Edinburgh castle Things to Know Before You Go
There are a number of queues associated with the castle, notably the queue to purchase tickets. There is a stand outside the castle walls where you can pick up your pre-purchased tickets.
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You can also buy tickets in combination with attractions- like the yacht Britannia and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, or with Aberdour castle and Stirling castle. The discount on these multi-tickets does require you to visit all locations on the ticket for their purchase to be rendered useful.
The History of Edinburgh castle
Traces of human habitation can be seen as far back as 3000 years ago, long before the invasion of the Romans. The Castle Rock, the hill on which Edinburgh Castle rests, is “the plug of an extinct volcano”; with rocky cliffs to the south, west and north, rising to a height of 80 meters (260 ft) above the surrounding landscape. The only readily accessible route to the castle lies to the east, where the ridge slopes more gently. The defensive advantage of such a site is self-evident.
To this day, Edinburgh Castle is Britain’s oldest continuously occupied fortified place.
Fun fact; Monarchs didn’t stay in one place for very long. Their household was large and required extensive amounts of food and resources to sustain them. Along with touring their kingdom to make their presence known to their people, monarchs moved around to allow residences and hosts to restock.
Things to see at Edinburgh castle
There are over 24 individual buildings within the castle that are open to the public. While I would love to explore them all here for you, I would rather focus our attention on the bigger picture and give you an idea of what to look forward to when you finally do get the chance to visit Edinburgh Castle for yourselves.
Noteworthy items to visit are the Honors of Scotland (the crown jewels), the kingmaking Stone of Destiny, the medieval siege cannon Mons Meg, the National war museum, the three regimental museums and the Scottish National War Memorial.
Each location has its own audio guide schpiel that takes up far more time than the act of walking through them; take note in your guidebook of the audio guide code and start listening before you approach the location.
How to Beat the Crowds at Edinburgh Castle
The number one way to beat the crowds is to avoid them altogether. Preorder tickets and arrive before 9 am (the castle gates open at 9 am) to pick them up. There is a guards hut just before the main entrance where you can pick up your tickets – providing you have printed out your confirmation information. Grab your tickets, take some photos and make your way to the castle gates.
While everyone else is following numbers on their maps and going in numerical order, beat the crowd and do first what they will do last. These also happen to be the same locations that will take up most of your time and offer the least amount of personal space within the building.
Get these covered while they are still outside and you will be gold come the second half of your tour when you waltz the castle grounds without a care in the world and take up as much space as needed.
Check out this Viator Hop On Hop Off combi ticket with Edinburgh Castle Admission.
1. Visit the Crown Jewels first
The Crown, Sceptre, and Sword of State are the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles; first used for the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in 1543. After the 1707 Treaty of Union, they were locked away in the Crown room and forgotten until 181 when Walter Scott opened then, 111 years later.
The Treaty of Union is the name given to the agreement that led to the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, the political union of the Kingdom of England (which already included Wales) and the Kingdom of Scotland, which took effect on 1 May 1707
2. Royal apartments
3. Great hall
The Great Hall served as the chief place for royal ceremonies since 1512. It is rumoured that its medieval hammer-beam roof is made from Norweigan wood.
4. War memorial
In 1366, Chapel Royal was constructed and influenced by the famous castle church of St Mary on the north side of the square. By 1538, it was converted into munitions storage and eventually demolished to become the North Barracks in 1754. When the garrison left the castle in 1923, the barracks were turned into a memorial to the lives lost during the First World War (1914-18).
It didn’t take long for the memorial to begin commemorating fallen soldiers from the Second World War and later conflicts.
5. St Margaret’s Chapel
This small room is the oldest building in the castle, and in the city of Edinburgh. St Margaret’s Chapel was built in 1130 by King David, in memory of his mother Queen Margaret, later St Margaret.
In 1314, King Robert Bruce ordered the castle to be destroyed. The chapel was spared but the damage is still evident with burnt and reddened stonework on its south side.
6. Mons Meg
Mons Meg is a siege cannon, forged in 1449. She weighed 6 tonnes and could fire a cannon almost 2 miles. Once Bronze cannons were created, Mons Meg became obsolete.
Instead of retiring her, she found a new purpose; firing deafening salutes to make occasions of national importance, starting in 1558. Throughout the years, Mons Meg has been tucked away, fired, restored and ceremoniously repositioned back to her current home.
7. Visit everything else
8. Have lunch before the crowds arrive
9. Find a great spot and wait for the 1 pm gunfire
By this time, you should be done on the tour. Most crowds will have arrived in time for the gunfire so once that is over, it is a great time to leave.
Most other attractions start to get busy in the afternoon so try to visit something that isn’t typically child-friendly – the Scottish whiskey experience is a great idea and definitely under the radar family-friendly, though it wouldn’t seem that way. Strollers are not welcome, however.
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