Edinburgh Castle

Discover Edinburgh Castle on a private walking tour of Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle

A dominating presence, both physically and metaphorically, Edinburgh Castle dominates the town from its lofty perch on Castle Rock, the 340 million-year-old basalt core of an extinct volcano. It has also been central to Scottish history since the 6th century when the Northumbrian King Edwin, after whom the city was named, first built a fortress on the site.  

Take a private guided tour and see the Scottish Crown Jewels, and go inside the 12th century, St Margaret's Chapel, dedicated to the Saintly Queen of Malcolm III. See the mighty siege gun, Mons Meg, an awesome weapon of its day and used to by James IV against Norham Castle in England. 

There is much to see at this famous fortress. Take a private guided walking tour of Edinburgh and discover the full story of the Castle.

A brief history of Edinburgh Castle

The Beginning
In 1130, some of the impressive buildings we see today were constructed by King David I. The oldest part of the Castle (and the oldest building in the city) is St Margaret's Chapel, dedicated to his mother, Queen Margaret. A tiny chapel, just 26ft by 10ft, commemorates Queen Margaret, Saxon Ethel Atheling sister. He became king-elect of England after the death of Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. However, the Norman conquest caused Margaret and her brother to flee to Scotland, where she married Malcolm III in 1069. 

Between the 12th and 20th centuries, the Castle served several different uses. It was a royal palace and the birthplace of the son of Mary Queen of Scots, who was to become  James VI of Scotland and James I of England. The Castle became the favoured residence of Scottish royalty in the Middle Ages and, over time, had new buildings and alterations depending upon its role at the time. 

The Wars of Independence
It was the subject of frequent bouts of fighting between the English and the Scots. Lost to, and regained from, the English on several occasions. Edward I,  captured the Castle in 1296 following a three-day siege, only to lose it again to Robert the Bruce in 1314. He took the Castle from the English and ordered the destruction of every building bar the Chapel, which was left unchanged.

Twenty years later, in 1334, the English recaptured the Castle but held it for only seven years when Sir William Douglas retook it for the Scots. Fifty-five years after Robert the Bruce had retaken the Castle, command changed several times. Bruce's son, David II, built David's Tower as part of the Castle's reconstruction and repair after battle damage. A huge building, it became the entrance to the Castle and the primary defence.

The marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, was highly unpopular with many of Scotland's noblemen. So unpopular that Queen Mary fled to England.  Edinburgh's supporters attempted to hold the Castle and withstood a year-long siege, which ended with the destruction of David's Tower. The Half Moon Battery we see today replaced it. 

The Union of the Crowns
In 1603, the Union of Crowns resulted from James VI of Scotland succeeding to the English and Scottish throne, thereby becoming king of both countries. The king based himself in London, England. Subsequently, the Castle took on a military function and became a garrison, a prison. The last monarch to live in the Castle was Charles I in 1633.

The Castle Highlights

The Great Hall
The Great Hall, with its' magnificent hammer-beam roof, the venue for many banquets and ceremonial occasions. 

Margaret's Chapel
Margaret's Chapel, the oldest building in the Castle, was built by her son, David. A massive cannon called Mons Meg is located at the chapel door. Capable of hurling a five cwt cannonball some 1.5 miles, its last use was in 1680 when a royal salute for Charles II  caused it to explode. 

The Scottish Crown Jewels
Contained within the Castle are some of Scotland's most prized artefacts. The Honours of Scotland are the nation's magnificent Crown Jewels, the only pre-restoration set in the UK. Last used for the Scottish coronation of Charles II in 1651, they narrowly avoided being melted down by Oliver Cromwell. The oldest item is the sceptre, a gift to James IV from Pope Alexander VI in 1494. The sword, created by an Italian Master silversmith, features impressive engraving. The jewel-encrusted gold crown was made for James V by the finest Scottish Goldsmith of the day. It incorporated the gold circlet worn by Robert the Bruce. The jewels are located within the 15th century Palace, which is on the eastern side of Crown Square.

The Stone of Destiny
See the Stone of Destiny was prized by ancient Scottish kings, seized by the English, and returned in 1996. Other 'must-see' areas are the Kings Dining Room and the Laich Hall. 

The Edinburgh Festival
The festival takes place over three weeks every year when the city becomes a crazy and wonderful entertainment centre occupying every available theatre and street corner. It brings together the best in international contemporary art, music, dance, and opera. It's worth attending at least once in your life - expect crowds.

Touring and accommodation
Our Tour-Designers are here to tailor a private tour of Edinburgh for you. There are many options for tours of Edinburgh and day excursions from Edinburgh. For a first time visit choose our Classic tour of Edinburgh; it includes all the famous sights and is flexible on the day, like everything we do.

Edinburgh has a vast choice of accommodation. We look for quality, service and our ability to include complimentary amenities. Stay in the elegant New Town at The Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel. Enjoy views of Edinburgh Castle from the Waldorf Astoria Caledonian Hotel. There are many options we can discuss you with you. Please contact us for details.

Edinburgh's Iconic Castle

Walk through the history of the nation

  • See the Scottish Crown Jewels
  • See the giant Cannon; Mons Meg
  • One PM Gun Salute
  • Scottish National War Memorial
  • See the real Stone-of-Destiny