Is Edinburgh Castle worth visiting?

A landmark in Scottish history


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Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG, United Kingdom

GPS: 55.94991430803, -3.1971218102148

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Edinburgh Castle, Scotland’s most visited site, is a former royal bastion built in the Middle Ages. The construction of the fortress is thought to have begun in the 12th century, on a place occupied by man since the Bronze Age (2nd century AD). A national jewel, Edinburgh Castle stands proudly on a vast rock (Castle Rock) overlooking the Scottish capital, on the very site of an ancient volcano. The architecture of its stone buildings is a reminder of the city’s history and how it has changed over the centuries.

It was King David I, on his accession to the throne of the Kingdom of Alba, who introduced feudalism to the country and undertook the construction of several lordships. Edinburgh Castle became a royal residence and place of coronation before being used as military barracks. In the 14th century, the castle was marked by many conflicts, including the Wars of Scottish Independence against English forces. Rebuilt after the signing of the Treaty of Berwick in 1357, Edinburgh Castle was attacked again two centuries later under the command of Olivier Cromwell in 1651 leading to the formation of the republican government of the Commonwealth of England (after the victorious conquest of Scotland and Ireland). From the beginning of the 17th century, the site was transformed into a prison and housed a large garrison of soldiers. Its singular blend of architectural styles perfectly reflects the complex and sometimes bloody history of the estate. According to specialists, Edinburgh Castle has suffered nearly thirty military sieges in its history, making it one of the most besieged fortified sites in the United Kingdom. One of these led to the incorporation of the Kingdom of Scotland into the new Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 under Queen Anne (Stuart Dynasty).

Edinburgh Castle is famous for housing the Scottish Crown Jewels (Honours of Scotland, the oldest in Europe) and the famous Stone of Destiny. This Scone stone has been used for the coronation ceremonies of Scottish and English monarchs for many centuries. The castle site has a dense system of fortifications dating from the late 16th century (Half Moon Battery) and includes a huge cannon (Mons Meg, built in the 15th century) with an impressive firing range of over 3 kilometres. While the city has seen a growing increase in tourist numbers in recent years thanks to the hit Harry Potter films, Edinburgh Castle has set a new record with over 2 million visitors in 2017.

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  • ;Edinburgh Castle’s many museums and memorials, linked to Scottish and British history
  • St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest part of the castle (12th century)
  • The Great Hall, built by King James IV around 1510 and its majestic roof; the visit of the palace, the royal flats and the dungeons
  • The Half Moon Battery fortification system and dungeons; Portcullis Gate and Argyle Tower; the Scottish National War Memorial and the National War Museum of Scotland; the collection of weapons and armour
  • The Scottish Crown Jewels (Honours of Scotland) and its unique ornaments
  • The changing of the Guard and the One O’Clock Gun ceremony; the statues of former Scottish heroes standing at the entrance to the castle
  • The many vistas over the city of Edinburgh; the existence of ancient underground galleries, passages and tunnels; the historic market square (Grassmarket) at the foot of the castle (it was used for public executions in the Middle Ages)
  • Holyrood Palace (a former 12th century monastery converted into a royal residence used by Queen Elizabeth II), the underground Mary King’s Close (a historic site rich in local myths and legends) and The Royal Mile (popular street) in Edinburgh’s Old Town with its medieval remains
  • The annual Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo taking place over 3 weeks in August (military bands competition and historical re-enactments on the castle site); the major artistic event Edinburgh Festival Fringe held every year in August throughout the city (numerous shows and street theatres)
  • During the time of the Roman Empire, it is likely that the confederation of Picts (or Caledonian) tribes built a first series of fortifications on the site of the future Edinburgh Castle. In its history, this people established north of Hadrian’s wall has always been able to resist the Roman armies.
  • Edinburgh Castle is the country’s premier paid attraction and is one of the few historic sites in the world to have a dog cemetery. This dog cemetery is a resting place for dogs that once belonged to the elite military corps of the Scots Guards.
  • Many ghosts are said to haunt the bowels of the Scottish fortress, including former prisoners in the dungeons, a headless drummer on the ramparts, a piper in secret tunnels, the Duke of Albany (son of King James II of Scotland in the 15th century) in the fortified enclosure, a ghost dog wandering through the cemetery and a nobleman accused of witchcraft in the 16th century (Lady Janet Douglas of Glamis) on the esplanade below the castle.
  • With global warming, the rains seem to be intensifying in the skies over Edinburgh in recent years. This is leading to accelerated erosion of the Scottish capital’s historic castle buildings.
  • Edinburgh Castle is open every day of the year (except 25th and 26th December).
  • Attend the traditional One O’Clock Gun, a royal guard ceremony held daily at 1pm (except Sunday). This daily gunshot was meant to remind the sailors and military troops of the kingdom of the exact time.

Where to eat

  • The Bluebird Cafe
    (the perfect brunch)
  • New Chapter
    (passionate restaurant)
  • Aizle
    (experiential meals)

Where to go

  • The Scotch Whisky Experience
    (the lair of whisky)
  • National Museum of Scotland
    (rich and complete museum)
  • Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat
    (beautiful walk)

Where to stay

  • Glendevon Bed & Breakfast
    (Victorian house)
  • 14 Hart Street
    (elegant guest room)
  • Fountain Court Apartments
    (distinguished flats)