Edinburgh Castle is one of Scotland’s best-loved and most important historic sites, its the number one paid-for tourist attraction. Over the centuries it’s played an important part in the ebb and flow of Scotland’s history – as a royal residence and military fortress. It’s the city’s most prominent landmark and part of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO in 1995.
EDINBURGH CASTLE FACTS
- St Margaret’s Chapel which stands high on the Castle’s Upper Ward, is the oldest surviving building in the Scottish capital.
- Mons Meg is a six-tonne, 13ft 4in medieval siege cannon which in its day had a range of almost two miles. This magnificent piece of ordnance is now sited on the Upper Ward of Edinburgh Castle.
- Every year in August the world famous Edinburgh Military Tatoo takes place on the Castle Esplanade.
- Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son James VI, later James I of England after the Union of the Crowns in 1603.
- The Crown Room within the Royal Palace is home to the Stone of Destiny and the Honours of Scotland – the Scottish Crown Jewels.
- In 1296, King Edward I of England, the Hammer of the Scots, captured the Castle after a three day siege.
HISTORY OF EDINBURGH CASTLE
Although there has been a hill fort on Edinburgh’s Castle Rock since the Iron Age it was during the reign of David I (1124 to 1153) when the Castle began to develop into a more substantial royal fortress.
Between 1296 and 1341, Edinburgh Castle changed hands four times following the death of Alexander III in 1286 and his daughter Margaret, the Maid of Norway four years later. With Scottish nobles squabbling over succession and the invitation to England’s King Edward I to adjudicate doing nothing to resolve the crisis, the brutal Scottish Wars of Independence followed.
Mary Queen of Scots
It was 1566, when the Mary Queen of Scots took up residence in Edinburgh to prepare for the birth of her child, the future James VI of Scotland and I of England. Only six years before her mother Mary of Guise, Regent of Scotland, had taken refuge and subsequently died in the castle during the Siege of Leith.
Union of the Crowns
Following the Union of the Crowns in 1603, King James returned to the castle in 1617. His “hame-coming,” his only visit to the country of his birth since 1603, encouraged a refurbishment of the Royal Palace, itself an extension the earlier David’s Tower. Some of these changes are still visible today.
The defeat of the Scottish Covenanter’s army at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 (part of the third English Civil War) left the road to Edinburgh open and Oliver Cromwell needed no second invitation.
His occupation of Edinburgh Castle marked a change of role for the fortress moving from a defensive structure to a military barracks and occasional prisoner of war camp particularly during the Jacobite uprising 1745-6, the Seven Years War 1757-63, the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic Wars.
Sir Walter Scott
During the first quarter of the 19th century, thanks in many ways to Sir Walter Scott, the castle started the long process of moving from military fortress to visitor attraction.
Today the venue for the world famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle is crammed with countless historical treasures to explore so leave plenty of time to make sure you see everything you want to. Remember if you’re a visitor to the city you may never have the chance to return again, it would be a shame to miss anything.
WHAT ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF EDINBURGH CASTLE?
- The Great Hall was completed in 1511 for King James IV. Its wooden roof is one of the most magnificent in the UK.
- The Scottish National War Museum tells the story of Scotland’s long military history. Packed with artefacts once used by Scottish soliers. The museum also has a small research library.
- Two regimental museums, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and the Royal Scots stand opposite each other. A collection of paintings, artefacts and medals tell their gripping story, from date of formation to the present day.
- The firing of the One o’Clock Gun, originally a 64-pounder, dates to 1861 when ships in the Firth of Forth would set their maritime clocks. The gun, now a field gun, is still fired every day at 1pm, except on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day. The people on Princes Street below still stop to check there watch is at the right time.
- The Scottish National War Memorial tells the poignant story of Scots who died in WW1, WW2 and more recent conflicts.
- The Dog Cemetery, perhaps the Castle’s most unexpected memorial has since 1840, in typically british fashion, been the final resting place for regimental mascots and honoured dogs.
HOW TO GET TO EDINBURGH CASTLE
Edinburgh Castle is situated at the top end of the Royal Mile which is at the heart of the Old Town. It’s clearly visible from most parts of the city centre so it’s not hard to find.
If you’re walking and that’s the best way to get around Edinburgh, it’s around a mile from Waverley Station. It’s an uphill journey and the streets are crowded in the summer so leave a bit of extra time to get there. There is no public parking at the Castle unless you are a Blue Badge holder and then it’s first come first served. if you’re on a tour bus you can get fairly close to the entrance. If you have mobility problems please read this Access Guide.
If you’re visiting in the summer and just turn up, the queues can be long so be prepared for a wait. Many of the tour options will let you avoid queuing and you can book online. Tours are definitely recommended because it’s so easy to miss some of the many fascinating nooks and crannies. But if you prefer to explore yourself, there are detailed guidebooks you can buy. A range of concession prices is also available.
Historic Environment Scotland – Edinburgh Castle Visitor Information
For further information on admission times and help planning your visit, go to the castle website.