For many parents, entertaining the kids over the October half term holiday can be a costly and stressful task but it doesn’t have to be. Scotland’s incredible landscape offers an infinite variety of free activities for families that only require a warm coat, a picnic and of course, their endless supply of energy. The warm golds, oranges and reds of the autumnal trees set against the vibrant purples and coppers of the heather make Scotland a truly magical location for an Autumn break.
Read our list below for some great ideas to help you create memories for the kids that will last a lifetime!
Cairngorms National Park
Head to Braemar at the heart of the Cairngorm National Park, and count hundreds of deer along the roadside as they descend the mountains to shelter in nearby glens. Wild Camp in the Mar Lodge Estate amongst the ancient Caledonian Pine trees and listen to the echoing sound of roaring stags as they prepare to compete for the females in their annual rut. The following day, travel to Aviemore and hire bikes to cycle through the magical forests of Rothiemurchus Estate looking out for red squirrels along the way. Stock up on fuel afterwards at the healthy Mountain Café in Aviemore or take the Funicular railway up Cairngorm Mountain for some hot chocolate in the Ptarmigan Restaurant and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
North Coast 500 Highland Road Trip
With 10 days holiday to fill, why not take the kids on the road trip of a lifetime around the North Coast 500 which loops north from Inverness to John O’Groats and across the north coast of Scotland to Durness before meandering down the most beautiful coast line you will ever see down to Ullapool. With its increasing global popularity, October is a great time to enjoy quieter roads before many of the attractions and campsites close up for the winter and you can show off your driving skills to the kids as you drive from Applecross down the famous Bealach na Ba pass. Favourite beaches not to miss are Achmelvic and Sandwood Bay. The 4 mile walk in to reach Sandwood Bay is well worth the effort as you descend on the 2 mile long white beach at the very north west point of Scotland. It’s a must if you want to make the kids some childhood memories that will last a lifetime!
Royal Deeside and Aberdeenshire
Looking to educate the children this October? Go in search of history and explores some of Aberdeenshire’s 19 castles. Journey through pretty Royal Deeside to the Royal family’s holiday retreat at Balmoral Castle and the following day visit Crathes Castle before letting the kids burn off some steam at Crathes Go Ape on their high rope course. Continue east to the impregnable fortress of Dunottar Castle that sits high on the cliffs overlooking the north sea then head for lunch at the Catterline Inn overlooking pretty Catterline Harbour. Head north, stopping at Aberdeen’s Tory battery to see if the dolphins are in the harbour and Fraser Castle then continue on to camp at Aden Country Park with its adventure play area and farming museum for kids.
Island of Islay – Inner Hebrides
As the weather gets colder 50,000 visitors descend on the Southern Hebridean island of Islay in the form of wild geese – a truly spectacular sight. You can also view up to 200 other species at the RSPBs bird hide at Loch Gruinart and around the island including the rare Clough as well as Lapwings, Curlews, Corncrakes, Buzzards, Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles. Let the kids run off steam over the numerous white beaches and bring your bikes to safely cycle along the cycle path that runs between the Whisky distilleries in the south of the island near Port Ellen. Make sure you stop for refreshments at the distilleries – their food is as good as their whisky! Check out our Islay Tour here.
Take the Jacobite steam train (otherwise known as Harry Potter train) from Fort William and cross over the breath-taking Glenfinnan viaduct. Enjoy fish and chips at the lively fishing village of Mallaig before returning to collect your campervan and drive the magical Road to the Isles to Arisaig, home to some of the most beautiful white sand beaches in Scotland. The next day hire some kayaks and potter around the safe shallow waters with a view out to the islands of Eigg and Rhum – perfect for beginners. At the end of the day, get the barbeque going on the beach and be rewarded with one of Arisaig’s spectacular sunsets. Check out our Arisaig Tour here.
For the Grown Ups: Take a ferry from Mallaig to the Old Forge for great seafood on the Knoydart Peninsula – Scotland’s most remote mainland pub.
The Moray Firth
Head along the south coast of the Moray Firth to Findhorn and walk the length of its stunning shingle beach. Make sure you keep an eye out for grey seals who come ashore to mate and pup between October and December. Drive east to Cullen for some Cullen Skink and look up in wonder at the Cullen viaduct that towers over the Thomas Telford designed harbour (the herring fisherman who resided in Cullen were notably some of the wealthiest in Scotland due to its unique design.) Continue along the coast towards Pennan, the quaint fishing village made famous by the cult Scottish movie Local Hero – make sure the kids have seen the movie before you go!
For the Grown Ups: It would be criminal not to visit one of Speyside’s whisky distilleries when you’re in this neck of the woods!
If there’s one walk you shouldn’t miss this autumn it has to be the Loch Affric Circuit, an 11.5 mile loop hidden deep in Glen Affric, one Scotland’s finest glens. A challenge in the length for some, the walk is perfect for entertaining teenagers and is very flat with a good path so just make sure you take a picnic to keep the energy levels up. The following day, head east in search of monsters at Loch Ness before heading north to the atmospheric battlefield at Culloden just outside Inverness. Let the kids live history as they become part of the battle between England and Scotland in the visitor centre’s interactive displays before enjoying some nourishment at the lovely café.
For those up for some serious exercise head to Glentress Forest for over 50 miles of purpose made biking trails and 5 fantastic walking trails. The next day drive along to the pretty town of Melrose and have fun crossing the suspension footbridge at Gattonside before indulging in old fashioned sweeties or ice cream at the Simply Delicious Ice Cream Shop. Complete the weekend away by heading north east up to North Berwick and visit The Scottish Seabird Centre where kids can use the interactive live cameras to zoom in on Peregrines, Shags and Cormorants on The Bass Rock.
Spend the weekend near Pitlochry and visit the Enchanted Forest at Faskally Wood to enjoy a dazzling light show set against an original music score. For some exercise and amazing autumnal views, hike up Ben Vrackie and enjoy a warm fire and great food at the foot of it at The Moulin Hotel then take in a show at The Pitlochry Festival Theatre.
Isle of Mull
For kids with younger siblings a visit to the Isle of Mull and the colourful fishing town of Tobermory is a must for fans of the Scottish kids TV program Balamory. Older kids wont be disappointed either as they enjoy the beautiful beaches at Calgary and on the south of the island. Take the whole family on a sea adventure out to Staffa Island and Finga’ls Cave with its hexagonally jointed basalt columns and make sure you download Mendlessohn’s ‘The Hebrides’ overture for the kids to listen to on the boat which was inspired by the German composer’s visit to the caves in 1829.