Julie Scotland 29 Comments

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.

Edinburgh Castle Entrance

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.

Inside the Castle

Things to Do 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).

Edinburgh Crown Jewels Mural

Royal Apartments

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.

Edinburgh Castle Royal Apartments

The Great Hall

Just like it sounds, this large hall was used for banquets.

Great Hall Edinburgh Castle

Scottish National War Memorial

This is a memorial to the Scottish soldiers who died in WWI and WWII.

Scottish National War Memorial

St. Margaret’s Chapel

Edinburgh’s oldest building.

Mons Meg

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.

The View from Edinburgh Castle

View from Edinburgh Castle

National War Museum

This museum covers four centuries of Scottish military history.

How to Beat the Crowds (Here is What We Did)

Making Friends EdinburghWe 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.

Edinburgh Castle Line

Line to enter Edinburgh Castle (15 minutes before opening time in 2016)

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.

Lang Stairs

The Lang Stairs


Lang Stairs Edinburgh Castle

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.

Edinburgh Castle Royal Square

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.

Edinburgh Castle Best things to see

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 December 24: 9:30 am to 5 pm; December 27 to January 4: 10 am to 4 pm; January 5 to March 31: 9:30 am to 5 pm

Online Ticket Prices

  • Adult (16-59 years)  £18
  • Child (5 – 15 years)   £11
  • Seniors (60+ years)  £14.50
  • Children under 5 years are free

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.

If you have any questions about how to visit Edinburgh Castle, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information about Scotland

EDINBURGH: Learn about the best things to do and how to plan your time in our 2 Day Edinburgh Itinerary. We also have detailed guides on how to hike to Arthur’s Seat, best things to do with kids in Edinburgh, how to visit Dean Village, and where to get the best views of Edinburgh.

DRIVING IN SCOTLAND: If your visit to Scotland includes a visit to the Isle of Skye, there are two different routes to get from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye.

ISLE OF SKYE: We cover how to visit the Isle of Skye in our Isle of Skye Travel Guide. We also have articles about the best things to do on the Isle of Skye and travel itineraries for 1, 2, and 3 days on the Isle of Skye.

EUROPE TRAVEL INSPIRATION: Get more travel ideas in our article 10 Days in Europe itinerary, which has 10 itineraries for your next trip to Europe. If you have less time, we also have an article that lists 25 different ways to spend one week in Europe.


Planning a trip to Scotland? Read all of our articles in our Scotland Travel Guide.


How to have the best experience at Edinburgh Castle


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Comments 29

  1. Avatar for PATRICIA
    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      I’m glad you like our photos! For these photos, I used the Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-70 mm lens. Since our trip to Scotland, I replaced the camera with the Canon 5D Mark IV. We have more info in our camera gear guide if you are interested. Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Katie

    Thank you for this post! By following your advice, my friend and I were the first two people into the Crown Jewels room as soon as the castle opened. We had the tiny room to ourselves. The two women working that room complimented us for our decision to come there first, and I told them that I was following the suggestion from your blog. We then had several more minutes out in the courtyard to take pictures before everyone else started arriving to see the jewels. Your Scotland posts were really helpful while I was planning my trip!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  3. Avatar for Rachel

    This blog was great. Read all of your Scotland pages to help plan a wonderful trip. Great advice on EVERYTHING. Most amazing advice was how to beat the crowds at Edinburgh Castle. We followed your advice exactly and it was like we had the whole castle to ourselves. AMAZING!!!
    I don’t normal normally comment on blogs but the castle advice and the rest of our trip planning went great thanks to this blog so I wanted to post for future travelers still researching.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Thank you Rachel for the wonderful comment. I’m glad we could help you plan your trip to Scotland. Happy travels! Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Jake

    I was planning on going straight to the crown jewels and then doing the guided tour. How often do the guided tours run and does this seem like a good plan?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      I don’t know much about the guided tours since we did not take one. Check out the Edinburgh Castle website for info about the tours. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Kris

    Thank you for the brilliant advice. We toured the castle in accordance with your advice and avoided overcrowding. We bought the Explorer pass and printed them off before leaving home. This helped tremendously. There are over 70 historic sites you can see with the pass. Saves time and money.

  6. Avatar for Tawnya

    Do you know if you are permitted to leave the castle and return on the same day? We would like to be there when it opens, as you suggested, but we would also like to be there for the One O’clock Gun. I don’t really think we will need THAT much time for our visit (3 1/2 hours) I thought it would be nice if we could go outside the gates for lunch and then go back.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      I’m not sure if you can leave and come back. Check the FAQ on the Edinburgh Castle website or email them directly. But I agree, I don’t think you need 3 1/2 hours at the castle. Cheers, Julie

  7. Avatar for Gi Gi Fischer
    Gi Gi Fischer

    Great revue!
    My husband is concerned about climbing the stairs. Do people behind you rush you along or is there room for people to pass?
    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Several of the staircases are narrow (about 2 people wide) so there is room to pass. I think if you need to take your time on the stairs, then take your time. If you get there early (a little before opening time so you are in the front of the line) you will get to walk around the castle before it gets crowded, and this will help you on the stairs. Cheers!

  8. Avatar for LeeAnn

    Thank you so much for your advice. We followed your advice to the letter, and even though it was August and the dreaded Fringe Festival, we were first in line and the only ones while viewing the Crowned Jewels!!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  9. Avatar for Hannah Campbell
    1. Avatar for Julie Post
  10. Avatar for janette

    This blog is great and has been a huge help helping me plan for my family’s upcoming trip to Edinburgh. My question is: how do you get up to the castle? is there a shuttle, do you recommend public transport, is there nearby parking? we are staying at the opposite end of the royal mile, but will have a rental car while in Scotland. What do you recommend? Thanks!!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      We walked up to the castle from our hotel (hub by Premier Inn) which was about 3/4 of mile away. You could take a taxi if you do not want to walk that far. I would leave your car at your hotel since the castle is not that far away and finding parking can be difficult. In Edinburgh, we got around by walking and taxi. Buses and trams are available for public transportation, however, since we did not use them, I can’t give you any concrete info about them. Cheers, Julie

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