Edinburgh Castle is the one of the most definitive landmarks in the United Kingdom and the most popular paid-for tourist attraction in Scotland. Built into the Castle Rock, a dormant volcanic cliff face in the heart of the city, it’s approached from the east at the least steep incline by the Royal Mile, a scenic and bustling thoroughfare used by street performers during August’s Edinburgh Festival, which cuts through the Old Town to Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament at its foot. Also standing before the Castle is the Esplanade, a large open square which is filled with banks of seating to accommodate the Castle Concerts in July and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in August.
Castle Rock has been settled since the second century, and there has been a Royal palace on the site from the twelfth century until the 1603 Union of the Crowns with James IV of Scotland’s ascension to the English throne as James I (James’ mother Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to him in the Castle’s Royal Palace in 1566). In subsequent centuries its use became more military in nature, while its current status as a tourist attraction looks back on both its Royal and military history.
Within the Castle are multiple smaller attractions, including the twelfth century St Margaret’s Chapel, reputedly the oldest building in Edinburgh, and the ‘Crown Square’ of Royal palaces and halls. Much of the castle dates from the sixteenth century, although there is a much newer Victorian military barracks on one imposing outcrop, in an area which also comprises the National War Museum of Scotland. Other attractions include Mons Meg, a fifteenth century siege gun, and the traditional One O’Clock Gun, a single-gun artillery volley fired from the ramparts at the same time every day, while the Crown Jewels (the crown, sceptre and sword of state) and the Stone of Destiny, traditionally used for knighting kings of Scotland, are also on display.