Christmas fun for the family away from city centre

Santa will give you a warm welcome on the Bridge Inn's cruises. Picture: Sandy Young
Santa will give you a warm welcome on the Bridge Inn's cruises. Picture: Sandy Young
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From £6 burgers to £8 for a shot on the big wheel, Edinburgh’s Christmas festival has proved an expensive time for families.

This week saw the biggest ever response to an Evening News Facebook post on the row over pricing, with 6500 readers agreeing that the cost was too high.

Santa at Dobbies

Santa at Dobbies

But what is the option to entertain excited kids (and parents) in an around Edinburgh?

We set the elves to work to track down the best value Christmas capers on the go.

And while the bright lights of the city centre are certainly worth seeing, we have found it pays to shop around for your festive fun.

Santa is popping up all over Edinburgh and the Lothians in some very unlikely places from barges and zoos to castles and sports centres.

Santa’s Grotto

Santa wants everyone to come and see him, so he’s used his special magic to make sure he can be at a lot of different places at once.

There are grottos all across Edinburgh and the Lothians so children can make absolutely sure he’s got them on his list. Places to see him include Dunbar Garden Centre, Merryhatton Garden Centre in North Berwick, and The Centre, Livingston.

Gemma Fraser, who visited Dobbies with her 22-month old daughter Poppy, said: “It was amazing. There was quite a big queue but loads to look at while we waited, including a nativity scene complete with a camel.

“When we were called by one of the elves, we waited in a room with Santa’s sleigh and lots of sacks of presents. Then we were led past a pool full of penguins to The South Pole where we met Santa, sitting beside a roaring fire in his living room.”

Almond Valley Santa Cottage

When: every day

Cost: £3.50

Santa is certainly getting about this year, having also set up shop in the cottage at Almond Valley Heritage Centre in West Lothian.

There’s no need to book in advance and Santa greets guests from 11am to 4pm each day. You can also meet some of the animals that make Almond Valley their home, including Highland cattle, rare breed sheep, goats, ponies, horses, and ducks.

Director Dr Robin Chesters said: “Santa’s been coming back to Almond Valley at Christmas for about ten years now, and we’re always very happy to have him as it’s an extra special treat on top of all the other wonderful family-friendly attractions at our site including the museum, the outdoor play area and various Christmas-themed crafts.”

The price of the ticket includes a gift from Santa, a half-hour session in Morag’s Meadow soft play and a pouch of Magical Reindeer Dust.

Recent visitor Angela Hogg said: “Came today with my three kids, and absolutely loved it. I think this was probably the best Santa we’ve ever been to. The set-up is lovely, you get a lot for your money, and Santa is just wonderful! Think we may even have to make another wee trip before Christmas.”

Five Sisters Zoo

When: every weekend and Monday, December 23

Cost: £8 for kids, adults go free

Christmas is the season of goodwill, and one place that’s been sent a lot of that this year is the Five Sisters Zoo. The West Calder attraction suffered a devastating fire in April.

Now back on its feet, the Five Sisters is playing host to Santa and his reindeer in a very special grotto.

Spokeswoman Lesley Coupar said: “One of our new features next year will be a medieval castle filled with the kind of animals that used to be kept there in olden times. We’re still putting in the finishing touches, but when Santa asked if he and his reindeer could set up a Grotto in the meantime we knew we couldn’t say no. One of the reindeer is especially happy as he’s just shed his antlers – they weighed four kilos each, so he’s very bouncy now there’s a lot less weight to carry around!”

Never one to say there’s not enough room at the inn, Santa has also kept the medieval animals in his Castle Grotto too, with sheep, pigs, goats, Shetland Ponies, rats, bats and ravens all joining in the fun. Plus the price of a ticket also covers an hour in the soft play area.

Breakfast and Supper with Santa

Where: Dobbies Garden Centre, Midlothian

When: every weekend until December 24

Cost: £9.95

Dobbies’ Christmas season is well under way and parents can drop the kids off for 90 minutes to have breakfast or supper with Santa while they pick up some last-minute gifts. For the breakfast option kids have the choice of either a Continental breakfast or a hot roll, while those attending the suppers will get a kids meal. Once everyone’s eaten up they’ll get some one on one time and a photo with Santa, and maybe even an early Christmas present. There are also fun activities and games.

Santa Cruises at The Bridge Inn

When: today & tomorrow, then December 20-24

Cost: £12 per person (groups of six or more £10 per person)

The-run up to Christmas is a stressful time for us all, but imagine what it must be like for Santa? So many lists to check, so many toys to make, it’s no wonder he feels like getting away from it all for a canal jaunt.

If you want to join in the fun, make a booking with The Bridge Inn, Ratho, for one of their festive fun Santa Cruises.

A spokeswoman said: “Before getting on the barge we all write our letters to Santa, so we’re prepared when we meet him later.

Then Santa’s elves lead everyone down to the barge, but we advise you to keep your eyes peeled for the Disney characters you will spot lining the path along the way.

“Once we’re all aboard we travel to Santa’s Island Grotto. Sometimes he falls asleep before we arrive so we have to shout and sing to wake him up!

Then we all head back to the barge where Santa gives all the children a present. There’s games and singing and dancing for the kids, while the adults can relax with a mince pie and some mulled wine, or a tea or coffee if they’d prefer. We’ve had people of all ages on the tours, from the very young to the rather elderly, and everyone certainly seems to enjoy themselves.”

And the number of years the event has returned for certainly supports that. The Santa Cruises have run on the canal for more than a decade and booking is strongly advised.

Each cruise can take up to 40 passengers and lasts roughly one hour.

And don’t worry if the weather isn’t on your side – if our wonderful climate stops the barge going to Santa, then Santa, who doesn’t like anyone to miss out on festive cheer, will come to the barge.

Deck the Halls Festive Fun Day

Where: The John Gray Centre, Haddington, East Lothian

When: tomorrow and December 22

Cost: free!

Back for the second year after rave reviews in 2012, the Deck the Halls Festive Fun Day offers educational and artistic festive fun.

There will be mince pies and Santa will of course be giving out gifts, but that’s not all. Local artist Laura Young will need your help to create a winter collage to be used in festive seasons to come and the museum will have some toys and games from Christmases gone-by for families to play with. There will also be a Christmas display of some local treasures.

Edinburgh Leisure Christmas Events

Where: venues include Edinburgh International Climbing Centre and the Commonwealth Pool

Cost: dates and prices vary

The excitement of Santa’s imminent arrival can see children with a lot of energy and nowhere to put it – while adults may find themselves putting on pounds from all those little Christmas indulgences.

But Edinburgh Leisure is here to help, strategically placing Christmas Grottos in venues such as the Edinburgh International Climbing Centre at Ratho, the Commonwealth Pool and Tumbles, the new soft play centre in Portobello.

Visits to Santa also include half an hour to an hour in the on-site soft play centres, which gives parents plenty of time to work up a sweat and work off some of those mince pies – even if it’s just to make room for more on the big day.

So while the weather outside may be frightful, there is no excuse for failing to get some exercise.

East Links Family Park

Where: East Links, Dunbar

When: until Christmas Eve

Cost: Full price £11.50, concession £9, family of four £42

A ticket includes unlimited use of the facilities, and at Christmas this includes the Winter Wonderland, a live nativity scene, Santa’s Grotto, Santa’s Sleigh Train and a snowman hunt! Plus access to the farm and indoor and outdoor play including climbing walls, soft play, trampolines, sledging, go-karts, rope swinging, toy tractors, bikes, horse shoe pitching and a bouncy castle.

Gorgie City Farm at Ocean Terminal

When: every day until December 22

Cost: free

Returning for the second time this year – with a few minor adjustments – the animals of Gorgie City Farm have travelled across the city to bring their farmyard fun to the shoppers of Ocean Terminal.

Farm general manager Ross MacKenzie said: “We had so much fun in February we asked if we could come back, though we haven’t brought the cows this time as they were unfortunately a bit too smelly! We love to see the reactions of kids and parents when they see the animals we have brought for them to cuddle and get to know - we’ve had one or two children who didn’t even know what a sheep was until they saw Junior!”

Junior the sheep is joined by calves Treacle and Rusty, Alexis the goat, some very friendly chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and reptiles.

Some of the farm’s own produce – chutneys, hand knits, soaps and syrups – will also be for sale.

The Storytelling Centre

There’s plenty to do in the Christmas run-up at The Storytelling Centre, including Grinagog Theatre’s The Edibles, a play about life in a bakery with some “magical ingredients” taking place on December 23 and 24, suitable for children aged three-seven. Plus there will be Christmas parties provided by In the Bag, who get NetMum’s seal of approval.

And one family favourite returning for 2013 is Stories Round the Tree. Only £3 for concessions and £5 full price, the event on Friday, which returns on Hogmanay, is described as “ a great way to spend time together as a family.”

You’ll get more details by logging on to www.scottishstorytelling
centre.co.uk.