Written by parents and carers, Edinburgh for Under Fives (EFUF) is a popular guidebook for families covering Edinburgh, the Lothians and Fife.
Every month on WOW247, the local experts at EFUF blog about family-friendly attractions, events, cafés and days out in Edinburgh and beyond in an essential new feature for parents. Without further ado, EFUF editor Cathy Tingle shares her top tips for February.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is one of those attractions (a bit like Edinburgh Castle) that tourists flock to, but that Edinburgh folk can forget to visit. It’s our loss! February, when things are fairly quiet on the tourist front, is a good opportunity to remedy this and explore Edinburgh’s oldest purpose-built visitor attraction.
Children from the age of three will appreciate the hilarity of being able to “pick up” an unwitting pedestrian from the Castle Esplanade, morph in various ways, swap heads, shrink or become a giant. The vortex tunnel is amazing but you’ll have to assess whether your little one will like it – it’s tricky to carry them out if they decide they don’t fancy it halfway through! The building’s rooftop terrace offers unsurpassed views of the city and the turrets will appeal to would-be princes or princesses. Just remember your comfy shoes – there are more than 100 steps to reach the Camera Obscura itself.
Always looking for ways to entertain its visitors, the attraction has just transformed the steps to its shop into a keyboard. Another new exhibit is the first-of-its-kind “Light painter” – coloured torches for painting or writing in space. Any creations then appear on a screen. There’s also the chance to get married or become best friends forever with Autowed (one of two automatic wedding machines worldwide). For £1 you get a ceremony, a bespoke certificate and two rings. Young Ben recently used Autowed to become best friends with his teddy. He decided to wear both rings himself.
The venue opens until 8pm during half term, and tickets are now day-long so you can pop away and come back. For refreshment, nearby Café Hub has a children’s menu and an airy feel in this busiest of Edinburgh streets.
The great outdoors, with the hope of spring, is the big event this month. The wonderful Almond Valley Heritage Centre is holding a “First Tingles of Spring” event from February 8-23 – either wrap up and go hunting for spring’s first signs on and around the farm, or stay in and enjoy spring-based activities, such as crafts and planting, in the warm.
On Sunday, February 16 there is a choice of activity. You could join the Ranger at Hopetoun House for a special one-off walk to explore the grounds (which are not officially open until Easter) and witness the woodland’s snowdrop display. Spaces are limited so book early. The walk is at 2pm but the grounds open from 10.30am until 4pm for the occasion. Hot drinks, traybakes, homemade soup and sandwiches will be available all day at Stables Tearoom too.
Alternatively, head to the Botanics for a Talking Trees Storytelling Session at 2pm (5+ yrs) and then stroll round the Gardens at your leisure. The Gateway Restaurant, which offers an impressive afternoon tea, or the bustling Terrace Café, with its children’s lunchboxes and tempting cakes, offer the shelter here. Or, if it’s a really cold day, you could always pop into the tropical Glasshouses.
Place to eat
Enjoy a warm-hearted Swedish welcome at two of the city’s Boda bars – Hemma and Joseph Pearce’s. These venues exude a generous, easy child friendliness during the day, with countless highchairs (well, almost − our researcher counted ten at Hemma), ready baby changing facilities (in both ladies’ and gents’ toilets at Joseph Pearce’s), play areas with toys, and self-service food heating facilities.
Both have great kids’ menus – highlights are the Mini Cullen Skink (Hemma) and the meatballs and spaghetti (Joseph Pearce’s), but they offer staples like cheese on toast and standard pasta dishes too. For the adults, warmers such as Momofuko Pork Buns and Swedish-style pancakes are available at Joseph Pearce’s, as well as their famous brunch. Hemma offers a hearty brunch too, alongside such delights as crayfish spaghetti and hasselback potatoes − or why not sample its bestselling smorgasbord. Child friendliness has a lot to do with attitude, and these bars’ easy acceptance and understanding of little ones with their attendant needs show how it can be done.
An idea for a day out
This month − a day out, inside. The National Museum of Scotland at Chambers Street is a brilliant place to lose yourself for a good few hours in the remotest corners of the world and the farthest reaches of history. Go along on a Wednesday morning to attend a wonderful, resource-rich Magic Carpet session before exploring the rest of the museum with your starry-eyed wee ones. Littlies will enjoy looking at the many and varied creatures in the Animal World section (are camels really that big?), while slightly older ones will love the clever machines in Connect. Adventure Planet on Level 5 provides the opportunity to become a scuba diver or go on a dinosaur dig. The Imagine zone – a place especially for families on Level 1 – is a perfect hiding place from the hordes. When hunger strikes, visit the Balcony Café (Level 3) or the Brasserie (Entrance Hall) – or pop round the corner to Vittoria, Caffé Lucano or MUMS Great Comfort Food for a warm welcome, before you return to be inspired again. Read more about the National Museum of Scotland in our review.
Best thing to do beyond Edinburgh
With indoor and outdoor areas, pottery painting, farm animals, soft play, a giant jumping pillow, rubber duck racing, grass sledging and much more, Muddy Boots at Balmalcolm, Fife, is well worth taking the hour’s drive out of Edinburgh for. The play areas are divided by age, which means that younger ones can happily potter along at their own pace with pedal tractors, slides and sandpit in the adventure play area. Older children will enjoy the grass sledging and quad train. Parents will appreciate the award-winning toilets, great café and wonderful farm shop. People often go once and then buy annual membership – and with pig racing and zorbing promised in the summer, there’s every reason to return.
Edinburgh For Under Fives on WOW247
Edinburgh for Under Fives was started by Edinburgh NCT and has been enriching the lives of under 5s for the past 28 years. The next edition of Edinburgh for Under Fives is out this May. More info at www.efuf.co.uk. Follow them on Twitter to get the day-to-day about what’s going on for under 5s, or discover what they’ve been up to recently by reading their blog.