Edinburgh Castle (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Side view of Edinburgh Castle

High upon a hill overlooking the city and dominating the skyline of Edinburgh, Scotland, is Edinburgh Castle.  Edinburgh Castle is located at the upper end of the Royal Mile, and the west edge of Edinburgh’s Old Town.  The castle’s natural defenses make the only easy approach that from the town to its east.  The historic fortress has held its position on the Castle Rock since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century and served as the royal castle and residence till 1633.  By the 17th century the castle’s role had changed to primarily military barracks with a large garrison.  Known as one of the most important locations in the Kingdom of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle was involved in numerous historical conflicts from the 14th century Wars of Scottish Independence to the 18th century Jacobite Rising.

The Royal Mile packed with tourists
The Royal Mile packed with tourists

Archaeological excavation in the early 1990s discovered evidence that settlements existed at the site as early as the 1st or 2nd century AD, making it the earliest known settlement to be continually occupied in Scotland.  It is believed that the extinct volcano which became the location of Castle Rock made it a perfect perch to survey the land below and protect the inhabitants from possible warring clans.

In the care of Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the castle is the country’s most visited paid attraction with more than 1.4 million annual visitors. Best estimates are that more than 70% of people that visit Edinburgh for leisure make their way up to the castle.  Now, the castle is most noted for housing the Scottish regalia and serving as the site of the Scottish National War Memorial.

Edinburgh Castle Facts

  • St Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest surviving building in Scotland.
  • The Scottish crown jewels were lost in the castle for over 100 years.
  • The top of Castle Rock is more than 120 meters above sea-level and it stands 80 meters taller than the land surrounding it to the north, south and west.
  • Nobody knows for certain when the first castle was built on the site.
  • Ownership of Edinburgh Castle switched from Scotland to England and then back to Scotland again.
  • The castle was used as a prison in the 18th century and early 19th century, then again briefly during WWI.

Travel Tips

  • Although it’s a draw for large crowds, don’t stick around for the firing of the one o’clock gun.  It’s more of a pop than a bang.
  • You have to pay extra for the audio guided tour.
  • You can pre-purchase tickets that allow you to skip some of the lines and during peak season it can save you quite a lot of time that could be occupied by drinking Scotch.
  • Old Town Edinburgh is a twisting maze of alleys and narrow streets that’s worth spending some time exploring.
  • Take layers.  It can get pretty windy at the castle and it can get pretty chilly year round.