The history of Edinburgh Castle in a nutshell
Already in the Bronze Age they built a settlement on Castle Rock for the first time, but it is thought that a castle was only built in the twelfth century. Since the reign of David I until 1633 it was a royal residence. Afterwards it was used as military barracks, until it was recognized in the nineteenth century as an essential part of the Scottish national heritage. Today it’s the most visited landmark of the country, which yields two million visitors per year.
The main sights of the Edinburgh Castle
Of course, Edinburgh Castle is so much more than just a (very beautiful) pile of stones, because there is so much to discover within the walls. Once you have bought tickets (£17) to enter the inside of this famous castle, you’ll be surrounded by many beautiful rooms.
If you would like some more information about everything you see, it might not be a bad idea to book a guided tour either. A priority ticket with guide costs £29 per person.
In any case, you should not miss the following places when you visit Edinburgh Castle:
The Royal Palace
You should visit the royal palace not only for the rich interior, but also for its historical value. Many important events have taken place within these walls. Queen Mary of Guise (who vigorously fought against the Protestant reform) died here in 1560. But at the same time (six years later) her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to her son James VI at this location. This boy actually became king at barely one year old and united Scotland and England in 1603. His importance for the country can’t be underestimated and the tiny room where he first saw the light of day can also be visited.
The crown jewels
In terms of fame, these crown jewels may be less popular when compared to those in the Tower of London, but in terms of splendor they are at least equal. The scepter was given to James IV by Pope Alexander VI and the crown was worn for the first time during the coronation of the aforementioned Mary of Guise in 1540.
It wasn’t until three years later that they were combined for the first time, when Mary Queen of Scots was crowned in 1543.
For years they were hidden (against the army of Oliver Cromwell for example), but in 1818 they were rediscovered by Sir Walter Scott, the famous writer who wrote Ivanhoe.
The Great Hall
This hall isn’t only “great” to Trumpian standards, but also objectively one of the most beautiful rooms in the United Kingdom. In 1511 the works were completed in honor of James IV and the room is located in the heart of the castle.
The king couldn’t enjoy this beautiful room for very long, because he lost his life during the Battle of Flodden in 1513 when he was fighting the troops of Henry VIII (yes, the Henry VIII!). The walls are decorated with weapons and shields, and the beautiful wooden roof is supported by beams with engraved stones. If you look closely you can see thistles, the national symbol of Scotland.
The Stone of Destiny
This epic-sounding stone is a powerful and ancient symbol of the Scottish monarchy, as it has witnessed the coronation of many kings. According to legend, it was used as a pillow by the patriarch Jacob when he dreamed of Jacob’s ladder (which reached to heaven). This holy object ended up in Scotland via Ireland.
In 1296 Edward I added it to his own throne and since then it has been used in the coronation ceremonies of the monarchs of England and afterwards of the whole of Great Britain.
800 years later the stone was brought back to Scotland, so you can now see it in Edinburgh Castle. Only when a coronation takes place in Westminster Abbey the stone can leave the castle (for a little while).
St. Margaret’s Chapel
This chapel was built around 1130 by David I in honor of his mother Queen Margaret, making it the oldest building in Edinburgh. Nowadays, the chapel is still used for baptisms and weddings.
The one o’clock gun
Already in 1861 they fired this cannon so that ships could change their maritime clocks to the right time (which they needed to sail the oceans). Nowadays, the one o’clock gun is fired every day at one o’clock (except on Sundays, Christmas or Good Friday).
The Military Tattoo and Edinburgh Castle
Contrary to what the name suggests, this has nothing to do with permanently putting ink on your body. A Military Tattoo is in fact a military procession that is accompanied by a lot of music and in which the various army forces present themselves to the public.
In the Scottish capital this tattoo is part of the Edinburgh Festival, which takes place every year in August before the eyes of about 220,000 spectators.
Tickets Edinburgh Castle
If you want to visit Edinburgh Castle, you’ll need to have a ticket. The entrance works with a timed ticket system. To be guaranteed to enter on the date and time of your choice, you must book your tickets in advance. On the spot you can also buy tickets, but then you can only visit Edinburgh Castle in the afternoon. To enter in the morning you must reserve at least one day in advance.
Audio guides are available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, … and you pay 3.5 pounds as an adult. Children pay 1.50 pounds.
Do you prefer a real-life guide? Then book one for £29 per person with priority tickets included.
Opening times Edinburgh Castle
During the summer months (March 26 to September 30) the castle is open from 9:30 am until 6 pm. During the winter months (1 October to 25 March) you can enter from 9:30 am to 5 pm. The last access is always one hour before closing time, but you need at least two hours to get the most out of your visit. So you should go in a bit earlier.
On 25 and 26 December the castle is closed, on January 1 it is open from 11 am to 5 pm.
Eight fun facts about Edinburgh Castle
- According to recent research, the castle was besieged 26 times in its 1100-year history, giving it the title of most besieged place in Britain and one of the most attacked places in the world.
- Edinburgh Castle and Harry Potter go hand in hand, since J.K. Rowling wrote her bestsellers in the Scottish capital. It’s therefore not surprising that the Edinburgh Castle inspired her for Hogwarts. Although the author never officially confirmed this, you only have to take a look at the imposing structure to see this.
- On the promenade there was a pyre where hundreds of presumed witches were burned. Among them was Janet Douglas, she was accused of attempted murder of King James V. Although she was innocent, her servants confessed after they were tortured by James.
- In the nineteenth century, some people wanted to make the military buildings of the castle into a beautiful fairytale castle, but in the end these plans were not realized.
- In 1811, 49 French prisoners of war escaped by hacking through a wall in the castle. Only one of them was caught. Nowadays you can still see the hole in the wall.
- During the Second World War the aforementioned Crown of Scotland was hidden under a medieval latrine in one of the towers so that the enemy could not find it.
- According to a number of people, the castle is bewitched. When the underground tunnels were found, a bagpipe player was sent down to investigate. He played on his bagpipes so that the people above him could hear where he was. Suddenly the music stopped and they started looking for him. His body was never found. However, people say that they can occasionally hear his music under the castle.
- Local students at the University of Edinburgh visit Edinburgh Castle only for the first time after they graduate. According to superstition, every student who walks through the castle gates before they graduate will flunk for his or her final exams.
Are you excited to visit Edinburgh Castle on your own? I promise that it’ll be one of the best experiences that you can have in Edinburgh! Be sure to take your time to take in every room and don’t forget to watch out for the ghost of the bagpipe player…
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.