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FREE learning visits

Explore 5,000 years of history with our free learning visits.

Image of group standing in the distance outside Craigmillar Castle

1 Where can we visit?

We’re delighted to welcome learning groups back to our sites.
Free learning visits make Scotland’s heritage accessible to learners of all ages - visits to historic sites give them the chance to experience history where it really happened.
There are lots of different historic sites across Scotland to choose from - bringing to life more than 5,000 years of history. From Edinburgh Castle to Orkney’s Skara Brae, these special places tell Scotland’s story and provide excellent settings for exploration, discovery, inspiring creativity, outdoor learning and and play-based learning.
 
Skip to the next sections of this guide to discover:

2 Is our group eligible?

Free learning visits are open to UK/EU/EEA-based learning organisations:
  • nurseries and schools
  • colleges and universities
  • out of school clubs 
  • uniformed organisations like Scouts or Girl Guides (UK only)
  • home educator groups (UK only)

Groups from third sector and charitable organisations delivering educational or wellbeing programmes are also eligible, including those supporting:

  • adult learners
  • youth work
  • employability programmes
  • groups with additional support needs.
We can welcome groups of up to 50 individuals per booking dependent on site capacity and required staffing ratios (see below). Some sites may require you to split into smaller groups when visiting.
Please note:
  • A member of the visiting learning organisation must make the booking. Formal educational groups must make the booking using their organisational email address.
  • The free learning visits scheme does not cover commercial or leisure activity including residential language schools.

Staffing ratios

Group leaders are responsible for the behaviour and wellbeing of their group when on site. Due to current capacities at our sites we require the following adult to child ratios:
  • Early Years - Nursery and P1/2 (or aged 7 and under) 1:6
  • Primary P3-7 and Secondary S1-S4 (or aged 8-15) 1:10
  • Senior Phase (or aged 16-18 but still in school) 1:15

Groups with participants aged 16+ (excluding school groups) must be accompanied by a named representative from the visiting organisation.  

Contact

Please get in touch with us at learning@hes.scot if you'd like to check whether your group is eligible.

3 How can we book?

To book your free learning group visit:

* We are currently experiencing a very high volume of booking enquiries so response times will be slower than normal. Thank you for your patience. *

  • For bookings for Edinburgh Castle, please fill in our booking enquiry form. 
  • For bookings for Stirling Castle, we continue to experience high demand for visits and operate within daily visitor capacities at the site. We are pleased to be able to take booking requests again but availability is limited and response times can be longer than normal. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and ask you to please bear with us; we greatly appreciate your patience at this time. For requests for free learning group visits to Stirling Castle, please fill in our booking enquiry form
  • For all other sites a provisional booking should be made by calling the site directly
  • We'll do our best to accommodate your booking, but please bear with us whilst we continue to work through re-opening and adjusting to current government advice.
  • We’ll then email you a booking confirmation with a voucher to bring along on the day (please note a booking is not guaranteed until you receive a confirmation email and voucher)
  • After your booking is confirmed, group leaders can arrange a free planning visit to help with preparation of a risk assessment. Please arrange this for Edinburgh Castle by emailing learning@hes.scot and for all other sites please contact the site directly. Site phone numbers can be found on the 'Getting there' tab of each site's webpage.

Please note:

  • At the moment we are only able to take bookings up to two months in advance.
  • At this time, bookings can only be taken for groups of up to 50 (larger groups can be split over multiple bookings subject to availability and where possible we will accommodate these together).
  • A member of the visiting learning organisation must make the booking. Formal educational groups must make the booking using their organisational email address.
  • All our sites operate with daily visitor capacities. Early booking and some flexibility on date and time of the visit is highly recommended to avoid disappointment.
  • At least 10 days’ notice of the proposed visit date is required.
  • To support COVID recovery, learning visits to all sites in 2022 will remain free of charge over the peak season months (May to August).

Contact

Learning Services
Historic Environment Scotland
Email: learning@hes.scot

4 School Visits Travel Subsidy

Scottish schools can apply for help towards the travel costs of visiting heritage sites of national importance. The Scottish Government Heritage Travel Subsidy for Schools covers up to 75% of transport costs (up to £300) to visit the chosen site. Scotland's special schools and units can apply for 100% of travel costs (up to a maximum of £300).

You can apply for a School Visits Travel Subsidy if visiting:

Any Scottish school can apply. Funding is limited and priority will be given to schools in areas with high indicators of multiple deprivation (see Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation).

The travel subsidy process:

  1. The visit must be booked in advance and for a genuine educational purpose.
  2. Subsidy applications must be made before the visit.
  3. Receipts must be sent by the school after the visit (and within one month of the visit date).
  4. Payment will be made to the school within 30 days of receipt of a valid claim.

How to apply

  1. Make a provisional booking by contacting the site you wish to visit.
  2. Get a quote for travel costs (e.g. from a coach company).
  3. Complete the travel subsidy application form and return it to us at learning@hes.scot

Download the application form:
Travel Subsidy application form [PDF, 208KB]
Travel Subsidy application form [MS Word, 1MB]

How will I hear back about my application?

Historic Environment Scotland's Learning & Inclusion team will respond to you by email to let you know whether your application was successful.

How will I receive the subsidy?

After your visit, please send a copy of the paid bus company invoice or group travel receipt to learning@hes.scot.

75% of the total cost of travel (up to a maximum of £300) will be reimbursed to the school within 30 days of receipt of the invoice. For Scotland's special schools and units, 100% of travel costs (up to a maximum of £300) will be reimbursed.

Contact

Email: learning@hes.scot

5 FAQs

Here are answers to some of our frequently asked questions (FAQs):

Is it safe to visit?

All our sites are managed with visitor safety as priority and in line with applicable COVID-19 guidance. Find more about what to expect from your visit by visiting the webpages for the site you plan to visit.

Can I book a tour or activity?

Currently, we are only offering self-guided visits. We have an exciting range of online resources available to support your visit. 

Can I book a lunch space?

Not at this time but, while not guaranteed, you can check on the availability of a covered space with site staff on arrival. 

Do you provide risk assessments?

It is the group leader’s responsibility to complete a risk assessment. Free planning visits are available to help leaders of booked groups prepare – contact learning@hes.scot to book.  

How should we dress?

All sites are primarily outdoors so please bring clothing for Scottish weather – and footwear for uneven ground! 
If you have any other queries please contact learning@hes.scot.

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