Edinburgh Castle Travel Guide

CONTENTS

  • Map
  • Overview and History
  • The Castle Today
  • Visiting the Castle
  • Inside the Castle
  • Scottish Treasures
  • The Royal Apartments
  • The Great Hall
  • The Big Guns
  • St Margarets Chapel
  • Prisoners of War
  • National War Museum
  • Food and Souvenirs
  • Castle Facilities
  • Audio Guides
  • Map of the Castle
  • Access Guide
  • Ticket Information
  • Historic Scotland Membership
  • Contact Details for the Castle
  • Transport to the Castle
  • Parking

 

OVERVIEW AND HISTORY OF THE CASTLE

Edinburgh Castle is a historic castle in Edinburgh, Scotland. It stands on Castle Rock, which has been occupied by humans since at least the Iron Age.

There has been a royal castle on the rock since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until 1633. From the 15th century, the castle's residential role declined, and by the 17th century, it was principally used as military barracks with a large garrison. Its importance as a part of Scotland's national heritage was recognized increasingly from the early 19th century onwards, and various restoration programs have been carried out over the past century and a half.

As one of the most important strongholds in the Kingdom of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle was involved in many historical conflicts from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century to the Jacobite rising of 1745. Research undertaken in 2014 identified 26 sieges in its 1,100-year history, giving it a claim to having been "the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked in the world".[3] Few of the present buildings pre-date the Lang Siege of the 16th century when the medieval defenses were largely destroyed by artillery bombardment. The most notable exceptions are St Margaret's Chapel from the early 12th century, which is regarded as the oldest building in Edinburgh,[4] the Royal Palace, and the early 16th-century Great Hall, although the interiors have been much altered from the mid-Victorian period onwards. The castle also houses the Scottish regalia, known as the Honours of Scotland, and is the site of the Scottish National War Memorial and the National War Museum of Scotland. The British Army is still responsible for some parts of the castle, although its presence is now largely ceremonial and administrative. Some of the castle buildings house regimental museums which contribute to its presentation as a tourist attraction.

THE CASTLE TODAY

The castle, in the care of Historic Environment Scotland, is Scotland's most and the United Kingdom's second most-visited paid tourist attraction, with over 2.2 million visitors in 2019[5] and over 70 percent of leisure visitors to Edinburgh visiting the castle.[6] As the backdrop to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo during the annual Edinburgh Festival, the castle has become a recognizable symbol of Edinburgh in particular and of Scotland as a whole.

VISITING THE CASTLE

The Castle was the first place I visited in Edinburgh and on my first trip the only place. I took the train from Glasgow, got out at Waverley station and walked to the castle, and traveled back to Glasgow late afternoon. It does take a few hours to see the whole castle and all the exhibitions. You can hire an audio tour headset, wait for a free tour to start, hire a private tour or just go it alone.

The headset is the option I choose although I did listen in on a few of the guided tours when we came upon them.

The castle is located at the top of the Royal Mile and if you have walking issues unless you are near the top I would recommend a taxi or uber as the Royal Mile is a bit of an uphill hike especially if you are coming from the Holyrood Palace end. The castle approach or esplanade is approximately 110m long and slightly uphill. I think if you have mobility or access issues cars can drive into the esplanade but I would check that to be sure. Allow at least 2 hours but to see everything and really take your time at least half a day.

As you approach the Castle forecourt you will see a building on the right - The Tartan Weaving Mill. This is a 4 level huge store where you can buy any tartan products, souvenirs, clan crests, and information. You can find out where your name first originated from.

The building was once the holding tank for all the water for Edinburgh. Just outside the entrance on the left, you will see a plaque as it was the location for the last witch burning.

I would recommend booking your tickets online (use this link), as there can be a bit of a lineup and there are limits on the number of visitors now with the covid issues. If you are a Historic Scotland Member it's free entry but you still need to book. (more Historic Scotland info on my Scotland Travel Guide)

WHAT IS INSIDE THE CASTLE?

 SCOTTISH TREASURES

The castle houses the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny on which the first Kings of Scotland were crowned.

THE ROYAL APARTMENTS

Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI of Scotland here and her rooms are still able to be viewed. There is a display of exquisite replicas of embroideries created by Mary during her exile in England after she was forced to abdicate her throne and flee Scotland and 37 needlework pictures, each one telling a story. This is a leaflet with more information.

THE GREAT HALL

Located in the very center of the castle is the Great Hall is was completed in 1511 for King James IV it has been used as a banquet hall, a barracks, a military hospital, and later restored to its medieval splendor you will now see with amazing weapons and armor display.

THE BIG GUNS

If you love big guns then make sure you check out Mons Meg positioned outside of St Margaret’s Chapel, just beyond the Whisky and Finest Food Shop. Mons Meg was given to King James II in 1457. It's a 6-tonne siege gun and could fire 150kg sunstone for up to 3.2km (2 miles).   The big gun was retired from action in 1550 however when Mary Queen of Scots married in 1558, Mons Meg fired a shot over the city in celebration, the shot landed in what's now called the Royal Botanic Garden. Her barrel finally burst in 1681. Mons Meg was returned to the castle after 75 years in England in 1829 with a Cavalry and infantry escort.

The Seven Sisters (half moonbattery) are on display as you enter the castle, guarding the castle walls and overlooking the city. The current display of cannons are 18 pounders made in 1810 during the Napoleonic Wards.

If you happen to be at the castle at 1 pm you will see and hear the one o’clock gun. (apart from Sundays).

ST MARGARETS CHAPEL

St Margaret’s Chapel - once the worship place of Scotland’s royal family, now open to the public. The chapel is Edinburgh’s oldest building and still hosts weddings and christenings. There was a wedding on the day we were there so we couldn't go inside.

The chapel was built by King David I around 1130 and named for his mother Queen Margaret.  Its origins were re-discovered by the antiquary Sir Daniel Wilson in 1845. Some features are from restoration like the stained glass but the ornate arches are original.

PRISONERS OF WAR

Below Crown Square are the vaults of the Prisoners of War. Pirates and war prisoners were once held here. Hundreds of prisoners were held in these damp, cramped spaces in the 1700s and 1800s there are original doors on display with carvings made by the prisoners, including a ‘stars and stripes flag, scratched in by American sailors. Caribbean pirates were held here too. In 1720, members of Black Bart’s crew were captured and hanged.

NATIONAL WAR MUSEUM

The museum opened in 1933 and is located in Hospital Square, it can be accessed by heading past the Redcoat Cafe and heading down the hill through the archway. The museum has a great weapons display including swords, chemical warfare suits, and artifacts used by Scottish forces dating back centuries. The famous painting The Thin Red Line by artist Robert Gibb is on display and there is a research library.

The castle has a lot of publications available too if you would like more info click this link.

FOOD AND SOUVENIRS.

There are several shops located throughout the castle. A face mask is required.

  • Portcullis shop - a gift shop next to the ticket office.
  • Whisky and Finest Food shop
  • The Redcoat Cafe is open daily from 9.30 am to 4 pm
  • The Tea Rooms are open daily from 10 am to 3 pm
  • The Crown Gift Shop
  • The Red Food Truck serving coffee/tea, cakes, and snacks, and an Icecream Van will be open on the esplanade

CASTLE FACILITIES -PARKING, AUDIO GUIDES, AND TOILETS

FACILITIES

Signage will direct you to the public toilets in:

  • Toilets available in the Lower Ward just over the drawbridge (baby changing facilities available), Hospital Square, David’s Tower (just off Crown Square), and the National War Museum
  • Accessible toilet available in the Queen Anne Building
  • Face covering are mandatory if you are visiting any indoor/enclosed spaces. (This is subject to change with new guidelines)

AUDIO GUIDES

Tour the castle with our audio guide, using your own mobile phone or one of our devices. Buy your audio guide when you purchase your tickets online, with a 20% discount for members

You can also pick up a free copy of our orientation map on arrival or download it in advance.

ORIENTATION MAP OF CASTLE

Click here for the map of the castle

ACCESS GUIDE

Click here to access the guide which has information about accessing the Castle, safely and access measures (Covid), carers tickets, parking, approach to the site, security and bag restrictions, Dogs, etc.

TICKET INFORMATION

  • Adult (16-59yrs) £15.50 £17.50
  • Concession (60yrs+ and unemployed)* £12.40 £14.00
  • Child (5-15yrs) £9.30 £10.50
  • Family (1 adult, 2 children) £31.00
  • Family (2 adults, 2 children) £45.00
  • Family (2 adults, 3 children) £53.00
  • Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
  • Historic Scotland Members -FREE ENTRY but must be booked in advance online.
  • Buy your tickets online using this link.

Our tour includes your admission into the castle if it's included in a tour.

HISTORIC SCOTLAND MEMBERSHIP

see  My Scotland Travel Guide for information

CONTACT DETAILS FOR CASTLE

  • Edinburgh Castle, Castlehill, Edinburgh, EH1 2NG.
  • Information Point telephone: +44 (0)131 225 9846

EDINBURGH TRANSPORT TO THE CASTLE

  • Edinburgh Airport is within easy reach and has good bus and tram links to the city center. Visit edinburghairport.com
  • Rail -Waverley Station is Edinburgh's main and most central station. It's just a short work to the castle which can be seen from the station exit. It is an uphill walk though.
  • Haymarket Station, also in the city center, is to the west of Princes Street.
  • Bus The Airlink 100 express bus runs from the airport to the city center. It takes 15 minutes to reach Waverly Bridge, next to the train station.
  • Or look for local buses with the Mound or George IV Bridge on their route.
  • Some hop-on, hop-off bus tours make a stop by the castle.
  • TRAM -Trams leave the airport every 7 minutes from early until late. The journey to Princes Street, Edinburgh’s main shopping street, takes about 30 minutes.

PARKING

There is no public parking at Edinburgh Castle. Castle Terrace and Johnston Terrace have the nearest on-street parking zones.

Castle Terrace NCP is the nearest car park and has parking for castle visitors for £10 for 5 hours. You must validate your parking ticket at the machine opposite the drawbridge during your visit.

Blue Badge holders can request one of the limited numbers of accessible parking spaces on Castle Esplanade on a first-come, first-served basis

Bicycle There is no bicycle rack at the castle. Bike racks are available nearby at:

  • Victoria Street
  • Waverley Station
  • Chambers Street

 

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