Towering over the city from its vantage point atop Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle has come to symbolise Scotland’s capital. It is the country’s most visited paying tourist attraction, drawing well over a million visitors each year.
Humans are known to have lived on the castle site since the 2nd century, and there has been a royal castle here since the 12th century and possibly before. However, most of the existing buildings date from the 16th century or later, the castle’s medieval defences having been largely destroyed in the Lang Siege in the 1570s.
After the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when the Scottish king James VI also became the King of England, the castle’s main role was as a military barracks. It has been involved in many conflicts, including the Jacobite Rising of 1745, and besieged on several occasions. The annual Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place on the esplanade outside the castle.
The castle is right in the city centre, so your choice of hotels near Edinburgh Castle is enormous.
Things to see
The Great Hall: The chief place of state assembly in the castle, the hall was built in 1511 for James IV, unfortunately just two years before he was killed in battle. It is famous for its medieval wooden roof.
Royal Palace: The palace was often home to Scottish royalty, and James VI was born here –during a labour so long and arduous that one of Mary Queen of Scots’ companions is said to have tried to use magic to make one of her servants experience the pain instead. James was just a year old when he became King of Scotland in 1567 – it was another 36 years before he would also be King of England.
The Stone of Destiny: The Kings of Scotland were crowned on this stone for centuries until in 1296, the English King Edward I captured it in war and had it built into his throne. It has since been part of the coronation ceremonies of most English, and later British, monarchs, but was returned to Scotland in 1996.
Crown Jewels: Known as the Honours of Scotland, the Crown, Sceptre and Sword of State are the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles. They were first used together for the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in 1543.
St Margaret’s Chapel: This 12th-century chapel is believed to be the oldest building in Edinburgh and is still used for christenings and weddings. It is looked after by the St Margaret’s Chapel Guild, all of whose members have to have Margaret as a first or middle name.
Half Moon Battery: Built to defend the castle after the Lang Siege, its curved wall gives the castle its distinctive profile.
The One O’clock Gun: The gun is fired at 1pm every day except Sunday, a tradition which started in 1861 to help ships in the Firth of Forth set the maritime clocks they needed to navigate the globe.
National War Museum: Letters home from soldiers, military artefacts, weapons, paintings, a research library and more tell tales of Scottish wars over the centuries. There are also museums dedicated to two of Scotland’s oldest regiments: the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum and the Royal Scots Museum.
Scottish National War Memorial: The memorial commemorates those who died in the First and Second World Wars and in military action since 1945. Scenes from the First World War are depicted in stained glass.
Prisons of war: Prisoners from across Europe and America were kept here, including a five-year-old drummer boy captured at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. One prisoner hid in a dung barrow, only to be dashed to pieces on the rocks below when the contents were tipped over the castle wall.
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