Scotland for kids: things to do in Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands

Scotland for kids: things to do in Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands

The area around Loch Ness in Scotland is a land of rowan trees, conifers, and tall, stately oaks. Of extreme beauty, as well as tragedy and mystery. The deepest lochs run through the Scottish Highlands, and, judging by the stories we heard there this summer, so do the fiercest hearts. Inverness and Loch Ness are some of the best places to visit in Scotland with kids. Here’s a round-up of the Scottish attractions we saw on our trip with Loch Ness by Jacobite and Visit Scotland. Hopefully it’ll give you an idea of some things to do in Loch Ness and the nearby area.

What to do in Inverness with kids

River Ness at Inverness

The serene River Ness runs through Inverness.

A visit to this part of Scotland might begin at Inverness, the ‘capital of the Highlands’. It’s an ancient city, dating back to the twelfth Century, but much of the original town was destroyed in fierce battles that raged down through the centuries. Nowadays, it’s a pretty city with abundant hanging baskets and floral displays. Crimson and cerise geraniums were in full bloom when we visited. Heritage-lovers will see some fine granite houses, and the quirky shops are easy to navigate in the city’s compact centre. A boutique full of kilt accessories, anyone?

Inverness Castle Viewpoint

We had a couple of hours to spend in Inverness on our trip, so we used them wisely, by climbing up to Inverness Castle viewpoint. The castle is a nineteenth century building on the site of the city’s old medieval fortress. A new 360-degree viewing tower lets you see around the city and beyond, so if you’re looking for ideas for things to do in Loch Ness, the viewpoint’s a good place to get some inspiration.

Inverness Castle Viewpoint

Inverness Castle Viewpoint gives spectacular views of the surrounding areas.

It’s intimate – only ten people at a time are allowed up the tower. On a clear day you can see all the way across to Ben Wyvis, which is a munro – a mountain over 3,000 ft tall – known as the Hill of Terror. A map of the view from the castle picks out Tomnahurich, the Hill of the Fairies, which was formed by glaciers and supposedly plays host to a guardian angel and a lion tamer; and Chanonry Point, with its colony of dolphins, where the unfortunate Brahan Seer was boiled in oil by Lady Seaforth for revealing that her husband was having an affair with a Frenchwoman.

On the way down the tower, there’s a short film about the sights around Inverness, and a couple of rooms showing eerie, cute little cartoons about the ill-fated Brahan Seer, and how Saint Columba chased the Loch Ness monster down the river Ness, away from the city.

Inverness Castle Viewpoint

We watched some eerie little cartoons at Inverness Castle, which helped us understand the city’s myths and legends.

If we’d have had more time in Inverness, we’d have gone to the city’s Museum and Art Gallery, to learn more about the people and history of this part of the Highlands.

Child-friendly places to eat in Inverness

Inverness’s restaurants and cafes are excellent, with many suitable for children. We ate dinner at the friendly Heathmount Hotel, on Kingsmill Road above the castle. In the early evening, we shared the dining space with a small group of revellers out for someone’s 30th, a handful of couples and solitary local diners. The tailored kids’ menu included tasty mini-burgers and good-quality chicken strips. I ate haggis croquettes in whisky sauce followed by the most tender venison in redcurrant jus. It was divine.

Heathmount Hotel Inverness

The tailored kids’ menu at the Heathmount Hotel was tasty (and popular with our two!).

Visiting Loch Ness with kids

A cruise is a good way to see the Loch with children. It’s long (22 miles) but narrow, so there’s plenty of ineresting scenery to look at, even if you don’t end up spotting the famed Loch Ness Monster. Look out for otters and ospreys – it’s a good idea to take a pair of binoculars.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness is a beautiful place to see from the water.

We did a four-hour Rebellion tour with Loch Ness by Jacobite (who sponsored this trip). You can read more about it in this blog post I wrote a few days ago. The tour was ideal for the kids. They sat in comfort, completing the games and puzzles in their Nessie-themed activity pack, and listened to Ranald’s commentary on sightings of the Loch Ness Monster, as well as the history of the area. Jacobite Rebels and Government forces fought several battles nearby. Our tour included a stop at the beautiful Urquhart Castle, the scene of some fierce clashes.

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle

Our Loch Ness cruise included a stop at Urquhart Castle.

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle is in a romantic setting, with unparalleled views of the Loch. It’s no wonder that it’s one of the locations for the hit drama, Highlander.

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle has spectacular views of Loch Ness.

Urquhart Castle dates back to the sixth Century, when St Columba came to its site to try and convert the Picts to Christianity. The castle as we know it stood proud from the thirteenth Century onwards, but since then, a series of brutal battles and sieges have laid waste to a lot of the buildings.

Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle’s a wonderful place to explore with kids.

Still, it’s a wonderful place to explore with the family. We easily filled our two hours there, in scrambling up the Grant Tower to look out over the Loch, climbing down to the small beach, to skim stones over the water, and popping into the visitor centre, to watch the film that explained more about Urquhart Castle’s history.

Historic Environment Scotland manage Urquhart Castle, with tickets available on the door. Alternatively, you can include a visit as part of a Rebellion tour, like we did. You can read more about our visit to Urquhart Castle here.

Urquhart Castle

A good few hours could be lost in roaming around Urquhart Castle with the kids.

Drumnadrochit, on the edge of Loch Ness

There are lots of nice places to stay in Inverness, but we opted for Drumnadrochit, a small town on the edge of Loch Ness, very close to Urquhart Castle. It’s a pretty place, centred around a village green.

Drumnadrochit Village Green

Drumnadrochit’s Village Green is pretty and well-maintained.

We stayed in comfortable rooms at the traditional Fiddler’s Restaurant, which served tasty Highland fare as well as family crowd-pleasers like fish and chips. On the night that we dined at the restaurant, while the children ate ice cream from Nessie-shaped scoops D and I shared a whisky tasting selection. The staff at Fiddler’s gave us a flavour guide to help us navigate our way round the 600+ whiskies in the restaurant’s library. We opted for three, ranging from a lighter whisky, to a densely smoke-flavoured, peaty tipple. They were delicious, and I could easily see us losing a few evenings in the library (without the kids, of course).

Fiddler's Drumnadrochit

Staff guided us in our whisky selection at Drumnadrochit.

Culloden visitor centre

The battle of Culloden, in 1746, marked a turning point in Scottish history. It came at the end of the Jacobite Uprising, when supporters of the Stuart family, and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s claim to the British throne, gained ground against the Government forces. But Culloden was a bloody massacre, with the majority of the casualties laying on the Jacobite side.

Culloden Visitor Centre

The Battle of Culloden still resonates in the hearts of many Scots.

Today, you’d be forgiven for thinking twice about taking children to  Culloden Visitor Centre. But don’t. It’s certainly an atmospheric place, with a dull quiet that’s only broken by the cawing of crows. But the National Trust of Scotland have done a good job of turning the battleground site into a family-friendly living history museum.

For anyone wanting to properly gen up on the story of Culloden and the Jacobite Uprising, there’s an incredible amount of detail in the interactive displays. These show the story from both the Jacobite and Government perspective, and include ‘talking heads’ from people involved in the Uprising, its suppression, and the aftermath. The Government forces stripped the Highland clans of their land and means of income. Many died of starvation in the years following the battle.

Culloden Visitor Centre

Culloden battlefield was a sobering and thought-provoking place to visit.

Although the sombre atmosphere wasn’t lost on our eight- and six-year-old, they were old enough to enjoy the visit. The handheld children’s audio commentary was pitched well, and held both their attention as we walked through the displays. There were some other very child-friendly touches, like regular interactive performances. Our two tried their hand at artillery firing, just as the soldiers would have done. And I dressed up as a Jacobite Rebel, so that the crowd could pass sentence on me (my own children sentenced me to a life of hard labour. How ironic).

While toddlers might not appreciate everything that the Culloden Visitor Centre had to offer, it was a family-friendly place visit, and a good way to immerse ourselves in the history of the Highlands. Culloden was a short drive from Inverness – just 20 minutes or so.

Highland Wildlife Park

Highland Wildlife Park

You can see all sorts of creatures at the Highland Wildlife Park, including polar bears.

The Highland Wildlife Park was around an hour’s drive from Inverness, in the scenic Cairngorms. The wide, sprawling park was quiet when we visited. As it was International Day of the Tiger, a small crowd clustered near the Amur tiger enclosure, where face-painting sessions and quizzes ran all day. The tigers weren’t the only exotic creature there. We spotted wolverines, musk oxen and red pandas. The snow leopards evaded us, as did Hamish, the polar bear cub, who was sheltering from the July heat. We did see some a couple of his older male cousins, though.

Highland Wildlife Park red panda

The red pandas were taking a siesta when we saw them.

Despite all the exotic creatures on show, my favourites were the animals indigenous to Scotland. These included creatures that live in Scotland now, like wildcats, red deer, Eurasian beavers and red squirrels, and those that are extinct in the country, like wolves, lynxes, and the Eurasian elk. The park placed a lot of emphasis on conservation, and the children enjoyed following the Highland Wildlife Warrior trail to see all the Scottish animals, and learn more about how to live in a way that causes them less harm.

Highland Wildlife Park scottish wildcats

The Scottish wildcats came out of hiding for feeding time. It was a real treat to see these graceful creatures.

How to get to Inverness

Inverness airport runs regular connecting flights to the rest of the UK, including Heathrow and Gatwick, and a train line carries passengers from the north and south, including a direct sleeper train from London.

Here’s a video I made of our trip to the Highlands. Look out for the wildcat at the end:

Do you have any suggestions for things to do in Loch Ness and the surrounding areas? I’ve only scratched the surface with mine.

This trip was sponsored by Loch Ness by Jacobite and Visit Scotland, and I was compensated for my time. All views are my own.

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Things to do in Loch Ness with kids

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32 Comments

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:38 pm

      You can buy them in the shops there! I do regret not picking up a couple when we saw them.

  1. August 10, 2018 / 8:49 am

    How interesting this post! I have read your full post your writer a very nice article. you talking about Scotland which is really great. Thanks for sharing this post with us.

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:39 pm

      thank you!

  2. August 10, 2018 / 9:54 am

    Such a wonderful place. Breathtaking views!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:39 pm

      the views were incredible.

  3. August 10, 2018 / 9:37 pm

    This is literally our perfect holiday. We have looked into swimming Loch Ness today but it’s quite exclusive by virtue of the price – the support boat costs £2k, eek! If we do get around to it we’ll definitely make a week of it and explore the area with the children though, amazing how much there is to do there!
    Nat.x

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:40 pm

      Now that IS exciting! I guess it makes sense that you’d need a support boat – it’s further than the English Channel. But how cool would it be to do it?

  4. August 11, 2018 / 7:11 pm

    Seems like a great place to take kids! Great outdoor fun and castes to explore!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:41 pm

      Yes, the castles were pretty special.

  5. August 12, 2018 / 11:31 am

    Scottish Highlands are lovely, from what I’ve heard before and seeing it from your post too. I would love to take a cruise in Loch Ness (I am pretty sure nobody ever gets to spot the monster lol) and also visit Iverness. It’s a pity that the town was destroyed in fierce battles. The castle view-point looks pretty awesome. Can’t wait to visit Scotland!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:42 pm

      Yes, there really is SO much more there than Nessie!

  6. August 12, 2018 / 12:38 pm

    We’ve been to this region a few times but haven’t visited Urquhart Castle, that’s now on my list for next time. We love the scenery around Loch Ness and also found Inverness a charming city base, I loved their Botanical Gardens!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:43 pm

      Ooh, we didn’t make it there. Something for next time!

  7. August 12, 2018 / 12:59 pm

    You have just brought me back to when my parents took me to Scotland to see the ‘Lochness Monster’! It looks like they are a lot more geared up for kids now, I love the lochness monster ice cream bowls. I’m sure the whisky tasting is a lot more fun now!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:43 pm

      That was a real highlight for us 😉

  8. August 12, 2018 / 2:55 pm

    We really did not have Scotland on our travel wish list. But you have tempted us. I love to get a high view first. The inverness Castle looks like a good point to start. Good to know only 10 people can go up at a time. But the Urquhart Castle does seem like a romanic spot. I would be sure to do the cruise around the Loch. Even without a monster sighting it looks like a scenic ride. All I know about the Culloden battle comes from watching Highlander!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:44 pm

      There are a LOT of Highlander locations in this area!

  9. August 12, 2018 / 4:36 pm

    Oh beautiful pictures of Inverness, I was there so many years ago. I can see how the myths and legends of Lochness would be fun and interesting for kids. I quite like the idea of these interactive talking heads story telling -brings history to life in a magical way. Great post

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:45 pm

      Yes, the stories made it pretty magical.

  10. Brooke Herron
    August 13, 2018 / 8:33 am

    I have not been able to explore as much of Scotland as I would like. But I’ve always wanted to visit Loch Ness and Inverness! There is actually a small town on California Coast (near Olema and Pt Reyes) called Inverness-our favorite summer holiday spot as kids. I

    The castle viewpoints and the boat trip you took look like a great way to see everything from best vantage points!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:45 pm

      Now I never knew about the other Inverness! And you’re right – we really did see it from some great angles.

  11. August 14, 2018 / 9:39 am

    I had no idea Inverness had so much violent history – from boiling seers in oil to bloody battles! There is certainly plenty for the kids to do, even without spotting Nessie, it sounds like a fab place to visit.

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:46 pm

      They were a tough lot, those ancient Scots!

  12. August 14, 2018 / 3:13 pm

    Loch Ness has always been a source of fascination mainly because of Nellie, the Loch Ness monster. But there is so much to see and experience there. A great place to head to with the kids. A place like Culloden battlefield is something that does have a melancholy aura, but nice to know that there are many interactive displays from which kids can learn about a slice of history.

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:47 pm

      Yes, it was a sad place – but they made it into a great memorial where you could learn an awful lot.

  13. August 14, 2018 / 11:25 pm

    Beautiful place! Reminds me of the movie Loch Ness, that I saw when I was a kid. I would definitely keep this in mind when I finally get to visit Scotland. Your kids are adorable, by the way! They seem to have really enjoyed the trip!

    • Nell
      Author
      August 15, 2018 / 10:48 pm

      Aw – thank you! They absolutely loved it there.

  14. August 16, 2018 / 3:03 am

    This is perfect place for vacation with kids. with so many things to do and stories of Nessie would keep most kids out of trouble for a while I think. Scotland is truly photogenic

    • Nell
      Author
      August 16, 2018 / 7:43 am

      It’s a beautiful place, that’s for sure.

  15. September 10, 2018 / 9:28 pm

    How beautiful! I SO want to go back to Scotland – as I have only visited Aberdeen and Edinburgh! So clearly there are many more things to see and discover! Even though Clara is still too young, there are plenty of places to take her here! Must go soon!
    Louise x

    • Nell
      Author
      September 11, 2018 / 9:37 am

      Scotland’s enormous – such a varied place!

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