The Ultimate Guide to Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh castle is situated on top of Castle Hill in Edinburgh, Scotland. Its primary purpose was military defence and has been taken over by English and Scottish forces repeatedly throughout history. Today it is a functioning military base, as well as the top tourist attraction in all of Scotland.
Keep reading to find out more about the castle, and everything you need to know to plan your own visit!
Who Lived in Edinburgh Castle?
There is archaeological evidence of human activity on top of castle rock dating back at least 3000 years. As is often the case with castles, hilltops were highly desirable as they provided a high vantage point from which to see enemy activity.
The Votadini Tribe (Iron Age)
This celtic tribe built a settlement called "Eidyn's Hill Fort" (yes, this is where the name Edinburgh comes from!).
Malcolm III Canmore (1031-1093)
Malcolm was the first King of Scotland to make his home at Edinburgh Castle. This Malcolm is the son of King Duncan I... do these names sound familiar? If so, you're probably thinking of Shakespeare's Macbeth, who was responsible for the murder of Duncan.
Queen (Saint) Margaret (1045-1093)
Her son, King David I built St. Margaret's Chapel in her honour sometime before 1140. This chapel is still standing and is the oldest surviving part of Edinburgh Castle.
Robert the Bruce (1274-1329)
Robert the Bruce led Scotland in the First War of Scottish Independence. His nephew, Thomas Randolph, recaptured the castle from the English in 1314.
David II (1324-1371)
David II was successful in recapturing the castle from the English, and as a result, David's Tower was built in his honour.
James IV (1473-1513)
A popular Scottish king, James IV died in the Battle of Flodden.
Margaret Tudor (1489-1541)
A daughter of King Henry VII of England, Margaret Tudor married James IV of Scotland. When James IV died in battle, he left behind an infant son, and Margaret ruled until he came of age.
Mary of Guise (1515-1560)
Married to James V, Mary of Guise ruled Scotland after his death until Mary Queen of Scots came of age. She believed in a Catholic Scotland, one separate from England, but the Protestant Reformation prevented her vision for Scotland from coming true.
Mary Queen of Scots (1542-1587)
Mary Queen of Scots is one of Scotland's most revered heroes. Many believed her to be the rightful ruler of both the Scottish and English crowns, but her Catholic-faith discredited her. Despite her life ending in tragedy, her son became the first ruler of both England and Scotland.
James VI (1566-1625)
Son of Mary Queen of Scots, James VI became the first King of England and Scotland. He is also notoriously known for perpetrating witch hunts.
Since the 1650s, the castle has mostly been used as a military base and for housing prisoners of war.
Inside the Castle
The Argyle Battery
Defence for the North side of the castle.
The 1 O'Clock Gun
The 1 o'clock gun was first fired in 1861 at - surprise, surprise - 1 o'clock. This allowed captains on their ships on the Firth of Forth to reset their watches appropriately. Prior to this, the time ball within the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill had been used for this purpose. However, as Edinburgh tends to get quite foggy, the ball drop at 1 o'clock could not be seen unless the day was clear.
National War Museum
Originally storerooms built in 1753 that were converted into a military hospital in 1897, the National War Museum opened in 1933. Here you can see many different kinds of artefacts related to Scottish military over the years.
This house was built between 1740 and 1742 and was home to the governor until 1860.
The New Barracks were built during the Napoleonic Wars. They are still in use today. It also houses The Royal Scots Dragoon Regimental Museum.
Prisons of War
Prisoners of war were locked up here between 1757 and 1814. They would have been prisoners of the Seven Years War, the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Some of the goods they handcrafted to be sold to locals are on display, as well as graffiti they left behind.
This battery was rebuilt by Theodore Dury in the early 18th century.
St Margaret’s Chapel
Built in her honour by her son, King David I. It is the oldest building within the castle.
One of the greatest medieval cannons ever made. It was given to King James II in 1457.
Many of the solider's dearest canine companions were buried here.
Built in response to the siege of 1573. The bronze guns arming it were known as the Seven Sisters.
This tower was mostly destroyed during the 1573 siege; its remains were discovered within the half-moon battery.
Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son, James VI in 1566. He became the King who united the crowns of England and Scotland in 1603. This building also houses the crowned jewels of Scotland, which were used for the crowning of Mary Queen of Scots.
The Stone of Destiny can also be seen in The Royal Palace; this stone is thought to have been used in coronations since the 9th century.
The Great Hall was built for King James IV in 1511. He did not have long to enjoy it, as he died at the battle of Flodden in 1513.
Scottish National War Memorial
Opened in 1927 to commemorate soldiers who have given their lives for their country.
The castle is open year round, though hours vary depending on the season. The summer season runs from April 1 to September 30 and the castle is open from 9:30am to 6:00pm. Last entry is at 5:00pm. The winter season runs from October 1 to March 31 and closes one hour earlier, at 5:00pm. Last entry is 4:00pm.
Make sure to check the website for any possible closures.
Discounted tickets are available online in advance.
Adult - £19.50/£17.50
Concession - £16.00/£14.00
If you're planning to visit historic sites outside of Edinburgh, the Explorer Pass might be the best option for you. However, make sure you do your research first - the Explorer Pass covers properties under the care of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) but many properties are under the care of National Trust Scotland (NTS) or are privately owned. Decide which historic sites you're going to visit before buying the pass to see if it is the right choice for you.
3 Day/7 Day/14 Day:
Adult - £33.00/£40.00/£45.00
Concession - £26.50/£32.00/£36.00
Child - £21.00/£26.00/£29.00
Family - £66.00/£80.00/£90.00
Royal Edinburgh Ticket
Just visiting Edinburgh? This might be the best ticket for you. It covers several of the city sightseeing bus tours, Edinburgh Castle, Palace of Holyroodhouse (located at the opposite end of the Royal Mile) and The Royal Yacht Brittania.
Prices are yet to be confirmed due to COVID-19
Audioguides are available for a fee and are currently offered in 11 different languages.
Guided tours are available throughout the day and are included in the price fo your ticket. I would highly recommend this tour; they're extremely well done and will offer you an excellent overview of the buildings before you go off and explore on your own.
Places to Eat at Edinburgh Castle
There are two places available to sit down and eat.
The Redcoat Cafe
I have eaten here on both of my visits to the castle, and despite doing so, I can't recommend it. As expected, both the baking and hot dishes are mediocre and extremely overpriced. However, as there is so much to see within the castle walls, you might find you need a quick coffee break.
The Tea Rooms
At a step above The Redcoat Cafe, you can stop here for Afternoon Tea. I haven't been here before so I can't recommend or discourage it. If you've dined here, I'd love to know what you thought. Please let me know in the comments section below!
If You Enjoyed Edinburgh Castle, Don't Miss These Other Attractions
Edinburgh has so much to offer. My favourite places are as follows:
Visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse and climb up to Arthur's Seat
Learn about Scottish history (and other things!) at the National Museum of Scotland
Walk along the Royal Mile
Take a serene walk away from the crowds at the Royal Botanic Gardens
Explore Mary King's Close, buried underneath the streets of Edinburgh's Old Town
Marvel St. Giles Cathedral
Eat some tasty Gelato at Mary's Milk Bar
Check out Armstrong's Vintage in the Grassmarket area
Wander through Greyfriar's Kirkyard
Explore the ruins of Craigmillar Castle (included in the HES Explorer Pass!)
Have you been to Edinburgh Castle? What was your favourite part of your visit? Tell me in the comments below!
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