Are you planning to visit Edinburgh Castle? Planning doesn’t have to be hard as long as you keep in mind a few of the following tips and tricks. After all, Edinburgh Castle is one of the most popular tourist locations in Scotland! With a bit of research and planning you will have a great visit in this beautiful 12th century stone fortress.
A Quick History of the Castle
Some 350 million years ago the rock on which the castle sits was formed from the remains of a volcanic pipe. It is thought that people have occupied this rock since about the 2nd century AD. There has been a royal castle on this site since about the 12th century. Many different reigning Kings have made adaptations to the castle over the years, while others have had to be restored.
Best Time of Year to Visit Edinburgh Castle
May, June, and September will offer you the best weather and much lower crowds. The winter months are also a great time to visit due to the lack of crowds, but you run the risk of encountering some less than desirable weather. Keep in mind that the Christmas break will also bring more crowds.
July and August are the busiest months to visit Edinburgh Castle for obvious reasons. This is when kids are out of school and families are on vacation. August picks up a bit more with the Edinburgh Festival taking place. If you are heading to the castle in either of those months, be prepared for quite the crowd. We were in Scotland at the end of July. We decided to visit the castle on a very rainy day in the middle of the week in hopes of avoiding big crowds, but no such luck!
Best Time of Day to Visit Edinburgh Castle
The castle opens at 9:30 am and lines will begin forming rather early for admission, especially in the summer. Make sure to get there about 9 to 9:15 to be one of the first in line. The crowds inside the castle will pick up around lunch time and remain heavy until the late afternoon. Arriving late in the afternoon isn’t recommended since it can take quite a few hours to see everything the castle offers and you may not finish before they close for the day.
Important Things to Remember
- Since lines begin forming rather early, you would be best to pre-purchase your tickets online so that you don’t have to wait in line. You can also buy an Explorer Pass which will get you admission to not only visit Edinburgh Castle, but to see other attractions around town as well.
- If you enter the castle when it opens, you should head straight to the Crown Jewels. You will walk straight through the gate and then take the stairs (Lang Stairs) which will be on your left and follow the signs to see the Crown Jewels. When we were leaving the Crown Jewels at about 10:30 the lines to see the jewels were incredibly long! If you have any interest in seeing them, make a bee line when you first get in.
- After seeing the Crown Jewels, head back towards the entrance so that you can pick up your audio guide. The audio guides are a great way to tour through the castle and learn, not only information about what you are seeing, but also about the castle in general.
- In case you didn’t know, it rains quite a bit in the UK. Be sure to dress accordingly and plan ahead.
Things to See On Your Visit to Edinburgh Castle
The Crown Jewels
The Crown Jewels, also known as The Honours of Scotland, consist of three different items: the crown, the sword, and the scepter. These date back to the 15th and 16th century and are the oldest Crown Jewels in the UK. These three items are also seen on the crest of the royal coat of arms of Scotland.
This crown was and still is used for the monarchs of Scotland. In 1540 the crown had already been repaired two times, when King James V decided to have to refashioned. The previous crown had the gems removed from it and the gold was melted down to be reused in the new one. The one that we see today is what was commissioned in 1540.
The sword was a gift to James IV in 1507 from the Pope at the time. Swords were often given to monarchs as a way to recognize their defense of Christendom. The Scottish sword has pictures of Saint Peter and Saint Paul on them and also has the name of the Pope who gifted it, Julius II.
The scepter was also a gift from a Pope. This time is was Pope Alexander VI to King James IV. The scepter contains many different Christian symbols. It includes the symbol of the church, images of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus, Saint James the Great, and St. Andrew.
The 1 o’clock Gun
Starting in the year 1861, at 1 o’clock each day (except Sunday), the gun was fired from Edinburgh Castle so that ships in the Firth of Fourth could set their clocks to the proper time. In order to know their location in the water they needed to have the exact time. Ships would have to sail to shore so that they could verify the time. When the 1 o’clock gun began in 1861, it allowed ships to know the time without coming to shore anymore. This is still done each day at the castle and you can witness it!
If you and your crew are anxious to see the 1 o’clock gun be ready to stake out a spot for a little bit. We noticed crowds forming right next to the gun by about 12:15. We decided to walk up near St. Margaret’s Chapel where we secured a spot to look down on the gun. This was a great viewing location! We weren’t too terribly close, as the kids were nervous about how loud it would be, and we also had a great view of the military official who was in charge of setting off the gun.
The Royal Apartments
Here is where monarchs would stay when they were going to visit Edinburgh Castle. Off to the right when you first walk in you will find a very small room. Here is where Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to James VI of Scotland who would later become the King of England and Ireland as well as Scotland.
The Great Hall
After Oliver Cromwell took possession of the castle in 1650 he turned the Great Hall into a barracks for his troops. Later it was split into three levels for the soldiers to occupy. After the new barracks were made, The Great Hall was then turned into a hospital until 1897 when it was restored to it’s proper Medieval architecture.