5 Fun Things to Do with Little People (6 and Under) on the Royal Mile

I know, I know. The Royal Mile is just so touristy. And it is. But that’s because it’s still an amazing part of Edinburgh to be in, especially if you’ve never been in it before and you only have a few days to spend there. It’s like NYC’s Times Square. You have to do it.

Now that that’s out of the way though, let’s talk about how much this traveling tribe really did enjoy being there. And our tiny travelers? They’re already making plans to go back. Here’s why.

Tea at the Queen Anne Tea Room at Edinburgh Castle

When you’re six, your a princess. And when you’ve spent the afternoon wandering around an old castle, then clearly you become a queen. And as Miss Queen Six Year Old, it is ever so important to stop a moment mid day, step in from the windy cold, and have a cup of some ginger lemon tea from fancy, delicate tea cups with tiny pastel flowers and gold edges. And scones. Of course. Scones.

We had spent the morning walking uphill along The Royal Mile (our apartment was at the opposite end from the castle) to Edinburgh Castle, where our little people wandered around, a bit awe-filled at the canons, the view, and the sense of history (oh and the number of tourists too). But, as is usually the case, as soon as we hit the top of that hill, little mouths began to voice concerns of hunger. You know, as soon as we were out of the area that had any food in it. Luckily, the rain stopped misting for a moment, and as we walked out of The Great Hall (where the tiniest had been laying on the floor in a hunger-induced moment of rest) the sign for the Tea Room appeared, beckoning us through the slight fog.

One mention of tea, and the biggest little was all in and full of girly giddiness, fueled by the thought of tea in a castle and that the stop was unplanned. (And the other two heard “little treats” and scrambled their tiny legs into the building cartoonishly fast.)

Beyond the initial rooms with walls of stone and skylights, the the restaurant is fairly modern in appearance, with tables spread cozyishly through rooms yet not crammed together. It felt inviting rather than like a cafeteria perched on a hill. We were directed to a table flanked by comfortable couches, a welcome respite from the chill and tired legs. Here we snacked on tiny sandwiches, sweets, and scones. Each of my little people, particular in their tastes, found snacks that satisfied them and delighted them (apparently I just need to make their sandwiches tiny and they’ll eat them).

Tea time snuggles.
These relaxing moments were stretched out. We lingered and didn’t feel chased away. The couches invited movement and snuggles. It was a place to spend time together and soak in our trip and each other, which is less than common in a world focused on turning tables and making more money rather than memories. This experience ranks high for the six year old, especially. So high, in fact, that she has since written a story about her adventure having delicious tea and being a grown up queen, if only for a moment.

Camera Obscura

I have to admit that I had my doubts about Camera Obscura. Nearly every guide that I had read or list I had stumbled upon listed it as one of the “must dos” of Edinburgh, but I didn’t know what made it distinctly “Edinburgh” other than the camera obscure itself. And, truth be told, if we didn’t have our littles with us, I don’t know that we would have gone to this place, but I’m glad I did, if not to learn just how much I and my middle cannot manage to stand in a “Giant Vortex Tunnel.”

Playing in one of the magical rooms at Camera Obscura. And no, this was the Giant Vortex.
We decided that we’d spend a morning at Camera Obscura when we got back to Edinburgh after taking our littles on a bit of a whirlwind three day tour of the highlands. After so much time in the car, we felt we needed to really find something that would delight them. And it did. (Mostly. Remember Giant Vortex Tunnel.)

When we arrived, there was a bit of a wait to get inside, but the streets surrounding were filled with funhouse mirrors. This taste of what was inside kept them happy while they waited. After stepping inside, we were ushered into a mirror maze, which the little people all loved. Then it was a quick shuffle over to the Giant Vortex Tunnel. This tunnel has lights that spin around a small, short bridge no more than a foot above the ground. It’s a simple task: walk from one end of the small enclosed area to the other. After about three steps onto the bridge, my middle little collapsed, his sense of balance complete spirited away from him. I had to literally grab his feet (he was clinging to the railing) and yank him out backwards. He never really recovered, fearful and clinging at every turn.

Playing with perspective at Camera Obscura.
The building itself is small in its footprint, but six floors of, mostly, optical illusions. (And on every single floor, the middle little double checked with me that there were no more “rides”–he still doesn’t quite understand that he actually wasn’t moving on the vortex.) There were some rooms that were less then stellar for our little people, like the holograms, because they just couldn’t see them from the low angle. Also, the rooms were primarily dark, which only works for those little people who are not afraid of the dark.  Beyond this, though, there were oodles of activities (like shadow boxes, street view cameras, and age progression booths) that our little people were delighted to be there.

Wandering the Small Nooks and Crannies

We were lucky enough to have an airbnb that opened right into Dunbar’s Close, putting us steps away from the beautiful, enclosed garden. It felt like a lush secret in the middle of a city, tucked in it’s own world, untouched by the city and movement surrounding it. Having found this secret and delighting in it, our little people set out to find more, taking the small entranceways off of The Royal Mile and exploring the winding walkways and open spaces around this main center.

Cutting loose in Dunbar’s Close.
The first place they stopped was Whitehorse Close as the foot of The Royal Mile, not far from Holyrood Palace. This Close has a whole list of historical importance, or at least interest, including as the departure for the stagecoaches to London in the 17th century and being associated with the royal mews from the time of Mary, Queen of Scots. Let’s be honest though, the fact that the buildings and their significance dates back hundreds of years has little bearing on whether or not it will be entirely appreciated by the little people in the tribe. For us, it was just a mesmerizing spot to slow down in. The world walked on by, but in this tiny courtyard, it stood still. It felt untouched. And that is what spoke to them.

A little journey into Lady’s Stairs Close.
The other closes that our little people stopped and soaked up were those that felt still enclosed by the historic buildings surrounding them. They stopped and turned around and around in Riddel’s Close and then ran a bit amok in Lady’s Stairs Close. The point is, when the view to the surrounding city was cut off from them, they felt the different atmosphere in each of these spaces. And, regardless of the historic interest of each, which was known to the adults of the group, they didn’t need that information to feel the significance of them.

One of our favorite entrances that we spotted.
As a little note, our little people also really enjoyed looking at the doorways and all of the interesting bits of this and that, like fish and dragons, flanking them. It was a great distraction from the act of endlessly walking uphill.

Holyrood Palace and the Audio Tour

One of the most surprising aspects of this entire trip was discovering that our biggest little enjoyed learning a bit of history and taking audio tours. After a long (actually rather short) night of flying, we arrived at Edinburgh exhausted, but determined to kick our jet lag to the curb. And we did this by exploring. We headed out of our airbnb and to the bottom of the Royal Mile (we were staying close to the bottom) to Holyrood Palace. After giving a, quite, brief rundown of what the building was and is, our daughter decided that she wanted to go inside and figure out what this palace was like for a princess.

Our tour guide at the start of our Holyrood Palace tour.
Upon entering she insisted on getting an audio tour, which we didn’t find unusual because what little person doesn’t like a device with buttons and numbers on it? Once she figured out how to use it, she listened and then told us bits and pieces of the info she was hearing. Knowing little details we didn’t know was a source of great pride for her, and she reveled in being our personal, somewhat small, tour guide.

Stretching out and getting comfy in the family room of Holyrood Palace.
After checking out Holyrood Abbey, the grey mist set in and started to dampen our clothes. So, we headed back into Holyrood Palace, so we could warm up and investigate the Palace Family Room. Here, the little people could play with toys, replicas of toys from a different time; play dress up and pretend to be from another era; color with crayons and paint; build with blocks; and warm up. (It is also where I chose to take a brief-very-nap.)

Street Performers

There’s not much to say here in terms of what to know or not know or why it works or doesn’t. Street performers, buskers, etc. are made for entertainment, especially little person entertainment. When we’d walk the Royal Mile (uphill of course, both ways, always uphill), we’d stop and watch. Musicians kept the tiniest one entertained. Unicyclists kept the bigger ones entertained. It didn’t matter who or what they were. We stopped to let them soak it in (or so we could take a break…ok, so it was mostly so we could take a break…jk (sort of)). These performers were the fodder for some table side conversations too, whether to ask questions about how something was done or where they disappeared to or whether the grim reaper was a good guy or a bad guy.

This guy rode a really high unicycle while catching knives thrown from an audience member. Our little people were sucked in.
Perhaps what we really enjoyed about the street performers is that it meant we weren’t in a rush to see or do something. And our littles sensed that feeling of relaxing, not rushing, even when surrounded by people moving here and there and horns honking in the distance. It was a “we don’t have to get from point A to point B in the most efficient and fast-paced manner” moment. And the littles, all of them, appreciated this and felt the moment rather than the rush to get to the moment.

Honorable Mention: Dynamic Earth

So, I’m adding an honorable mention here to Dynamic Earth. This is located at the far end of The Royal Mile near Holyrood Palace. We had a half a day left to spend in Edinburgh before heading to the airport, so we decided to make the easy walk to this, well, I guess you’d call it a museum. Or maybe an attraction. I simply don’t know.

A growling saber tooth tiger. Nothing to be afraid of. Not at all.
Either way, it was a great way to spend the morning for my husband and I. We traveled back in time using a time machine elevator, experienced an earthquake as the planet formed, touched a glacier, and got snarled at by some prehistoric animal. We traveled through all the temperate zones and environments of the earth and visited a rainforest during a thunderstorm.

Going back in time on the time machine elevator. They were scared.
But, this didn’t work as well for our little people. The youngest two, shockingly, don’t really enjoy being snarled at. None of them seem to like earthquakes, and they all hide every time there’s a thunderstorm when they’re in their own homes, so experiencing it in a faux rainforest? Not their cup of tea. Needless to say, this is a great attraction (or museum?), but it isn’t suited for little people quite as little as ours. (The grown ups kindof loved it though.)

 

This tribe loves traveling, but it’s not the same as traveling sans littles. We are limited in what we can accomplish in a day both because they need down time and because they can only physically handle so much. Sure, there is an insane amount we’d still like to do in Edinburgh (hello Arthur’s Seat), but we know how much we can and can’t push and pull our little people. It seems the most joy we found were doing those things that allowed us, or even required us, to slow down and absorb. Absorb Edinburgh and absorb each other.