Taking the whole family to a visitor attraction can work out very expensive, by the time you’ve paid for entrance, an ice-cream or four, lunch and a few souvenirs. So here are some ideas for free attractions, indoors and out, that will help keep down your family motorhome holiday costs.
Starting in Fife, two of Scotland’s top visitor attractions, with real “wow” appeal, are very close together and make for a great day out: the Kelpies at the Helix park and the Falkland Wheel. You can see them both for free, though if you want to experience the Wheel for yourselves or take the guided tour of the Kelpies there is a charge.
There’s a cycle path between the two attractions, partly along the towpath of the Forth & Clyde canal; it’s around 2 miles (3 km) each way If you want free parking, use the Helix Park car park; both the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies car parks charge. There are cafés and toilets at both venues.
If you’re heading to Edinburgh, it is easiest to leave your motorhome at the park-and-ride car park near the airport and take the tram into the city. There is also a cycle path into Edinburgh from there, but it’s quite a long way for little legs.
Once you’re in Edinburgh, you can walk up Arthur’s Seat, visit the Scottish Parliament, the National Museum of Scotland and The Museum of Childhood, wander round St Giles’ Cathedral on the Royal Mile, or discover the Archivists’ Garden on Princes Street – all for free.
There are several good downloadable walking tours of the city that you can follow at your own pace. Sandemans Edinburgh free (guided) tour, 3 hours long and starting on the Royal Mile, is aimed at children; some of the stories they tell may be a bit scary for small children but older children will love them.
Glasgow also has plenty of free attractions, from the Riverside Museum to the People’s Palace and Kelvingrove Art Gallery. A free booklet, “25 Things to do in Glasgow Museums Before you’re 5”, packed with ideas for keeping children amused, is available at the museums. As in Edinburgh, Glasgow has free trail guides you can download and follow at your leisure.
If you’re not keen on city visits, Scotland has miles of beaches, hundreds of castles and lochs (with and without monsters), thousands of acres of mountains, forest and other countryside – and plenty of places to park your family motorhome. You may walk wherever you like in Scotland, as long as you act responsibly, don’t damage property, wildlife or farm animals, and keep any dogs under control.
A word of caution, though: the grouse-shooting season starts on August 12th. Sometimes shooting is signalled by flying red flags near the area, so if you see a red flag, go elsewhere. Some estates have a telephone number you can use to check whether there’s shooting planned in the area.
You can see Britain’s only herd of free-range reindeer at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre near Aviemore. Entry isn’t free, but it is very cheap and you’ll discover exactly what Father Christmas has to do to keep his reindeer in top condition for Christmas.
Highland safaris in Dull is home to the Red Deer Centre, where you can also meet a barn owl face to face and even pan for gold. You can get taken to the top of the hill and make your own way down on foot or by bike, or test yourself against their mountain bike skills loop. Their café will make you up a picnic if you want to spend the whole day outdoors.
At Loch Leven you can ride a 13-mile cycle path around the loch, watch swans and other water birds, visit a castle where Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner, and even buy cashmere sweaters – truly something for everyone! There are lots of cafés such as Loch Leven’s Larder , which offers great lunches and baked goods, as well a play area to keep younger ones occupied. Visit the Loch Leven Heritage Trail website and you can download a map of the trail, which includes a guide to the car parks around the trail, so you can park your motorhome easily and stop for a snack and a toilet break whenever you need to.
Whale and dolphin watching makes another great free family day out. Chanonry Point, near Inverness, is the best place for seeing the whales, porpoises and dolphins in the Moray Firth. You can also spot them from points all along the coast, so this is a good area to book into a seaside caravan park.
Not keen on wildlife-watching? Did you know that Scotland was voted the world’s best cinematic destination? If you’re a movie buff, you could spend your family motorhome holiday visiting the locations where films such as Braveheart, Outlander, Skyfall and – perhaps surprisingly – several Bollywood movies were shot.
You’ll find downloadable maps at VisitScotland and discover locations such as the Rosslyn Chapel (used in The Da Vinci Code) and the Glenfinnan Viaduct – which you can ride across on the steam-train used for the Harry Potter films.
There’s so much for families to do for free around Scotland! A family motorhome holiday certainly doesn’t have to be expensive and it’s one of the best ways to see this unexpected country on a tight budget.