Photo: agsaz/Shutterstock

You Can Visit This Centuries-Old Scottish Castle Built on Top of an Extinct Volcano

Edinburgh Museums Culture Art + Architecture
by Morgane Croissant Mar 23, 2023

It looks nothing like Buckingham Palace, but did you know that Edinburgh Castle, the top tourist attraction in all of Scotland, used to be the home of queens and kings for centuries? Not only that, but it’s where you’ll find the oldest building in the Scottish capital. If you’re visiting Edinburgh (maybe from London on the iconic Caledonian Sleeper), go check out the city’s most famous castle, where the Scottish crown jewels are kept, and while you’re there, don’t forget to buy yourself a bottle of the 10-year-old single malt that bears its name.

Where is Edinburgh Castle?

Visible from just about anywhere in the city, Edinburgh Castle is perched on Castle Rock, a huge volcanic rock that overlooks the Scottish capital. The castle is located in Old Town, the historic part of Edinburgh that stretches from the castle to the royal Palace of Holyroodhouse.

How to get to Edinburgh Castle?

Edinburgh is a compact city, so whether you’re staying in Old Town or New Town, you should be able to make your way to Edinburgh Castle very easily on foot. Note that getting to the castle is usually an uphill walk, sometimes requiring going up several sets of stairs, and most often involving cobblestones. For those who can’t tackle such a walk, there are plenty of local buses (Lothian Buses) that will get you to the castle. Just check out the different routes to see which one works best for your location. You can even see where all the Lothian Buses are in real time on this map.

When was Edinburgh Castle built and why?

View of Edinburgh Castle from the streets below

Photo: agsaz/Shutterstock

Castle Rock, the rock on which the castle stands, has been the site of human activity for at least 3,000 years. Archeologists know that Iron Age people built a fort on the rock, but nothing is left of it today. Nowadays, the oldest part of the castle is St. Margaret’s Chapel, built in the 12th century in honor of Queen Margaret who died there in 1093. Throughout the centuries, many additions were made to the castle resulting in the structure that we know today.

The topography of the area is what made it an ideal place to settle. Castle Rock stands well above the surrounding landscape, allowing for the visibility of potential enemies and protection from them.

Why is Edinburgh Castle so famous?

The Royal Palace at Edinburgh Castle

The Royal Palace at Edinburgh Castle. Photo: Gaid Kornsilapa/Shutterstock

Edinburgh Castle was home to the kings and queens of Scotland for centuries, and it was used by the most famous Scottish monarch, Mary Queen of Scots who reigned from 1542 to 1567. Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her successor King James VI of Scotland and I of England in the castle in 1566.

The castle is also the site of the oldest building in Edinburgh, St. Margaret’s Chapel built in the 12th century, and it is where the Honours of Scotland, Scotland’s crown jewels, crafted in the 16th century, are kept.

What’s inside Edinburgh Castle?

The Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle

The Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle. Photo: Mr. Z Photography/Shutterstock

There is plenty to see inside Edinburgh Castle:

  • St. Margaret’s Chapel built in the 12th century and the oldest part of the castle.
  • The Great Hall, an impressive large banquet room that was completed in 1511.
  • The Honours of Scotland, Scotland’s crown jewels.
  • The Royal Palace where kings and queens lived, including the ante-chamber where Mary Queen of Scots’s embroideries are displayed.
  • The Stone of Destiny, an object that has been used in the inauguration of the monarchs for centuries, including the coronation of Charles III in May 2023.
  • The One o’Clock Gun which is fired daily at 1 PM, except on Sunday, Good Friday, and Christmas Day. The tradition dates back to 1861.
  • Several military-focused venues, including museums, a war memorial, displays of weaponry, a prison of war, and barracks that visitors cannot access.
  • A tea room and a café.
  • Two souvenir shops and a food and whisky shop where visitors can purchase the Edinburgh Castle 10-year-old single malt.

Who was the last person to live in Edinburgh Castle?

King Charles I was the last monarch to spend the night in Edinburgh Castle. It was the night before his Scottish coronation on June 18, 1633. King Charles I reigned from 1625 to 1649.

Who lives in Edinburgh Castle now?

Edinburgh Castle is an active military base and has been since the 16th century. As such, soldiers live in barracks on the ground of the castle, but the Royal Palace remains uninhabited and monarchs do not stay in the castle.

Is there an Edinburgh Castle pub?

There is no pub within the Edinburgh Castle and there is no pub named “the Edinburgh Castle pub” in Edinburgh (there is one in Manchester, England, however). The closest pub to the castle is the Castle Arms.

Are there more castles in Edinburgh?

Edinburgh Castle is not the only castle in the city. The Palace of Holyroodhouse (the official residence of the British monarch when in Scotland), Craigmillar Castle, and Lauriston Castle are all within Edinburgh’s city limits.

Hours of operation at Edinburgh Castle

From October 1 to March 31, the castle opens at 9:30 AM and closes at 5 PM.

From April 1 to September 30, the castle opens at 9:30 AM and closes at 6 PM.

The castle is closed on December 25 and December 26.

Edinburgh Castle tickets

Purchasing your tickets online will allow you to save money and will guarantee you a ticket for the day and time you wish to visit. Tickets sell out fast and walk-ins can lead to disappointments.

From October 1 to March 31, adults tickets cost $22.15 (£18) online and $25.80 (£21) at the door; people over the age of 65 pay $17.80 (£14.50) online and $20.90 (£17) at the door; children between the age of five and 15 pay $13.50 (£11) online and $15.40 (£12.50) at the door.

From April 1 to September 30, adults tickets cost $24 (£19.50) online and $27 (£22) at the door; people over the age of 65 pay $19 (£15.50) online and $21.65 (£17.60( at the door; children between the age of seven and 15 pay $14 (£11.40) online and $16.25 (£13.20) at the door.

Discounts may apply; please check the website to see if you can benefit from them.

Edinburgh Castle tours

Edinburgh Castle does not run guided tours, but you can rent an audio guide upon arrival to visit the castle at your own pace. You can also follow one of the themed itineraries designed specifically for visitors.

Note that some independent operators do offer guided tours of the castle.

Hotels near Edinburgh Castle

If you’d rather stay in an Airbnb than a hotel during your visit to Edinburgh, check out Matador‘s list of the top Airbnbs in Edinburgh in the Old City, New City, and Circus Lane.

We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay.

Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh — The Caledonian

Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia

See more photos

Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh — The Caledonian is a former railway station turned into a luxury hotel. The property offers beautiful unobstructed views of Edinburgh Castle, and is located just a minute’s walk from Princes Street and 11 minutes on foot from the castle. The hotel is home to a spa that comprises a sauna, steam room, gym, whirlpool, and swimming pool. The hotel’s rooms and suites have flat-screen TVs, luxurious bathrooms with designer toiletries, and fluffy bathrobes. Peacock Alley is available for afternoon tea, while The Caley Bar offers food, drinks, and whisky tastings. Guests can also enjoy award-winning cuisine at Grazing by Mark Greenaway.

Book Now

Wilde Aparthotels By Staycity Grassmarket

Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia

See more photos

Wilde Aparthotels by Staycity Edinburgh Grassmarket is an aparthotel with a fitness center, restaurant, and bar/lounge. The property also has a 24-hour front desk, as well as a front desk safe. Each apartment has a private bathroom, a kitchenette equipped with a dishwasher, oven, and stovetop, along with free WiFi access. In addition, all the apartments have a minibar, rainfall shower, and a flat-screen TV. Breakfast is served daily at this aparthotel. Wilde Aparthotels by Staycity Edinburgh Grassmarket is only five minutes on foot away from Edinburgh Castle.

Book Now

Apex City of Edinburgh Hotel

Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia

See more photos

Enjoy four-star comfort at the Apex City of Edinburgh Hotel, located at the foot of Edinburgh Castle. The boutique bedrooms and sumptuous suites come with comfy beds, spacious en-suite bathrooms with organic toiletries, flat screen TVs, mini fridges, and air conditioning. Guests have access to leisure facilities in the Apex Grassmarket Hotel next door which include weights, resistance apparatus, cardio machines, and a swimming pool. The on-site Agua Restaurant & Bar serves classic dishes in stylish surroundings.

Book Now

Discover Matador