Edinburgh Castle is an icon of the Scottish capital, forming an indomitable part of the citywide World Heritage Site. It was also voted a top UK tourist attraction by the British Travel Awards and currently holds a 5-star rating with Scottish travel and tourism authority Visit Scotland.
The ‘Defender of the Nation’ (as seen today) has towered above Edinburgh since the 13th century. It is perched atop a high basalt outcrop, offering visitors magnificent views across both Old and New Town Edinburgh. Sights from atop the rock include the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Princes Street, and the Royal Mile.
As a piece of architecture, Edinburgh Castle is every bit as complex as the long history that surrounds it. For starters, the oldest part of the castle (St. Margaret’s Chapel) dates back to the 1100s. On the other hand, its Great Hall was erected around 1510 by James IV while the Half Battery (by Regent Morton) was put up in the late 1500s.
Things To See And Do At Edinburgh Castle:
1) St Margaret’s Chapel:
Whether you take the Lang Stairs or the more gentle curving road, one of the first attractions you’ll encounter at Edinburgh Castle is St. Margaret’s Chapel. A small and unassuming stone-brick building, the average visitor could be forgiven for bypassing it in favour of the eye-catching Argyle Battery or the iconic One O’ Clock Gun. However, not only is St Margaret’s Chapel the oldest part of Edinburgh Castle, it’s the oldest free standing structure in the entire city.
Built in 1130 and dedicated to Saint Margaret of Scotland, it served as place of private worship for the kings and queens of Scotland up until the mid-16th century. Saint Margaret herself was actually an English princess forced to flee to Scotland during the Norman conquest of England. Venerated for her philanthropy and piety, she represented all of the best qualities that a pre-reformation Scottish leader could aspire to.
Restored to much of its former glory in 1993, modern visitors can access St Margaret’s Chapel and admire the quaint beauty of its little pews, miniature shrine and five stained-glass windows. Afterwards, be sure not to leave the castle until you’ve experienced all of the remaining attractions listed below.
2) The One O’clock Gun (and National War Memorial):
This unusual timepiece is aptly situated close to the castle’s Half Moon Battery (the distinct curve-walled section of Edinburgh Castle). The cannon is fired at 13:00 every week day. At the same time, a time ball is dropped at the Nelson Monument as part of a tradition that goes back to the days when ships checked their chronometers by training their telescopes on the castle.
Additionally, the north side of Crown Square plays host to the National War Memorial. The Memorial was built to commemorate Scottish lives lost in WWI. Decorations adorning the monument were effected by many well-known artists before it was consecrated in 1927.
3) The Royal Palace, Stone of Destiny, and Crown Jewels:
The Royal Palace acted as the main repository for the Crown Jewels and state documents for centuries. They were only removed in 1291 when Edward I sent the jewels and papers to London, and over 350 years later right before Oliver Cromwell captured Edinburgh Castle.
The Crown Jewels are comprised of a scepter (gifted by Pope Alexander VI to James VI in 1494), a sword (presented by Pope Julius II to James IV in 1501), a crown forged using Scottish-mined gold (with 94 brilliant pearls) and 40 jewels.
Edinburgh Castle also allows visitors to view the famed Stone of Destiny (otherwise referred to as the Stone of Scone). It was famously taken by Edward I and stowed beneath the English throne in London before being returned to Scotland in 1996.
The Great Hall, built in the 16th century, served as a meeting point for the Scottish parliament until 1640, after which it was converted into a military hospital and barracks. Restored during the 19th century, it now houses an impressive collection of armour and arms.
4) Prisoners of War Exhibition and Mons Meg Bombard:
French prisoners of war were interned right beneath the Great Hall during the Napoleonic wars. Their preserved living quarters now form a fascinating exhibition for visitors to Edinburgh Castle.
Although the castle boasts numerous martial artefacts, Mons Meg tends to attract the most attention. It was manufactured in 1449 in Mons, Flanders and was presented by the Duke of Burgundy to James II. At the time, it was considered cutting-edge technology. The cannon has seen a great deal of action – including but not limited to the 1460 siege of Roxburgh Castle.
5) The National War Museum:
To the west side of the castle’s Crown Square lies the Scottish military museum. Founded in 1933, the National War Museum of Scotland displays weapons, uniforms, and other memorabilia worn by various Scottish regiments. It also contains various paintings (such as the Thin Red Line by Robert Gibb).
Edinburgh Castle houses 2 unique regimental museums. The Royal Scots Museums informs visitors about the regiment since it was formed inside the castle in 1633 (including its 149 battle honors). The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum, on the other hand, portrays the regiment’s history from its founding by King Charles II (and includes the Eagle and Standard captured from the French Infantry during the charge of the Scots Greys in 1815 at Waterloo).
Touring Edinburgh Castle:
There are free guided tours of Edinburgh Castle. Audio guides are also available for on-site purchase and are offered in 8 languages. It takes visitors on a guided tour around the castle and tells its dramatic history and explains its architecture. It is available in Mandarin, Russian, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, German, French and English.
Tips For Visiting Edinburgh Castle:
The following tips will ensure that you derive the greatest amount of information and knowledge when you visit Edinburgh Castle:
To avoid the extensive queues, try and book your tickets online.
You should download the informative map of the castle before you visit.
c) Getting Around:
Seeing as the castle is so old, you should prepare for the steep and narrow stairways and the uneven pathways. Come with appropriate footwear.
d) What’s On:
The castle hosts a number of educational and fun events all year round. It also plays host to the world-famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and concerts.
There are 3 unique shops at the castle selling everything from arts and crafts to souvenirs.
f) Food and Drink:
A wide variety of great food and drink options are available. These include delectable meals at the Redcoat Café and traditional afternoon teas at the Queen Anne Tearoom (which also offers superb views over Edinburgh).
Book Your Edinburgh Castle Tickets Online:
To savour an authentic slice of Scottish history at Edinburgh Castle be sure to book your tickets in advance. Tickets booked online allow you to skip the normal admission queue. They also provide access to the site’s regular guided tours. Whether you’re interested in Scottish political history or like tales of crime and intrigue, Edinburgh Castle has a story just waiting to be uncovered.