All About Edinburgh Castle
The mighty fortress of Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline of Scotland’s capital city. Use our Edinburgh Castle guide to learn about what to see at this active military base and world-famous attraction. Through the ages, the Castle has served as a military barracks, prison, and home to Scottish kings and queens.
Much of Scotland’s rich culture and heritage is associated with Edinburgh Castle. From the Castle’s high vantage, medieval monarchs warded off invasions. It was here that Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to the future King James VI of Scotland. Today, visitors of the Castle can view Mary’s royal residence and her Crown Jewels (the oldest in the British Isles).
The origins of Edinburgh Castle reach back to the Iron Ages. The first settlement broke ground on a plug of volcanic rock overlooking the Firth of Forth estuary. The Castle grounds are a fusion of architectural styles from the Middle Ages through modern times. Tour the castle to immerse in the buildings and battlements where countless feasts, executions, and state events occurred over the years.
Edinburgh Castle is located in Old Town Edinburgh at the start of the Royal Mile. The area is designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. A visit to the castle is one of the best things to do in Edinburgh. Plan for a 2-3 hour visit. This will allow time to see all the sites, and to take some great photos.
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WHEN TO GO
Edinburgh Castle is open year-round, except Christmas and Boxing Day (December 25 and 26th). Opening hours vary according to the season. The Castle is a popular tourist destination and always busy. Crowds tend to be heaviest during the mid-day, and in the summer.
Tickets can be purchased at the Castle’s entry on day of visit. However, the ticket office advises that tickets often sell out. Book tickets online in advance for guaranteed entry (and best price). Note: the Castle is a working military base and historic attraction. Check the website before visiting see if any areas are closed to tourist traffic.
GUIDED TOURS & AUDIO TOURS
Many companies offer guided tours of Edinburgh Castle. In addition, audio guide devices (in many languages) can be rented at the ticket office and audio booth. The audio guide is designed to be downloaded onto a mobile phone or tablet or heard through a headset.
FOOD AND FACILITIES
There are two cafes (the Tea Rooms and the Redcoat Café) and three giftshops at the castle (opening hours and days change seasonally). There are bathroom facilities located at the Castle’s entry and by David’s Tower.
There is no public parking at Edinburgh Castle. The nearest car park (paid parking lot) is Castle Terrace NCP. The Castle is within walking distance of the Waverly Train Station and Edinburgh Bus Station (aka St. Andrews Square Bus Station).
SECURITY AND BAGS
No suitcases or large backpacks are permitted at the Castle. There is no storage for luggage, large backpacks, strollers, or wheelchairs onsite.
WHAT TO SEE IN EDINBURGH CASTLE
Here are some of our favorite things to see in Edinburgh Castle. The list is roughly organized in a route around the grounds. Vary the order according to your interests and crowd sizes.
Argyle Battery: To enter the Castle, visitors pass under the spikes of the Portcullis Gate. The 450 year old entryway has three fortified wooden doors. After the gate, visitors will spill out onto the Argyle Battery. The 6-gun battery was built in 1703; the cannons date back to the Napoleonic Wars (1800s). From this vantage there are sweeping views of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth estuary.
One O’ Clock Gun Exhibition: Just past the Argyle Battery, look for the “One O’ Clock Gun.” Since 1861, the 105mm field gun has been fired each day to alert ships in the Firth of Forth of the time. The gun is still fired today, every day except Good Friday, Christmas, and Sundays.
National War Museum: The museum’s galleries tell the story of Scotland’s rich military history from the 1600s through modern days. On display are weaponry, bagpipes, military kilts, and badges. There are exhibits on the First World War, the Thin Red Line (historic battle), and Objects Linked to Waterloo.
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Regimental Museum: Traipsing through this little museum is like stepping back in time. Learn about the Dragoons, a senior Scottish regiment in the British Army. Through paintings and displays of military regalia, the exhibit brings to life decisive military events in British war history.
Prisoners of War Exhibition: Step down into the dungeons of Edinburgh Castle. The exhibit educates about the living conditions of the soldiers and sailors who were held as prisoners of war beneath the Castle’s Great Hall. The time period on display is within the 1700-1800s.
St. Margaret’s Chapel: The origins of this stately little chapel date back to around 1130. At that time, King David I had the church constructed in remembrance of his mother. The building is said to be the oldest in Edinburgh. The tiny chapel boasts intricate arches and stained glass windows.
Argyle Tower: In its history, Edinburgh Castle has endured many sieges. The Argyle Tower exhibit uses narrated video projections and medieval objects to tell the story of Edinburgh Castle in the Wars of Independence. On display is a huge trebuchet (a medieval machine used for hurling large stones) and stone ball believed to have been launched at the Castle in the siege of 1296.
The Royal Palace, Crown Jewels of Scotland, and Stone of Destiny: The Royal Palace is the centerpiece of the Castle’s Crown Square. In this splendid palace, Mary of Guise died in 1530 and Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI in 1566. Inside the royal residence visitors can view Laich Hall. Its fireplaces date back to the 1400s.
In the Royal Palace visitors can view the Honours of Scotland; the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles; first used at the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in 1543. Also, on display is the Stone of Destiny which was used in the ceremony to inaugurate monarchs.
The Great Hall: Located in Crown Square, the Great Hall was completed in the early 1500s for King James IV. The Hall was the site of many great banquets and celebrations through the years. For a time, the building was used as a military hospital. Today, it has been restored to its medieval era. The Great Hall is popular for its exhibits of weaponry and suits of armor.
Lang Stairs: The Lang Stairs are a flight of 70 steps connecting the upper levels of the Castle to the lower. At one point, the stairway served as the main entrance to the Castle. Walking down the Lang Stairs from the summit of Castle Rock it is easy to pretend that you are queen (or king) of the Castle.
There are lots of other things to see at Edinburgh Castle, so don’t hurry this stop. Before you leave, make sure to spend some time on the battlements drinking in the wonderful city views
May the road rise up to meet you, Laura and Randy
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