Having taken an early morning flight from Dublin, we arrived into Edinburgh tired but excited! After dropping our bags off at Castle Rock Hostel, where we would be staying for the next 2 nights, we grabbed a map from Reception and headed off to explore the great city of Edinburgh.
Our first stop? Edinburgh Castle!
We could see this historic fortress and world famous attraction from our hostel and it was only a short walk (plus some stairs, of course!) to get up there!
The view from our Hostel’s front door!
Once we climbed up the stairs, we came upon the Esplanade – the sprawling parade ground that hosts a variety of concerts and events. The most prominent being the world famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which just started a couple of days ago on August 5! (Anyone going to the Tattoo this year?? It’s on our bucket list for our next visit! If you have any tips for taking in the Tattoo, drop us a comment below!)
The Esplanade and Edinburgh Castle
Before getting to the Castle, you have to pass through the Gatehouse. Standing guard at the Gatehouse are statues of 2 famous Scottish men – Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. Both had immeasurable effects on Scotland, its history and its course.
Once you pass the Gatehouse, on your right is the ticket office. Here, if you haven’t already, you can purchase your entry ticket, as well as audio guides.
Tips for Your Visit: We purchased our tickets ahead of time. This way, we wouldn’t have to wait in a queue and, instead, could go straight through to the Portcullis Gate. Tickets can be purchased online here and for no extra cost or processing fee – which is really nice! One adult ticket costs £16.50 and when purchased online includes fast track entry, which can be helpful during peak season – like now in August, with Edinburgh’s many festivals and special events drawing large crowds of visitors. One drawback to purchasing your ticket online is that you must select a date when purchasing your ticket. So if you’re not sure when you want to visit Edinburgh Castle, you might have to purchase your ticket on the day of your visit.
Edinburgh Castle also hosts special events throughout the year, such as interactive and fun activities for the whole family! These are often included in the price of admission. For more details, check out “What’s On” and plan your trip accordingly!
With our printed tickets in hand, we sailed right through to the Portcullis Gate where our tickets were scanned and we strolled into the castle!
Just inside the Portcullis Gate… Can you spot the Portcullis?!
We had planned on taking a guided tour of the castle to get our bearings. But, when we got in, we had just missed the start of one. So we decided to wander around a bit on our own, check out the views of Edinburgh from way up here and return for the next tour.
The view from Argyle Battery
Heading up to the Upper Ward of the castle…
The view from the Upper Ward…
It is pretty cool that Edinburgh castle is built literally on top of a “Great Rock”! And you still can see parts of the rock in various places around the castle grounds.
Heading back down for the guided tour!
We had a lovely guide for our brief tour of the castle and its buildings. He told us many interesting stories about Scottish history, the Castle’s history and its buildings. We won’t repeat the tales he told us – it’s better when you are standing there and facing this fortress in awe. It’s also 100x better when told with a Scottish accent 😉 But in all seriousness, taking the guided tour definitely helped us to understand what we would be seeing later on, as we explored the castle and its buildings on our own.
Our tour ended in Crown Square. Since we were already there, we decided to check out the Crown Jewels of Scotland – also known as the Honours of Scotland. These are housed in the Royal Palace.
The Royal Palace
There was a very interesting exhibition on the Honours of Scotland and at the end, you come face to face with the Crown Jewels themselves – including the crown, sceptre and the sword. These are considered the oldest Royal Regalia in the UK! Since you are not allowed to take photographs inside, you’ll just have to believe us when we say – there was a lot of gold, silver, pearls, diamonds, amethysts, other precious stones and velvet! The Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, has had quite an eventful past and it is also on display here.
No photographs allowed inside, so all you get is this sign!
Besides the Crown Jewels, we also visited the Royal Apartments to learn all about the building’s history, the kings and queens who have lived here and some of their stories.
Inside the Royal Apartments…
Next, we visited the Scottish National War Memorial. It allowed for some quiet reflection, contemplation and some time to pay my respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for peace.
The Scottish National War Memorial
Heading out of Crown Square, we came upon the Half Moon Battery and the Forewall Battery.
Peeking out from here gives you a really unique and cool view of the city! This is one of my favourite photographs from today!
While we were exploring the Battery, we heard some shouting and went to see what was going on!
A very animated actor, dressed in period costume, was teaching visitors how to use pikes and demonstrating war cries! We think this must have been a Special Event hosted by the Castle – perhaps the Renaissance Schiltron? We learned some interesting information from the actor’s instructions on this fighting technique.
First, you had to learn how to hold the pike…
Then you had to make a scary war face and yell a war cry to accompany it.
Then on top of all that, there was an attacking formation to remember… while holding your pike properly, making your war face and yelling your war cry!
The “Commander” even had a drum, to accompany the charge!
This would definitely be a fearsome sight to behold! It looked like a really fun and interactive activity and history lesson, with people of all ages participating – jabbing their pikes, scrunching up their faces, sticking out their tongues and yelling at the top of their lungs!
And no, we didn’t participate this time… Maybe next time! 😉
After that entertaining display, we headed towards St. Margaret’s Chapel.
St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest surviving building of Edinburgh Castle. It is actually said to be the oldest building in all of Edinburgh, built in 1130 by King David I to honour of his mother – Queen Margaret, and later known as Saint Margaret.
This chapel is still in use today for baptisms and weddings.
Stained glass of Queen Margaret and later St. Margaret.
We planned our Edinburgh Castle visit so that we would still be at the Castle for 1pm.
Why? So we could watch the firing of the One O’Clock Gun. This tradition goes way back to 1861, when the One O’Clock Gun would be fired (at 13:00 or 1pm) to allow ships to set and synchronize the maritime clocks on board.
The One O’Clock Gun is located on the Mills Mount Battery. It was quiet and uncrowded earlier in the morning…
But by 1pm, a sizable crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle!
Getting the gun ready…
Checking the time…
Gotta make sure it’s right on the dot!
And BOOM! Even though I was expecting the gun to go off, it still made me jump – hence the blurry photograph! This was a cool piece of tradition and history and we were glad to have experienced it. If you’re at Edinburgh Castle around 12:55pm, head to the Mills Mount Battery to watch this spectacle!
Tips for Your Visit: Besides checking out the many exhibitions and attractions at Edinburgh Castle, don’t forget to look out from the castle at the views of Edinburgh from way up here! Since the castle stands on top of Castle Rock, there are sweeping views of the city from here – like this panorama looking North towards Princes Street and out at the Firth of Forth.
What can you spot in this next photograph? The Scott Monument, Princes Street Gardens, The Scottish National Gallery…
And this one? I can spot… The Balmoral, Calton Hill, Waverley Station, The Dugald Stewart Monument, The National Monument of Scotland, The Nelson Monument…
If you look out from the South side of the castle, a different view awaits you! We even spotted our hostel from here, with Arthur’s Seat in the background.
Tips for Your Visit: We spent a couple hours here and we still hadn’t explored all of the castle and its grounds. So if you have a couple of must-see’s for Edinburgh Castle, mark them down, along with their locations. This way you can plan your visit route and make sure to see all of these, before spending some time leisurely wandering and exploring the castle grounds. The Castle’s website also has some itineraries that you can follow, depending on how long you have for your visit and your interests. Hopefully the tips and suggestions on the website, along with our adventures exploring Edinburgh Castle, will help you out when planning a trip to this iconic fortress!
Review: We enjoyed our visit to Edinburgh Castle, learning a lot about Scottish history, Scottish kings and queens, its strife and conflicts but also its amazing culture and glories. The Castle is an amazing fortress and its architecture is exquisite – whether you are viewing it from the inside or admiring it from outside its walls. A really nice bonus? The breathtaking views of Edinburgh from the castle! We are definitely planning to come back to enjoy the Military Tattoo and all of its grandeur out on the Esplanade!
After grabbing a couple of souvenirs from the gift shop, we headed out of the castle and walked down the busy Royal Mile.
Now, it was onto our next adventure – a (Free!) walking tour of Edinburgh to get our bearings in this city! Stay tuned for more!
From Vancouver with Love,
Ioana and Natalie
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