You'll be surprise but some of the country's biggest and best family days out are run by charities. From heritage trusts to large engineering projects, you can plan a day out safe in the knowledge you're contributing to a very good cause. We've compiled a list of 10 of the best from the Hebrides to the Borders for you to check out this summer
Hoof it to the Kelpies
At its launch in 2014, Andy Scott’s £5m Kelpies was described as “rotten” “bland” and “misbegotten” by Guardian arts critic Jonathon Jones. Just four years on, nearly one million visit this attraction each year, proving Jones criticism to be wayward. Run by Falkirk Community Trust, the Helix, the parkland boasting the iconic Kelpies, has become such a huge tourist draw it received five stars from Visit Scotland last year. The area also boasts the Clyde and Forth Canal. You can walk or cycle through the parkland, take the kids to the Adventure Zone, hire a Segway and take part in a whole host of watersports.
The park is open until 10pm, entry free; car parking £3
Whale of a tail
They call it “citizen science” where members of the public are encouraged to record their sightings of the incredible sea mammals online. “First sighting of a whale was majestic. Bucket list well and truly ticked!” writes one visitor who sailed on the trust’s boat, the Silurian. Based on the Isle of Mull, and featured on the BBC’s Blue Planet, Hebrides Whale and Dolphin Trusthas been leading the way for conservation for over two decades. It runs a Discovery Centre in Tobermory (well worth a day out alone) as well as 7 to 12 day volunteering excursions on the boat. These don’t come cheap: prices start at £895 and places are in high demand.
Discovery Centre is open every day,10.30am – 4.30pm andruns free talks and activities for children
Scotland's most creative colourful castle
Kelburn Castle in North Aysrhire is one of the oldest castles in Scotland, and believe it or not has become a massive children’s playground. In 2007 it was given a very radical (and colourful) makeover when owner Lord Glasgow invited four Brazilian graffiti artists to paint the walls. It’s well worth a visit: the kids can take selfies alongside the colourful backdrop, lose themselves in the Secret Forest or try to find their way out from the Maze of the Green Man to name just a few activities.
Admission prices: adults £9; child (3–16 years) £7; concession £7; family £30. See website for opening times
Shiver your timbers!
Restored to her former glory, the Glenlee is one of only five remaining Clydebuilt sailing ships still afloat in the world. Run by the Clyde Maritime Trust, this tall ship takes you back in time to experience what life was like on the high seas. Visit the galley, take the wheel, and explore the cargo hold. There’s a mini cinema, under 5’s play area in the cargo hold, and children can take part in a mouse hunt, of all things.
Free and open during the summer months from 10–5pm
Small is beautiful
This tiny charity coins in a mere £15,000 a year but is far greater than the sum of its parts. It gets an honourable mention if only because a Canadian chap flagged it up to TFN last year on the back of a story we ran. “The dedication of this organisation is incredible,” he wrote. “The centre embodies the entire natural history of the island. The volunteers have a depth of knowledge you just can’t buy. Outstanding.” Not that you need an excuse to visit Islay, an island of stunning beauty. The nature centre catalogues the island’s unique natural heritage where visitors can easily wile away a whole afternoon. There’s also a laboratory that allows kids to learn all about microscopes and natural things and why gooey stuff smells. Definitely worth a detour if you’re on or near beautiful Islay this summer.
Opening: April–September, weekdays 10am– 4pm
Admission costs: adults £3.50; children £2; concession £2.50; family (2 adults + children) £8
This hidden gem run by The Scottish Railways Preservation Society is located in historic Bo’ness. Trip Advisor reviews rave about how friendly staff welcome you aboard its heritage steam and diesel-hauled trains and staff are excellent with the young ones. Whatever the weather, it’s an excellent day out: jump on the train and travel along the shore of the Firth of Forth with views of the Ochil Hills, before it climbs a tree-lined gradient to the country station of Birkhill. Back at Bo’ness, the kids can take a day out on the hugely popular Thomas the Tank Engine or you can visit the Museum of Scottish Railways, extended in 2012 and housing the last remaining “Glasgow Blue Train.” There’s free parking, a very decent cafe and the obligatory gift shop.
Train fares: adult £10; concession £9; child £6;
Museum: adult £5; children free
The hard life
Auchindrain, near Inveraray,faced closure in 2013 after the charity behind the historic township lost its funding. With help from TFN among others, it thankfully survived and now thrives. Its claim to fame is that it remains the most complete surviving example of a Highland farm township in the country. There’s crofts, animals, machinery and artefacts and most days there is usually an activity going on. And of course it’s a beautiful drive through some spectacular scenery to get to the township. On site there are guided tours, a museum, gift shop and café. Allow yourself at least 90 minutes to see the various dwellings properly and be prepared to step back in time.
Open 10am–5pm daily
Tickets: adult £7.50; concession £6.50; under 18s £5
Nothing like the Falkirk Wheel has ever been built before anywhere in the world. Boat lifts might be nothing new but a rotating boat lift is a massive feat of engineering. The result is awe-inspiring and beautiful: the largest piece of functional sculpture you will ever see. And it has also become one of the country’s most popular family days out. Operated by the charity Scottish Canals, the 50-minute boat lift takes you to the Union Canal 35m above before returning to your starting point. The wheel has also become a pop-up theatre during the summer months hosting everything from children’s shows to productions of Macbeth.
Open every day from 10am–5.30pm
Tickets: adult £13.50; concession £11.50; child (3–15yrs) £7.50; child (under 3) free
It’s exactly 100 years since the Royal Air Force came into existence and what better way to celebrate than this amazing day out for all the family in beautiful Montrose. The charity behind the centre has worked tirelessly to make this a brilliant learning experience. Exhibits include the historic Red Lichtie Spitfire, a replica of a WW1 fighter, renovation workshops and history sessions showing the huge human impact of two world wars. Run entirely by volunteers, the centre has won numerous awards.
Open 10–4pm; Sunday 12–4pm
Tickets: adults £5.50; concessions £4.50; children free
Hanks for the memories
Made famous in the book the Da Vinci Code and the film of the same name starring Tom Hanks, Rosslyn Chapel in Roslin, Midlothian is one of Scotland’s most remarkable buildings, steeped in mystery and intrigue. The history alone is worthy of a visit but Rosslyn Chapel Trust has created a huge programme of family activities to keep everyone busy. There’s learning sessions for all, while the kids are challenged to find elephants, green men and angels among the medieval chapel’s hundreds of carvings. There’s also mystery history sessions exploring the more mysterious and mythological heritage of this famous church. You can easily spend the best part of a day here but don’t fret, there’s a tearoom on site for refreshments.
Open daily 9.30am–6pm; Sunday 12pm–4.45pm
Tickets: adults £9; concessions £7; children free as part of a family group
A community-led charity that inspires positive change through the natural environment, the Ecology Centre is a fabulous day out for all the family in some of the country’s most picturesque surroundings. There’s lots for children to explore, including a mud kitchen where kids can make mud pies or camp out in the children’s bird hide to spot the infamous Kingfisher that visits the Loch. There’s plenty for adults too: the centre runs an outdoor environmental education programme and provides volunteering and training opportunities on site. And of course it’s a haven for wildlife and plants welcoming over 5,000 visitors annually. Situated on community owned land, the centre’s team ensure it’s a safe and inviting place for everyone to visit and enjoy.