Last Updated on 8th July 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Best known for its bagpipes, whiskey, stunning landscapes, and rich history, no trip to Scotland would be complete without a visit to at least one of its many castles. After all, you’re pretty spoilt for choice… Here’s a guide to the best castles in Edinburgh!
Though when people consider Edinburgh castles they tend to just think that the Scottish capital has just one, the city is, in fact, home to several such structures, many of which can be visited as a member of the public. While some fortifications and palaces are to be found within the city limits of Edinburgh themselves, others can be found just a short day trip away.
Type of Castle: Intact – Site occupied since the late Bronze Age
Edinburgh Castle is the most famous of all the castles in Edinburgh. As a result, it has since become a symbol for the entire city in its own right and no trip to the city would be complete without glancing up at the castle at least once or twice during your visit.
Perched at the summit of a rocky outcrop aptly named ‘Castle Rock’, the entire site lies on the remains of an extinct volcano (much like nearby Arthur’s Seat). Inhabited since at least the late Bronze Age, a castle or fortress has inhabited the site at any given point for the past three thousand years.
Today the castle is full of museums and exhibitions; both pertaining to the history of the castle itself, as well as its surrounding landscape. Little of the medieval fortress remains, though the castle is still worth a visit.
If you want to avoid the crowds that inevitably flock to the site, then make sure to visit in the early morning. Another top tip for visiting Edinburgh castle that I can’t recommend highly enough would be to book your tickets in advance so as to avoid queuing and wasting your precious exploration time. Check here to book your Edinburgh Castle tickets in advance.
Type of Castle: Ruins -dating back to the 14th-Century
Often cited as being Edinburgh’s ‘other’ Castle, Craigmillar Castle is situated around a twenty-minute bus ride from the city center. Less crowded than the city center, it’s a little off the beaten path and perhaps a little less touristic than its more famous counterpart, Edinburgh Castle. However, if you only have time to see one castle interior while you’re in Edinburgh, make it Craigmillar Castle!
Once home to the prestigious Preston family, on order of the King, the castle was constructed in the 14th-centuries, and various parts were added throughout the following two Centuries. The history of the castle is fascinating, and no doubt holds many more secrets than it has already given up.
Today much of the castle sadly lies in ruin. That being said, the entire castle isn’t in ruin, meaning that it’s one of the best preserved medieval castles in the country, and its walls once welcomed Mary, Queen of Scots.
Type of Castle: Intact – dating back to the 16th and 17th-Centuries
The official residence of the royal family in Scotland, Holyrood House sits at the very end of the Royal Mile; on the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle. Parts of the façade of the palace, as well as the ruins of the abbey sitting next to it, date all the way back to the 16th-Century.
Queen Elizabeth spends a week in the palace each summer, performing royal duties among other things. The Palace is open throughout the year (apart from when the Queen is staying). If you don’t really mind about seeing the interior, preferring to instead admire the ruins of the abbey and grand façade of the building, then you can get a great view of Holyroodhouse Palace from nearby Holyrood Park.
Type of Castle: Intact – dating back to the 16th-Century with 18th-Century additions
This pretty castle is one of the easiest quick day trips from central Edinburgh. A castle has stood on the site since as early as the 15th-century, though nothing remains of the original building today. During the 16th-Century, a tower house was built here and served as a family home throughout the following Centuries.
From the late 18th-Century onwards, the Guard House was dramatically extended. The building was expanded and its façade was given a complete makeover in the Jacobean Style. The castle and grounds were gifted to the city in 1926 and are open at various times for public tours.
Today, the pretty castle is set within a public park (that is completely free to visit) and offers views over the surrounding bay. You can visit the castle through a guided tour only at certain times of the day. If you want a quiet day out, then I highly recommend combining a visit to the castle, with a trip to the nearby shoreline. From the castle grounds, it’s even possible to see the Tidal Island of Cramond; somewhere that can be visited at the same time as the castle.