From its position on top of volcanic rock, Edinburgh Castle looms over the streets of one of Scotland's most iconic cities.
Containing some of the country's most treasured religious, military, and royal artifacts, Edinburgh Castle is always worth a visit.
- What is Edinburgh Castle?
- Things to See and Do
- Mary Queen of Scots
- Things to Do in Edinburgh
There's so much to see and do inside so read below to find out the best things to do at Edinburgh Castle!
What is Edinburgh Castle?
Perched atop an extinct volcano, Edinburgh Castle occupies some of the oldest inhabited grounds in the city.
With a tumultuous history dating back over 1,000 years, the castle is one of the most besieged locations in Great Britain.
It served a role as one of Scotland’s most important strongholds, fending off attackers from the War of Scottish Independence in the 14th century through to the Jacobite rising of 1745.
Used as a royal home from the reign of King David I in the 12th century until 1633, the castle’s later life saw its’ use as military barracks and garrison.
Today, the castle complex is full of compelling secrets, sacred artifacts, and various points of interest, such as St. Margaret’s Chapel, Mrs. Meg, the Royal Palace with Great Hall (where the Honours of Scotland are kept), and the National War Museum of Scotland.
Where is Edinburgh Castle?
Edinburgh Castle is on top of what's known as the Royal Mile in the center of Edinburgh.
It is within walking distance from Edinburgh Waverley Station (although note it is a steep climb uphill!).
If the hill seems too daunting, there is a taxi rank at the station and a cab can bring you almost up to the entrance of the Castle.
Trains to Edinburgh depart from London King's Cross Station and there are numerous trains that run throughout the day.
The journey time is just over 4 hours on the fastest train service (although these can be more expensive) and about 5 hours 40 minutes on the standard train.
Where to Buy Edinburgh Castle Tickets
You can buy tickets to Edinburgh Castle through their website. It is ALWAYS cheaper to buy tickets in advance!
In busy times, tickets to Edinburgh Castle often sell out many days in advance so we strongly recommend booking before you go.
Edinburgh Castle online ticket prices are as follows:
- Adult (16 - 64 years) - £19.50
- Concession (65 years+) - £15.50
- Child (7 - 15 years) - £11.40
- Family (1 adult, 2 children) - £38.50
- Family (2 adults, 2 children) - £56.00
- Family (2 adults, 3 children) - £66.50
Edinburgh Castle walk-up ticket prices are as follows:
- Adult (16 - 64 years) - £22.00
- Concession (65 years+) - £17.60
- Child (7 - 15 years) - £13.20
- Family (1 adult, 2 children) - £43.50
- Family (2 adults, 2 children) - £63.50
- Family (2 adults, 3 children) - £75.00
Edinburgh Castle Opening Hours
- 1st April - 30th September: 9:30 am to 6:00 pm (last entry 5 pm)
- 1st October - 31st March: 9:30 am to 5:00 pm (last entry 4 pm)
- The Castle is closed on the 25th and 26th of December
Things to Do at Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is a large complex, filled with a number of buildings so there is plenty to see and do.
Explore the Gun Batteries
Edinburgh Castle is the most besieged fortress in the United Kingdom which means its arms were always kept plentiful and up-to-date.
Today, there are a number of cannons displayed on two gun batteries: The Argyle Battery, and the Half Moon Battery.
The Argyle Battery was named after the 2nd Duke of Argyle, an 18th-century commander, in the 1730s.
The six-gun battery holds muzzle-loading 18-pounders made in 1810, all bearing the insignia of King George III.
The cannon all face north, to the Firth of Forth. There are beautiful views here over what’s called Edinburgh New Town.
The Half Moon Battery offers views over the eastern side of the city. Named after its curving shape, the Half Moon Battery was built on top of the ruined David’s Tower, on the orders of James Morton, regent for King James VI, between 1573 and 1588.
Originally, the battery hosted what was known as the Seven Sisters - bronze guns cast for James IV around 1500. But today’s are 18-pounders manufactured in 1810 during the Napoleonic wars.
Hear the One O'Clock Gun
One of the most iconic sounds you'll hear in Edinburgh is the firing of the One O'Clock Gun, located on what's called Mills Mount.
The One O’Clock Gun is a time signal, fired every day but Sunday, precisely at One PM.
(Although, because sound travels “slowly” the sound of the gun can take up to 10 seconds to reach vessels out at sea and navigators would have to factor that into their calculations.
In the 19th century a map was produced showing the actual time the sound of the gun could be heard in various locations across the city.)
Previously used as a navigation and time-keeping tool, the gun was used as a weapon once only, on the 2nd of April 1916 when it was fired at a German Zeppelin during an air raid.
The gun did not hit the target and is no longer needed for navigation and timekeeping but it still fires nonetheless for the enjoyment of visitors to the castle.
If you happen to be visiting near 13:00, make sure to claim a spot nearby to watch the firing.
Find Interesting Artefacts at the Scottish National War Museum
The Scottish National War Museum, located within the castle, is held in what was formerly a prison hospital.
Inside are thousands of artifacts relating to Scottish soldiers, regiments, and military units.
You can easily spend hours inside seeing everything but our favorite highlights include:
- A Gaelic Bible recovered from the Culloden battlefield,
- An array of snuff boxes
- Regimental bagpipes
- Accessories worn by Highland troops
- Old recruitment posters
- Artifacts relating to a dog named Bob, the regimental pet of the 1st Battalion Scots Fusilier Guards who was issued with a special medal for bravery after chasing cannon balls during the Crimean War.
Visit a Regimental Museum
There are two more military-related museums inside Edinburgh Castle:
The Regimental Museum of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
Here you’ll find over 1,000 pieces of regimental paraphernalia including weapons, flags, medals, musical instruments, paintings, and uniforms.
The museum is relatively small so shouldn’t take you too much time to visit.
The Royal Scots Regimental Museum
The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment), formed in 1633, was the oldest and senior infantry regiment in the British Army until its amalgamation in 2006, with the other Scottish Infantry Regiments to form The Royal Regiment of Scotland.
The Museum attempts to capture the history of the Royal Regiment and share its previous incarnation along with its current efforts with the public. This is another, smaller, museum.
See 18th-Century Graffiti at the Prisoner of War Museum
In the vaults, underneath Crown Square, sits the Prisoner of War Museum. Prisoners had been kept in these chambers since the early Scottish Wars of Independence, and later prisoners were held here during the Jacobite Risings - often for decades.
There’s a record of a man named Macintosh of Borglum who was imprisoned here in 1715 and remained until he died, aged 80, in 1743!
The first prisoners of war to be kept here were a crew of French privateers, caught in 1758 during the beginning of the Seven Years War.
By the end of that war, they had been joined by 500 others.
Prisoners from all over the world would be kept here throughout the decades: French, Spanish, Dutch, Irish, Italian, Danish, Polish…and American.
During the American War of Independence, a number of sailors fighting for America were captured and held there.
In fact, what is thought to be one of the earliest depictions of the American flag was carved onto a cell door here by a prisoner who was locked within these vaults.
Many prisoners left their marks on the wooden doors, which you can see inside.
The display in the cells today gives you a glimpse of what it was like for those prisoners kept here in the dark, cramped conditions.
Visit a Scottish Royal Palace
At the heart of Edinburgh Castle sits the Royal Palace.
Begun in the mid-15th century by King James IV, The Royal Palace was extensively remodeled in 1617 for a royal visit by his great-grandson King James VI - so most of what are there today dates from that time.
Inside you will see portraits detailing the dynastic history of Mary Queen of Scots, the room where she gave birth to her son and the Laich Hall where James once entertained personal guests.
View the Honours of Scotland (The Scottish Crown Jewels)
The Honours of Scotland sometimes referred to as the Scottish Crown Jewels, are today kept in what’s known as the Crown Room.
These are the oldest Crown Jewels in Britain, England’s having been largely destroyed during the Civil War (find out more about that on our Tower of London Virtual Tour).
Made of gold, silver, and precious gems, the priceless crown, scepter and sword of state are objects of immense significance.
The current crown was specially remodeled from an older version for James V, who first wore it at the coronation of Queen Mary of Guise in 1540. It’s made of Scottish gold and silver and weighs in at 1.6kg (or 3.5 lbs).
Decorated with 43 gemstones and 69 Scottish freshwater pearls, the crown is used these days at royal opening ceremonies of the Scottish Parliament, and you may have seen it resting on the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II when she lay at rest in St. Giles Cathedral, just down the hill from the Castle.
The origins of the Italian-made scepter are less certain – it was likely a papal gift to James IV in 1494.
3 feet long and made of silver gilt, it is topped by a polished crystal, surmounted with a large pearl.
The 5-foot sword of state was definitely a papal gift to James IV in 1507 and is etched on either side with figures of St. Peter and St. Paul.
The handle is decorated with acorns and oak leaves and the cross guard is formed of two dolphins - symbols of the church.
Kept with the Honours of Scotland is the historic Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny.
Used in Scottish coronations since at least the 1200s, but possibly as far back as the 800s, the stone was stolen by Edward I in 1296 who took it to England as a symbol of his conquest.
It was then set into a specially made chair to be used in the coronations of English, then British, Kings, and Queens.
It was finally returned to Scotland in 1996 - with an official police escort. 34:14
Learn how to Spy Like a Laird in the Great Hall
The Great Hall was originally built for King James IV in 1512.
But, he didn’t have much time to enjoy it as he was killed on the battlefield by the forces of his brother-in-law King Henry VIII on the battlefield!
Although it boasts some of the original features, including much of the exterior, the majority of the interior was refurbished in the 19th century.
The original purpose of the Great Hall was to entertain and impress, with many Sovereigns hosting feats here, the last of which would be King Charles I in 1633.
The walls are lined with suits of armor as well as various types of arms.
The collection features spears, bill hooks, halberds, pikes, two-handed swords, claymore swords, Lochbar axes, pistols, cavalry swords, and even 17th-century mortars.
On the far side of the Hall, near the fireplace is what’s known as a Laird’s Lug.
This was a purpose-built opening constructed in an unobtrusive spot that would give the King a place to eavesdrop or spy on his courtiers below in the hall!
See the Scottish National War Memorial
The impressive Scottish War Memorial sits on the site of the former church of St. Mary, the Chapel Royal of King David II, which was constructed in 1366.
Later demolished, barracks were built here in 1754. The current structure was built in the 1920s, by architect Sir Robert Lorimor, originally as a memorial to the dead of the First World War.
It has since gone on to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Second World War and later conflicts.
The memorial is a sacred, beautiful space commemorating over 200,000 Scottish war casualties, with every branch of the armed services and their civilian auxiliaries represented.
The crux of it all is a small chamber, opposite the entrance, situated on the highest point of the volcanic rock on which the castle is built.
Here sits a wrought-steel casket, guarded by 4 bronze angels, containing the scrolls with the names of all the Scottish dead from the First World War.
The surrounding panels depict portrait figures that include every kind of uniform and equipment used in the war. The whole space Is guarded by the hanging figure of St. Michael.
Learn the Story of the REAL Red Wedding
Game of Thrones Fans will want to visit the remains of David's Tower (ruined in the Lang Siege) at Edinburgh Castle.
Here you can learn the story of the REAL Red Wedding that inspired George R. R. Martin's iconic scene in the book and TV franchise.
Known as the Black Dinner, the event took place in what is now the ruined former palace in 1440 and ended with the brutal deaths of two young men in the presence of a young King James IV.
Visit Edinburgh's Oldest Building
St. Margaret's Chapel was built around 1130 by King David I, who dedicated it to his mother, Queen Margaret.
Later canonized as St. Margaret, she died at Edinburgh Castle in 1093, just a few short days after learning that her husband, King Malcolm III, and her eldest son, Edward, had been killed on the battlefield.
Intended as a private, royal chapel, St. Margaret’s has been a site of worship for royalty since the 12th century.
The chapel is just 10 feet wide(or 3 meters) and 16 feet (or 4.9 meters) long.
But the details are beautiful - including stained glass windows, a lovely carved arch by the chancel, and a replica of the prayer book once owned by St. Margaret.
Today, it is looked after by members of the St. Margaret’s Chapel Guild. Anyone with the first or middle name of Margaret - or a derivative of it - can join the St. Margaret’s Chapel Guild.
Princess Margaret was its’ first patron and today it boasts more than 300 members. So I’ll see you there, yeah?
Make Friends with Mons Meg
Possibly the largest gun ever fired in anger in Britain, the incredible piece of weaponry known as Mons Meg weighs in at 13,000 lbs or nearly 6 imperial tons.
Forged in the Belgian town of Mons in 1449, it was a gift to King James II from his uncle-in-law, Philip III, Duke of Burgundy.
It was cutting-edge technology for the time, having the ability to fire a 330lb (or 150kg) gun stone as far as 2 miles.
With a barrel width of almost half a meter (or just over 1 and a half feet), it’s one of the largest caliber guns ever made.
Her last salute came in 1681 when her barrel burst during the firing for the birthday of the Duke of Albany, future King James VII - you can still see the damage toward the back of the barrel.
Get a Great View of Edinburgh
Positioning yourself either at the Argyle Battery, the Half Moon Battery, or the canon-less Butt's Battery will offer you incredible views over the city.
The Argyle Battery provides views over the Georgian New Town, all the way out to the Firth of Forth whereas Butt's Battery will showcase the Western side of the city.
But over the Half Moon Battery, you will find a stunning view down the Royal Mile and off into the distance where you can see Arthur's Seat and Nelson's Monument.
Pay Your Respects at a Dog Cemetery
Just over the ledge near St. Margaret's Chapel and the Argyle Tower is a small, beautifully kept, patch of green.
It's a little garden that doubles as a cemetery. Specifically made for dogs used as regimental mascots, or officer’s pets.
It’s believed around 26 dogs are buried here although not each one has a headstone.
Some of those that do are Winkle, Gyp, Topsy, and Yum Yum.
Buy a Souvenir at an Edinburgh Castle Shop
Edinburgh Castle has THREE shops where you can buy traditional items (think keychains, magnets, and books) as well as handcrafted food and drink like brand-made whiskies, whisky-flavored coffees and candies, and delicious treats like traditional shortbread biscuits and fudge.
The three shops are The Portcullis Shop, The Crown Gift Shop, and The Whisky and Finest Food Shop.
Mary Queen of Scots at Edinburgh Castle
Mary Queen of Scots is perhaps one of the most famous figures in Scottish history.
Both a Queen of England and a Queen of Scotland, she was also a contender for the English throne, which her son King James VI (I of England) would one day occupy.
Although Mary spent much of her young life in France, and her early adulthood at Holyrood Palace, she did spend time at Edinburgh Castle and it was here that she gave birth to her only surviving child.
At Edinburgh Castle, you can visit the room where her son James was born, and you can also see a replica collection of Mary's needlework, painstakingly recreated to show the talents she displayed with a needle and thread.