When taking the girls on holiday back to my home city of Edinburgh, the castle has been on our bucket list for some time. Edinburgh Castle is an iconic landmark that has dominated the Edinburgh skyline since 13th century and is one of the greatest fortresses ever built. It’s steeped in history and did you know it was built on top of a volcano, albeit extinct.
The walk up to castle is a wonderful sensory experience with the sight and sound of bagpipers playing on the famous cobbled street known as the Royal Mile. As we made our way up Royal Mile, the many street artists caught the girl’s eye.
It’s a great atmosphere with lots of photo opportunities and there are many historic building to look at such as St Giles Cathedral as you make the climb up this famous street toward the castle.
The castle journey starts as you enter the Esplanade which is also home to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, every August. You will see lots of people taking selfies and family photos (us included!) and it’s such a great place to take a moment to take in the beauty of the castle and amazing views of the city of Edinburgh.
Crossing the drawbridge and through the imposing gatehouse, flanked by statues of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce (you might have heard of these names from the movie Braveheart) opens up to a cobbled lane and courtyard where we collected our pre-booked tickets.
You could have had a guided or audio tour but we chose to explore the castle at our own pace as there were lots of information boards and interactive scenes which bring the history of the castle to life. The guided tour is included in the ticket price and there is an additional charge for an audio tour.
After watching Disney’s Brave the girls were so excited to explore the castle as they pretended to be Merida from the hit Disney movie for the day and off we went to explore the most fought over castle in Britain.
As we entered the castle via the giant portcullis, we made the climb up the stone steps onto the embattlements to look out onto such a wonderful panoramic view over the New Town to the Firth of Forth and Fife.
The view is truly amazing and a perfect photo opportunity. The girls couldn’t wait to get their hands on the cannons as they now pretended to be pirates, the excitement on their faces was priceless.
One o’clock gun
Located at the far end of Mills Mount Battery is the famous one o’clock gun, which as the name suggests is fired at 1pm every day since 1861 except Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day. The gun was originally a time signal for ships in the Firth of Forth and you can still accurately set your watch by it today.
Even if you have never been to the castle you would have heard this famous gun at 1pm in the city below. My memories of the gun were if you were walking along famous shopping street known as Princess Street at 1pm you would jump at the noise of the gun.
We made another climb up toward another entrance gate “Foog’s Gate” toward the very highest part of the castle rock.
Overlooking the city was another cannon which caught our eye but this was no ordinary cannon. Mons Meg, is one of the most famous cannons in the world and was given to King James 11 in 1457.
We couldn’t believe the size of the cannon and the gigantic balls that it fired, which we read could reach almost two miles away. I can see why it is considered one of the best medieval cannons ever made, and another interesting fact was that it was used to celebrate the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots.
St Margaret’s Chapel
Right behind Mons Meg is St Margaret’s Chapel which is the oldest building in the castle dating back to 1130 in memory of King David 1’s mother Queen Margaret. It’s a tiny but beautiful little chapel and the craftsmanship of the stain glass windows is particularly spectacular. It is still used today for small weddings and baptisms.
What fascinated my youngest daughter was the dog cemetery located within the castle grounds, where dogs owned by the soldiers were buried.
At the summit of Castle Rock are a group of buildings around Crown Square including the Royal Palace – home to the Crown Jewels, the Great Hall and the Scottish National War Memorial.
The Crown Jewels
Have you ever wanted to see the “Crown Jewels”? My children love the David Walliams book Gangsta Granny and the story features the crown jewels, so they wanted to see the real crown jewels at the castle. As it was really busy during our visit we entered through the Clock Tower which takes you straight to the crown jewels.
As you enter the room via one of the strongest fortified doors I have seen, you get so close at the beautiful crown jewels, which are the oldest in Europe. The girls could not believe the size of the crown and it was a fabulous treasure chamber containing, gold, silver and many precious stones.
Another interesting exhibit was the stone of destiny, which is still used today in coronation ceremonies. Because of the tight security in this section there was no photography allowed so unfortunately, we are unable to share with you pictures of the fabulous crown jewels.
Due to the popularity of this exhibition and the room being small queues are to be expected, so I would recommend that you make this one of the first places to visit when at the castle.
You exit into a lovely gift shop, which the girls thought was amazing, and left with a crown jewels keyring (£6) and a princess tiara (£10). With these added extras the girls felt even more regal as we continued our tour and were lovely little keepsakes of their day at the castle.
The castle is like a maze and the girls had great fun exploring and climbing the winding stone steps and exploring different rooms they had found
We loved viewing all the medieval weapons in the Great Hall, including spears, swords and suits of armour it truly felt like we had gone back in time.
The hall was used for state ceremonies, banquets and as the meeting place for the Scottish parliament until 1640. Don’t forget to look up to the stonework which has faces carved into it holding up a 500-year-old roof.
Life as a Royal
You can also explore the palace inside Edinburgh Castle, which was the official residence of Mary Queen of Scots. As you walk around the beautifully restored rooms you can view the Royal Apartments.
The attention to detail and grandeur especially above the enormous fireplace in Laich Hall is exquisite. You can even see the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to the future King James VI of Scotland and James I of England in 1566.
Prisons of War Exhibition
One of our favourite parts of our visit was the Castle Vaults beneath the Great Hall where the Prisons of War exhibition is situated.
It was like stepping back in time as we learnt what life was like for prisoners during the 18th and 19th centuries and why they had been imprisoned, which led to lots of questions from the girls.
It was fascinating to find out that some of the prisoners were from France, Spain and even the USA, and reading the engravings that actual prisoners had made on the doors.
The Military prison was also really interesting as we learnt how inmates were kept in solitary confinement for offences such as being drunk on guard.
National War Museum
The castle is also home to the National War Museum which contains over 400 years of Scotland at war through military artefacts and great interactive exhibitions for children.
Edinburgh castle is a must do attraction when visiting Edinburgh as it fascinating place to learn about Scottish history. There is plenty on offer to keep both adults and children entertained and I can see why it has been voted as the top UK Heritage Attraction in the British Travel Awards.
Due to the popularity of Edinburgh Castle, ticket lines can be long. I would strongly advise that you book your tickets in advance, so you bypass these long lines with a Skip the Line: Edinburgh Castle Entrance Ticket.
For more details on the latest pricing and opening hours please visit the Edinburgh Castle website.
Video Guide – Edinburgh Castle – Visiting with Children
We were provided with complimentary tickets for our visit. All thoughts and opinions are our own.