Edinburgh Castle is not only the dominant feature of the city’s skyline, visible from miles around, it’s also the feature which gives the city its name – the old Gaelic name translates roughly as ‘the fort on the hill’. It’s also the busiest paid entry visitor attraction in the UK, outside of London, attracting over 15,000 visitors a day during summer 2019.
I don't take tours inside the castle because of the limited access given to guided groups - it's a site best explored on a self-guided basis, allowing you to enjoy it at your own pace...
WHAT'S IN EDINBURGH CASTLE?
Visiting Edinburgh Castle presents you with a thousand years of Scots history, as both a site of military strength and royal majesty. Exhibitions and attractions include:
As a historical site, the castle complex can be difficult to access and navigate, especially for those with mobility difficulties - the whole site is on a steep hill, rising to a summit, and there are staircases around both the interior and exterior spaces, with uneven surfaces throughout.
Only one of the three toilet facility areas has level access. Many of the rooms in the castle have narrow entrances and passageways, and space is limited inside all of the buildings and exhibitions.
Those with young families may find the castle struggles to hold the attention of younger children, and its emphasis on military history might disappoint those who want a more regal experience of a richly decorated royal palace.
As a site that is largely open to the elements - most of the castle site is outdoors - full enjoyment may also be more than a little weather-dependent... There is very little shelter or public seating inside the castle.
Edinburgh Castle gets incredibly crowded during the summer, so during July and August in particular you should expect to spend time queuing to access the museums and exhibitions, even after you get through the main entrance and ticket check.
For visitors with severe mobility issues - wheelchair users in particular - a free mobility vehicle operates throughout the day providing access between the inside and outside of the castle. Due to high demand and large crowds, there can be considerable delays and long queues for this service in the summer.
There are no cloakroom or left luggage facilities, so any baggage, prams or suitcases must be kept with you at all times. (The site is an active military barracks, and security is taken extremely seriously by the staff and security team - random baggage checks have been introduced at peak times, so ensure you allow time for this in planning your itinerary.)
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
I always recommend a minimum of two hours to visit Edinburgh Castle. It is a large site, with a variety of museums, exhibitions and displays, and your entry ticket gives you access to all of them.
Entry includes an optional introductory tour of the external areas of the castle, which lasts up to 30 minutes, and runs throughout the day - a clock as you enter will indicate the time of the next tour.
There is also an excellent self-guided audio tour which is available at an additional cost which provides a wealth of historical information and detail to those who are keen to uncover more about the castle’s past – although you can pick and choose how much of the guide you listen to, according to your interests, there is over six hours of information available...
Many visitors have said that the suggested two-hour visit is simply not enough! But to get full value from the entry fee, two hours is the least you should plan for.
It is highly advisable to book your visit to Edinburgh Castle before you arrive. Not only are tickets bought in advance are cheaper, but can also save up to an hour of queuing to buy tickets on the day in the height of the summer. Pre-booking entry requires you to select an entry time slot (for example 9.30am to 11am) but once you are inside you can stay as long as you like, until closing time.
Tickets are valid for one entry only – you cannot leave the castle and enter again later in the day, so bring a picnic lunch or buy food in the castle’s cafes if you plan to stay all day.
As many visitors (especially those coming from cruise ships) plan to visit the castle first thing in the morning, there can be considerable crowds at opening time. For a (slightly) quieter visit, going in after 1pm is recommended.
The last entry is one hour before closing – but as you ought to be allowing a minimum of two hours to get full value from your ticket, it is advisable not to arrive later than 3pm or 4pm.
Only tickets bought through the official Edinburgh Castle website (or Edinburgh Bus Tours' Royal Ticket option) guarantee skip-the-line entry - tickets bought through third party suppliers (such as Viator, TripAdvisor, Get Your Guide, or even the walking tours including castle entry) all require the exchange of a voucher, which can present significant queues.
There is no student discount offered on daily castle tickets – for a longer visit you could purchase a student-price Explorer Pass (giving access to additional Historic Environment Scotland sites) or an annual Membership.
There is no car parking at Edinburgh Castle – the nearest car park is Castle Terrace (pretty expensive) or on-street on Johnston Terrace (cheaper but with time limits). A general travel tip: don’t bring a car into Edinburgh – the city is extremely walkable, we have excellent public transport options, and as a medieval city the roads really don’t cope well with heavy traffic!
If you are travelling around Scotland and plan to visit other castles, you might be able to save money with an Explorer Pass which provides access to all Historic Environment Scotland (HES) properties. Check online or ask at the ticket office for details - note that this pass is not advised if you aren't travelling beyond Edinburgh, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse is NOT included in the Explorer Pass (as it isn't run by HES).
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