Did you know that you can go duckie paddling in Highland Perthshire, Tarzan swinging in Aberdeen, and tank driving in Angus? You just wouldn’t believe how many exciting holiday activities there are in Scotland.
Not everyone, I imagine, will be deliriously happy paddling downriver in an inflatable canoe, dangling from the treetops on a zip line, or getting up close and personal with a tank. But, no worry, there is a plethora of alternative activities in Scotland for active holidays, with or without children, whether meek and mild or exciting and extreme. The activities, that is, not the children.
Where to start? Where to go? What to do? Here are a few ideas to get you going…
Your local hotel, The Marcliffe Hotel and Spa in Aberdeen.
Aberdeenshire is not only blessed with rolling hills, a dramatic coastline, rural villages with castles and distilleries, tranquil lochs, and beautiful glens but with the largest national park in Britain – the Cairngorms National Park, renowned for its spectacular landscapes.
The variety of outdoor activities in Aberdeenshire is as impressive as the scenery: leisure pursuits include fishing, archery, horseback riding, and clay pigeon shooting while golf and hiking are a matter of course… of course.
Kids can Go Ape at Crathes Castle – they’ll love the zip lines, swinging Tarzan-fashion through the trees and navigating swaying rope ladders. Surfing is popular on the coast; there are flat and dune-blessed beaches to choose to surf from which suit beginners, expert surfers and kite-surfers alike while, for landlubbers, kite buggying and land-boarding are firmer options. There are cycling routes suited to families, and mountain bike trails suited to adrenalin seekers that will keep every standard of biker happy, while high flyers can enjoy gliding lessons or just appreciate the spectacular Scottish scenery from the dizzy heights of a hot air balloon.
Bands of woodland are features of southern Scotland which, as far as mountain bikers are concerned, is the bees’ knees of biking destinations, whatever your proficiency. Miles and miles of diverse and challenging routes are available at the Forestry Commission 7staines mountain biking centres. There’s even a history biking tour taking in the four abbeys of Kelso, Melrose, Jedburgh, and Dryburgh… only 55 miles long, but worth every turn of the pedal.
A number of lochs are open for windsurfing, water skiing or canoeing lessons; and diving (from shore and boat) is available at St Abbs and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve - home to impressive underwater flora and fauna as well as over 80 wrecks dive sites.
Wildlife boat tours and glass-bottom boat excursions are also available, as is a boat trip to see the Ailsa Craig bird and seal colony. For slightly more genteel activity, wander through some of the finest gardens near Knockinaam Lodge.
For a touch of the exotic Logan Botanic Garden will wow you with displays of southern hemisphere plants, Threave Garden's well-tended grounds make up one of the most popular visitor attractions in the region, whereas the Crichton estate spans 34 landscaped hectares with spectacular views over the Nith estuary. There is also a huge range of smaller gardens, such as Woodfall with its 'secret garden' atmosphere, or Glenwhan with its magnificent sea views and small lochans.
Ramblers rejoice… the Ayrshire Coastal path will keep walking boots on the go for 100 miles, while Sunday strollers can meander along gentle coastal paths, nature trails, and country paths. As far as fairways are concerned, Scotland is renowned for its golf courses so it gets boring to keep saying there are fantastic golf courses also in Ayrshire but – nevertheless – I’ll say it.
EDINBURGH & LOTHIANS
Local hotels include Edinburgh Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa.
If you haven’t thought of exploring Edinburgh by bike, then maybe it’s time you did. Guided cycle tours are available in the city and you’ll be amazed at the network of cycle paths; you can even cross the Forth Road Bridge on the special cycle path. It’s quite awesome actually.
There are gorgeous beaches in East Lothian offering spectacular views, such as at Yellowcraigs beach and Belhaven beach: great locations for kite flying. Tandem micro-light tours and hot air ballooning trips will give you a bird’s eye view of the region, and the Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick will give you an amazing view of Bass Rock, home to the world’s largest gannet colony.
In Edinburgh, there is a climbing arena located in a disused quarry (try abseiling and the aerial assault course), mucky thrills at A1 paintball, and in West Lothian, there are treetop adventures for kids at another Go Ape park.
There are a few country parks offering a range of activities for families including guided nature tours, gorge walking, canoeing, archery, and orienteering.
Believe it or not but the city of Glasgow has more than 90 parks and gardens and a wide network of off-road cycle trails – the best (for fit cyclists that is) is the cycle route along the Forth and Clyde Canal towpath to the iconic Falkirk Wheel, an amazing feat of engineering.
Children and teenagers will be delighted to find there are several skate parks in Glasgow – it’s quite a hotspot for skateboarders and roller-bladers. There are dry ski slopes, as well as a real snow slope indoors. There’s no excuse for children not to go on holiday with parents to this Scottish city: tempt them with go-karting, an aerial assault course, an indoor climbing wall or a number of outdoor climbing venues not far outside the city.
In the River Clyde valley, at one of Scotland’s leading outdoor recreation centres, there is fun for all the family: enjoy canoes, bumper boats, pedalos, rowing boats, sailing, water-skiing, and much more.
Apart from being able to walk in the footsteps of golfing legends in famous St Andrews, these regions offer a vast choice of activities including fishing, pony trekking, shooting, quad biking, archery, cycling, hill walking, Nordic trekking, and off-road Land Rover experiences.
On the east coast of Fife adventurers can try abseiling, canoeing, coasteering, rock climbing, and sea kayaking, and near Pitlochry in scenic Perthshire there are options of white water rafting, duckie paddling, adventure tubing, zorbing, and wildlife watching.
Expect plenty of mountains, lochs, and glens when visiting the region of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park; it’s a haven for wildlife. Loch Lomond, the largest inland lake in the United Kingdom, not surprisingly attracts watersports lovers to its shores – particularly for kayaking, water skiing, and wake-boarding.
There is a range of activities in the Trossachs National Park to suit everybody both land- and water-based: choose from walking, boating, horseback riding, wildlife watching, sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, water skiing, and fishing.
The waters around Oban are good for keen kayakers (there are coves, hidden caves, and a number of isles to explore), while Kintyre’s western fringe has become a hotspot for kite surfing, surfing, and windsurfing.
Local hotels include Rocpool Reserve.
Stunning mountain passes, spectacular glens, winding rivers, and awe-inspiring views are just a few of the attributes of the Highlands and Moray. You’ll also find some of the quietest roads in this region: a dream destination for cyclists and mountain bikers with a vast network of routes and lots of off-road trails.
Water activities are aplenty: there’s sea kayaking along the Moray Firth coastline (a hotspot for water activities); exciting white water rafting on the River Garry; gentler watercourses on the River Awe; canyoning, river tubing, body-boarding, and surfing.
For an extreme downhill mountain bike course during the summer months, take the gondola at the Nevis Range ski centre and enjoy an adrenalin-filled descent. For another wild day out visit the Highland Wildlife Park, it won’t be half as scary.
First published 27 June 2019. Information correct at time of going to press.