Edinburgh Castle is a tremendous fortress that overlooks the city of Edinburgh, Scotland. If you are in Edinburgh, you'd be hard pressed to miss it. The Castle is visible from many vantages throughout the city, beckoning visitors to visit. Situated at the top of the hill that is the Royal Mile, any exploration of Edinburgh should end (or begin) with a trip up to the Castle.
Edinburgh Castle sits on Castle Rock, the site of a settlement since at least 900 BC. The Castle as we know it today can be traced back to 1130, when construction was begun on St. Margaret's Chapel, the oldest building on site and in fact in all of Edinburgh.
Throughout the centuries to follow, the Castle's ownership shifted back and forth between the English and the Scottish. It was the site of the death of Mary of Guise, as well as the birthplace of James VI to Mary, Queen of Scots.
In 1633, Charles I was the last monarch to sleep at the Castle. Battles over the site didn't cease, however, continuing well into the 1800s. During World War I, the Castle was even bombed by German zeppelins!
If there was a fortress that could withstand centuries of fighting, it was Edinburgh Castle. As a military base, it is well-situated geographically, both within Scotland's capital city and as regards its orientation at the top of Castle Rock.
Edinburgh Castle is essentially a walled city, today comprised of a Great Hall, the Royal Apartments, the Royal Scots Museum, Governor's House, National War Museum, a famed cannon (Mons Meg), St. Margaret's Chapel, the Honours of Scotland and Stone of Destiny, Tea Rooms, and even a dog cemetery. It's easy to get lost wandering the cobblestone streets of the Castle, and even easier to get swept up in the tumultuous but majestic history of Scotland as it played out here in Edinburgh.
If all of your historical wanderings render you a bit peckish, I would whole-heartedly recommend a visit to the Tea Rooms at the Castle. I stopped there for afternoon tea and enjoyed every last morsel. My Earl Grey was steeped to perfection, and the tower of snacks included everything from a free-range egg and chive brioche to a banoffee tart. It's also quite the experience to dine within a fortress.
Also, while you're at the Castle, be sure to make time to hear the One O'Clock Gun. There's a great bit of ceremony surrounding the firing of the cannon. Cover your ears if you're standing close by, however--it gets a bit loud! Also, if you want to guarantee a great vantage, be sure to arrive early. As you might imagine, this event draws a crowd!
The Honours of Scotland and Stone of Destiny are also well worth a look. There can be a bit of a line, but be patient--this is the oldest set of Crown Jewels in the British Isles, and they definitely deserve more than a passing glance. The Stone of Destiny has been used to enthrone monarchs at Iona, Dunadd, and Scone. This is a history buff's dream!
My personal favorite part of the Castle was actually the Royal Scots Museum. An informative video and great exhibits really helped me to understand the proud history of Scotland's military and how it fit in to the larger historical timeline of Great Britain and the world. The exhibits are extremely well-curated, and I recommend setting aside as much as an hour to explore this portion of the Castle.
The Scottish National War Memorial is also worth a look while you're at the Castle. The architecture of the building itself is striking, and the memorials and books of names throughout are sobering. For someone largely unfamiliar with Scottish military history prior to my visit, I left with the overwhelming sense of how important military service has been to the Scottish people throughout history and, similarly, how significant a role Scotland has played in many conflicts, both at home and abroad.
Lastly, be sure to take a few minutes during your visit to look around. Look out at the city of Edinburgh spread beneath the Castle. Imagine what it must have been like to be a soldier, looking out to distant horizons, or a citizen, looking to the fortress for protection. The view from the Castle is truly breathtaking; it's a great spot to catch your breath and take it all in.
Have you visited Edinburgh Castle? What did you like best? Share your experiences in the comments below!
A very warm thank you to Joe West and Historic Environment Scotland for all of their wonderful help and support in hosting us on our trip to Edinburgh Castle. As always, all opinions are my own.