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You can’t fail to notice Edinburgh Castle when you arrive in the Scottish capital. This fortress domineers the Edinburgh skyline and is a must-visit on your trip to Edinburgh. It stands proud and imposing on a 700 million year old extinct volcano above the city.
The castle has been present since the 12th century and a great deal of the medieval structure was destroyed during one the 26 sieges that happened in the castles 1000-year history. It was, in fact, besieged more than any other place in Europe! The castle walls have, however, managed to withstand the violence of the Jacobite rising and the long and bloody Wars of Scottish Independence (1296 – 1357). It is also the birthplace of James VI and you can even see the small chamber where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son, the future King James VI (& I). The castle eventually became recognised as a visitor attraction in the 1800s, during the reign of Queen Victoria, and various parts were refurbished or rebuilt.
Read on for some of our top tips for your visit to Edinburgh Castle.
Getting to Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is located in the city centre at the top end of the Royal Mile – you can’t miss it! The best option is take public transport to the city and to walk up the Royal Mile to the castle.
If you’re arriving by train to Waverley station, follow exit signs for Edinburgh Castle. There are a lot steps to climb and steep lanes to walk up so take your time.
The Hop on Hop off tourist bus makes a stop at the castle and is a great option if you’re planning on going on the bus tour.
You can also come by car, however, parking can be expensive and busy. There is reduced price parking at NCP’s Edinburgh Castle Terrace car park. You will need to validate the parking token at Edinburgh Castle’s audio booth. Unsurprisingly there is no special discounted parking in August.
Where to buy tickets to Edinburgh Castle
We strongly recommend that you buy your tickets in advance online. You will save both time (no queueing to purchase tickets) and you’ll save money (about £2 per ticket). You’ll be allocated a specific time slot for your visit.
Alternatively you can buy a 5 day or 14 day explorer pass which will give you access to all Historic Scotland sites over a 5 day or 14 day period (click on link above to get full details). This is definitely worthwhile if you’re planning on visiting several Historic Scotland sites during your visit.
You might also want to purchase a special skip-the-line ticket that includes a guided tour by clicking here.
What are Edinburgh Castle’s Opening Hours?
Edinburgh Castle is open every day of the year apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day (25 + 26 December). They’re even open on New Year’s Day although operate reduced opening hours (11am – 5pm).
Opening hours change depending on the time of year:
1st April – 30 September: 9:30 – 6pm (last entry at 5pm)
1st October – 31 March: 9:30 – 5pm (last entry at 4pm)
There is a café on site should you feel the need for a recharge.
How much does it cost to visit Edinburgh Castle?
The cost varies depending on whether you buy online or directly at the castle. Here are the admission fees for advance purchases made online:
- Adult (16-59 yrs): £17.50
- Concession (60 yrs + and unemployed): £14.00
- Child (5-15 yrs): £10.50
- Child under 5: £0.00 (free!)
- Young Scot holder card: £1.00
And here are the costs if you buy them at the gate:
- Adult (16-59 yrs): £19.50
- Concession (60 yrs + and unemployed): £16.00
- Child (5-15 yrs): £11.50
- Child under 5: £0.00 (free!)
Save yourself some money and buy them online! Entrance is free if you have an Explorer Pass or an Historic Scotland membership. You can also hire audio guides which will set you back a further £3.50 for adults, £2.50 for concessions and £1.50 for children (pass holders will get an additional 20% off).
Can you visit Edinburgh Castle for free?
Apart from those with an Explorer Pass or Historic Scotland memberships, there’s one week-end in the year where you can get free entry to Edinburgh Castle. Be warned though, the process for obtaining the tickets can be quite time-consuming. The free tickets are available as part of the St Andrews week-end celebrations (end of November). You will need to go onto the castle website and enter a queuing system for their ticket give away. All details are on their website, however, the page about the giveaway isn’t published until nearer the time so keep an eye on it! We’ll also be sharing the information on our Facebook page once the ticket giveaway goes live.
Best time to visit Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh castle is the most popular tourist attraction in Scotland and has recently broken the 2 million visitors per year barrier. As you can imagine, the queues can get long and the site very crowded – especially during peak season. We would recommend that you visit the castle during shoulder season and avoid the month of August and Christmas/Hogmanay time. Week-ends also attract larger crowds and if possible, we suggest you schedule your visit for a week day.
The one o’clock gun is very popular and is definitely a highlight, however, the downside is that it concentrates numbers even more at that time of days. So if you’re looking to avoid crowds, the best time of day to visit Edinburgh Castle would be early morning.
How long do you need in Edinburgh Castle?
Edinburgh Castle is a relatively large site and we recommend allowing at least 2 hours to get round it. We recommend you head there at opening time (9:30am) and enjoy a couple of hours’ leisurely visit.
By noon, you’ll likely have been round most of the fortress site and you can take the opportunity to have a bite for lunch. This will allow you to be at the Castle for the famous 1 o’clock gun. Visitors start gathering for the firing of the gun at about 12:45 pm so make your way then too so that you can get the best view!
Visiting Edinburgh Castle with kids?
We’ve visited Edinburgh Castle many times with our kids – from when they were toddlers to tweens. We were gifted a yearly Historic Scotland membership for Christmas one year (awesome gift by the way!) and it gave us the perfect opportunity to visit this formidable fortress on a number of occasions.
We did find it difficult to navigate round the castle with a buggy (stroller) due to the many cobblestoned areas so if possible, avoid bringing one or use a sling (depends on the age of your child obviously).
There’s a great kids’ quiz for children aged 5+ which we encourage you to pick up at the audio guide booth. This will really engage your kids and bring the visit to life. The quiz sends them on a fact-finding mission where they’ll need to count the number of steps on Lang Stairs, find out the name of the famous medieval cannon and much more. Their efforts will be rewarded with a sticker at the end of their visit.
And why not purchase a book on Edinburgh Castle for kids ahead of your visit? Check out this book which has been produced by Historic Scotland. We love to provide some historical context before we visit a historical tourist attraction. We have the previous version of the book and our kids love it.
Edinburgh Castle Highlights
One O’Clock Gun
Back in 1861 somebody had the idea of firing a gun from the castle every day at one o’clock. This allowed ships in the Firth of Forth to set their clocks by it and this tradition continues today.
Top tip: attending the 1 o’clock gun is obviously very popular so be prepared for the crowds. It’s also worth noting that there are times when the 1 o’clock gun does not take place so don’t get caught out! There is NO 1 o’clock gun on Sundays, Christmas Day and Good Friday.
Sticking with the theme of guns don’t miss out on seeing Mons Meg, an ancient cannon from 1457 which could send 150kg up to 3.3km away! It was a medieval times weapon of masse destruction although you couldn’t be in a rush when using it. Weighing in at 6 tonnes, it had to be transported with a team of horses, oxen and men at a pace of 15 kms (or 9 miles) a day. It was even famously fired at the celebrations of Mary Queen of Scots wedding.
Stone of Destiny and Scottish Crown Jewels
A must-see are the Stone of Destiny (a sacred object used for the coronation of Kings) and the 15th Scottish crown jewels. The Jewels are the oldest in the Britain – yes, even older than the crown jewels kept at the Tower of London! They consist of a gorgeous gold crown complete with pearls and gem stones, while the sceptre and the sword were a gift from the pope and made in Italy. The crown jewels were made with Scottish gold as well as King James V’s melted down crown. Scottish gold is very rare and as they didn’t have enough, they had to melt down the King’s crown.
The Great Hall
Head to the heart of the Castle – Crown Square – where you’ll find the impressive Great Hall which was commissioned by James IV and was completed in 1511. You can’t fail to be impressed by the amazing medieval wooden roof. The Great Hall was built to host banquets and especially as a means for the King to show off his great wealth. There are lots of weapons on display if that’s your bag.
National War Museum of Scotland
Given its history it’s no surprise that there is a strong military presence at the castle even today. Within the castle boundaries, visitors can experience the National War Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National War Memorial.
Prisons of War
Don’t overlook the Prisons of War re-creation which is designed to show you just how gruesome prison life was. Lovely. This is where prisoners of war and pirates would have been held in the 1700s and the 1800s. There were many French and American prisoners who were captured and kept at the castle during the American War of Independence. You’ll get to check out prisoners’ graffiti which included one of the earliest depictions of the American stars and stripes flag!
St Margaret’s Chapel
St Margaret’s Chapel is actually the oldest building in Edinburgh! It was built around 1130 in honour of Queen Margaret by her son, King David I, following her death. She was known for her many charitable actions and was canonized by the Pope in 1250. It’s a tiny chapel and there’s a distinct feeling of calm within the walls of this building.
The Views Across Edinburgh
You’ll get an amazing panoramic view across Edinburgh from the Castle – views to Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, Edinburgh’s New Town, down Princes Street and across to the Firth of Forth. You’ll find some great instagrammable spots at the Castle!
We hope you’ve found our guide to visiting Edinburgh Castle useful! You can leave us a comment if there’s anything else you’d like us to cover.