Edinburgh Castle is one of the most visited attractions in Scotland and one of Edinburgh’s most iconic landmarks. Its hard not to notice the dominating castle, towering proudly above the city of Edinburgh on what’s known locally as Castle Rock.
As one of the most popular visitor sites in Edinburgh it can also be one of the busiest, with crowds of tourists descending on it every day, especially in the summer months. To get the best out of your visit to Edinburgh Castle then check out this guide, which provides you with everything you need to know.
If you are looking for other things to do whilst in Edinburgh, then check out my best things to do in Edinburgh post
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History of the castle
The earliest records of Edinburgh Castle date back to 1093 when the site was known as the ‘Castle of the Maidens’. However evidence suggests that people were living on Castle rock as far back as the Bronze age nearly 3000 years ago. The site as we know it now varies in date, with the oldest building, the lovely St Margaret’s Chapel dating back to 1130 and is Edinburgh’s oldest building.
Throughout the years the castle has been the site of many battles and conquests and found itself ruled by both the Scottish and the English with the castle changing hands many times. The castle has also been home to many Kings and Queens. The first was Queen Margaret who died here in 1093 and was made a saint by Pope Innocent IV in 1250. St Margaret’s Chapel was built-in her memory.
In 1296 Edward I of England invaded Scotland and took control of the castle, however this was short-lived as in 1314 Sir Thomas Randolph, the nephew of King Robert the Bruce won the castle back.
In 1457 Mons Meg, a 6 tonne siege gun was shipped to Edinburgh Castle as a present for the then King and Queen and was used on many occasions to deter the English. Mons Meg still sits proudly in the upper levels of the castle.
In 1566 Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son Prince James in the royal palace, only 2 years later Mary later fled to England and her infant child became King. Her husband Earl of Darnley was thought to have been murdered and she later married what was thought to be the prime suspect in his killing. She was later imprisoned by the English and beheaded in 1587.
In 1688 the last Stewart king of Scotland, the Catholic James VII fled into exile after the Protestant William of Orange landed in England alongside his wife Mary, James VII’s eldest daughter and were proclaimed joint sovereigns of England. Many Scots were undecided on this and the castle was prepared for defence. A siege began in March 1689 and lasted for three months, during which time William and Mary were offered, and accepted the Scottish Crown.
There were many other skirmishes and attempts to claim the castle but it wasn’t really seriously threatened. Since then the castle has remained peaceful and in 1707 the Act uniting Scotland and England was passed in the Scottish Parliament. At this time the Scottish honours were hidden away and thought to have been lost but after special permission in 1818, Sir Walter Scott broke into the room where they had supposedly been hidden and found them at the bottom of a chest. These Crown Jewels were immediately put on display in this same room and are still on display today.
Edinburgh Castle: Things to see
The Honours of Scotland: The Crown Jewels
These Jewels are displayed in the Crown room and include:
- The sceptre that was presented to James IV by Pope Alexander VI in 1494.
- The crown was first worn for the coronation of James V’s wife Mary of Guise in 1540.
These items were first used together to Crown Mary Queen of Scots in 1543. The Crown Jewels are also accompanied by a special exhibition. Also inside the Crown room is the Stone of Destiny, a powerful ancient symbol of Scottish monarchy.
As the Crown room is very small, I recommend getting to the castle as soon as it opens and visiting the Crown room first before the crowds arrive. You can reach it by going up the Lang Stairs and following the signs for the Crown Jewels. Be warned you are not allowed to take any photographs inside the Crown room.
After visiting the Crown room then walk back towards the entrance and follow the visitors guide as normal.
This is one of the many view points for checking out the amazing views across Edinburgh. It’s here that you will find the One O’clock Gun, fired everyday at 1 pm except Sundays, Christmas day and Good Friday. The firing of the gun dates back to 1861 when it was used by ships sailing past the Forth to set maritime clocks.
Scotland’s National War Museum
This is a great museum housing artefacts used by Scottish forces over the centuries. It is housed in a former storehouse for ordnance which was built-in the 1700s and later used as a military hospital.
St Margaret’s Chapel
This chapel was built by David I and dedicated to his mother Queen Margaret and is the oldest building in Edinburgh. The decorated arch inside the chapel is the original whilst the stained glass windows are more recent. Today the chapel is still used for weddings and christenings.
The Great hall
The magnificent Great Hall was built-in 1511 for James IV. The walls of this medieval room are filled with weapons and armour including the notorious Lochaber axe.
As you look out at the views of Edinburgh from Mons Meg, if you look down you will see the small dog cemetery. The final resting place of soldiers’ loyal canine companions.
The Royal Palace
The rooms within the Royal Palace have witnessed many historical events in Scottish history. It was here that Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI in 1566. It is thought that magic was used to transfer Mary’s birthing pains to that of a servant.
James VI became King shortly before his 2nd birthday and united the crowns of Scotland and England in 1603.
Scottish National War Memorial
This is a beautiful memorial to all those who lost their lives in both world wars as well as other military campaigns since 1945. The building was the former North Barracks but has been redesigned using sculpture and stained glass to provide moving depictions of scenes from the First World War.
Prisoners Of War
Discover how prisoners were treated in the 1700s and 1800s. These prisoners of war came from all over the world and even included a 5-year-old drummer boy captured at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
Step inside the old military prison and find out about some of the people kept inside. Built in the 1880s and last used in 1923.
There are several regimental museums within the castle grounds and include:
- The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment)
- The Royal Regiment of Scotland
- Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
Edinburgh Castle: Visitor information
Purchase your tickets in advance, they will also be cheaper!
Buy on the day tickets:
- Adult – £18.50
- Child – £11.50
- Concession – £15.00
Buy online in advance:
- Adult – £17.00
- Child – £10.20
- Concession – £ 13.60
The Castle opens everyday at 9.30 am and closes at 6 pm summer time and till 5 pm in winter, last admission is 1 hour before closing. I would recommend getting there early as the queue to get in, even with tickets, will be travelling down the Royal mile by 9 am especially in summer time. I arrived at 8.45 am at the end of September and was first in the queue, however by opening time the queue was huge!!
If you can’t get to the castle that early I would try to avoid visiting between 12 – 2 pm as the crowds appear for the One O’clock gun. If you want to be here for this then be prepared for large crowds.
You can grab a self guided audio tour at the entrance in most languages for £3.50 adults, £1.50 children.
Complimentary guided tours are held at certain times throughout the day, however I’m not sure of the times.
There are no areas to store baggage or pram’s and only backpacks smaller than 30l will be allowed into the site. I did see staff asking people with larger bags to put them inside a plastic box to determine if they were allowed in (like they do at the airport for hand luggage).
They also seemed to be doing random bag searches as well. But it’s all for our security so fair enough, just be prepared.
Inside the castle you will also find a couple of gift shops and Cafe’s
For further information check out the official site here
So there you have it, the best tips on visiting Edinburgh Castle! Have you visited?, do you have any other tips to share? If so let me know in the comments below! Plus if you like this post, please share and subscribe to be the first to hear about my future adventures.
Travelling to Edinburgh on a budget, then check out my budget guide to Edinburgh here