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 14,000 visitors a day during summer 2018.
Visiting Edinburgh Castle presents you with a thousand years of Scots history, as both a site of military strength and royal majesty, including three military museums (including the National War Museum), the Scottish National War Memorial, the Scottish crown jewels and Stone of Destiny, and St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest surviving building in the whole of Edinburgh.
But the Castle itself may not suit everyone. As an historical site, it can be difficult to access and navigate, especially for those with mobility difficulties, and – let’s face it – not everyone gets excited by old buildings! 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, the full enjoyment of a visit to the Castle may also be more than a little weather-dependent!
I don't take tours inside the castle as I think it's best explored on a self-guided basis, and at your own pace.
If you only have budget for one major attraction, Edinburgh Castle is a great choice, but if you have the time you might want to supplement it with some of the city’s free attractions, such as the National Museum of Scotland, the Museum of Edinburgh, or the National Galleries of Scotland.
I always recommend a minimum of two hours to visit the castle itself. It is a large site, with a variety of museums, exhibitions and displays, and your entry ticket gives you access to all of them, as well as to the stunning panoramic views across the city. Tickets include an optional introductory tour of the external areas of the Castle, which lasts up to 30 minutes.
There is 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 pick and choose how much of the guide you listen to, according to your interests, there is up to six hours of information included in the audio guide! Many visitors have said that the suggested two hour visit is simply not enough! But to get full value from the entry fee, a two hour visit is the least you should plan for.
From Edinburgh Castle, visitors can begin walking down the Royal Mile, which stretches all the way to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (and don’t ask how far, it’s about a mile – a little over, actually!). There are footpaths which allows a complete 360-degree walk around the Castle, through Princes Street Gardens, letting you see the volcanic plug of rock on which the Castle stands up-close.
It is worth planning your visit to the Castle before you arrive. Tickets bought online 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. Only tickets bought through the official Edinburgh Castle website (or the 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) require the exchange of a voucher, which can itself require significant queues.
There is no parking at the 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!
Edinburgh Castle is open from 9.30am every morning, including Sundays, and visitors have to be back outside the Castle by 5pm (Oct-Mar) and 6pm (Apr-Sept). 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 2pm or 3pm.
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.
If you are travelling Scotland and plan to visit other castles, you might be able to save money with an Explorer Pass. Check online or ask at the ticket office for details.
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 Scotland sites) or an annual Membership.
As the Castle is an historic site, with uneven floors and roadways, wear sensible footwear, and check the weather for the day of your visit and dress accordingly. 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 - during 2018 random baggage checks were introduced, so ensure you allow time for this in planning your itinerary.)
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