Edinburgh Castle is an unmissable major landmark dominating the Scottish capital’s skyline. Looming over the Royal Mile, the historic fort is one of the icons of Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town. Together with the Georgian New Town, it forms part of one of Scotland’s most treasured World Heritage sites.

The magnificent fortress is set atop an ancient volcanic plug known as Castle Rock. It’s a memorable view that you can take in on a climb up Calton Hill, with Princes Street and the Royal Mile also in view. You’ll follow the steps of soldiers and nobility – and even Caribbean pirates! And beneath the pretty panorama lies urban legends – the castle is up there among Scotland’s most haunted places.

Edinburgh Castle - one of the highlights of 12 Most Beautiful Castles in the UK and 12 Best Things to Do in Edinburgh (Read all about Edinburgh here)

A brief history of Edinburgh Castle

Castle Rock formed after an ancient volcano erupted around 350 million years ago and was first inhabited by humans around 900 BC. The city of ‘Din Eidyn’ or Dunedin developed around the rock in AD 638, eventually captured by the English and renamed Edinburgh.

David I, the son of Malcolm III of Scotland and the English princess who would later be known as Saint Margaret of Scotland, built Edinburgh Castle in AD 1130. Between the Scots and the English, Edinburgh was captured and recaptured several times throughout history, and the castle was rebuilt and developed as a result, becoming the hilltop fortress complex we see today.

Edinburgh Castle was turned into a penitentiary in 1757, where the thousands of inmates included military prisoners from various global conflicts spanning the 1700s through the early 1800s. These included the Seven Years’ War between the British and French, the American Revolutionary War between the British and the American colonies, and the Napoleonic Wars that pitted the United Kingdom against the French Empire, with a fluctuating array of allies bouncing between the 2 sides.

Into the 20th century, part of Edinburgh Castle was turned into the Scottish National War Memorial in 1927, commemorating fallen Scottish soldiers who served in World War I – it eventually also survived World War II. Today, it’s the main draw for visitors to the Scottish capital, with plenty to see.

What are the highlights and features of Edinburgh Castle?

Start your Edinburgh Castle tour at Crown Square. This is where you’ll find the Scottish National War Memorial. Across the square, make your way to the Royal Palace and check out the Laich Hall and the anti-chamber which are open for public viewing. This is where Scottish royals and nobles roamed in luxury. It’s where King Charles I stayed on 17 June 1633, the night before his coronation – he was the last monarch to have slept here.

South of Crown Square is the Great Hall. Check out its magnificent wooden roof with its intricate beams as well as the armor and weaponry such as swords, shields and halberds adorning the walls. This is where grand royal banquets were once held. Through more tumultuous times, it served as a barracks and even a military hospital until 1886.

Just outside, to the north of the square through Foog’s Gate, stands a petite Romanesque building. This is the intimate 12th-century St Margaret’s Chapel where Scottish royals would pray. Today, it’s another highlight spot for castle visitors to admire and where weddings and christenings continue to be held.

On a further stroll, you’ll come across the Low Defense area and the Argyle Battery, with a few artillery pieces on display. Besides Mons Meg, one of the world’s oldest surviving cannons, a particular peculiar sight (and sound) not to be missed is the One O’Clock Gun – if you happen to be around at 1 pm, get ready for a blast as the gun is fired exactly at that time, every day except on Sundays and certain vacations.

Guided tours of Edinburgh Castle are provided by castle stewards and audio guides are available in 8 languages. During the festive pageantry known as the annual Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle is particularly spellbinding. The event is held each August and is one of Edinburgh’s most popular festivals.

Edinburgh Castle

Location: Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG, UK

Open: Daily from 9.30 am to 5 pm

Phone: +44 (0)1312 259846

Ari Gunadi | Compulsive Traveler