Edinburgh Castle is an iconic landmark that dominates the skyline of Scotland’s capital city. Perched atop a hill at the end of the Royal Mile, its impressive exterior is visible from all corners of the city. But is it worth venturing beyond the castle walls and paying the admission fee to explore the interior?
In this guide, we’ll delve into the rich history of Edinburgh Castle and highlight some of its must-see features, giving you the information you need to decide whether a visit to this world-famous fortress is worth your while.
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- Facts about Edinburgh Castle
- Brief History of Edinburgh Castle
- Visiting Edinburgh Castle
- What to See Inside Edinburgh Castle
- Edinburgh Castle FAQs
- Can You Walk Around Edinburgh Castle for free?
- How much is Edinburgh Castle Admission?
- How can you save money on Edinburgh Castle tickets?
- What are the Opening Hours for Edinburgh Castle?
- Where is Edinburgh Castle located?
- Is Edinburgh Castle good for kids?
- How Long Does it Take to Visit Edinburgh Castle?
- How to Skip the Line at Edinburgh Castle
- Is Edinburgh Castle Worth Visiting?
- Expert Tips for Experiencing Edinburgh Castle History
Facts about Edinburgh Castle
Before we dive into the details of what makes Edinburgh Castle worth visiting, let’s explore some fascinating facts that showcase the castle’s rich history and cultural significance.
- Once an important resident for Scottish kings and queens, the castle has become Scotland’s most-visited paid tourist attraction.
- Edinburgh Castle welcomes over a million guests each year including over 70% of Edinburgh tourists.
- The castle is built on Castle Rock which is 120 meters above sea level.
- Archaeologists have found evidence of people living on top of castle rock since the Bronze Age, making it one of the longest continually inhabited sites in Scotland.
- It is the most besieged place in Britain.
- Control of Edinburgh Castle has gone back and forth between the English and Scottish, similar to other Scottish castles like Urquhart
- Many believe that Edinburgh Castle is haunted by a bagpiper who went missing in its underground tunnels.
- There is a dog cemetery at Edinburgh Castle for the honored canine companions of the regimental officers. You cannot enter the cemetery, but you can see it from the Upper Ward.
- Now the castle is home to Scotland’s crown jewels, three military museums, the National War Memorial and more.
Brief History of Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle has a long and fascinating history that spans over 1,000 years. It’s said that the castle’s hilltop location was used as a stronghold as far back as the Bronze Age, and it was later used by the Romans and then the Scots.
In the 11th century, King David I built some of the buildings we see on the site today and it has been expanded over the centuries. The castle has played a key role in many important historical events, including the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 13th and 14th centuries and the Jacobite Rising of 1745.
Over the years, the castle has been used as a royal residence, a military barracks, and even a prison. Today, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Scotland and houses a variety of exhibits that showcase its rich history. When you visit Edinburgh Castle you will discover the fascinating stories that have unfolded within its walls over the centuries.
Visiting Edinburgh Castle
Visiting Edinburgh castle is an unforgettable experience, with so much to see and explore. If you’re the type of person who likes to go at their own pace, you can definitely wander around on your own and take in all the history and beauty that surrounds you.
However, if you want to get the most out of your visit, I recommend getting the audioguide. It will take you on a fascinating journey through the castle’s many attractions and give you all the juicy details about its history.
Another great option is to book a guided tour like this one, which not only includes skip the line tickets, but also a knowledgeable guide to lead you through the castle’s many wonders. No matter how you choose to experience Edinburgh castle, you’re in for a treat.
What to See Inside Edinburgh Castle
From the moment you step foot in Edinburgh Castle, you’re transported back in time to a place where history comes alive. Trust me, there’s so much to see that you won’t know where to begin. That’s why I’m here to share the 7 things that you must see when you visit!
Get ready for a journey through Scottish history, Just don’t forget to take a moment to admire the amazing view of the city from the castle walls.
#1 The Royal Palace
You must go inside the Royal Palace rooms at Edinburgh Castle, where the kings and queens of Scotland lived. It was also where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her only son, James VI of Scotland, who later became King James I of England. The last monarch to stay in the Royal Palace was Charles I, who slept here the night before his coronation in 1633.
I was fascinated by Mary Queen of Scots’ story after reading The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory and was excited to see a place that was so important to her. If you are interested in learning more about her, you should also visit her apartments at Holyrood Palace at the other end of the Royal Mile.
Note: If you want to visit all the Royal Attractions in Edinburgh – Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and the Royal Yacht Britannia – consider purchasing the Royal Edinburgh Ticket. You can save up to 25% compared to buying tickets for the attractions separately. Click here for more information about the Royal Edinburgh Ticket.
#2 Edinburgh Castle’s Crown Jewels
Similar to the Tower of London, you can see Scotland’s Crown Jewels inside Edinburgh Castle. I would recommend seeing this first because as time went on, we saw a line develop.
The display of the Crown Jewels of Scotland is not as big as the one for England, but it is impressive in its own right. I thought it was interesting that while there was a castle employee on duty in the vault with the Crown Jewels, there was no official guard.
You can see the crown and scepter first used for the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in 1543. There are other precious jewels on display as well. It is interesting that at one point during the 17th century they were hidden in David’s Tower (which is like a basement) to keep them safe from the English army.
Another amazing artifact that is on display is the Stone of Destiny. For the Scottish people, it is very sacred, but Edward I of England took the stone away in 1296 and had it built into his throne. In 1996, the stone was returned to Scotland and will now only go back to Westminster Abbey for coronations.
#3 Great Hall
Step inside the Great Hall, which was built in 1511 for King James IV, and look up to admire the magnificent wooden roof. It hosted grand banquets and state events, but the king was killed in battle soon after its completion.
Later, the hall was converted into a barracks by Oliver Cromwell’s army, and later served as a military hospital until 1886. Now restored, it displays weapons and armor, including the feared Lochaber axe.
#4 Mons Meg And The 1 O’clock Gun
Mons Meg is a huge cannon at Edinburgh Castle that was cutting edge back in the 1400s. It was given to King James II. She was capable of blasting a cannonball two miles! Also, not too far from Mons Meg is the 1 o’clock gun. As its name suggests, it is fired each day at 1 pm so that ships can set their clocks.
The tradition started back in 1861 and continues today (except for Sundays, Christmas, and Good Friday). Of course, this reminded me of the ball ceremony at the Greenwich Royal Observatory. Unfortunately, due to scheduling, we didn’t see it this trip, but there is always a crowd to watch it.
#5 The National War Memorial
The National War Memorial looks like a church from the outside and it is a very sacred place. It is a beautiful tribute to the Scottish that died in both World Wars and other military campaigns since 1945. Also, you will find each soldier’s name and they take great pride in keeping the memorial up to date.
#6 Prisons of War
I also enjoyed the Prisons of War exhibition. I had no idea that prisoners of war from the US and other countries like France, Spain, and the Netherlands were held here in Edinburgh Castle.
The exhibit gives you insight into what it was like. Additionally, I was fascinated by the doors where you could see the graffiti carvings of the prisoners. Again this reminded me of the Tower of London. Across the walkway from the Prisons of War exhibition, there is the Military Prison, which Scottish soldiers served time for various levels of crimes and rule violations.
#7 St. Margaret’s Chapel
While St. Margaret’s Chapel may not be elaborate it is definitely historic. It was built around 1130 by David I for his mother Margaret and is Edinburgh’s oldest surviving building.
During the 16th century, it was used for storage and then turned back into a chapel in 1845. The chapel is still used today for christenings and weddings (wouldn’t that be romantic?!).
Bonus: Have Afternoon Tea
A traditional afternoon tea would be a great way to end your visit to the castle. In the Tea Rooms in Crown Square at the top of the castle, you can treat yourself to dainty sandwiches, scones with home-made strawberry jam and clotted cream, cake, and whole leaf tea, but you must book 48 hours in advance.
Edinburgh Castle FAQs
Can You Walk Around Edinburgh Castle for free?
No. You must pay admission to go inside Edinburgh Castle even if you don’t want to go inside the buildings.
How much is Edinburgh Castle Admission?
Entrance to Edinburgh Castle is £18 (as of August 2022) for adults if you purchase your tickets in advance.
How can you save money on Edinburgh Castle tickets?
There are a few ways that you can get discounted or even free admission to Edinburgh Castle.
- English Heritage members can also get into Edinburgh Castle for free if they have been members for more than one year. New English Heritage members can get half off admission. Click here for more information about joining English Heritage.
- If you are planning to visit other historic sites in Scotland, consider getting the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass. It includes access to 77 sites during your visit, plus you can skip the queue at Edinburgh Castle. Click here for more information on the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass.
- If you want to visit the Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and the Royal Yacht Britannia consider purchasing the Royal Edinburgh Ticket. You can save up to 25% compared to buying tickets for the attractions separately. Click here for more information about the Royal Edinburgh Ticket.
What are the Opening Hours for Edinburgh Castle?
Edinburgh Castle hours are 9:30 am to 6 pm in the summer. In the winter, the castle closes at 5 pm. The last entry is one hour before closing.
Please note that random bag checks are in place at Edinburgh Castle. Suitcases and large backpacks over 30L are not allowed and they do not have storage facilities. This may cause a longer wait to get into the Castle.
Where is Edinburgh Castle located?
Fittingly, Edinburgh Castle is located at the end of the Royal Mile on Castlehill.
The closest train station is Edinburgh Waverly. It’s about a 10-minute walk. You will be able to see the castle once you exit the station. To get to Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street, go up Waverley Bridge, turn right on Market, then continue onto Mound Place (which turns into Ramsay Lane) to Castlehill.
If you decide to drive to Edinburgh Castle (not recommended), Castle Terrace NCP is closest place to park and offers a discounted rate for castle visitors: £10 for 5 hours. Be sure to validate your parking ticket at the machine opposite the drawbridge during your Edinburgh Castle visit.
Is Edinburgh Castle good for kids?
Yes. Kids will love exploring the castle’s nooks and crannies, imagining themselves as knights defending the fortress, or perhaps even spotting the resident ghost! It’s a good opportunity to teach them a bit about Scottish history.
One highlight that’s sure to capture their attention is the crown jewels. They’ll be amazed by the intricate detail and sheer opulence of these treasures. And make sure not to miss Mons Meg – they will be impressed to see such a hug medieval siege cannon.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Kids will also love taking in the stunning views of the city from the castle’s walls. They’ll feel like they’re on top of the world as they gaze out at the beautiful scenery below.
How Long Does it Take to Visit Edinburgh Castle?
You don’t want to rush through all the things to do in Edinburgh Castle, so I recommend allocating at least three hours to visit. If possible, time your visit so that you don’t miss the gun at 1 pm.
How to Skip the Line at Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is hands down one of the most popular tourist destinations in Scotland – and for good reason! With great popularity comes big crowds, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead if you want to avoid long lines or wait times.
I recommend purchasing timed-entry tickets in advance here to ensure a smooth and hassle-free experience. Not only will this save you valuable time, but it’ll also provide peace of mind knowing that you won’t have to stress about ticket availability when you arrive.
Alternatively, you could book a skip-the-line tour here that includes tickets and a knowledgeable guide. This is a great option for those who want a more in-depth understanding of the castle’s rich history and architecture while bypassing the lines altogether.
Is Edinburgh Castle Worth Visiting?
Yes! In my opinion, no trip to Edinburgh would be complete without a visit to the castle. With so much to see and experience, it offers a glimpse into the fascinating history of Scotland. While the tickets may seem a bit pricey, the value you receive from a visit to Edinburgh Castle is well worth it.
The castle itself boasts a variety of different buildings and exhibits that are all worth exploring, not to mention the stunning view of the city from the castle walls. Personally, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed my visit to the castle and how much I learned about Scottish history in the process.
If you haven’t visited Edinburgh Castle yet, I highly recommend adding it to your travel itinerary. And if you have been before, I would love to hear about your highlights and experiences. After all, sharing our travel stories is one of the best ways to inspire others to explore new destinations and make unforgettable memories.
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Disclosure: No financial compensation was received, but we did receive complimentary admission at Edinburgh Castle so that we could share our experience with our readers. As always, opinions are my own.
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Last Updated on April 28, 2023