If you need a break somewhere far-flung and exotic (but without all the travelling, packing and expense), then go for a sensory adventure instead. The perfect place to do this is in the greenhouse network at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
Go early in the morning, as early as you can, because then your family might find yourselves alone, in the Amazon rainforest, listening to the tree frogs’ dawn chorus. The heat seems to jump out like a big cushion being thrown at you, as the electric doors swing open, then you enter. The steamy air is full of the delicious smells of tropical fruits, and there are giant water lilies with leaves the size of tabletops floating on the pool.
This huge glasshouse really is a fascinating living larder, where you can see the plants that make many of our favourite foods and drinks. There are coffee plants, tea bushes, cocoa beans, rice and towering banana trees growing. It reminds me of going on holiday to faraway places, and that moment when the airport doors open and you step out of the air conditioning and into a bustling, hot, exciting new place.
If you need to cool down after the jungle, you could try the temperate zone next, or the dinosaur house as my children call it. Here grow dozens of giant tree ferns, their huge size making you feel tiny in comparison. These were the staple food of many herbivorous dinosaurs, and you have the feeling that they could be lurking nearby, as you follow their footprints along the twisting paths. The cool, humid air is also perfect for tiny
ferns – they grow on everything, making even the boulders look soft and comfy.
These are only two out of dozens of glasshouses at the Royal Botanic Garden. There are also huge palm trees, a desert, and other tropical houses. All of the greenhouses are connected, so, come rain or shine, it is a sheltered place to visit. Wide accessible pathways and electric doors enable you and your family to move effortlessly between climate zones (even when your buggy has doubled in size with all the coats, jumpers and bags piled on top of it as they are shed in the heat).
When you emerge from this network of glasshouses, it feels like you’ve been on a journey all the way around the world. This might leave you feeling in need of a sit down, with a large slice of cake and a cup of tea. There are two cafés within the Botanic Garden itself that can provide all of these things, and both are well equipped for families with young children. But if the weather is good, take a picnic and relax outside in the rest of the gardens.
Entry to the Royal Botanical Garden is free, but there is a small charge for visiting the greenhouses (probably to help them pay for their enormous heating bill).