We didn’t have much time in Edinburgh but I knew I must visit tour Edinburgh Castle. The castle is located at the end of the Royal Mile at the top of a hill overlooking the city. I heard the castle was very significant from a historical perspective, had great views, and was one of the top things to do in Edinburgh. Since there really is a lot to see at the castle, I thought I would highlight my favorites and share some of what I learned about Edinburgh Castle history.
Before I get into my Edinburgh Castle guide, I wanted to share a few interesting facts:
- 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.
- 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 from the Upper Ward.
- Now the castle is home to Scotland’s crown jewels, three military museums, the National War Memorial and more.
What to See Inside Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is actually pretty big and has a lot to see. We spent half a day exploring it and we got to see everything that we wanted to. While we explored the castle on our own, you can opt to get an audio guide available for purchase. If you prefer, you can take a guided Edinburgh Castle tour – it is included with your admission. Be sure to also take time to admire the view of the city from the castle! We thoroughly enjoyed our Edinburgh Castle visit and I know you will too.
The Royal Palace
I have been really enjoying reading about Mary Queen of Scots (The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory). After reading about Mary Queen of Scots, I think she is misunderstood. I was fascinated by her story and excited to see a place that was so important to her. In the Royal Palace area, you can visit the room where Mary gave birth to her only son, James, who went on to become King James I of England. I also enjoyed seeing the portraits.
If you are interested in learning more about Mary Queen of Scots, you should also visit her apartments at Holyrood Palace at the other end of the Royal Mile. Also, you should go inside Edinburgh Castle’s Great Hall which was built for James IV. Be sure to look up, as the wooden ceiling is impressive. Interestingly, the Great Hall was used as military barracks for a while.
Note: If you want to visit all the Royal Attractions in Edinburgh – Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and 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.
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.
Mons Meg is a huge cannon at Edinburgh Castle that was cutting edge back in the 1400s. 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.
The National War Memorial
The National War Memorial looks like a church from the outside and it really 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.
Prisons of War
I also really 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 really fascinated by the doors where you could see the graffiti carvings of the prisoners. Again this really 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.
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.
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.
You Must Visit Edinburgh Castle
Honestly, I really underestimated the importance of Edinburgh Castle in history. To me, it is kind of like the Tower of London is to England. So much history has happened here so there was a lot to take in, so I would recommend allocating at least 3 hours for your visit. Entrance to Edinburgh Castle is £17 for adults if you purchase your tickets in advance. 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.
How to Skip the Line at Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh castle is very popular and for good reason. To avoid long lines, I would highly recommend buying timed-entry tickets in advance. If you are planning to visit other historic sites in Scotland, you should 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.
I don’t think any visit to Edinburgh is complete without coming to the castle. Have you been to Edinburgh Castle? What do you think are some of the Edinburgh Castle highlights? I would love to hear about your experience.
Expert Tips for Experiencing Edinburgh Castle History
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Disclosure: No financial compensation was received, but we did receive complimentary admission at Edinburgh Castle. As always, opinions are my own.
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