Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.
Take the family away for a half-term break so they can forget about school and life admin!
We are fully into the swing of 2020 now and, with spring finally showing its face in Scotland, we are beginning to see signs of better weather and longer days. This is the time of year when we approach Easter, May half-term and summer holidays so if you haven’t already sorted your plans out, then here are some destinations within Scotland that offer the perfect setting for school holiday breaks.
The Cairngorms National Park
This is an area of hills, countryside, woodland, lochs, small Scottish villages and fast-flowing rivers. Set in the middle of the Cairngorms National Park, the Cairngorm mountain range is a must-visit as it is well-set-up for visitors of all ages with there being a lovely range of walks and places to discover on a sunny day. There is something for everyone in this amazing place, whether your family is into cycling, walking, history, birdwatching, canoeing or simply being out in the wild.
Areas for family fun within the park:
Aviemore is the ‘outdoor adventure capital’ of the Highlands with tens of thousands flocking here every year to sample the wilderness, culture and adventurous lifestyle. Through the season, the ski centre is great for winter sports, but the lochs, hills and woodland trails are the main draw throughout the rest of the year. Well-known for its great water sports, mountain biking, horse riding and walking, this is a great place to take the kids.
Ballater is to the east of the national park and is a picturesque Victorian village in the heart of Deeside. This is the home of Balmoral Castle which is holiday home to the Queen and the royal family. There are lots of small shops, eateries and river walks to be had, and the wildlife ranges from red deer to golden eagles! Close by lies Loch Muick which is perfect for picnics, and the legendary mountain of ‘dark Lochnagar’ will challenge you all to a climb. Follow that with a slap-up meal in one of the traditional cosy pubs.
Grantown-on-Spey is a traditional highland town set close to the boundaries of the park. The centre square is pretty with Victorian stone buildings, which house bakeries, bistros and local village shops. The town is surrounded by woodlands which have mountain bike trails throughout offering a family-friendly adventure playground. The River Spey runs through the outskirts of the town which offers lovely spots for relaxing picnics and walks, and through the season, fisherman can be seen catching salmon which is always an exciting sight!
Read all about the Cairngorms National Park.
The Scottish Borders
The Scottish Borders is the main gateway to Scotland from the south and, although historically quite often passed through, it has been discovered to be just as beautiful as everywhere else in Scotland. In turn, it has become a hot tourist spot in itself! Covering about 1800 square miles, the border stretches from the rolling hills and moorland in the west to the rich agricultural plains of the east, and on to the rocky Berwickshire coastline.
Points of interest:
History – This part of Scotland has a fascinating history where the boundaries were fought over for hundreds of years. Invading forces dating back to Roman times have marched across these lands and been fought back time after time. The Vikings, Saxons, Normans and the English (the Wars of Scottish Independence of the 13th and 14th centuries) all tried to battle their way in past the occupying Celts. Roxburgh and Berwickshire bore the brunt of the conflicts with England and suffered armed raids during the times of the Border Reivers, and today you will find many ruined castles, abbeys and even towns.
Textiles – The Scottish Borders is famed for its textile production and first-class fabrics. Tartan and tweed are a big favourite among visitors to Scotland, and this is the region that does it the best. The Borders hills have long been famed for their sheep, and the fast-flowing Gala water gave the mills the power they needed to drive this industry forward. Hundreds of years later, this formula hasn’t faltered; textile manufacturers based here provide Scottish cloth to countries all over the world! The Borders is also home to Heriot Watt University’s school of textiles which attracts students from all over the world, as well as lecturers from top fashion houses. You can visit many mills and take tours around them to learn all about the manufacturing process.
Outdoor adventure – The area is rich in hills and moorlands, valleys and rivers so it is no wonder it draws those in who love the great outdoors. It is a hillwalker's and cyclist's paradise with great routes and tracks to get under your belt and the River Tweed offers some of the best fishing in Scotland. With plenty of adventure companies offering guided outdoor pursuits, there is plenty to keep the family busy.
Read all about the Scottish Borders.
Argyll and the Isles
Argyll and the Isles is a glorious coastal region of glittering sea lochs, islands, hills, forests and glens just waiting to be explored. It is home to 23 inhabited islands, each offering unique landscape and island cultures! The coastline of Argyll is absolutely breathtaking and is one of the best places in Scotland to see iconic wildlife such as golden eagles, red deer, otters, seals and puffins.
What to do?
Historic castles - With 60 castles dotted along its beautiful coastline, Argyll is steeped in history – and what better way to embrace the summer by getting out and exploring both inside and outside these iconic structures. Here are some of the best spots to take the family if they are into history and castles:
- Inveraray Castle - Towering at the edge of the quaint town of Inveraray, this iconic castle is the ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell. Take a trip to see inside its grand walls, and enjoy a wander around the splendid gardens too. Location: PA32 8XE
- Dunollie Castle - Dunollie Castle is a four-star visitor attraction based in Oban and is an iconic monument known throughout Argyll. The Clan Chiefs and Lords of Lorne ruled the majority of Argyll and the Isles from here for more than 1,000 years. Location: PA34 5TT
- Tarbert Castle - Situated on the Kintyre Peninsula, overlooking Loch Fyne, sits the ruins of Tarbert Castle. The structure holds national importance because of the major role which Robert the Bruce played in its reinforcement and enlargement back in the 1300s. Location: PA29 6UD
- Fancy staying in your own castle? View our list of castle accommodation in Scotland.
Island hop – Many would relate island hopping to somewhere a bit warmer - Greece, perhaps! However, we do a fair amount of island hopping in Scotland, as do the millions of visitors that come to this beautiful region annually. The Isle of Mull is set off the west coast and is easily reached by ferry ride from Oban, an idyllic fishing town by the water. You can also reach the islands of North Uist and South Uist from here, with the good chance of seeing plenty of sea life on the way. Further down Argyll, you can explore the isles of Jura and Islay too! Each island has its own community and way of life, and they would be well worth a visit if you really want to dive into remote Scottish culture.
Become a beach bum - Some families love jetting about at high speed, fitting everything in and seeing everything they possibly can, but many families take more joy in just getting out amongst nature and playing. In the spring and summer months, and even into September, Scotland can be graced with some pretty great sunshine, turning the beach bum life into a reality! Arygll and the Isles is a wonderful destination for long stretches of white sandy beaches with lots of space for the children and dog to play!
Best beaches in Argyll
- Calgary Bay – Located on the north-west of the Isle of Mull, this is pure paradise and is backed by an ancient forest complete with a castle.
- Ettrick Bay – Isle of Bute. This is Bute’s finest beach, sitting at the north of the island. There is a tearoom here that serves up mouth-watering cakes!
- Carradale Bay – A glorious, white-sand beach on the east coast of Kintyre. The view over the Kilbrannan Sound to Arran is stunning.
- Ostel Bay - This crescent-shaped sweep of sand is the jewel in the crown of Argyll’s Secret Coast, an undiscovered area on the Cowal Peninsula. It’s about a 15-minute walk from a road layby, but totally worth it!
For more on beaches, read our guide to the best dog-friendly beaches in Scotland because we know he’s part of the family too. While you’re at it, start planning a coastal retreat in one of our self-catering cottages!
Isolate yourself on an island…
We have shared three great mainland destinations, but have you thought about complete isolation on a Scottish Island for your May half-term break? This could be just the thing you need to re-connect with your family, especially seeing as a mobile phone signal is pretty much non-existent! Tear the kids away from their screens and take them somewhere they have never been before. Here are a couple of suggestions:
Small and remote: Isle of Harris
Located off the north-west coast of Scotland, the Isle of Harris can be reached by ferry from Ullapool, a traditional Scottish town in the Highlands. You can also reach it from Skye. Harris is attached to the Isle of Lewis but is named an island in its own right. Taking a drive around Harris is like being on the set of Mordor in ‘Lord of the Rings’. Small windy roads through granite rock landscapes take you to magical coves and beaches that you won’t find anywhere else. Crystal waters and soft sandy beaches are around most corners, and the wildlife is just incredible.
A bit bigger and not so remote: Isle of Arran
If you don’t want to go as far north or as remote as Harris, but still want to be cut off from the mainland, why not try the Isle of Arran? This is a cultural delight set off the west coast from Glasgow (the nearest city) and is a haven for those seeking a slightly smaller version of Scotland. This island pretty much has everything – mountains, coastline, beaches, woodland, golf courses and local produce. There are plenty of companies offering outdoor adventures to keep the kids busy and sports like canoeing, kayaking and cycling!
Even bigger and accessible by car: Isle of Skye
This is a good option for those with older children - it gets to a point where they are maybe not as happy playing on a beach all day. Skye has lots of options when it comes to holidaying with teenagers and there are lots of things to do and sights to see. The Cuillin mountain range is great for those who are into walking and mountain biking, and there are lots of companies offering boat trips and wildlife tours. There are museums, distilleries and historical sights to visit. And for those who are into their retail therapy, there are ample gift shops, galleries, craft shops and visitor centres to pick up memorable souvenirs!
There you have it, some wonderful destinations in Scotland for your half-term break. If you are interested in staying in our self-catering cottages you can view our full collection here. We have a huge variety of holiday homes from pet-friendly cottages to family-friendly houses and amazing castles. We will have something to suit you!