Edinburgh is teeming with history, but its most iconic historical attraction is Edinburgh Castle. The towering stone building, which sits above Edinburgh on Castle Hill, saw more than 2 million visitors in 2019. It's the most-visited of all Historic Environment Scotland's buildings and sites—for good reason. The castle, which dates back over 900 years to the Iron Age, has a long history as both a royal residence and military base, much of which is on display in its rooms and outdoor areas. Edinburgh Castle is a must-do for visitors of all ages, especially if it's your first time to the Scottish city. Here's everything you need to know about your visit to the castle.
History and Background
Edinburgh Castle—one of the oldest fortified places in Europe—has a long history and continues to be used by the military today alongside its status as a popular tourist attraction. Built on what is now known as Castle Hill, the structure first existed during the Iron Age as a hill fort. In the years since, the stronghold has been an important military structure and changed hands several times, including during the Wars of Independence. The building itself has evolved and grown, with key elements being added over the years. These include the Mons Meg, a medieval cannon, which was given King James II in 1457, and the Half Moon Battery, which built after the Lang Siege of 1573.
The castle has also been home to numerous royalty during its history. Queen Margaret died in Edinburgh Castle in 1093 and St Margaret’s Chapel was built there in her honor. Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI in the castle's Royal Palace in 1566 (look for the initials MAH over the Palace door when you visit). Thanks to its royal legacy, Edinburgh Castle is currently home to the Honours of Scotland, the oldest Crown jewels in Britain, which were created during the reigns of James IV and James V. Don't miss the Stone of Destiny, used to inaugurate monarchs, on display in the Crown Room.
What to See and Do
Edinburgh Castle is fairly expansive, with many rooms, exhibitions, and artifacts to see. Highlights include the Great Hall, the Royal Palace, the Stone of Destiny, Mons Meg, the Honours of Scotland, the Half Moon Battery, and the "Fight for the Castle" exhibit. The castle has several recommended itineraries for visitors, depending on what you're interested in and how long you wish to spend exploring the attraction. Opt for the "Just an Hour" itinerary if your time is limited, but it's best to give yourself an entire morning or afternoon to really understand Edinburgh Castle's history and legacy. Audio guides are available for rent at the ticket office in a variety of languages. The English language guide features the voices of actors Saoirse Ronan, Bill Paterson, and Andrew Gowar. Guided tours are also possible to book.
After you've finished your tour, stop by the Redcoat Café for a drink or snack. There are also three shops: Crown Gift Shop, Whisky and Finest Food Shop, and Portcullis Shop. All offer gifts, Scottish merchandise and crafts, and souvenirs. The Whisky and Finest Food Shop sells Edinburgh Castle's exclusive 10-year-old single malt, as well as numerous other local spirits and treats. The Tea Rooms serve afternoon tea, sandwiches, and cakes, as well as local Scottish dishes.
Edinburgh Castle regularly hosts events and public performances, some of which are included in the ticket price. In the summer, mainstream musicians, like Rod Stewart and the Proclaimers, take over Edinburgh Castle Esplanade for outdoor Castle Concerts. Check the upcoming calendar to enjoy the castle in a new way during your visit to Edinburgh.
How to Get There
It's hard to miss Edinburgh Castle as it towers over the Edinburgh skyline. There is no public parking at Edinburgh Castle, so the best way to arrive is by public transportation or by foot. It's a short (uphill) walk from Waverly train station to the castle, and Lothian Buses stop at Waverley Bridge, just outside the station. Look for buses that also stop at the Mound or George IV Bridge, which are both near the castle. If you're taking Edinburgh Trams, get off at Princes Street, which is the closest stop to Edinburgh Castle. Additionally, some hop-on, hop-off bus tours stop outside the castle.
While Edinburgh Castle is up a hill, it's accessed via Edinburgh Castle Esplanade, which is a smooth road with a slightly grade, making it useable for wheelchairs and strollers. Limited accessible parking is available for Blue Badge holders and must be booked in advance. If you don't have a Blue Badge, look for the Castle Terrace NCP parking lot nearby and be sure to validate your parking ticket at the machine opposite the drawbridge.
Tips for Visiting
- Edinburgh Castle's hours change depending on the season, so be sure to check the current opening hours online. It's recommended to give yourself at least to two hours (but ideally more) to see all of the areas and exhibitions. The castle is closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. To see the firing of the One O'clock Gun, be sure to be there at 1 p.m., when it is fired daily (except on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day).
- Free copies of the castle's orientation map are available at the ticket office, but visitors can also download one in advance online. The map can be helpful for planning a route and deciding what you want to see and do during a visit.
- Due to security reasons, suitcases and large bags are not allowed inside the castle. There is nowhere onsite to store large items, including strollers, so if you don't want to carry it, don't bring it.
- A mobility vehicle to Crown Square is available on request, and can accommodate most wheelchairs, motorized wheelchairs and mobility scooters. Two manual wheelchairs are also available on a first-come, first-served basis for those with limited mobility. Some areas of the castle may be tricky to access in a wheelchair due to the hills and cobble stone streets.