Edinburgh Castle: What to Know Before Visiting It

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Alejandra Rangel
@alejandrarangel
SOURCES CONSULTED:

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Author and references

Il Edinburgh Castle it rises above the rooftops from the city center and dominates the landscape like no other castle in Europe. In fact it is also the most visited attraction in all of Scotland and as such it can get very busy. In this post you will find all the information to better plan your visit.

The entrance to Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Royal Mile

  • 1 - History of the castle
  • 2 - What to see inside
  • 3 - Tips and tickets
  • 4 - Useful information: prices and timetables
  • 5 - Legends of Edinburgh Castle

GUIDED TOUR OF THE EDINBURGH CASTLE IN ENGLISH



If you are looking for a guided tour (highly recommended) of Edinburgh Castle I recommend you THIS offer from Civitatis with guide in English and at the best market price.

Civitatis it also offers a number of FREE tours of the city of Edinburgh including:

  1. Free tour at HARRY POTTER
  2. Free tour of Edinburgh (with English guide)
  3. Free Ghost Tour of Edinburgh (don't miss it)

Edinburgh Castle, a bit of history

3000 years of history are hidden in the Edinburgh castle: the oldest evidence of human settlements in fact dates back to 900 BC

Then passed the Roman legionaries, the Angles, the princesses, the Norman knights, the English, even the Pirates of the Caribbean. No I'm not kidding I swear. The castle has an eventful and lively history.

The Roman legionaries arrived here a few years after the death of Jesus. With them the fortress took the name of From Eydin i.e. the fortress of Eydin. Who or what Eydin was nobody knows yet, even if the legend tells that he was a giant who lived in these parts.



In 638 the castle was conquered after a fierce and bloody battle by the Angles, an invading people who came from Europe. The Angles renamed the fortress Edinburgh, which is the name that the castle (and the city) still carry.

Since then the castle has been the subject of battles for hundreds of years between the British and the Scots. In fact, having dominion over it meant having dominion over the whole of Scotland. It was the subject of very long sieges to battles and was the residence of the royals, from David I to Maria Stuarda.

From ancient times the castle also underwent many structural changes: some important buildings were demolished, others were built in their place. Almost everything seen today was built from the XNUMXth century onwards.

Today Edinburgh Castle is not only a symbol of Scottish national pride, it is also the spiritual cradle of Scottish military history and is the place where the world-famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Ah, I forgot about the Pirates of the Caribbean. In 1720, 21 pirates captured off Argyll were imprisoned in the prisons of Edinburgh Castle. There was little left, however: they were in fact hanged without thinking too much.

Places of interest and what to see

Panorama on the castle from the New Town of Edinburgh

Entering from the ancient entrance, the Porta a Saracinesca, continue towards the top of the fortress of the castle.

Next to the door there is a steep staircase called Lunga Scala and in the Middle Ages it was the main entrance. Later the cobbled driveway was built to carry heavy vehicles: better take that if you are lazy like me and don't want to trudge up La Scala.


Batteria Argyle, Cartshed e One O’Clock Gun

The view of the New Town from the north


In front of the Lunga Scala there are 6 cannons. The guns were built in the early XNUMXth century but these are not the originals but copies on loan from the Royal Armories.

From the bastion where the battery is located you can enjoy one of the best views of Edinburgh. The gaze sweeps over the New Town of the city, one of the greatest Georgian works of Great Britain. Beyond it you can see the Firth of Forth with its islets.

Next to the battery is a building that once was wagon shed (cartshed in fact) and today it houses a cafe.

To the right of the cartshed is the famous One O'Clock Gun (it's more modern than the others you can't go wrong) that fires a shot every day at one o'clock. The citizens of Edinburgh use it to adjust their clocks.

National War Museum

National War Museum

Proceeding straight ahead and leaving the battery and the Cartshed on the right after a short descent into a small square, you will reach buildings that were once powder magazines and warehouses for guns and light artillery. The National War Museum.

The collection is extraordinary and really interesting, I also liked it as I don't really have a great relationship with museums. The exhibition presents the military history of Scotland from the creation of the first standing army to the present day.


Going up from the Battery towards the Foog’s Gate meet there Governor's House, a beautiful Georgian residence in which the public is not allowed and the New Barracks, built to house soldiers during the wars with Napoleon's France and which is still used today for various military functions. Inside, the only accessible wing is the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Regimental Museum.


For those interested (I skipped it) the museum tells the history of the regiment from the bloody European wars of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries to today's conflicts.

Continuing uphill you pass the Foog’s Gate and you arrive at the heart of Edinburgh Castle and the place where the most important buildings are located.

Chapel of Santa Margherita

The intimate and delightful Chapel of Santa Margherita

The oldest building in the castle (indeed in all of Edinburgh) is this small structure which, if you look at it from the outside, is nothing special but whose interior is truly delightful. It was built around 1130 by David I dedicating it to his mother Margherita who died of grief after she had lost her husband in an ambush.

From here you skirt the ramparts from which you have spectacular views over the city. A short distance away you come across the Mons Meg, a 6-ton siege cannon that was at the time a masterpiece capable of firing balls weighing 330 pounds (150 kg) up to over 3 km away.

Looking out from the ramparts there is also a very particular small cemetery that really reveals how much the British love their dogs, the Dogs Cemetery. In fact, the regimental mascots and officers' dogs have been buried in this small cemetery since 1840.

Crown Square

Crown Square: on the left the Scottish National Monument to the Fallen, on the right the clock tower where the Honors of Scotland are located

At this point of my visit the castle was so crowded that finding even a meter free from tourists was impossible. If you want to avoid the crowds (with hindsight) enter early in the morning as soon as the castle opens and come straight here. You will visit the other things later.

Crown Square it was created in the late fifteenth century as the main courtyard of the castle. The 4 most important buildings of the whole complex overlooked it: the Royal Palace, where the sovereign resided, the Hall of Honor,royal arsenal (where Mons Meg once was) and the St. Mary's church.

The arsenal no longer exists. In its place in the eighteenth century the Queen's Palace. Even the church of St Mary no longer exists, it has given way to Scottish National War Memorial.

Royal Palace

Il Royal Palace it was clearly the residence of the Kings and Queens of Scotland. Among the things worthy of note are certainly the two fireplaces: unfortunately nothing remains of the sumptuous furnishings.

Here the son of Mary Queen of Scots was born, James VI of Scotland, in a small and cramped room. Behind the birth of the King, however, there is also a macabre story. Subsequently, in fact, small bones were discovered hidden inside a wall. It seems that the one who was later crowned as James IV was in reality an impostor and that the true heir died or was killed when he was still in swaddling clothes.

On the first floor of the clock tower a visit is a must to see the Honours of Scotland, the crown, the scepter and the Ceremonial Sword, the oldest insignia of the United Kingdom. A curiosity: the Ceremonial Sword was created together with the richly decorated scabbard by an Italian goldsmith.

Try to visit the jewels first as soon as you enter Edinburgh Castle, this will save you an almost endless queue.

The Hall of Honor

The wonderful cantilevered ceiling of the Palazzo d'Onore

Created in 1511 as a setting for ceremonies, the Great Hall it became a neighborhood for Cromwell's soldiers and remained so for 230 years. The medieval ceiling of cantilever beams, one of the most important in Great Britain, is beautiful.

Today a collection of weapons and yaws has been set up in the Great Hall.

Scottish National War Memorial

First here was the church of St Mary which was then transformed into an ammunition depot and then finally demolished in 1757 to make room for a barracks.

Today it has become the Monument to the Fallen of the Great War of 1914-1918. Inside is the regimental hall dedicated to the Scottish regiments. From this hall which today also takes the name of Hall of Honor, we pass to the Shrine, the shrine in which there is a casket containing the list of the Scottish fallen. It is not possible to take photos, but the lists can be browsed.

The prisons of war

Reconstruction of how prisons of war must have been. I was amazed that they slept in… hammocks!

Below the Hall of Honor and the Queen Anne's Palace are the prigioni, stone undergrounds arranged on two levels. Before becoming prisons of war these dungeons were used for multiple purposes from warehouses to quarters for soldiers.

Today the cells have been rebuilt to show their likely appearance in the late XNUMXth century.

The military prison

Right in front of the entrance to the prisons of war is the military prison built in 1842 but which does not actually have a glorious role. In fact, no heroic story linked to this place is remembered: here the soldiers of the castle garrison were closed when they were found drunk during the guard service. Nothing particularly interesting in short.

Useful Tips

Please note:, the entrance to Edinburgh Castle is participation (along with many other Historic Scotland attractions) in EXPLORER PASS for 5 or 14 days

Edinburgh Castle seen from the rooftop terrace of the National Museum

Buy tickets first

Tickets for the Edinburgh Castle tour can be bought online first. This will allow you to skip the long queues that form at the ticket office (especially in summer) and save a lot of time, thanks to the cash desks dedicated to those who have already bought the ticket.

You can buy your ticket here with skip the line admission!

There are a number of guided tours that can be purchased instead of the single entry ticket. They are a great choice especially if you are interested in learning more about the history of the castle (and the legends that revolve around it!)

  • Edinburgh Castle: guided tour and priority access
  • Edinburgh Castle: Skip-the-Line Guided Walking Tour

Arrive before 9,30

9,30 is the time when the castle opens. Try to get there about ten minutes early in order to find yourself at the top of the queue as much as possible, which can be very long.

If you can't (for example if you are like me and you like to sleep late) try to go in the evening before it closes rather than around lunchtime which is generally the time of day with more tourists.

Go straight to the crown jewels

Do not follow the path in its order, as soon as you pass the entrance gates on the left you will find the Long Staircase which leads in the fastest way to the Piazza della Corona, the Royal Palace and the Honours of Scotland. Come here as soon as possible as getting there calmly can mean a semi-infinite queue.

By the time you finish seeing the jewels and the Royal Palace, the castle will probably already be crowded. At this point, join the crowd to visit the other buildings, the best you have already seen.

Information on the visit

Alternatively you can take the audio guide which is also available in Italian and costs £ 3,50.

Unless you are a world speed champion, expect the visit to last approximately a couple of hours.

Opening time:

  • Summer: from April 1st to September 30th from 9:30 am to 18:00 pm (last entry at 17:00 pm)
  • Winter: from October 1st to March 31st, from 9:30 am to 17:00 pm (last entry at 16:00 pm)
  • Edinburgh Castle is closed on 25 and 26 December
  • On January 1st the castle opens at 11am and closes at 17pm

Ticket price

  • Adults (16-59 years) £ 16.50
  • Children (5-15 years) £ 9.90
  • Seniors (60+ years) £ 13.20
  • Children under 5 get in for free

Legends of the Castle

The statue of bobby, the ghost dog! By f11photo /

Ancient and fascinating (and even a little spooky) inevitably many legends have been born around Edinburgh Castle. Many ghosts have been reported, including a headless drummer (seen in 1960), a ghostly piper, and a ghost dog.

The Bagpipe Player

One of the most infamous stories about the castle's ghosts is that of the lone bagpiper.

Legend has it that when the tunnels under the Royal Mile (the downhill road connecting Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace) were first discovered a few hundred years ago, a young bagpipe player was sent to scout, playing his bagpipes along the tunnels so that the people above could track him down.

When the music suddenly stopped playing in the middle of the Mile, a search team was sent to retrieve the boy, but he was never found and his body was never recovered. People say that in the castle it is still possible to hear the sound of the boy's bagpipes as he wanders through the tunnels for eternity.

The headless drummer

The castle is protected by the spirit of a headless drummer, who appears only shortly before events that could endanger the castle. The spirit was first seen in 1650, before the Cromwell attack.

Nobody knows the story of this boy or why he protects the castle, but there are people who, from time to time, say they hear his music in the wide corridors of the castle.

The ghosts of the prison

Like most castles of the time, Edinburgh had its own prison, where more than 1000 prisoners (including Pirates of the Caribbean!) Were jailed, starved, tortured and executed. The prison today is one of the most haunted places in Scotland and is home to numerous paranormal activities. Moving objects, sinister sounds, ghost shadows have been reported on countless occasions. Among these it is said that there is also the ghost of Maria Stuart.

Bobby the ghost dog from Greyfriars Cemetery

More than 160 years old this sweet Skye Terrier was preparing, without knowing it, to become one of the most famous dogs in history.

It is said that when his master who worked at the castle died of tuberculosis, the little terrier continued to watch over his grave in Greyfiars cemetery for well 14 years.

Despite the inclement weather and the people who chased him, he continued to return there until his death when the inhabitants, moved, buried him next to his master in the cemetery.

Today a statue has been dedicated to Bobby in the streets of Edinburgh and it is said that rubbing his nose with your fingers brings good luck. And some say that sometimes it is still possible to hear him bark.

If like me you also love legends and visit Edinburgh, you certainly don't want to miss a ghost and legends tour like this chilling underground tour at night or this in the haunted crypts.

Summing up!!!

 For a guided tour of Edinburgh Castle I recommend THIS offer from Civitatis with guide in English and at the best market price.

Don't miss the FREE tours from the city of Edinburgh (you can book them up to the day before):

  1. Free tour at HARRY POTTER
  2. Free tour of Edinburgh (with English guide)
  3. Free Ghost Tour of Edinburgh (don't miss it)
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