Hands up if you thought Edinburgh Castle was an expensive place to visit? Hands up again if you thought there wasn’t much to do up there bar take in the views, see the One O’Clock Gun that makes Edinburgh jump and admire the rugged ramparts? I’ll be honest, until I went back to the castle for the first time with my young family I would probably have had my hand up too – so join me now and I’ll show you why Edinburgh Castle is an unmissable attraction whether you’re from Tokyo or Tollcross!
In these cash strapped times, let’s start with the cost. If you buy a Historic Scotland family membership, a family of four like mine will recoup the annual membership by visiting the landmark castles at Edinburgh and at Stirling just once in a year. In effect, every other Historic Scotland site you then visit is free!
Edinburgh Castle – Fun For all the Family
When it comes to what there is to do these days I was even more impressed. Approaching the drawbridge my five and two year olds were already spinning around like little tops at the thought of venturing into a ‘real life castle’. Edinburgh is indeed a real life castle, a historic icon awash with layers of history that intrigue. Its story stretches from when the extinct volcano here was first settled, through to the days when it repelled sieges, right up to its modern day tourist and military role.
We pushed on into the castle proper, stopping only to pick up a self-guided audio tour and a quiz for the kids. They really take the wee ones seriously at Edinburgh Castle these days. It comes across in things like fun quiz sheets, live performers who really help bring history to life, decent toys and souvenirs in the shops and kids portions in the castle eateries.
Scones and Cannons at Edinburgh Castle
Speaking of eateries, my wife was more excited about the prospect of afternoon tea than Bonnie Prince Charlie. She wasn’t disappointed! We made a beeline for the plush Tea Rooms, where we reclined amidst layers of history as we tucked into layers of Ayrshire ham with Arran mustard and free range egg sandwiches. These were followed by proper scones with clotted cream and jam and a selection of cakes which my girls quickly made sure mummy and daddy didn’t have a chance to polish off.
Properly fortified we set off to explore this expansive fortification, checking out ramparts that opened up views of Edinburgh, the Forth Valley and the Pentlands better than any of the postcards you can buy on the Royal Mile below. We clambered around old cannons, peered through arrow slits and marvelled at the might of Mons Meg. One of the largest cannons in the world by calibre, this 15th-century monster was a gift to King James II of Scotland from the Duke Of Burgundy.
Although Mons Meg saw action, her barrel burst on ceremonial duty and she was retired to the Tower of London. Sir Walter Scott was at the heart of a successful campaign to return Mons Meg, and she was rolled back on to the castle ramparts in 1829.
Edinburgh Castle – Stone of Destiny and War Museums
The historic highlight of a visit to Edinburgh Castle for me is the chance to view the nation’s hallowed Stone of Destiny and the Scottish Crown Jewels. The Stone of Destiny has now been returned to the heart of the Scottish capital after a spell south of the border. The Scottish Crown Jewels, meanwhile, beguiled my wee girls, with a crown they thought fitting ‘for a real queen’.
I was keen to delve into the various war museums that also sit within the Tardis-like walls of Edinburgh Castle. The regimental museums of the Royal Scots and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards add real colour and personal stories to the regiments’ illustrious battle honours. The National War Museum’s collection, meanwhile, has taken on added poignancy during this sombre year of remembrance, with exhibits that take you on a journey through 400 years of Scotland at War, with everything from Highland claymores to desert warfare chemical weapons suits.
Edinburgh Castle – Something For All the Family
I had come to Edinburgh Castle wondering how much there would really be to see and do with my young family, and questioning if one of Scotland’s most visited tourist attractions would offer good value for money. I left with no doubts, not to mention two wee sword-wielding girls (with huge smiles on their faces) and a wife intent on going back to spend more time in the museums (and eat the cakes herself next time); a daddy revelling in what I firmly believe is an ideal family day out whether you’re from Tokyo or Tollcross.