Perched high on top of one of Edinburgh’s two dormant volcanoes is Edinburgh Castle, an impressive fortification that dominates the surrounding landscape. A citadel home to lots of different buildings rather than a simple stone castle, it’s worth taking the time to explore all the many structures within the castle walls, such as the various museums (including one on prisoners of war and a couple of regimental ones), the royal palace, St Margaret’s Chapel, David’s Tower and the Scottish National War Memorial.
If you want to learn more about Scotland’s royal family, make sure to visit the royal palace. The apartments take you on a journey through Scotland’s royal history, as well as that of the country’s crown jewels and the stone of scone (also known as the stone of destiny). The displays throughout are interesting and informative, and I came away with a much better understanding of Scotland’s royal history (although minor gripe: one of the displays referred to James VII of Scotland and II of England’s second wife Mary of Modena as his first wife as opposed to his second).
At the end of the exhibition, there’s a chance to marvel at Scotland’s crown jewels and the stone of scone. Scotland’s crown jewels, also known as the Honours of Scotland, include the crown worn by Mary, Queen of Scots, at her coronation and a sceptre that dates back to 1494. During their long history, the jewels have been hidden twice, once from Oliver Cromwell’s army in the 17th century and then during the Second World War. They were also locked away in a chest following Scotland’s union with England and rediscovered by the novelist Sir Walter Scott in 1818. Traditionally used in the coronations of Scotland’s monarchs, the stone of scone, meanwhile, was stolen by Edward I in 1296 and taken to Westminster Abbey where it was placed beneath a wooden chair upon which many subsequent English monarchs were crowned. The stone was returned to Scotland in 1996.
Edinburgh Castle is also the site of Scotland’s very own red wedding (minus the wedding part). The ruined David’s Tower, which has been partially excavated and was where Scotland’s crown jewels were buried during the Second World War, is the site of one of the most infamous murders in Scottish history. The Black Dinner, as it was known, took place at Edinburgh Castle in 1440 when the powerful Douglas family – the young 6th Earl, his brother and his adviser – were invited to the castle for dinner. But during the meal a black bull’s head, a symbol of death, was brought into the banqueting hall and the Douglases were subsequently beheaded in the palace yard in front of the 10-year-old king, James II, following a mock trial.
The tiny and quaint St Margaret’s Chapel (above), which sits within Edinburgh Castle, is the oldest building in Edinburgh. Other buildings worth seeing within the castle include the medieval Great Hall built by James IV in 1511 and the solemn Scottish National War Memorial, which commemorates the Scottish soldiers killed during the First and Second World Wars, as well as subsequent conflicts.
There was much more to Edinburgh Castle than I’d anticipated and it was very different to the stone castle I had pictured in my mind beforehand. I hadn’t realised it was home to Scotland’s crown jewels, the stone of scone or the country’s national war memorial, and it was great to stumble upon these. Well worth a visit.
Edinburgh Castle, Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG
Open 9.30am-6pm (April-September), 9.30am-4pm (October-March), seven days a week
Adults £16.50, Children £9.90, Concessions £13.20