On my recent trip to Arran I took my young children with me for the very first time, and discovered what a family-friendly destination it is. From castles and mountains, to alpacas and fairies, there’s a host of activities to keep all ages entertained. Even getting there is part of the adventure.
Take to the Seas
Reaching Arran is part of your island story, so set sail with Caledonian Macbrayne from Ardrossan or the Kintyre departure points of Claonaig and Tarbert. We’re talking notably short and scenic crossings. My family set sail on the most popular route, from Ardrossan near Glasgow to Arran’s capital of Brodick. It takes approximately an hour so plenty of time for a drink, snack and a thorough exploration of the ship. The crossing from Kintyre to Lochranza is a mere thirty minutes. Bring the car, bring bikes, or head off as foot passengers, and leave the stress of the mainland behind you. Book and check prices at calmac.co.uk.
Find the Ultimate Family Friendly Accommodation
Arran offers an excellent selection of self-catering properties that appeal to the family market, but if you’d like a little luxury we discovered the perfect family hotel. For a child-friendly base we were delighted with the Auchrannie Resort in Brodick. A courtesy bus whisks foot passengers from the ferry terminal to the hotel, where the fun begins. Auchrannie offers two swimming pools: the House Hotel Pool with heated stone spa seats, steam room and jacuzzi; and the Spa Hotel Pool with a children’s play area featuring waterfalls and water fountains. My wee ones had an absolute ball, and tearing them away from the swimming pools was always a challenge. The hotel also boasts three restaurants (all with strong kids menus), a soft play barn, and an adventure centre where guests sign up for activities such as archery and bike hire.
Auchrannie’s immaculate accommodation is varied too. Smart hotel rooms with bunk beds for yougsters, expansive self-catering lodges, plus indulgent ‘retreats’ complete with outdoor hot tubs and fire pits. Dogs are welcome at Auchrannie too.
Things to Do on Arran with Kids
Castles & Fairies
We hired bikes from Arran Adventure and peddled a mix of cycle paths and country roads to reach the renowned Brodick Castle. The main attraction for little ones is the castle’s ‘Isle Be Wild’ outdoor play area. This vast woodland playground has equipment for a mix of ages, with one section dedicated to toddlers and younger children, and another section entertaining older children. There’s even a flying fox for toddlers!
Walks, such as the Fairies and Legends trail, allow children to run off some steam. The grounds appeal to everyone, with ponds, waterfalls and an attractive Walled Garden offering calming views over the water.
The castle itself is a grand baronial building. Inside experience a slice of aristocratic life, and admire a rich collection of period furniture, silverware, porcelain, paintings and sporting trophies.
Brodick Castle is part of the National Trust for Scotland so members can visit for free, or a family ticket is £38.50.
Foodie Favourites & the Home Farm
On the return cycle to Auchrannie, we stopped at the Home Farm for a spot of shopping. These agricultural buildings used to house the Brodick Castle’s estate farm, but today they’re home to the Arran Cheese Shop, Arran Coffee, and Arran Sense of Scotland (formerly Arran Aromatics).
Overall Arran is a particularly good base for ‘shopping local’ and supporting independent producers, plus it’s a tempting destination for foodies. While kids make a beeline for Arran Ice Cream, adults can browse Arran Brewery for beers such as Brewery Dog IPA and Red Squirrel Ale. Arran Botanicals, just minutes from the Home Farm, is set in a beautiful waterside location —an idyllic setting in which to try their Isle of Arran gin. Whisky enthusiasts can head to Lochranza or Lagg where Arran’s ‘water of life’ is distilled. We also picked up a budget lunch in Brodick from Wooley’s bakery. Grab a selection of pies and head to the picnic tables at the water’s edge for an al fresco snack with a stunning backdrop.
Ducks & Heritage
Another attraction on our cycle route was the Arran Heritage Museum where visitors learn about the island’s social and agricultural history. The 1940’s schoolroom captures the attention of children as they compare their modern schools with classes from a bygone age. (A family ticket is £10.)
We also took time to feed the Rosa Burn ducks, located near the bridge over the burn, just before the museum. The friendly birds are predominantly rescued or unwanted domesticated ducks that have been hand-reared and released. When we visited, an honesty box sold little bags of duck feed for a few pounds - a lovely way to spend time with our new feathered friends.
Meet Arran’s Alpacas
Having fed the ducks, mini animal lovers can head west to Balmichael to meet Arran’s alpacas. We took part in a sixty minute ‘Meet, Greet and Wee Trek’ where we were introduced to the nine alpacas in the herd, learned lots of alpaca facts (did you know they had three stomachs?) and asked a host of questions. I was then allocated an alpaca called Lomond to trek with, with my son as a helper. My husband befriended Wallace for his trek, ably assisted by our youngest boy. We walked our alpacas and fed them, before returning to the paddock for photo opportunities with our new fluffy companions. The session was rounded off with snacks and drinks from the farm tuck shop, and the boys hung out in the playground as the sun shone.
In terms of practicalities, trek prices vary according to age, but it’s free for under 8s who can help hold the rein with a paying adult. For ease, I’d recommend a car to reach this rural destination, but we used public transport, with the bus stopping at the bottom of the farm track. Discover all the details at arranalpacas.co.uk.
Other country attractions on Arran include Bellevue Farm that offers farm tours and self-guided options. And don’t forget to look out for Arran’s natural wildlife, including red squirrels, otters, seals, red deer and golden eagles.
Walks & Hikes
If you wish to get active, older children may be excited to tackle Goatfell, an 874 metre summit offering sweeping views over Arran, and one of four Corbetts on the island. Read suggested route directions at walkhighlands.co.uk/arran/goatfell.shtml. Or for something more spiritual, take a wander to the Machrie Moor Stone Circle north of Blackwaterfoot.
Overall, we feel like we’ve scratched the surface of things to see and do in Arran, and we got a taste of the many family-friendly places to eat and stay on this welcoming island. Arran’s described as ‘Scotland in miniature’ as the Highland Boundary Fault divides the island into a dramatic mountainous landscape on one side and green lowland countryside on the other. Our miniature tourists were certainly impressed.
- Always book the Ardrossan ferry in advance, especially if you plan to bring a vehicle.
- Realise that island travel is subject to many factors, including Scotland’s weather conditions. Calmac’s twitter feed at @calmac_updates is really useful when it comes to daily updates, and the Customer Services number is 0800 066 5000.
- Long stay parking is available at Ardrossan and it’s quite reasonable. Simply pay when you return. Our parking cost £9 for a weekend (under 48 hours).
- Arran accommodation, including campsites, books up well in advance so it pays to be organised.