Edinburgh is Scotland’s intellectual and cultural centre and is full of fascinating history about kings and queens, wars and sieges. The castles in Edinburgh are what have survived to tell the stories of these people and events. The staggering fortresses, sweeping gardens, and ancient ruins all have an intricate past that you can explore today.
If you’re planning on visiting Scotland’s capital, here are some of the most enchanting palaces and castles in Edinburgh to go and see.
Most Famous Castle In Edinburgh
Edinburgh Castle is the most famous castle in Edinburgh, Scotland and one of the most prominent landmarks in Scotland. Located right in the center, on Castle Rock, the fortress towers over the city, giving you panoramic views of Edinburgh. It is ancient, with the oldest section dating back to the Iron Age! It was recently voted as a top UK Heritage Attraction by the British Travel Awards.
Out of all the castles in Edinburgh, this one arguably has the most to see and do. It includes a range of features, with something guaranteed to be suited to everyone’s interests.
The highest point of the castle is in the Old Town on top of an extinct volcano. It houses the Crown Jewels of Scotland and the National War Museum, and it encapsulates hundreds of years of royal history. The Great Hall was built for King James IV in 1511, St. Margaret’s Chapel was built by King David I in 1130 for his charitable mother, and the Stone of Destiny (an ancient symbol of Scotland’s monarchy) is kept here.
Every day (except Sundays, Good Friday, and Christmas), the One O’clock Gun is fired as a military tradition that was used by ships in the Firth of Forth to set the time on their clocks.
Make sure to book your tickets in advance as it is an extremely popular attraction. You can also get a skip-the-line ticket with a guided tour around the castle, take an audio tour in your own time or just explore by yourself.
Historic Castles In Edinburgh
Built in the 1300s, Lochleven Castle is one of the oldest in all of Scotland. It is a castle near Edinburgh, situated on an island one hour north of the city, on Loch Leven. You have to take a boat ride to visit it. The effort of this journey is completely worth it for the rich history you’ll come face to face with.
Mary Queen of Scots was held captive here, and it was actually the last place she ever stayed in Scotland. It has also been visited by famous figures such as William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and John Knox.
Craigmillar Castle is rich with a history of betrayal and plotting. Located just outside of Edinburgh, this medieval castle was a refuge for Mary Queen of Scots in 1566. However, in a turn of events, she became imprisoned by the very owner of the castle, Sir Simon Preston. It was also where the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley, was plotted. It is one of the best-preserved castles in Edinburgh and dates back to the 15th century.
When you visit, you can explore what is thought to have been Queen Mary’s bed chambers. One of the best thing to do is to climb up the second oldest Tower House in Scotland to see the magnificent views of Holyrood Park and Edinburgh Castle.
For any Outlander fans, Craigmillar Castle was the set for Ardsmui Prison, where Jamie Fraser was held captive.
This is one of the most intriguing castles in Edinburgh, Scotland. A hidden gem, Blackness Castle, is known as “the ship that never sailed” as it resembles a grand stone ship from one side.
The Crichton family built this castle in the 15th century with the aim of living in it, but due to its tactical position on the Firth of Forth, it became a royal castle in 1453. This began its long and transformative history: first turning into a garrison fortress, then a state prison, and then an ammunition store. Since the end of the First World, it has remained a remarkable attraction for visitors.
You can climb the towers for spectacular views of the Scottish landscape and explore the rooms inside to learn about the history of the castle and one of Scotland’s most powerful families.
Beautiful Castles In Edinburgh
Stobo Castle is ideal for those with a love for luxury. It was built in 1811 and is located one hour south of Edinburgh. It now functions as a hotel featuring beautiful walks, a swimming pool, and a pampering spa. There are beautiful grounds here, including a Japanese Water Garden, which was built in the 1900s.
If you do plan on staying here overnight, be sure to ask for a room in the old building for the true experience of living like a royal.
Built by Mr. and Mrs. W. R. Reid in the early 1900s, this castle in Edinburgh is decorated in classic Edwardian fashion and is now a museum. The vast expanse of accessible grounds features an award-winning Japanese garden and peaceful woodlands, perfect for a day out with all the family.
There is also a courtyard café, Mimi’s Bakehouse, which sells delicious tea and scones. What’s more, not too far away is Cramond Beach, a popular white-sand attraction for both residents and tourists alike.
Lauriston Castle is great for a day trip away from the city to immerse yourself in a bit of Scottish history and nature.
Fa’side Castle is a castle near Edinburgh that is owned by a family who rent out the 15th-century tower as an Airbnb. You’ll get to experience what it is to live like a royal in a beautiful castle situated in the remote Scottish countryside.
The castle is a fascinating building, with features including an old dungeon, courtyard, and a rooftop walkway offering a jaw-dropping view of the Firth of Forth. You’ll feel on top of the world when staying here.
In the unlikely event that you find yourself getting bored exploring, it’s relatively close to Edinburgh and also the picturesque beaches of East Lothian.
Medieval Castles In Edinburgh
Sitting on the very edge of a cliff, Tantallon Castle is a sight to behold. Having been exposed to the elements and after experiencing three sieges, the castle has been left in ruins. The remains of this 14th-century fortress make you feel like you’re in your very own novel or film. Situated in East Lothian, Tantallon Castle provides extraordinary views of the tempestuous North Sea and the Scottish countryside.
This spell-binding castle in Edinburgh looks like something straight out of a storybook. It’s been left in ruins since Oliver Cromwell attacked it in 1650, but prior to this, it was home to three noble families.
Its oldest section dates back to the 1200s, making it one of Scotland’s oldest remaining castles. It has since been turned into an “architectural marvel” with landscaped Victorian gardens that you can explore.
This castle in Edinburgh offers the unique opportunity to have a medieval castle all to yourself for as long as you can afford it! It’s a 15th-century piece of architecture, with 17 bedrooms accommodating 37 adults and 400 acres of private grounds. Many grand weddings and private parties have been held here, and it’s hosted famous visitors from Paul McCartney to the Pope!
Famous Palaces In Edinburgh
Palace of Holyroodhouse
This palace in Edinburgh is a must-see for any admirers of the royal family as it is the Queen’s official Scottish residence. This is where where she carries out her engagements during her visits to the country.
This palace holds many incredibly dramatic stories, including the time when Mary Queen of Scotts witnessed the murder of her private secretary by her husband and a group of Scottish Lords. It also accommodated Bonnie Prince Charlie. The Stuart prince came to Holyroodhouse in 1745 for six weeks, during which time he enchanted the masses by holding extravagant balls.
It is close to the city center, at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, and you can explore the chambers of Mary Queen of Scotts and the sweeping gardens surrounding it.
This incredible piece of royal architecture was built during the reign of King James I in 1424. It served as a royal home for the Stewarts, breaking up the journey between Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle. This is where Mary Queen of Scots was born and contained a nursery where she and many other notable royals were raised.
The palace’s interior was sadly destroyed by a fire in 1746. Nonetheless, the palace itself remains standing and is an awe-inspiring sight to see. Events such as jousting tournaments are still held here today, a wonderful and entertaining day out for all the family!
Dalkeith Palace is a classical piece of Scottish architecture, built in 1702 on the site of an old medieval castle to house the Montagu Douglas Scott family. It’s located inside Dalkeith Country Park, and although you can’t go inside the actual palace, its exterior and the surrounding grounds make it more than worth a visit. There are countless walking trails, an adventure park for the kids, a Go Ape, and frequent events like open-air film screenings in the park.
Castles In Edinburgh Featured In Outlander
In recent years, the hit TV show, Outlander, has risen in popularity. That has brought a whole new demographic of tourists to Scotland. Many of the castles in Edinburgh were used as part of the set.
If you’re a fan, Hopetoun House is a must-see as it’s a regular location for the show to be filmed. The Red Drawing Room is used for the Duke of Sandringham’s house in Season 1, and the surrounding grounds have been the location for some of Outlander’s signature sword fights. There’s also a wonderful shop here selling local produce directly from the estate.
Midhope Castle is used as the set for Lallybroch (Jamie Fraser’s home), and the surrounding woods are also a popular filming spot for Outlander. Dating back to 1458, the interior is somewhat derelict, so you’re not allowed to go inside.
However, there’s a lovely farm shop nearby where you can buy some local produce. According to reviews, if you manage to catch the man at the gate, you’ll learn a lot about the surrounding area and the castle itself.
Discovering The Best Castles In Edinburgh
Scotland has thousands of years of rich history, and these castles and palaces in Edinburgh fully encapsulate this. The glorious array of different architectural styles and periods in which these buildings were constructed leaves something fitting for everyone’s interests to enjoy.
Be sure to take your time to explore the city and its surrounding fortresses, living amongst the kings, queens, and soldiers of centuries long, long ago.