We didn’t have much time in Edinburgh but I knew I must visit the 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 and was excited about the great views. 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.
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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 and or take one of the free guided tours.
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.
Edinburgh Castle’s Crown Jewels
Similar to the Tower of London, you can see the 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 that was cutting edge back in the 1400s. She was capable of blasting a cannonball 2 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 to give ships something to set their clocks to. 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.
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 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.
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.
Honestly, I really underestimated how important Edinburgh Castle history was. 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. Edinburgh castle is very popular and for good reason. So to avoid long lines, I would highly recommend buying tickets in advance.
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:
- Buy your tickets for Edinburgh Castle online in advance to avoid the line when you arrive.
- Go see the Scottish crown jewels early before a line develops.
- For more tips on planning your time in Scotland, check out our Pinterest board.
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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