Edinburgh Day 1: Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle 2

Edinburgh Castle sits atop an extinct volcano at the highest point of the Royal Mile. For nine centuries it defended the city from its enemies, with the Scots taking full advantage of the unobstructed views that stretch for miles to the Firth of Forth and the distant hills to counter any potential attack.

Edinburgh Castle 3

Like all fortresses, Edinburgh Castle is made up of a series of towers, gates, batteries and massive protective walls. It has served as a royal palace, arsenal, gun foundry, state prison and, more recently, as an infantry barracks. To this day it houses and protects the Scottish Crown Jewels that were made for James V, father of Mary Queen of Scots, and are said to be the oldest in Europe. No photos of the Crown Jewels were allowed I’m afraid.

Edinburgh Castle

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace - Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle was the birthplace of a king. Although the Scottish royal family lived in the Palace of Holyrood House, in times of unrest they stayed at the small Royal Palace within the castle walls for protection. It was during one of these turbulent times that Mary Stuart moved to the castle and gave birth to James VI of Scotland and I of England in a tiny room just off of the royal apartments. Since I’ve always had a deep interest in Mary’s tragic life, visiting this small, oak-panelled room was one of the castle’s major highlights for me.

Birthplace of a King - Edinburgh Castle 2

I couldn’t believe how small it was. Not much more than a bed would have fit in this room.

Birthplace of a King - Edinburgh Castle

The Great Hall

Adjacent to the Royal Palace is the Great Hall with its amazing, original hammer-beam roof. No nails were used to keep the beams in place – instead, special pegs were used. This is an incredible achievement at a time when precision tools did not exist.

The Great Hall - Edinburgh Castle

The Great Hall is lined with an array of swords, shields and coats of armour. Some were so huge that I think only giants would have been able to wield them. Or some Scots must have had the physique of Greek gods.

The Great Hall - Edinburgh Castle 2

To the right of the huge fireplace is a small window behind which the king would sometimes sit to eavesdrop on his  guests who would be feasting in the hall beneath him (you can see it in the photo below). Thankfully, the current monarch does not indulge in these types of shenanigans.

The Great Hall - Edinburgh Castle 3

The Scottish National War Memorial

Scottish National War Memorial

Opposite the Great Hall is the Scottish National War Memorial where the name of all the soldiers who died during the two world wars and in more recent conflicts are inscribed in Rolls of Honour held within the memorial. 147000 names from the First World War and 50000 from the Second are included.

Scottish National War Memorial 2

St Margaret Chapel

St Margaret Chapel - Edinburgh Castle 2

Another interesting building is the tiny St Margaret Chapel, dating from the 12th century, that is the oldest building in Edinburgh. St Margaret, who was the mother of King David I, died at Edinburgh Castle. She was a pious woman who carried out many acts of charity and was greatly beloved by her subjects. The small stained glass windows, one of which depicts Margaret, are from a later date.

St Margaret Chapel - Edinburgh Castle 3St Margaret Chapel - Edinburgh Castle


The National War Museum, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Regimental Museum, and the Museum of the Royal Scots and the Royal  Regiment are all within the precincts of the castle and the entrance ticket is valid for all of them. Unfortunately, we only had time to visit the National War Museum.

National War Museum of Scotland

Edinburgh Castle is a fascinating place to visit especially for those who, like me, have an almost-unhealthy interest in British history. But if history is not quite your thing, there are many other places of interest to visit in Edinburgh that I am sure will pique your curiosity.

The Royal Mile

Once you leave Castle Esplanade you will be at the top of the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile snakes its way through Edinburgh’s Old Town.

The Royal Mile 2

It is lined with colourful shops, restaurants and intriguing buildings. Various streets lead off of the Royal Mile but it was the very narrow closes (sometimes called wynds), with high buildings on either side, that were the most unusual. You literally never know what you will find hidden away behind the entrances to these closes.


The Royal Mile is divided into 4 distinct areas: Castle Hill, Lawnmarket, High Street and Canongate.

The Royal Mile

Starting from the top you will come across a number of interesting attractions:

Tolbooth Kirk

Tolbooth Kirk - The Royal Mile

This Gothic-style building was built in the mid 19th century but has not been used as a church since 1984. Re-christened ‘The Hub’ in 1999, it is now the home of the Edinburgh International Festival.

St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles' Cathedral 3

St Giles was founded in 1124 by King David I but underwent many transformations during its 900 year history. Its iconic crown-shaped steeple is a familiar Edinburgh landmark. The interior is characterized by high, vaulted ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows.

St Giles' Cathedral 2St Giles' Cathedral

Royal Mile Wellheads

Up until 1820 wellheads provided water to the population in Old Town. They were also places where locals could meet and gossip. Only two are still in existence. Unfortunately, one of them seems to be doing duty as a repository for cigarette butts.

Royal Mile Wellheads

John Knox House

It is thought that the Scottish religious reformer John Knox died in this house in 1572. It now belongs to the Church of Scotland and is dedicated to John Knox and his life. This house is a wonderful example of a 16th century building with its overhanging wooden upper storeys. We only saw the exterior of this house. John Knox gave Mary Stuart a very hard time when she was alive. Suffice it to say he is not on my ‘most favourite historical persons’ list.

John Knox House

Canongate Tolbooth

Built in 1591 this quirky-looking building is where tolls were collected. It also served as a court and prison and was located almost exactly opposite the entrance to the court where our apartment was located.

Canongate Tolbooth

Canongate Kirk and Churchyard

The church was built in the late 17th century and has an unusual design. This is where Her Majesty attends service when she is in Edinburgh and was the wedding venue for Zara Phillips in 2011. A number of prominent parishioners are buried in the churchyard – amongst them Clarissa, beloved mistress of poet Robert Burns, and economist Adam Smith. The church was closed by the time we got there but I did spend some time exploring the churchyard.

Canongate Kirkyard - The Royal Mile

The Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament welcomes visitors 6 days a week. This modern edifice located opposite Holyrood House was inaugurated in 2004. I thought it was a rather weird-looking building with lots of metal pipes sticking out all over the place. Quotes by famous Scots are embedded into its walls. It was definitely not my favourite building in Edinburgh – but then, I am not the biggest fan of modern architecture.

Scottish Parliament

Location: Edinburgh, Scotland (August 2018)


More attractions on the Royal Mile

Canongate Kirk

Canongate Tolbooth

John Knox House

Next time, we’ll take a walk around the picturesque Dean Village.

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Thank you Loree for the enjoyable post
I wonder why the birthing room is so small. Maybe to cover the sounds of giving birth.

Debbie Nolan said...

Loree - your pictures are absolutely gorgeous. I feel as if I got to see Edinburgh up close through your photo lens. What caught my eye was that glorious blue sky that seemed to be such a beautiful backdrop for those amazing buildings. Thank you so much for taking time to share this wonderful place. Hugs!

Loree said...

I think it's because the Royal Palace at the castle is not very big. None of the rooms are very large.

Loree said...

We were surprised at how sunny the weather was. We were expecting it to be cold and grey but the UK did have an unusually warm summer this year.

Gattina said...

You bring back memories ! I love Edinburgh ! I had been there twice, last time was for the Edinburgh Tatoo, but it certainly will not be the last time ! But I haven't been inside the castle.

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