It started raining as soon as I entered the Edinburgh Castle, even though the sky had looked bright when I climbed up the hill. Tip for visitors: Bring an umbrella, the weather changes quickly in Scotland.
The Edinburgh Castle has stood on a volcanic rock in the middle of modern Edinburgh for centuries. There is evidence of Bronze Age homes on the Castle Rock, dating to around 900 BC, and a hill fort existed here late in the 1st century AD. The castle is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that also includes the medieval Old Town and the Georgian and Neoclassical New Town.
In Your Bucket Because…
- You like castles, history and ghost stories.
- You want to see Scotland’s very own crown jewels.
- Good for: almost everyone who visits Edinburgh – the castle is one of the main attractions. Kids seem to love exploring. However it is located on a hill, many walking paths are cobblestoned, and some parts may be difficult to access for those with physical disabilities.
I like to explore sites on my own and did not wait for a guided tour. The interpretive signs throughout the many buildings in the castle grounds give a basic orientation to the castle and its history, as well as Scotland’s history. But those who are unfamiliar with Scottish history, or who want more indepth information, can pay for an audio guide or to join one of the guided tours.
The Great Hall
Once inside the castle grounds, I escaped the rain by entering the medieval Great Hall. The hall was built in the 15th century and contains a collection of weapons and armour. Performances in the hall present and interpret information about the castle’s history and the lives of its inhabitants. On the day of my visit, the hall was comfortably warm, thanks to electricity; I wondered what the cold and damp Scottish winters must have felt like inside the thick stone walls 500 years ago.
Edinburgh is famous for its ghost stories, and the castle is home to some ghosts of its own. Many of the ghost stories are connected to the stone vaults that once acted as prisons. Prisoners of war were kept in the vaults under the Great Hall and the Queen Anne Building, especially during the wars with France in the 18th and 19th century. Exhibitions in the vaults explain where prisoners came from and what daily life for a typical prisoner of war was like.
The Honours of Scotland
One of the main highlights is the room that displays the Honours of Scotland: the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles. These include the Crown (first worn by James V in 1540), the Sceptre (presented by Pope Alexander VI to James IV in 1494) and the Sword of State. They were first used together in the coronation of one of the most famous royals to live in the castle, Mary Queen of Scots in 1543.
Another of the castle’s royal relics is the Stone of Destiny, which was once used in the coronations of Scottish kings.
Other Things to See
Visitors interested in military history can easily spend a day marveling at the old armour and weaponry. Of particular interest: The One o’clock Gun has been fired almost daily at 1 pm since 1861, and Mons Meg from the mid-15th century is another of the castle’s famous guns.
But one of my favorite parts of the castle is the small St. Margaret’s Chapel, which was built around 1130. King David I dedicated the chapel to his mother Queen Margaret who lived a pious life, died in the castle in 1903, and later became St. Margaret.
Practicalities for Visiting the Edinburgh Castle
- Buy tickets online in advance to avoid the sometimes long wait at the ticket booths.
- Bring an umbrella, rain is likely.
- There are guided tours, and audio guides in several languages are offered for a small charge.
- There are cafés inside the castle grounds, as well as many places to eat and drink nearby.
- Tickets and prices are available on the castle’s website.
- If you are planning to visit other castles in Scotland, combination tickets may work out cheaper than individual tickets.