Why Visit Edinburgh Castle in Scotland?
At the top of the Royal Mile sits one of the most beautiful castles in the UK. It can be seen from just about everywhere in Edinburgh, and with its dark and mossy stone construction, it really looks and feels like a stereotypical castle. Atop the hill, it’s easy to find; if you find yourself down on Grassmarket and you look up, the castle cuts an imposing figure against the cloudy Scotland sky.
A Castle on a Hill
Perched atop a craggy hill, you get a sense of how menacing the old castle would have looked to invaders and why this castle was so difficult to siege. There is only one road in and out of the castle, and the high walls surrounding the ramparts of the castle look impressive, even from the inside.
On our first visit to Scotland, the castle was at the top of our list. We wanted to explore the graveyards in the kirkyards around the city, but the castle was our top priority. My father, a history buff and lover of all thing military, was excited to get a long look at the authentic canons that dotted the walls, and the rest of us were excited to take a look at the stone and wood architecture.
Walking up the Royal Mile
We walked up the Royal Mile, past the piping bagpipers, past the statue of Hume, past the Author’s Museum, to the entrance of the castle, on a pleasantly cool, cloudy May morning. It was the perfect day and the perfect time of day to visit the castle. No crowds, no school groups, just warm enough to make standing in the courtyard comfortable, but not so warm that the hike up to the castle was too strenuous.
We were the only group in line and the cashier next to the one in the window where we bought our tickets. Everywhere we went in Edinburgh, people were always friendly and congenial. Once we had our tickets, we were free to start exploring the castle.
You walk up towards the one o’clock gun and around to St. Margaret’s Chapel. My father went directly to the Scottish National War Memorial, and then on to the National War Museum, while the rest of us stayed outside for a little while to take a look at the courtyards and batteries that were surrounded by sooty, stone buildings. When we did venture inside, we started with the Great Hall, where there was a swordsman who had lined up a bunch of different suits of armor and swords for guests to look at and hold.
We stopped and chatted with the swordsman for a while, and he told us about how most swords weren’t designed to slice—they were actually designed to smash. They didn’t need to be sharp, they just needed to be heavy—and they were! The entire Great Hall is filled with weapons and armor, giving a full view of the evolution of both weaponry and armor over Scotland’s history.
From there, we took a look at the crown jewels, which were beautiful and extravagant, and the Stone of Destiny (yes, that is its real name), which has been used in coronation ceremonies for centuries. There was the Prisons of War exhibit to explore, where the vaults underneath the Great Hall were made up to look like they had during the 1800s, when prisoners of war from around the world were held here.
While the Royal Palace is not as lavish as Holyroodhouse, and it does not actually house royalty when they visit the country, it is still a fascinating place to visit, and there are rooms here where Mary Queen of Scots was held during her time in Scotland. Her son, James VI, was born here, and finding the chamber where he was born is something of a game for visitors.
There are plenty of indoor spaces to explore, but there are also ample outdoor spaces that are great for walking around. Because the castle is on top of a hill and the construction of the castle itself has made it higher still, there are incredible views of the city. The Half Moon Battery is a great place to stand and overlook the historic part of the city, while the sight from above the one o’clock gun will give you a perfect view of the newer part of the city.
Take a look around the battery and see if you can find the cemetery set aside specifically for the dogs that have died in battle. They have their own special plot, which you can just see if you are standing on the edge of the battlements, looking down at the old city.
You Don't Have to Be a History Buff
You don’t have to be a fan of history or architecture to enjoy the castle, though both would probably help. This is one of the oldest strongholds not just in the country, but in the world. Even before there was a castle built on the hill, there was a hillfort, which housed war parties. This castle was a major player in the Wars of Independence, and it changed hands many times until it was finally recaptured for Scotland by Thomas Randolph. The castle has been a military base since the 1600s, and therefore has a rich and interesting history.
We were just a little too early to see the military tattoo, but we saw them setting up the stands and heard from the staff about the truly grand scale of the event. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is famous throughout the world, and every August, there is a big, month-long festival where the tattoo and other cultural music groups play on the road in front of the castle.
Even if you just want to get the best view of the city, the castle is the place to find it. Looking out, you can see almost every historical site Edinburgh has to offer. There is a bit of a competition between Arthur’s Seat and the castle, with both claiming to provide the best views, but the climb to the castle is definitely easier, and it is, ultimately, higher. The castle has its own café and shops, so if you need a snack or want to pick up some tartan or some memorabilia, you definitely can.
Plan to spend at least two hours here, depending on how long you want to spend in the museums and exploring the other buildings and the open spaces. We spent the entire morning, even staying into the afternoon, and loved it!