Rising up from the center of Edinburgh is the famous Edinburgh Castle. Wherever you go in Edinburgh, there it is, the castle, proudly towering over the rest of the city. With its prominence and history, visitors arrive by the hundreds every day to tour its sites.
Did you know that Edinburgh Castle is the most visited tourist attraction in Scotland? Since it is so popular, it can get quite crowded, especially during the summer months.
For the best experience at Edinburgh Castle, here are the things you should know before you go.
A Brief History of Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle sits upon Castle Rock, the end result of a volcano that erupted here many millennia ago. There is evidence of people living on top of Castle Rock since the Bronze Age, almost 3000 years ago.
The castle, as we know it now, was constructed in the early 12th century. For centuries, the castle was almost constantly under siege. He who held Edinburgh Castle held control over Scotland, so this was the site of conflict between England and Scotland for hundreds of years.
Now, over one million visitors per year tour Edinburgh Castle.
Things to See at Edinburgh Castle
Crown Jewels (Honours of Scotland)
The Crown Jewels include three objects used during the crowning of every Scottish monarch (the crown, the sword, and the scepter) as well as the Stone of Destiny (the stone upon which the monarchs stood during their coronation).
Queen Mary’s chamber is the highlight. It was here that Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to James the VI of Scotland, who went on to become the King of England.
The Great Hall
Just like it sounds, this large hall was used for banquets.
Scottish National War Memorial
This is a memorial to the Scottish soldiers who died in WWI and WWII.
St. Margaret’s Chapel
Edinburgh’s oldest building.
This siege cannon can shoot a 330 pound stone almost 2 miles!
Enjoy one of the best views of Edinburgh
Good spots to view the city are from the Battery, from the top of Lang Stairs, and from the West Panorama, located near the National War Museum.
National War Museum
This museum covers four centuries of Scottish military history.
How to Beat the Crowds (Here is what we did)
We did a self-guided tour, using the information in Rick Steves’ book as a guide. He gives just enough information to teach you about the sites, but it’s quick enough to keep kids from getting grumpy and bored.
Please note: We did not follow the walking tour laid out by Rick Steves. Instead, we followed the advice of one of the guides who works in the castle as to the best order to visit the sites. By following the route I am about to describe, you will see the best of the castle with very few people (as long as you start right at opening time).
Purchase Your Tickets in Advance
You can purchase your tickets online before you arrive in Edinburgh. By having your tickets in advance, you can skip the ticket queues at the castle gates, saving yourself tons of time.
Pro Travel Tip: Purchase your tickets online in advance to avoid waiting in line. Ideally, purchase your tickets for the first time slot of the day.
Arrive Before 9:30 am
Edinburgh Castle opens at 9:30 am. Arrive by 9 am to be at the front of the line. By 9:15 the line starts growing, and by opening time, it can be very, very long.
Go right to the Crown Jewels
Tour groups and most visitors meander along the Argyle Battery to the National War Museum. Don’t do this. Go see the Crown Jewels first, when they are empty.
After you pass through the castle gates, turn left and walk up the Lang Stairs.
At the top of the stairs, you will be tempted to stop and enjoy the view over Edinburgh. Yes, it is awesome to see. But keep going. Those views will still be there after you visit the main buildings.
Walk past the Scottish National War Memorial, following signs for the Crown Jewels.
Once inside, if you are lucky, you will have the exhibit all to yourself. The Crown Jewels and the history behind them occupy several small rooms without much room to walk around. It is much more pleasant to see the crown and the scepter before the rooms become mobbed with visitors.
From the Crown Jewels, visit the Royal Apartments, the Great Hall, and the Scottish National War Memorial.
By now, visitors are probably making it up to these buildings. Now it is time to join the crowds and tour the rest of the castle. Take in the view over Edinburgh, see St. Margaret’s Chapel and Mons Meg, and if you desire, visit the National War Museum Scotland.
What If You Cannot Get to the Castle at Opening Time?
The worst time to tour Edinburgh Castle is between 11 and 2. Do not visit during this time if at all possible.
Other than opening time, the next best time of day to visit Edinburgh Castle is at the end of the day. Last entry is one hour before closing.
If You Want to Take a Tour of the Castle
A guided tour is included in your ticket to the castle. Tours last approximately 30 minutes and leave from the Battery, near the castle gates.
Audio tours are available in multiple languages. The cost is £3.50 for adults, £1.50 for children.
Or, you could do what we did, and get your facts from the Rick Steves Scotland travel guide.
Planning Your Visit
Hours of Operation
- Summer: April 1 through September 30 – 9:30 am to 6 pm (last entry at 5 pm)
- Winter: October 1 through March 31 – 9:30 am to 5 pm (last entry at 4 pm)
- The castle is closed on December 25 and 26.
- On January 1, the castle is open from 11 am – 5 pm
- Adult (16-59 years) £18.50
- Child (5 – 15 years) £11.50
- Seniors (60+ years) £15.00
- Children under 5 years are free
- If you purchase your tickets in advance, you save approximately £1 per ticket
How Much Time is Needed to Tour the Castle?
Speed demons can tour the castle in an hour or less. Most people should budget two hours for the entire visit.
For more information, visit the official Edinburgh Castle website.
More Information for Your Trip to Scotland:
- Edinburgh: 2 Days in Edinburgh: The Perfect Itinerary for Your First Visit
- Edinburgh: Where to Get the Best Views of Edinburgh
- Edinburgh: Arthur’s Seat: Climb an Extinct Volcano in Edinburgh
- Isle of Skye: Driving to the Isle of Skye from Edinburgh and Glasgow
- Isle of Skye: The Perfect Isle of Skye Itinerary
- Loch Ness: Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle: Are They Worth Visiting?
Planning a trip to Scotland? Read all of our articles in our Scotland Destination Guide.
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