This past month I spent a short time in Edinburgh before heading out to the Highlands and the Isle of Skye. Even though my timeline was short, I knew I had to see the highlight of the city: Edinburgh Castle.
At the end of the Royal Mile full of shops, restaurants, and historic buildings, Edinburgh Castle is one of Scotland’s national treasures. The site has been home to a castle since the 12th century, and as a military stronghold has been involved in sieges all the way into the 18th century. In fact, it still serves as a garrison to this day.
You can already start to imagine the fascinating history this castle has to share with visitors. But to be honest I was a little disappointed with my visit to the castle. Out of our whole trip to Scotland it’s the one thing I wish I did differently. And to prevent disappointment for your trip, I wanted to share with you some things I wish I knew before visiting Edinburgh Castle.
Get There Early
Since we were visiting after the end of tourist season (which is generally from June-August when Edinburgh has nicer weather), I thought that we would have better luck with crowds and lines at Edinburgh Castle. WRONG! Check out all those tourists admiring the view from both the top and bottom points of the castle. This photo was taken around noon, which is only 2.5 hours after the castle opens for the day.
And see this line right here? It continues out of the frame for a good bit. This is the line to see the Royal Palace, Crown Jewels, and Stone of Destiny. The Scottish Royal family used to live in Edinburgh Castle, so their apartments, jewels, and coronation stone (which is now used for English monarchs) is housed here. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to wait in this line, so I missed out on seeing these things.
My advice for future visitors is to buy your tickets to visit the castle online so that you don’t have to wait in line once you get there. We waited approximately 20-30 minutes to get ours. And then once you get to the castle, head to the Royal Palace immediately since this line is usually the longest.
Consider a Tour or Audioguide
Describing Edinburgh Castle as just a castle is a little misleading. It’s more of a castle complex. There isn’t just one large building to tour, but several separate buildings such as the already mentioned Royal Palace, military museums and a memorial, a chapel, several batteries, and places to shop and eat.
In fact, the Edinburgh Castle website recommends you plan at least two hours to see everything. And I truly think you could spend more time here!
To be honest, Edinburgh Castle was a little overwhelming. And there aren’t many information signs to explain everything as you walk around.
If I could do it all over again, I would have gone on a guided tour (which is included in your ticket price) or purchased an audio guide. I would have learned more at the castle instead of having to Google everything afterward, and it would have been a more efficient use of my time.
Tailor Your Visit to Your Interests
Some scholars allege that Edinburgh Castle is the most attacked castle in the whole world since it has existed for so long and endured so much conflict. Add to that it’s use as a garrison and you’ve got the perfect place to exhibit local military history.
Edinburgh Castle is home to several important military sites, such as the National War Museum, Scottish National War Memorial, Royal Scots Museum, and Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum.
If you are a military buff (or happen to be visiting Edinburgh Castle with one), expect to spend a significant amount of time at these places! The museums are amazingly well done, with impressive displays of original uniforms, weapons, correspondence, and more. My husband wanted to see and read everything! My personal favorite was the display of vintage recruiting posters.
I think this is important to note because if you are not interested in military history, you can prioritize the other sites at Edinburgh Castle. And if you are a military history fan, expect to spend a good amount of time here.
It might have been better for my husband and I to split up as we toured Edinburgh Castle so that we could each get the most out of our visit and tailor it to our interests. I do enjoy military history, but I could have visited less of the military museums and still been happy.
Since I only planned for a short time at Edinburgh during our Scotland vacation, I wish I had known these things about the castle before our visit. Getting our tickets online and arriving at opening time would have helped with lines, purchasing the audio guide or going on a guided tour would have helped me learn more, and prioritizing an itinerary based on my interests would have been a more efficient way to visit the castle.
Have you been to Edinburgh Castle?