplanade, a huge expanse of grass, and outdoor and indoor children’s play areas. Amenities include crazy golf, a putting green and several cafes, and other listed activities are bird watching and fishing trips for skate, haddock and cod.
On rainy days Pirate Pete’s on the esplanade is a treasure trove of gangplanks, scaling nets, ball lagoons and slides for toddlers and young pirates up to age 11.
A long, sweeping stretch of sand with a lively esplanade and spectacular views over the Firth of Clyde to the Isle of Arran. The beach is well maintained, and there is a well-equipped play park for children. Popular with kite enthusiasts and windsurfers. Lovely Italian gardens to the north, and sand dunes to the south.
A picturesque harbour serves as a fishing and ferry port, and a modern marina is a haven for yachtsmen. Plenty of shops and restaurants in town and no fewer than seven golf courses, including the championship course of Royal Troon.
A beautiful expanse of sand at the mouth of the River Irvine backed by sand dunes and grassy areas. Picnic sites, parking and toilets, and if the water is too cold the Magnum Leisure Centre has a swimming pool, a lazy river, family slides and a teaching pool.
It also has a children’s soft play area and an ice rink. Other local attractions include the Scottish Maritime Museum on the harbourside, with ship models, lifeboats, and visits on board the MV Kyles, the oldest floating Clyde-built vessel in the world.
Conveniently located near the town’s shops and cafes, a clean sandy beach with a children’s play area, amusement arcades and a boating lake. Car parking and toilets by the harbour and fishing port, from where an esplanade stretches south bounded by grassland parks. Woodlands Bay to the south of the beach is a good place for finding fossils. Daily boat trips to the curious volcanic island and nature reserve of Ailsa Craig.
Take a 10-minute ferry ride from the coastal resort of Largs to the isle of Great Cumbrae, where a small sandy blue flag beach lies in the shelter of Millport Bay. Winner of the Keep Scotland Beautiful Best Beach Award for two years running.
A crazy golf course, mini-dodgems for kids, a summer funfair and trampolines, and no shortage of shops and cafes. Cycles for hire for a popular 10-mile circuit of a quiet coastal road around the island. Largs also has a small beach, and a Viking entertainment complex with exhibitions, story telling, a soft play area and a 25 metre-long swimming pool.
Pollock Country Park
A sylvan wonderland on the south side of the city with 145 hectares of woodland, gardens, riverside walks and meadows where highland cattle and Clydesdale heavy horses graze. Themed walking trails, mountain bike circuits, and countryside ranger events such as pond dipping and wild flower planting.
Pollock Country Park offers 145 hectares of woodland, gardens, riverside walks and meadows, along with the ancestral home of the founder of the National Trust for Scotland
Formerly the ancestral home of the founder of the National Trust for Scotland, Pollok House is a grand mansion with walled gardens and the UK’s finest collection of Spanish art.
The park also houses an eclectic exhibition of art and antiques in the Burrell Collection – and an adjacent children’s swing park. There are cafes in both Pollok House and the Burrell collection.
Who: Suitable for children of all ages.
Mugdock Country Park
A short drive from Glasgow, 260 hectares of ancient woodlands, moorlands, wetlands and lochs with expansive views of the city to the south and the Campsie Fells to the north. Jewels in the crown are a centuries old oak forest carpeted with wildflowers in spring and summer, and a tranquil loch.
A network of footpaths leads to a castle dating from the 14th century, and an easy orienteering course for families. Bicycles, tandems and child bike trailers are available for hire, and there is a play park for kids and a more challenging adventure trail for older children.
Regular events include story telling for youngsters and craft workshops.
Who: Suitable for all ages.
An hour’s drive south of Glasgow is a nature reserve at New Lanark, run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, where a way-marked footpath leads through woodland along the banks of the River Clyde to a spectacular three-stage waterfall tumbling down a gorge. The Corra Linn falls were painted by Turner, and eulogised by Wordsworth.
Bonnington Linn, above New Lanark, Falls of Clyde: the perfect setting for a Scottish family adventure
Bonnington Linn, above New Lanark, Falls of Clyde: the perfect setting for a Scottish family adventure Photo: Alamy
A highlight is a restored 18th century cotton mill village, a world heritage site, with a visitor centre, puppet theatre, and summer craft workshops for children making fairy costumes, paper lantern hot air balloons and butterfly lights. Suitable for primary and secondary school children.
A short ferry ride from Gourock to Hunter’s Quay by Dunoon leads to a magical little gorge where exuberant vegetation crowds around a stream tumbling down a succession of rocky falls.
This is a true fairyland, where a footpath and wooden bridges wind up through the kind of scenery that would be familiar to Frodo Baggins. At the top, a woodland contour path affords fine views of the Cowal hills and leads to Benmore Botanical Gardens, featuring over 300 species of rhododendron and an avenue of giant sierra redwood trees.
Not for toddlers.
On the eastern shores of Loch Lomond, a modest hill walk affording splendid views of what Victorians called “the most beautiful of Scottish lakes”.
Beginning at the car park in the pretty village of Balmaha, it is an easy ascent through a forest of old Scots pines and up a clear, well-used footpath on the open hillside. There is no need to go all the way to the top (358 metres) to enjoy the views, and find a grassy picnic spot. Can be combined with a stroll along a loch-side path to a small beach below the hill. Shops, cafes and waterfront restaurants in Balmaha.
Heads of Ayr Farm Park
Animals are the big attraction of this play-park near Ayr, notably Ralph the Camel, Troy the Tapir, and a menagerie of llamas, lemurs, meerkats, ponies, donkeys and goats.
Activities include bumper boats, water wars, electric tractors and diggers, and a giant aerial runway. Quad bikes for adults with toddlers and others for older children, and an undercover Play N’ Wild adventure barn with drop slides and a two-storey soft play area.
Toddlers can slide, seesaw and explore in a play zone with sensory games.
Loch Lomond Bird of Prey Centre and Aquarium
Eagles and falcons, kestrels and hawks, and owls big and small are among more than thirty birds of a feather in a little avian zoo in Balloch on the shores of Loch Lomond, devoted to conservation and education.
Guided tours explain the history and individual character of every bird, as well as the global plight faced by many birds of prey.
Additional packages include handling and flying hawks.
Who: All ages
An adjacent aquarium has the country’s largest collection of sharks among over 1,500 creatures, viewed through a ‘tropical ocean’ tunnel and in inter-active rock pools. Activities include animal feeding, a quiz trail – and sleepovers in the glass tunnel.
Who: All ages
Calderglen Country Park
An outdoors experience in a scenic wooded glen in East Kilbride with a children’s zoo, tropical glasshouse, nature trails, and play areas.
The zoo has a range of exotic and endangered animals including owls, marmosets, wallabies and meerkats, and there are miles of walks through woods and along the banks of the River Calder.
A dedicated play area for younger children, and a more demanding adventure play area for older children. Talks and tours of the zoo with one of the keepers to learn about the animals and biodiversity and conservation. Pre-school sessions with story telling and ‘guess the animal’ games.
Who: All ages
M&D’s theme park
The Giant Condor meets the Runaway Mine Train and the Flying Carpet at this complex of roller coasters, slides, disco boats and dodgems in Strathclyde Country Park, Motherwell.
Split into kids’ rides, family rides and thrill rides, the park caters for all ages. The Game Zone is one of Scotland’s biggest indoor amusement arcades with more than 150 games, and the country’s first glow-in-the-dark 10-pin bowling alley with 16 lanes.
An 18-hole crazy golf course plays over water and into a pirate’s galleon, and a soft play area for under threes has spiral chutes, trampolines and a ball pit.
A highlight is Amazonia, an inter-active indoor tropical rainforest with monkeys, toucans and pythons.
Who: All ages
An indoor adventure centre for wee ones in the city with play frames, ball pools, trampolines, slides, a go-kart track, and an astro-turf football pitch.
The aim is to stimulate imaginations by recreating an Amazonian swamp, a Bornean rainforest and an Egyptian pyramid.
Babies and toddlers are catered for in a separate play area with a foam octopus and a mini racetrack. Party rooms available for special occasions. A restaurant and Starbucks Café are on site.