Edinburgh Castle is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Scotland. Every year, people from all over the world journey to see this imposing medieval fortress. If you’re planning a trip to Edinburgh, a visit to the castle should definitely be on your itinerary. Edinburgh Castle is a great day trip for families. Up on a hill with beautiful views, the Crown Jewels, and Scottish military history, this castle has something for everyone! After visiting, Buddy and I are sharing 4 simple tips for visiting Edinburgh Castle.
Edinburgh Castle is located in the heart of the city at The Esplanade Edinburgh EH1 2NG. Situated on top of an extinct volcano called Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle marks the beginning (or end) of the Royal Mile. When in Edinburgh, the castle is hard to miss! Its commanding presence looms large on the horizon, and you will see the castle from nearly everywhere in the heart of the city.
In general, the castle opens at 9:30am daily with closing times varying by the season. However, specific museums within the castle have differing hours. For the most up-to-date information regarding ticket prices, opening hours, and how to get to Edinburgh Castle, visit the website.
Where is Buddy?
Buddy and I visited Edinburgh Castle separately. I went with Sal and Buddy visited the next day with his choir as they were touring Scotland. But both of us will share our thoughts to help you make the most of your visit.
4 Simple Tips for Visiting Edinburgh Castle
1. Buy your tickets online in advance
If you plan on visiting Edinburgh Castle, one of the best things you can do is buy your tickets online in advance. Not only will this save you time, but it will also help avoid disappointment in case the castle sells out, which does happen often.
The day Sal and I visited; Edinburgh Castle sold out! Luckily, I purchased our timed tickets online prior to our trip and we were still able to experience the castle. As we walked to the entry, however, we heard staff turning away a handful of disappointed fellow tourists arrived wanting to purchase tickets at the door. Do not be disappointed! Get your tickets early.
Buddy says, “My choir bought my tickets online before our trip. Because I was on tour, I did not have to worry much about buying tickets because the organizers did all of that for me. There was a big group of us, so I am glad they got the tickets early.”
It is important to note that all of us visited Edinburgh Castle during the summer, which is high season. If you are visiting during the summer months, you especially want to buy your tickets in advance!
And that said, if you are visiting during high season, prepare for crowds. When we visited, Edinburgh Castle was packed!
2. Make reservations for the Tea Rooms
If you are planning to have tea at the castle’s famed Tea Rooms, it’s important to make reservations in advance. The Tea Room only has four tables! And because Edinburgh Castle can sell out, you will want to ensure that you have a spot reserved for your afternoon tea.
After spending the morning exploring the National Museum of Scotland, then heading over to Edinburgh Castle to see the One o’ Clock Gun, I was famished by 2pm! We popped in the Tea Rooms and learned that the wait time was 45 minutes. We were okay with the wait time. But then staff informed us that we had to wait in the Tea Room for our table. Unfortunately, visitors cannot walk around and explore the castle as they wait. This was the deal breaker for us. We decided to continue exploring the castle hungry. We did not try to eat at the Redcoat Café.
Although I think we made the best decision, I was disappointed that we did not get to have a bite at the Tea Rooms because the cakes looked delicious! If you want to try those delicious cakes, makes sure that you make your reservations in advance.
Buddy says, with a laugh, “Tea Rooms? No, we didn’t visit those.”
Well, I didn’t think that a group of teenage boys would visit the Tea Rooms!
Despite a few trips to the United Kingdom, Buddy and I have yet to have afternoon tea! Maybe next time.
3. When to visit
Time of day
Because there is so much to see at Edinburgh Castle, you could easily spend an entire day at the castle and not take everything in. That said, plan your trip, accordingly, depending on your specific travel plans and what you want to see.
For example, if you want to see the One o’ Clock Gun fired, make sure to get your timed tickets accordingly. And check the website, as the gun does not fire on Sundays and other holidays. Check out the page dedicated to the One O’clock Gun for the most up-to-date information.
In our case, I wanted to see the One O’clock Gun. For that reason, I booked timed tickets for a noon entry so we had time to get into the castle and settle in. We saw that crowds began to line up to get a good view of the gun around 12:15pm. Rather than standing around, we decided to do the whisky tasting instead. However, the closer to 1pm, most good spots to see the cannon go off were full! We finally found a spot on a hill with a clear view and watched the one o’clock gun. It was fun!
Buddy’s choir visited at 9am and they missed the One o’ Clock Gun. Buddy says, “I went in the morning, and I had the opportunity to see the one o’clock gun, but I did not see it fire though which was unfortunate.”
Time of year
Edinburgh Castle is open year-round, but it can get very crowded during summer months, which is the peak tourist season. If you want to avoid the crowds, try visiting during shoulder season, in spring or fall, instead. You’ll still be able to enjoy all the castle has to offer while avoiding large crowds.
Because of Buddy’s touring schedule, we visited Edinburgh Castle during the summer months, which is high season. If I had the choice, I would have preferred to visit during shoulder season to beat the throngs of fellow tourists.
4. What to see
Of course, Edinburgh Castle is filled with many things to see and do. From the Great Hall, to the Half-Moon Battery and the Military Prison, to the 12th-century St Margaret’s Chapel.
If you are a fan of history, particularly Military history, Edinburgh Castle is for you! There are many museums and exhibits dedicated to the military in this castle that once served as a garrison.
So, whatever you come to see, make sure you allow yourself enough time to explore everything you want to see. And if there is a must-see place on your list, make sure you plan accordingly.
The Edinburgh Castle website offers a few detailed itineraries on the website complete with suggestions for everything from a 1 hour to a days long visit.
During our visit, we stayed for about 4 hours but did not see everything. I think that you can take in everything in one day if you arrive early.
Here are some of our favorite things that we saw at Edinburgh Castle.
One of the best parts about visiting Edinburgh Castle is taking in sweeping and breathtaking views of Edinburgh from atop its walls. On a clear day, you can see for miles in every direction. Be sure to bring your camera!
Luckily, we visited on a clear day. The views were spectacular. There was a line of visitors with arms outstretched, phone in hand, getting the perfect shot of the view for social media.
The Great Hall
Built in 1511, The Great Hall’s cavernous space, used for banquets and balls in centuries past retains an air of grandeur. And its walls adorned with bright red tapestry and multitude of swords, shields, and armor. In the past, the Great Hall held everything from royal banquets to coronations. But today, you can explore the hall and learn about its history.
Indeed, the Great Hall was by far my favorite place in the castle. I loved the red walls and was fascinated by the many spears, swords, and the armor. Unfortunately, Buddy didn’t visit the Great Hall, so the teenage opinion about the Great Hall is still up in the air.
The Military Prison
A re-creation of former prison blocks for incarcerated pirates and prisoners of war that once stood at Edinburgh Castle, the Military Prison is a step back in history. Visitors walk through the dark and cramped space experiencing the prison.
The Military Prison was my second favorite exhibit at Edinburgh Castle. A little dark, I know, but hear me out. First, I enjoyed hearing the different languages of the prisoner’s banter. Languages that represented the different prisoners incarcerated at the castle – French, Spanish, and American English. Second, I was amused by the Stars and Stripes graffiti. An early rendition of an American flag etched on a wooden door exists at the former prison at Edinburgh Castle. It is estimated the carving was made in 1780, during the American Revolutionary War. This was fun to see!
Buddy says, “We saw the Military Prison. It was interesting.”
St. Margaret’s Chapel
St. Margaret’s Chapel dates back to the 12th century. Originally built as a private chapel for Scottish kings and queens, the site is now open to visitors. It is a cool and quiet little chapel in the heart of Edinburgh Castle.
I visited the chapel alone as Sal took in the fresh air. Buddy did not visit the chapel with his choir.
The Crown Jewels
One of the most popular attractions at the castle is the Crown Jewels exhibition.
Of the Crown Jewels, Buddy says “We saw the Crown Jewels. I thought it was nice to experience the brilliance of the jewels.”
Buddy saw the Crown Jewels with his choir. We also went in and peeked. A pleasant surprise, the was no line to see the Scottish Crown Jewels.
Mons Meg and the Half-Moon Battery
Buddy says, “These were my picks. I liked seeing the old artillery and the big guns. It was cool.”
Definitely not a sight, I know but, at a gift shop in Edinburgh Castle hosted Whisky tasting. Best of all, the short line moved quickly. Sal and I tasted the whisky and it was SO good. I regret not buying a bottle.
When you visit Edinburgh Castle, you will be doing a lot of walking! For that reason, make sure you wear comfortable shoes. Preferably ones that are sturdy (hello cobblestone!) and well broken in. These shoes from Dansko are my go to shoes for summer travel in Europe.
What is a castle anyway?
Edinburgh Castle is lovely! Parts of the castle it reminded me of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade and it was fun to think that we were exploring in the Harry Potter universe come to life.
I ask what is a castle because I overheard a family of disgruntled tourists inside Edinburgh Castle asking staff “Where is the castle?”
Although the staff explained that the entirety of the complex is Edinburgh Castle, perhaps the the family of tourists did not understand because they repeated the question a few times until they left visibly upset. Judging by their accents, I assume that they came from my neck of the woods. And I can only guess that they heard the word castle and expected something from a story book or Disneyland. And yes, while castles like those can be found throughout Europe, this is not that type of castle.
So, if you are from my side of the pond, do not expect a Disney castle when visiting Edinburgh Castle. But go and check it out! You will see some really unique and interesting things there. And yes, the whole complex is the castle.
To sum it up, Buddy says, “I visited Edinburgh Castle with my choir. I liked the experience it had to offer, and my friends liked it too. I do want to go back to visit the castle someday.”
Oh, and we did not shoot a Movement Postcard at Edinburgh Castle. But there are plenty of other places where we danced if you want to check it out!
Have you visited Edinburgh Castle? If so, what are your top tips for visiting? Let us know in the comments below.
Do you have questions about family travel or traveling with teens? Feel free to reach out! We are happy to chat and share our experiences! We look forward to connecting with you.
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