10 Secrets to Having a Kick Ass Time at Edinburgh Castle (or my insanely dull Edinburgh Castle Guide)

July 15, 2017

Why should I even read this Edinburgh Castle Guide?

I know lame, not another “secret” Edinburgh Castle guide. But I am writing this guide because so many people told me how much they DIDN’T LIKE Edinburgh Castle. Yes I know, I was shocked too. But I had at least three friends and my Scottish airbnb host tell me that I should skip it (Thank God I am a pretty independent thinker and decided to experience this Castle for myself).

Can we just stop and marvel at how charming this castle is. And no this is not the whole Castle. Then you really wouldn’t need an Edinburgh Castle guide now would you?

So in the tiniest of nutshells, that is why I am writing this Edinburgh Castle guide. I want people to enjoy and appreciate this historic epicenter of Scottish History as much as I did. I found it to be a fascinating window in to the humble beginnings of this amazing capital city. Plus, and rather frankly, I don’t want people perpetuating the myth that this Castle really sucks it up because it doesn’t!

There are a ton of things to see, do, explore, and  experience, even if you aren’t a history nerd like me (if you hate history there are some epic Instagram opportunities too). Besides, if you really want to understand this city’s development and the significance of this place to its people, then a visit to Edinburgh Castle is a must (I mean hello, there is a reason why Edinburgh Castle is at the top of the royal mile). So sit down for a spell and check out these 10 secrets to having a kick ass time at Edinburgh Castle.

What was I Thinking by Creating this Insanely Dull Edinburgh Castle Guide (this is the time where you assume I am being sarcastic)?

1. Don’t expect this Castle to be like other European Castles because it’s not. This is SCOTLAND! Rustic, wild, and beautiful Scotland!

The beauty that is Edinburgh Castle.

Okay, so I am not a mind rader (shocking I know because if that was true then this blog would be killing it) but if I had to guess why most people find Edinburgh Castle lame, I would say that the root of the problem lies in unrealistic expectations.

Is this palace lavishly decorated in the grand style of expertly crafted cascading chandeliers, ornate gold furniture, and elegant crown molding like Versailles? No because Edinburgh Castle isn’t an extravagent Castle. Plus, it is in Scotland, which is different from the rest of Europe.

To me, it doesn’t make sense for this castle to be super gaudy because that doesn’t strike me as the Scotland I know. The Scotland I met was wild, beautiful, vivacious, and a little bit feisty, Therefore, that type of over the top aesthetic doesn’t seem to fit into the culture of the city here (bear in mind I am not Scottish and this is all just my impression so please don’t hate me).

Rather, this humble castle is sprinkled with a dash of pragmatism that goes a long way towards explaining the rich and enduring culture of this magnificent people. Plus, do you really want to see a castle that is decorated juat like all the other castles in Europe? Yup, exactly my point.

***Also, this castle was used not only as a royal residence but as a prison, and an army garrison. Therefore, this fact may explain why Edinburgh Castle is not be as extravagantly decorated as a multitude of other castles in Europe.

2. Arriving early doesn’t matter (it’s always going to be crowded)

Make sure you stick around to hear these bad boys go off.

Oh, you thought you’d arrive early (at 9:30 am when the Castle opens) to avoid the crowds? That’s so sweet because that’s what everybody does. So hop in back of the epically long line (Or queue up. Whatever works for you) that isn’t moving since the Castle isn’t even open yet (We call this winning at life. I guess I did this so you don’t have to).

Now in fairness, I was in Edinburgh during peak tourist season, but I still think that arriving early to “beat the crowd” is not worth it. If I were you I would get there just in time for the firing of the One o’clock Gun, which is an iconic, daily occurrence that dates ALL the way back to 1861. At this time, a 64-pounder gun was fired to alert the ships in the Firth of Forth that they should set their maritime clocks; a task that helped them expertly navigate the oceans of the world.

To commemorate this tradition, a 105 mm field gun is still fired from Mills Mount Battery at 1 pm, everyday except Sunday, Christmas Day, and Good Friday (a seriously touching tribute).

***If I were you I would head over to Edinburgh Castle for the One o’clock gun and then have High Tea after (I had High Tea earlier than this but that’s because I’m a weird American. LoL) 

***The museum is open everyday from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, with hours extended until 6 pm in the summer (April 1 – September 30). Budget about two – three hours for your visit and be aware that the last admission is an hour before close.

***If you can, go in winter when Edinburgh isn’t packed to maximum capacity with tourists.

3. Visit on a Clear Day (if you can find one)

This view is the reason why you should visit on a clear day.

This one is tough because the weather in Scotland is notoriously rainy, dank, chilly, and foggy. So yes, it may be extremely hard to visit Edinburgh Castle on a day where the sky isn’t filled with ominous clouds galore. But just know that if you do visit on an overcast day, chances are that your views of Edinburgh will be non-existent since the Castle will be enshrouded in fog.

Therefore, if you do have a sunny day, seize it and head over to Edinburgh Castle to enjoy the view while you can because trust me, the view is super Instagramable and totally worth it (while you’re at it, head to Arthur’s Seat too and take a hike to the top).

4. Visit the Crown Jewels and St. Margaret’s Chapel FIRST.

Okay, so I made a total rookie mistake here. I grabbed my audio guide and started at sign #1. Makes sense right, since #1 is the beginning? Yeah well, that’s what everyone else does too. If I was smart I would have beat the line (queue for my friends across the Atlantic) and visited the most popular sites in Edinburgh Castle first; the Crown Jewels and St. Margaret’s Chapel. So don’t be like me and instead, head over to the Crown Jewels and St. Margaret’s Chapel first and (to understand why you should care about these two sites at all, read below).

***The Crown Jewels, or the Honours of Scotland, include an exquisite sword, crown and sceptre that are displayed in the Crown Room of Edinburgh Castle. They were first used together in the coronation of everyone’s favorite Scottish Queen, Mary Queen of Scots, in 1543.

***Along side the Crown Jewels is the Stone of Destiny, which is an ancient symbol of Scotland that has witnessed the Coronation of Scottish kings for hundreds of years. It was actually removed from Westminster Abbey in 1950 by some Scottish students and then turned up, 3 months later, in Arbroath Abbey (over 500 miles away). Today the stone is stored in the Crown Room and will only leave Scotland when there is once again a coronation in Westminster Abbey.

The stained glass inside of St. Margaret’s Chapel is totally worth a visit.

***No, you can’t take pictures of the Crown Jewels so don’t try.

***St. Margaret is a quaint little chapel that is the oldest known building in Edinburgh. The chapel was built WAY BACK in 1130 by David I who dedicated this house of worship to his beloved mother Queen Margaret (aww, so sweet). She was later canonized by the Pope Innocent IV, in 1250, for her many acts of charity (she was a baller for sure). The decorated chancel arch is original while other features, like the stained glass windows, have been added more recently.

5. SHOCKER, get your tickets online!

I know that this tip is a TOTAL surprise but don’t wait in line (in the queue) and get your tickets there. The line (queue) to buy tickets is extremely long and annoying so yeah just don’t do it.

Now if you do heed my uber sage advice and buy your tickets on the internet, you will need to head over to the ticket printing machines, that are located just to your left, before you enter the Castle (You will NOT be able to enter the Castle without valid, printed tickets. No online purchase confirmations will be accepted).

Now if you are like me, and the online ticket machine cannot find your order, then you have purchased your tickets through a third party website that is not the official website of Edinburgh Castle (not your fault since the Edinburgh Castle official website is NOT the first website that appears when you search for Edinburgh Castle in Google). But don’t panic. All you have to do is head over to the customer service desk in the gift shop, to your right, and they will happily print the tickets out for you (apparently this happens ALL the time).

6. Splurge and get the audio guide

I am an audioguide fiend because it provides me with a wealth of information; information that creates a better and more thorough appreciation of any site I am visiting. Therefore, I highly recommend purchasing an Edinburgh Castle audioguide since there is a ton of information on Edinburgh Castle that is totally worth hearing.

And while there are free tours of the castle available, they are at specific times and just don’t afford you the freedom to move through the building at your own place. Plus, you can pass the time and listen to a ton of useful information if you get stuck waiting in a line.

***Audio Tours are available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Mandarin. They cost £3.50 for adults, £1.50 for children and £2.50 for concession.

***Admission is £17.00 for adults (age 16-59), £10.20 for children (age 5-15), and  £13.60 for concession (age 60+ and unemployed).

7. Don’t Waste Your Time at the Redcoat Cafe (Stop it. I know you are

Can we stop and take a moment to appreciate the awesomeness that is High Tea in Edinburgh? Okay. Please continue as you were.

absolutely in AWE of this news)

No surprise here, the tea and the scones at the Castle’s Redcoat Cafe are mediocre and overpriced. But I know you could have guessed that since most cultural attractions of any kind have pretty lame and expensive dining areas.

Now, if you are looking for some scones that don’t taste like saw dust and that will actually make your carb loving stomach happy, then check out Cafe Modern One, Mimi’s Bakehouse, the Haven, the Piecebox, or Bon Papillon (just to name a few).

***For other Edinburgh, Scotland mistakes to avoid, click here.

8. Do NOT wait in the Crown Jewels Museum line (queue) to see the Crown Jewels (Short story is that the line is long and the museum is LAME)

Oh hey, who doesn’t like crown jewels? They’re shiny and sparkly and oh so pretty right? I mean how can you not see them while visiting Edinburgh Castle? Yeah I get it, that’s what the internal dialogue in everyone’s head. That’s why the line (queue) to see the Crown Jewels can be almost an hour long, if you wait in line (who doesn’t love a good queue?) to see both the crown jewels and their associated museum.

Well, this history nerd, I mean enthusiast, can honestly say that the museum for the Crown Jewels is pretty whack. Most people in this line (queue) are here to see the Crown Jewels and that’s it (I may have seen one person actually looking at the museum but you get the point). So do yourself a favor and skip the needlessly long wait.

Instead, walk into the main courtyard where the Great Hall is located, and access the Crown Jewels from the East side of Crown Square, on the first floor of the Royal Palace. This line (queue) is WAY shorter since patrons don’t unnecessarily meander through a museum that more closely resembles a ghost town.

9. Get your Instagram SWERVE on (#instaawesome)

One of the many perks of Edinburgh Castle is spectacular views like this!

So, umm, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it but there is this new mobile phone application out there. I believe it’s called Instagram and I think all the cool, Hipster kids are trying it. Just kidding since there is a link to my Instagram page on this post, but I digress.

Between St, Margaret’s Chapel, the panoramic views of Edinburgh, and the one o’clock gun, there are a ton of Instagram worthy moments that will procure you Instagram followers for days (Okay, probably not but there are still some awesome shots to be found. Many of which can be seen in this post).

But my favorite Instagramable shot was this one (to the left), which is a view of Edinburgh that was taken through the window panes of a small alcove in the Royal Palace. Truly an amazing way to frame the modern cityscape of Edinburgh with the ancient, diamond shaped window panes of this iconic building.

To procure this shot for yourself, enter the Grand Palace from Crown Square and turn right. Walk through the larger room and into a small enclave that overlooks the city. Seriously, you can’t miss it because you literally cannot go any further.

 

 

10. Don’t Miss the Prisons of War

A highlight from my Edinburgh Castle guide. This is what the living conditions were like for prisoners housed in the prisons of war.

So it feels like there are about a million, Scottish military history museums in Edinburgh Castle, which is fine since the Castle was the site of many battles between the English and Scottish for control over Edinburgh.

But sadly, I am no Scottish military history buff. That’s why I found some of these exhibits kind of dull. I mean sure, I went through them because I have major FOMO when I travel, but I sped through most of them since Scottish military regalia is largely, not my thing (definitely gave me a better appreciation of Scottish troops and the tremendous legacy they left behind).

The Ultimate Edinburgh Castle guide.

However, there is one museum that stood out for me and that is the Prisons of War. This museum did an excellent job of recreating and articulating the realities of life  for the prisoners housed here. The exhibit also details various prisoner escape attempts, as well as the conflicts that existed between various nationalities that were housed here; prisoners that came from as far away as France, America, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Denmark and Poland (Fun Fact: There was even a five-year-old drummer boy imprisoned here after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Poor munchkin). Truly one of my favorite experiences in the entire Castle but in all honesty who doesn’t like learning about the creepy past of a dank and dirty castle dungeon? Okay, maybe just me but I still thought it was an eerily cool experience.

So the moral of the story is that if anyone tells you that Edinburgh Castle is a big old stinker, don’t listen to them! Instead, use this Edinburgh Castle guide to explore this historic edifice and come up with your own about this place. I just hope

that this guide can help you enjoy this icon of Scottish history as much as I did.

 

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girlwiththepassport

Nanny by day and travel blogger any other time.

I love writing and traveling and bearing my soul on the page.
I want to inspire others to face their fears and join me on an adventure.

https://www.instagram.com/girlwitthepassport/
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33 Comments

  • Penny 4 months ago

    I find castles intriguing. To be honest I don’t like the over decorated gold and glitzy kind. I want to be able to walk through the halls and put everything in place. To use my imagination and not to be overwhelmed by the opulence. The Edinburgh castle definitely sounds like something out of an Enid Blyton tale. Love the idea of visiting it. 🙂

    • girlwiththepassport 4 months ago

      Yeah. I think so many people told me to stay away because that was what they expected but I enjoyed the rustic feel of it and the richness of history that could be found within these historic walls.

  • Ania |Snow to Seas 4 months ago

    Thanks for this awesome overview of what to know and keep in mind when visiting Edinburgh Castle. To be honest, I like the rustic castles more than the super fancy, gold-crazy ones. When it comes to visiting times – I made that mistake when I went to Versailles a few years back. We even tried to be there 30 minutes before opening time…and the line was still massive!

    • girlwiththepassport 4 months ago

      I made the same mistake! I totally was like oh i’ll get here early and it didn’t matter at all. I just waited on line longer because it wasn’t even open yet. I’ll know for next time though. I know the Louvre is way better at night when there are less people.

  • Susanna 4 months ago

    Awesome! I can’t believe people would not want to go here, it looks awesome. I like the more rustic look than the pretty German castles haha. I hope everyone is inspired by the guide to go experience it for themselves. I know I am!

    • girlwiththepassport 4 months ago

      I am so glad to hear that. Yeah, i didn’t really understand why everyone was telling me to stay away. I mean, this place was so rich history that I really felt like I learned something. Thanks so much for the kind words. You have seriously made my day.

  • Eva 4 months ago

    What? Now everybody tries to beat the crowds and make crowds happen even earlier in the morning? Bummer. Have no experience of Edinburgh Castle myself, but going early would have been my best bet. I guess it can only mean more and more people are becoming smarter. We will need to come up with ways to outsmart them even more.
    Anyways, fun article to read! Was planning a trip to Scotland in September but decided to go to Ireland instead. Will make it to Scotland one day, too. I just need a better budget for what I want to do there.

    • girlwiththepassport 4 months ago

      Totally get it and make sure you get there. And have a ton of fun in Ireland. Where will you visit. i am gonna be in Northern Ireland in October and am so excited about it!!!

  • Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad 4 months ago

    I’ve been to Edinburgh soooo many times and finally decided to go to the castle on my last visit – to find it was shut due to high winds!! So I STILL haven’t been! This is great advice, I never even knew much about what’s actually in there so I’ve learned a lot in this post. 🙂

    • girlwiththepassport 4 months ago

      Oh man!! I really hope you get there soon!!! I loved it so much and found it so interesting and yes!! The wind can be brutal up there!!

  • Karlie @ Miss Wanderlust 4 months ago

    Great guide! I love your writing voice.

  • Lauren 4 months ago

    Thanks for the tips! I’m planning on heading to Scotland in the next month so this was so useful 🙂 Thanks!

  • Kate 4 months ago

    Such an honest review of this castle. I personally prefer the more humble castles as opposed to those full of gaudy and ornate artifacts. So much history here! The Prisons of War sounds really interesting and I can’t believe they imprisoned a 5-year-old!!

  • Taylor 4 months ago

    Thanks for sharing the insight. I like the one about arriving early to places because I always find myself going out of my way to arrive early to avoid crowds.

  • Greta Pickles Travel blog 4 months ago

    Good for you for going somewhere that every said not to go to! And even better that you enjoyed it! And I’m so happy to get hear that because I’m busy planning my Scotland trip and love hearing both sides to visiting a place- and this one is getting added to the list now for sure! So THANK YOU!

    • girlwiththepassport 4 months ago

      Have a blast!! I loved loved loved Scotland. I hope you enjoy the castle as much as I did. Have a blast!!

  • Miranda 4 months ago

    #8 is a REALLY great tip–and a good heads up with the museum. I’m not too big of a museum fan, and I definitely HATE waiting in lines, so seeing the crown jewels a different way sounds so much more appealing! Also, just really sad pictures aren’t allowed!

    • girlwiththepassport 4 months ago

      Yeah me too. i was bummed about it but if it helps preserve the jewels then I am all for it.

  • Samantha 4 months ago

    You always make me laugh so much with your guides, you are so real with your advice! I can’t believe people told you to skip the castle! But you’ll never get us Brits not queueing. It’s our national sport didn’t you know that!? 🙂

  • Sabine 4 months ago

    I love to visit old castles, they come with so much history. And they are spectacular to see. I have been to this castle in Edinburgh, well, I was visiting Edinburgh for work and we drove around the castle. Unfortunately there was no time for a visit. But going back to Scotland is on my bucket list anyway, so I’ll return and get your tips 🙂

    • girlwiththepassport 4 months ago

      Awesome!! I hope you love it as much as I did. It was such a fun place. I hope you get back there.

  • Carolina 4 months ago

    The more I read this post the more I fall in love with Edinburgh Castle! This guide would make anybody who disliked it to love it once again. Brilliant post, and beautiful photos too!

  • Nitasha 4 months ago

    Scottish Highlands and castles are breathtakingly beautiful. But am yet to experience them. Will definitely see Edinburgh castle once am there after seeing your fine suggestions. And yes, audio guide is a must for us too, it gives a plethora of information for an affordable amount.
    Love how mobile friendly your blog is !

  • Michelle 4 months ago

    This is a great guide! I visited Versailles while in France and I actually think I would have preferred Edinburgh Castle, but I’m not one for all the glitz and glamour. Thanks for the insights into this cool location!

  • Cory 4 months ago

    I really enjoyed this! We went to Edinburgh (one of my favourite cities in the whole world) and actually didn’t get to see the castle. We did from the outside but didn’t have the chance to go in. I am so glad I came across your post because you see, I now want to go back and make it into a priority that I take my time to visit the castle. Thank you for your guide. x

  • Gemma 4 months ago

    I swear that 1 o’clock gun still makes me jump! So lovely to read such an energetic post about our castle. I must admit i’m guilty of telling people it’s not my cup of tea, like your Airbnb host (locals are sometimes the worst tour guides, expats are usually the best!) My interest was turned up when I read about the POW exhibition though! Haste ye back!

  • Melanie 4 months ago

    Oh my gosh! Your guide! I was laughing and learning the whole way through!! Great tips! I will definitely not wake up early and will instead wait to get there later, as well as choose to save my food money for elsewhere. Thanks!! Glad you joined in the #TravelTuesday link up and hope to see you next month.

  • Throfty Campers 4 months ago

    A castle as gorgeous as this is and will so much history, I’m there. I could never understand why people wouldn’t want to tour this.

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