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How Big Is Edinburgh Castle? Fully Revealed!

Edinburgh Castle is perched high above the Scottish capital on an outcrop of volcanic rock. The castle dominates the skyline, with the city spread out beneath its defensive walls. As you walk up the Royal Mile, the castle looms large ahead, but just how big is Edinburgh Castle?

Edinburgh Castle measures 384,669 sq ft (35,737 sq m), making it one of the largest castles in the UK. It sits 443 ft (135 m) above sea level, providing excellent views over the surrounding area to its defenders in days gone by and its tourists today.

Edinburgh Castle is one of the oldest fortified locations in Europe. The castle has evolved since it was first built, with buildings destroyed and added through the centuries. In this article, I will delve into how Edinburgh Castle grew into one of the biggest castles in the UK.

Edinburgh Castle 443 feet above sea level
Edinburgh Castle occupies 334,669 square feet and is 443 feet above sea level

A Prime Defensive Location

The outcrop on which Edinburgh Castle sits is known as Castle Rock (source). The commanding view this site offers has long attracted settlers. There is archaeological evidence pointing to a bronze age settlement on Castle Rock.

With three steep cliffs guarding the approach and fantastic views that allow you to spot any potential foe, Castle Rock offers a prime defensive location. The Romans took advantage of the site and built a fortress and settlement here.

The Romans packed their bags and left Britain for good around 410 AD. By 638 AD, Edinburgh was in the hands of the invading Angles from Northumbria.

They developed the fortress on Castle Rock further. The Viking raids were becoming an increasing problem.

In 1018 AD, Malcolm II regained control of Edinburgh for the Scots, taking advantage of the Angles’ focus on the Viking invaders. By 1093 a royal castle had been established on Castle Rock. Called the Castle of the Maidens, the site was now a politically important location.

The following table offers some perspective on the size of Edinburgh Castle compared to other large castles in the UK and Europe.

CastleLocationAcresSquare FeetSquare Meters
PragueCzech Republic16.5718,60966,761
Tower of LondonEngland12522,72048,562

St Margaret’s Chapel

In 1130 AD, David I began the fortification of Edinburgh Castle, laying the foundations for the castle we recognize today.

However, an equally important part of the design was the new chapel dedicated to his mother, Queen Margaret (source).

The 12th-century chapel is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh. The city has long been fought over. To gain control of the city, the castle was always seen as a must-win location.

Control the castle and you control the city.

Therefore, its strength also became its weakness. The castle has been besieged on 26 occasions, often successfully.

St Margaret’s Chapel is the one building to remain standing throughout the castle’s turbulent history. Scottish royalty has gathered to worship here and the chapel still holds weddings and christenings today.

The Rebuilding of the Castle

Edinburgh Castle became the focus of a battle for supremacy between English and Scottish Monarchs. As a result, the castle walls took a fair old pounding. In 1314, Robert the Bruce ordered the castle’s defensive walls destroyed to hinder any future English occupation of the castle.

David II succeeded his father, Robert the Bruce, to the throne.

In 1360 he began to rebuild Edinburgh Castle. The crowning glory of his design was David’s Tower which took nine years to complete.

Unfortunately, David would not live to witness its completion. Standing 30 meters high, the tower became the heart of this imposing fortress.

Part royal residence, part defensive tower, only a segment of David’s Tower survives today, having been discovered during excavation work in 1912. The bulk of the tower was destroyed under cannon fire during a siege in 1573.

It was later replaced by the Half Moon Battery.

Edinburgh Castle walls
In 1314 Robert The Bruce ordered the destruction of the castle’s walls. They began to be rebuilt from 1360

A Royal Palace Is Added

Edinburgh Castle continued to evolve, often necessitated by the impact of conflict.

By the 15th century, Edinburgh was the recognized Scottish capital.

King James III of Scotland decided the castle needed a royal residence to reflect this. In 1460 he began work on the castle’s Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace is located in Crown Square within the castle grounds and was originally an extension of David’s Tower. The palace suffered damage during the same siege which saw the downfall of David’s Tower.

This was the Lang siege, a result of Mary Queen of Scots’ ill-fated marriage to the Earl of Bothwell.

The Royal Palace has been the scene of further significant events in Scottish history. James the VI of Scotland, who would also become King James I in London, was born in the Royal Palace in 1566.

The Great Hall

A royal residency worth its salt would not be complete without a Great Hall. Edinburgh Castle boasts one of the finest medieval Great Halls, completed in 1511 during the reign of James IV.

Unfortunately, James did not get to enjoy his hall for long. Being married to Margaret Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII, did not prevent war with the English. James IV perished in 1513 at the Battle of Flodden.

The Great Hall is renowned for its spectacular hammer-beam roof. The hall would have impressed the important guests who dined within its walls. With the addition of the Royal Palace and Great Hall, Edinburgh Castle was becoming a Renaissance royal palace to rival any in Europe.

Charles I was the last monarch to spend the night in Edinburgh Castle. This was on the eve of his coronation as King of the Scots in 1633. After this, the castle reverted back to predominantly military use.

By 1737, the Great hall was a barracks that could hold 312 men.

The Great Hall has since been restored to its former glory and is one of the highlights of a visit to the castle. It serves as a good pointer as to how the castle was evolving and growing in significance during the 15th and 16th centuries.

The following video provides an inviting taster of this magnificent hall.

Continual Development

New developments enhanced the castle’s military function.

The Jacobite Risings which began in 1689 prompted further enhancements of the castle defenses.

More men stationed at the castle meant more barrack space. The Queen Anne building was one of the additions to the castle grounds as additional barracks for officers.

The Governors House was added to the castle grounds in 1742 and further barracks in 1799. The castle’s military Governor shared his bright new building with the Master Gunner and the castle’s Storekeeper.

The North wing of the house continues to host a Governor. However, the Governor’s role is a ceremonial one today, the position being reintroduced in 1933 having been abolished during the middle part of the 19th century.

It is now a Crown-appointed position.

A New Tower and Gatehouse

The castle continued to expand during the latter part of the 19th century to meet an ever-evolving role.

The Argyle Tower we see today above the portcullis was built in 1880 by the Scottish architect Hippolyte Blanc. This was part of restoration work carried out on the castle during the Victorian era.

Another addition came in 1888 when a new and more striking gatehouse was built. The design was for a more imposing structure than the gatehouse it replaced which dated back to the 17th century.

Statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace were placed on either side of the gatehouse in 1929, symbolic reminders of Scottish history.

The introduction of these statues marked the 600th anniversary of the death of King Robert the Bruce. The gatehouse and Argyle Tower signal the entrance to the castle as you wander up the Royal Mile. They mark the outer boundary of the castle buildings.

Edinburgh Castle Esplanade

The 100-meter-long esplanade greets visitors to Edinburgh Castle. Being built on a rocky outcrop, the castle offers a single point of access from the East.

The approach is along the famous Royal Mile, with Holyrood palace located at the opposite end of the mile to Edinburgh Castle.

Today the Esplanade is the location of the iconic Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

This area just beyond the gatehouse was originally cleared and flattened in 1753 as an area for military drills and training for the castle garrison. It has been altered over time to match the castle’s needs.

Today the esplanade has many plaques and statues for visitors to explore. The esplanade gives you a real feeling of the size and scale of Edinburgh Castle as well as providing great views across the city.

Edinburgh Castle extensions
Edinburgh Castle has grown over the centuries, with significant extensions being made in the 19th Century

Things You Can See Within the Castle Grounds

There is much to see and do for the modern-day visitor to Edinburgh Castle. The Great Hall and the Royal Palace are great attractions, but the following are further must-see highlights.

1. Honors of Scotland

The Scottish crown jewels are the oldest in the UK. They include the crown and scepter used in 1543 for the coronation of Mary, Queen of Scots.

These precious treasures have been moved and hidden at least twice to prevent them from falling into the hands of invading armies.

In 1707 they were locked away in a chest within the castle and forgotten, before being found again in 1818. They can be viewed as part of an exhibition in the Crown Room on the first floor of the castle’s Royal Palace.

2. Stone of Destiny

Alongside the Honors of Scotland is the Stone of Destiny, Scotland’s coronation stone.

The stone was central to the coronation of Scottish monarchs for centuries until it was taken to London by King Edward I. Here, it became a part of the coronation ceremony for English monarchs. The stone was returned to Scotland in 1996 and sits proudly in the Crown Room.

3. Queen Mary Chamber

Mary Queen of Scots opted for the security of Edinburgh Castle to give birth to her son and successor James in 1566.

These were turbulent times, but the castle walls gave brief respite to a pregnant Mary. The bedchamber where she gave birth to the future King of Scotland and England is open to visitors.

4. National War Memorial

Opened in 1927, the National War Memorial commemorates the fallen from the first world war and subsequent conflicts.

Located on the north side of Crown Square, the memorial was created within the old North Barracks building.

5. Mons Meg

This huge siege cannon dates back to the middle of the 15th century.

Built in Mons in Belgium, it was sent to James II in 1457 to help fight the English. The gun could fire a 150 kg gunstone two miles.

This impressive piece of medieval weaponry is now positioned outside St. Margaret’s Chapel.

6. The One O’Clock Gun

Talking of cannons, Edinburgh Castle is famous for its daily tradition. At one o’clock every day except on Sunday, the 105mm field gun is fired from Mills Battery.

While a great spectacle for visitors today, the daily firing of the gun originally allowed ships to set their maritime clocks. Nowadays it can certainly make you jump if you’re not expecting the boom.

7. The Queen’s Embroideries

Mary Queen of Scots often passed her time in exile sewing embroideries. Replicas of her intricate needlework patterns are presented in the Queen’s Embroideries display in the Royal Palace.

The replicas were created using only techniques and materials of the time.

8. Prisons of War

The castle was also used to hold prisoners of war.

Found in the Dury’s battery, this exhibition recreates the vaults used to house prisoners. Original doors make up part of the exhibition, containing graffiti of names and ships left by prisoners.

9. National War Museum

Opened in 1933, the National War Museum houses a large collection of artifacts, letters, and artworks depicting 400 years of Scottish military history.

The museum is housed in a former storehouse which was also used as a hospital.