Edinburgh Castle is the top paid tourist attraction in Scotland, with over 1.6 million visitors in 2016. Situated at the heart of the Scottish capital, the castle is perched on top of the craggy remains of an extinct volcano. It is reckoned to have been an important fortification since the Iron Age or earlier.
Naturally, this precipitous stronghold is steeped in history. In 1140, Edinburgh castle became the first recorded meeting place of the assembly we now know as the Scottish Parliament. In 1566, it was the birthplace of the only child of Mary Queen of Scots; a son who grew up to unite the crowns of Scotland and England. And in 1689, it endured its last full siege when the garrison became the last defenders of the Stewart king James VII and II.
Among its attractions are the Great Hall, the hulking, siege gun Mons Meg, and the tiny room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI of Scotland and I of England.
Visiting Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle is Scotland's top paid tourist attraction, and is managed by Historic Scotland. The castle is visible from miles around, but accessed via the castle esplanade.
The Castle Rock is at the top of the High Street in Edinburgh's Old Town, also known as the Royal Mile, because it connects Edinburgh castle with Holyrood Palace, the monarch's official residence in Edinburgh during Royal Week.
Perched high on the Castle Rock the castle is protected by the natural fortifications of sheer cliffs to three sides. Access to the castle was and is still limited to a steep road on the fourth (eastern) side of the rock or, depending on the time of year, via a gate from Edinburgh Castle Gardens.
Historically there was a loch on the north side of the castle called the Nor'Loch. The loch was drained in the Georgian era, as by this point the castle had lost much of its defensive role and the loch was being used as an open sewer. Today, the loch is a public park, Princes Street Gardens, where office workers and tourists lounge and wile away sunny days.
At the castle entrance is a large parade ground/car park known as the Castle Esplanade, where the annual Edinburgh Military Tattoo is held, and in previous times was a parade and drill area for the castle garrison.
From the Esplanade one of the visible features of the castle is the drum shaped Half Moon Battery, built in 1574.
The castle proper is entered via a gatehouse in front of this battery. It leads to a road that climbs up around the right of the battery and through an older gatehouse up to a central courtyard in the castle.
- The Crown Room and the Stone of Destiny - the Scottish Crown jewels and Stone of Scone.
- The Great Hall - built to do business of state, used as a garrison by Oliver Cromwell's army, today houses an impressive display of arms and armour and the ‘key' to the Castle.
- Royal Palace - rooms created in 1617 in honour of James VI.
- St Margaret's Chapel - the oldest building in Edinburgh, built to commemorate the mother of David 1.
- The Prisons of War - an atmospheric recreation of the life of prisoners at the end of the 18th Century.
- Mons Meg - one of Europe's oldest siege guns that fired stones weighing 150kg over 3.2k
- The One O'Clock Gun - the famous time signal has been fired almost daily since 1861.
- The Scottish National War Memorial - shrine to those who gave their lives in conflicts from World War 1 onwards.
- The National War Memorial of Scotland and individual regimental museums.
- The views - panoramas across Edinburgh, over the Firth of Forth and into Fife, which can be enjoyed from the castle's walls.