1. Brough of Birsay, Orkney Islands
Rockpooling, Brough of Birsay, Orkney © Iain Sarjeant
This little island off the north-west coast of Orkney’s Mainland is just a short walk along a tidal causeway, from a small car park at Birsay. When the tide goes out it leaves lots of rock pools, which are ideal for inquisitive young minds to investigate. Along with crustaceans in the rock pools, you’re likely to spot seabirds including puffins, razorbills, shags and guillemots overhead, depending on when you visit. If you want to explore more of the area after rockpooling, the Brough of Birsay and Earl’s Palace walk takes in some fascinating Pictish, Norse and monastic ruins on the island and the Earl’s Palace at Birsay. Just remember to check tide times.
2. Ness Islands Walk, Inverness
Inverness, Highlands © VisitBritain/Guy Richardson
The Ness Islands are a popular oasis of calm in the centre of Inverness. Set in the River Ness, these islands are connected to the city by suspension bridges built in the Victorian era. The paths around them are flat and if you’re lucky you might see seals between the bridges. The circular 3 mile (5 km) walk will take about an hour, but you can cut across one of the bridges and shorten it if you like. Or take a bit longer and stroll around Whin Park, which is great for family picnics and also contains a playground, boating pond, miniature railway, and an ice cream and coffee shop.
3. Hill 99, Culbin Forest, Moray Speyside
Hill 99 Tower, Culbin Forest © Forestry Commission Picture Library
How about a day at the beach? Culbin Forest, near Forres, offers a great network of trails and borders the ever-shifting and vast Culbin Sands, home to seals and a wide range of birdlife. The 3.5 mile (5.6 km) Hill 99 Trail is mostly flat, passing ponds teeming with insect life and pretty picnic stops, and has a gentle climb to Culbin’s highest sand dune. Children will love climbing the viewing tower for dramatic views over the treetops to the Moray Firth. Download a map of Culbin Sands before you visit or pick one up at Wellhill car park where the walk starts.
4. Loch an Eilein, Rothiemurchus
Loch an Eilein, Cairngorms National Park © Richard Elliot/VisitScotland
Rothiemurchus Forest is the magical setting for this sparkling loch near Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park. It’s the ideal spot to soak up beautiful reflections of ancient Scots pine and quietly seek out Scottish crossbills and red squirrels. Walk the 5 mile (8 km) circuit around the loch admiring the 13th century island castle as you go. There are good footpaths, which are mostly suitable for off-road buggies. Start at the Loch an Eilein car park (charges apply) and follow the signs, sticking to the main path. Afterwards head for CairnGorm Mountain and a trip up the funicular railway or go back to Aviemore for a trip on the Strathspey Steam Railway - the kids will love it! Watch our walking video to see views of the loch, the surrounding area and some visitor attractions nearby.
5. Muir of Dinnet NNR & Burn O’Vat, Aberdeenshire
Burn O'Vat, Aberdeenshire © VisitScotland/Damian Shields
This popular National Nature Reserve is east of Ballater in Royal Deeside, within the Cairngorms National Park. There are four great waymarked walks starting at the visitor centre including the 1 mile (1.6 km) trail to the otherworldly Burn O’Vat – a huge, secret geological pothole which you enter via a narrow gap and stepping stones on the Vat burn. The pothole was reputedly used as a hiding place by notorious local outlaw Gilderoy MacGregor. Don’t forget to explore the other trails and enjoy lovely views over Loch Kinord and Loch Davan. You might also spot some local wildlife.
6. Montrose Basin, Angus
Montrose Basin, Angus
Montrose Basin on the Angus Coast is a huge enclosed estuary teeming with birdlife and wildlife. Short tracks leading down to the basin start from Bridge of Dun and Mains of Dun, where you can really appreciate the scale of the basin. It’s a fabulous place to spot waders, terns and, if you’re lucky, seals and otters. Don’t miss the recently refurbished family-friendly 4-star Scottish Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre (small entry charge applies), which is only half a mile (1 km) from the basin. You’ll find telescopes and binoculars here for viewing wildlife, as well as live footage of migratory birds.
7. Tentsmuir Forest, Kingdom of Fife
Basking seals, Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve © SNH/Lorne Gill
Discover a massive sand dune system, one of Scotland’s most dynamic coastlines, a pine-scented forest and wonderful wildlife - including seals - at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve. It’s an ideal place for walking and off-road cycling and a picnic on the beach. Collect seashells and look out for red squirrels and dragonflies too. Families will love the Tentsmuir Time Line Trail – download the trail leaflet to help you find the 10 sculptures along it. Each one depicts a time from the first people arriving 9,000 years ago, to a tsunami strike and evidence of shifting sands. Combine it with a trip to nearby St Andrews for food and refreshments, a visit to St Andrews Aquarium or Craigtoun Park.
8. Lady Mary’s Walk, Crieff
Lady Marys Walk, Crieff, Perthshire
Named after Lady Mary Murray, whose family were local landowners in the early 19th century, Lady Mary’s Walk goes through beautiful woodland and along the banks of the River Earn and is great for bikes and buggies. Some of the trees here are over 150 years old and stunning in all seasons (though especially in autumn). Herons, kingfishers, grey wagtails, oystercatchers and dippers all live on the river and otters have been seen at dusk. A longer walk taking in Lady Mary’s Walk and Laggan Hill is another option and Crieff offers many family-friendly eateries and play areas.
9. Gruffalo Trail, Ardkinglas, Argyll
The Gruffalo Trail, Ardkinglas Estate, Cairndow © Ardkinglas Estate
Ardkinglas House is an impressive and historic exclusive-use venue on the shores of beautiful Loch Fyne in Argyll. The Woodland Garden here, part of the 12,000-acre estate, is open year-round and contains an impressive collection of trees, including one of Britain’s tallest. The highlight for kids is, undoubtedly, the Gruffalo Trail. Pick up the trail map from the mouse, who will guide you along the route to find the Gruffalo. There’s an admission charge for the trail and there’s also the Treeshop garden centre, gift shop and café if you’re looking for a spot of lunch and souvenirs.
10. Loch Ard Sculpture Trail, by Aberfoyle
Loch Ard and Ben Lomond, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Loch Ard in Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park is home to the Loch Ard Sculpture Trail, a fine family walk, where the kids will have fun discovering the sculptures. Each represents an animal, insect or bird which is part of the forest’s natural food chain. Along the route you’ll find sound posts featuring toads, deer, great spotted woodpeckers, jays and buzzards. There are five trails suitable for bikes, buggies and wheelchairs ranging from 2 to 10 miles (3 to 16 km). Download the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park leaflet to find out more or stop off at The Lodge Visitor Centre near Aberfoyle to pick up a copy - the café there has one of the best views in Scotland. More adventurous older kids can experience GoApe! here too.
11. Scottish Beaver Trail, Knapdale Forest
Beaver, Knapdale Forest, Argyll © Scottish Wildlife Trust/Mike Rae
Knapdale Forest is located in deepest Argyll in an area which is rich in history and wildlife. It’s here, near Lochgilphead, that beavers were officially re-introduced into Scotland. For a great family-friendly walk, follow the Scottish Beaver Trail, where the kids can become beaver detectives by looking out for tell-tale signs of their activity. Begin the trip at the Barnluasgan Information Centre, where you will learn about beavers and their return to Scotland. Then follow the 3 mile (5 km) circular trail and keep your eyes peeled for teeth marks on trees, beaver canals and ripples in the water. Beavers are shy though, so remember to go quietly.
12. Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags, Edinburgh © Kenny Lam
It’s an ancient volcano in the city, so kids will love it! Only a short walk from Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and family attractions such as Dynamic Earth and the Museum of Childhood, Arthur’s Seat dominates Holyrood Park. Sitting 822 ft (251 m) above sea level, it provides spectacular views over the city and is steeped in history dating back 2,000 years. You can also visit 15th century St Anthony’s Chapel, Salisbury Crags and Duddingston Loch, which is rich in birdlife - the circular walking route around Holyrood Park takes you to most of these. There are also many cafés nearby to enjoy a well-deserved ice-cream.
13. Smugglers’ Trail, by Eyemouth
Gunsgreen House, near Eyemouth, Scottish Borders
Along the Berwickshire Coastal Path in the Scottish Borders, the Smugglers’ Trail takes you on a journey to see some out-of-the-way coves and beaches that the ‘free traders’ used in days of old. Travel along the shore and see where smugglers would stash their ‘booty’ before selling to the local community. Start your walk at the striking Gunsgreen House, where you can buy a map of the Smugglers’ Trail. For the energetic family, there’s the waymarked 8 mile (12 km) Eyemouth circular route. There are also shorter options, such as a climb to Blaikie Heugh.
14. Falls of Clyde and New Lanark, Lanarkshire
Falls of Clyde, New Lanark
Surrounded by lush woodlands, the historic New Lanark UNESCO World Heritage Site is the gateway to the Falls of Clyde which is famous for its dramatic waterfalls and beautiful riverside walks. There’s an unstaffed visitor centre giving information about the reserve and over 100 bird species have been recorded here, as well as regular badger and bat walks throughout the year. Combine your visit to the reserve with some time exploring New Lanark, which alongside a fantastic visitor experience also offers a café, restaurant, hotel, shops and the fabulous Clearburn natural play and picnic area.
15. Kelburn Castle & Country Park, by Largs
Kelburn Castle near Largs, Ayrshire & Arran © Kenny Lam
Based around a colourful 13th century castle, Kelburn Estate, near Largs in Ayrshire & Arran, is a great place for a family day out, with the flamboyant designs on the castle walls sure to captivate curious young minds. The Kelburn Glen, with its waterfalls and deep gorges, is regarded by many as one of Scotland’s most beautiful and the Short Glen Walk/Sculpture Trail is a great option for families. Kids will also love the Secret Forest - a network of enchanting woodland paths with amazing surprises along the way. After all that, there’s still the Adventure Course, Pets Corner and the Playbarn to explore!
If you’re looking for more ideas for things to do with the kids during the holidays, then look no further than our family holidays section which is packed with information and event suggestions. You’ll also find lots more on walking in Scotland.