Why should I even read this Edinburgh Castle Guide?
I know lame, not another “secret” Edinburgh Castle guide about one of the top Edinburgh attractions. 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 because I think it’s one of the best Edinburgh attractions).
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. 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 because this is one of the best Edinburgh city attractions and one of the Edinburgh main attractions you cannot miss)?
1. Don’t expect this Castle to be like other European Castles because it’s not. This is SCOTLAND! Rustic, wild, and beautiful Scotland (Still a badass castle that is listed as one of the “Edinburgh best attractions”)!
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 much (it’s always going to be crowded)
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.
***I would arrive early if you want an audio guide because if you go in the afternoon, the castle could run out of audioguides. Then how would you get your nerd swerve on like me?
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 you don’t give a hoot about the One o’clock gun then I would arrive later in the afternoon; the later the better because then it will be less crowded.
***If I were you I would head over to Edinburgh Castle for the One o’clock gun and then have afternoon tea (I had afternoon tea earlier 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. “Hello, Edinburgh Scotland weather? If you could cooperate with my Edinburgh Scotland vacation plans that’s be great. Thanks.”)
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 because they are Edinburgh Castle attractions that you cannot miss!
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.
***No, you can’t take pictures of the Crown Jewels so don’t try. Kind of like taking pictures of random kids, just don’t.
***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 (Too bad this isn’t one of the free Edinburgh attractions)!
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).
***I always get my tickets online because I am socially awkward so the less human interaction I endure, the better. That’s why i bought tickets for all the Edinburgh tourist attractions online.
6. Splurge at one of the epic Edinburgh visitor attractions and get the audio guide (Pound, pound notes y’all. I was gonna say dollar bills but this is the Uk, not the US)
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
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 (all the glitter and gold makes it one of the many great Edinburgh family attractions)? I mean how can you not see them while visiting Edinburgh Castle? Yeah I get it, that’s 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 want to see (who doesn’t love a good queue?) the crown jewels and the associated museum.
Well, this history nerd, I mean enthusiast, can honestly say that the museum for the Crown Jewels is only 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 (In case you don’t have a compass handy, use the entrance on the left side of crown square when you are facing the Royal residence and the Great Hall is to your right). 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) and kick online butt at this one of the “tourist Edinburgh attractions”.
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
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).
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.
Final Thoughts on one of the Top ten Edinburgh Attractions
Besides getting a map of Edinburgh castle, and a map of Edinburgh attractions in general, 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 hopethat this guide can help you enjoy this icon of Scottish history as much as I did.
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