Edinburgh: Panda to the kids?

MY partner Ellie has braved 24-hour bus rides in South America but when I suggested a little train ride from Huddersfield to Edinburgh she came over a bit funny.

Tian Tian the panda at Edinburgh Zoo
Tian Tian the panda at Edinburgh Zoo

Since our little ones arrived, Mummy has become averse to holidays, breaks, weekends away, overnighters and day trips. The thought of trying to cope with a livewire three-year-old boy and his one-year-old sister, even on a two-night city break to Edinburgh, got us into our usual discussion about the endless pitfalls of holidaying with under-fives.

Admittedly, she’s the one who takes charge of packing the 1,001 essentials, so she has every right to be reluctant. After a particularly traumatic camping trip to France last year she vowed never to go on holiday again.

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“What will Harry be like on the train,” she asked. “Who will entertain him for three hours? What if we are delayed? Won’t Lottie want to crawl around on the filthy train floor?”

Her doubts increased but I was stubbornly determined to prove that it’s possible to enjoy a short break away, even if it meant disrupting the kids’ rigid bedtime routine. Thankfully, our time on the train north whizzed by as we enjoyed the beauty of Yorkshire and the Northumberland coast as the kids played with crayons while sitting on the table.

Chuffed with ourselves, we arrived at Edinburgh Waverley station fairly relaxed. Tantrum tally so far: nil.

We were delighted to find our hotel, Hotel Indigo (www.hiedinburgh.co.uk) was just a short taxi ride away from the station, though a little nervous to discover the room wasn’t “Harry proof”. Well, what hotel room is kid proof?

The trick to preventing little boys wrecking hotel rooms is simply to take them out, so after eating the chocolate-coated strawberries in our very lovely room we went exploring. No trip to the capital is complete without visiting magnificent Edinburgh Castle, especially for us as Harry is seriously into stories from the “olden days” about knights.

A gale was blowing as we squeezed past the hordes of tourists and their selfie sticks. Harry loved exploring the dungeons as we told him tall tales about drunken pirates and brave knights.

After tea and cake in the castle cafe, we wandered down the Royal Mile but only got as far as Camera Obscura, a visitor attraction in a tower which contains various optical illusions and light shows. We all loved it; Harry got to run about and act silly in front of the crazy mirrors without anyone telling him off.

Afterwards, it was time to face what Mum and Dad had been dreading: dinner. In a restaurant. With people watching, possibly even tutting.

A colleague had recommended The Riparian Rooms, an all-day dining venue on East London Street. Thankfully, our boy behaved, the food was top notch and Daddy even got to try a throat warming Islay whisky called The Classic Laddie. A relaxing end to a near-perfect day in our new favourite city.

The following day, after a decent night’s sleep, we caught a taxi to North Edinburgh Arts Centre to watch a children’s show featuring puppets and a story about a hungry mouse. Harry’s review of The Edibles, part of The Imaginate Festival for children, cannot be beaten for brevity and honesty: “Brilliant. I liked it when the mouse stealed the buns.”

This being just a two-night trip, we were keen to see as much as we could of this brilliantly compact city. Relaxing – a concept now alien to us – was never an option with a boisterous boy always on the lookout for mischief. After the morning theatre show, we caught a taxi straight to Edinburgh Zoo. It may have 1,000 live animals but Harry raced straight for the extinct ones – the dinosaurs. These lifelike and lifesize models made Harry nervous and excited as he was convinced they were alive, especially when one spat some water on Daddy! We effortlessly whiled away three hours as we toured the zoo, taking in rhino, the famous “penguin parade” and lots more.

Later, there was just time to squeeze in a visit to the National Museum of Scotland (yes, more dinosaurs) before the day predictably ended badly with a tantrum (by Harry, not me) in a pizza restaurant.

On our final day we headed back to the arts centre to take in another show, Hup, especially for babies. It featured two violins, a cello and a playful woman dressed as a raccoon. We were all enchanted by the strings, with Lottie particularly charmed by the cello, which she bum-shuffled towards.

A lightning visit to the Museum of Childhood and lunch at nearby Patisserie Valerie (more tears and tantrums) completed our mini break.

On the train journey home – “surprisingly relaxing”, according to Eliie – we congratulated ourselves on our adventurous spirit. City breaks are brilliant.

• Andrew Robinson and family travelled to Edinburgh as guests of Festivals Edinburgh. The city hosts 12 major festivals every year. The Imaginate Festival is the international festival of performing arts for children and young people.

Festival details at www.edinburghfestivalcity.com

Hotel Indigo is at www.hiedinburgh.co.uk