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A Guide to Craigmillar Castle in Edinburgh

Craigmillar Castle in Edinburgh is often overlooked thanks to Edinburgh Castle, however, it is a castle that everyone should make the effort to visit.

I spent two years living in Edinburgh, so I got to know the usual tourist haunts pretty well. Craigmillar Castle is one of my favourite hidden gems in the city.

Sitting on the fringes of the city, it is one of Scotland’s most beautiful and best-preserved castles. These factors have made it a popular filming location; both Outlaw King and Outlander used Craigmillar Castle to shoot scenes!

Covid-19 notice: While I’ve tried my best to keep this article updated with the latest information, due to the pandemic some attractions and places mentioned in this article may be closed. Be sure to plan ahead, check what’s open before you visit and read my Covid-19 Scotland guide for more information on travel in Scotland.

Craigmillar Castle doesn’t need the fame garnered by Outlander– it’s an interesting location in its own right. The ancient ruin was a popular residence for horse-riding, hunting, and, more importantly, for plotting away from the watchful eye of the city. While the history of Craigmillar Castle had very little to do with Robert the Bruce, it is tied closely to the fate of another royal- Mary Queen of Scots.

A trip to Craigmillar Castle should be on everyone’s Scotland bucket list. The castle is easily accessed from Edinburgh’s city centre; it is located only three miles away, with regular buses.

So if you want to avoid the crazy crowds that Edinburgh Castle attracts, Craigmillar Castle is a gem waiting to be discovered!

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Craigmillar Castle Edinburgh: A Wee Bit Of History

Craigmillar Castle was originally outside of Edinburgh, until the city limits expanded far enough that it is now included as being part of the city!

It is one of the most well-preserved castles in Scotland, as well as being incredibly photogenic. I recommend walking to the south side of the castle for the best photos!

The Preston family of Craigmillar began building the castle in the late 14th century. It was extended over the following two centuries. The old fish pond in the shape of a ‘P’ can still be viewed on the south side of the castle.

In 1660, the castle was sold to Sir John Gilmour. The Gilmour’s left the castle during the 18th century, and it was during this time the castle fell into ruin.

The labyrinth of stairs and rooms makes the castle an interesting and slightly confusing place to explore. It’s a great family day out; children love exploring the many nooks and crannies of the castle.

Craigmillar Castle also has stunning views of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat from the top of the tower.

>> Read more: A guide to visiting Cramond Island in Edinburgh

The Castle and the Queen

One of Craigmillar Castle’s most famous visitors was Mary Queen of Scots. She stayed here on two occasions; the first in September 1563, and the second in December 1566 after suffering an illness shortly after she gave birth to James IV– the future King who would unite Scotland and England.

Queen Mary partook in activities such as archery, hunting and horse-riding at Craigmillar Castle.

The first thing you’ll notice when entering the castle is two yew trees that line the entrance. It is believed these trees were planted in Queen Mary’s honour when she stayed at the castle. The wood from yew trees are often used to craft bows for archery, and they symbolise longevity and rebirth. You’ll find them planted at the entrance of many churches in Ireland.

The two yew trees at Craigmillar Castle

It was during Mary’s second visit that the plot to dispose of her reckless husband, Lord Darnley, was hatched. The plan was called the Craigmillar Bond, and Queen Mary probably didn’t know about it.

The decision was reached after Darnley burst into Queen Mary’s supper chamber at the Palace of Holyroodhouse with his men, who murdered the Queen’s Private Secretary, David Rizzio, in front of her. Lord Darnley was jealous of their relationship and accused him of impregnating the Queen.

Craigmillar was a safe haven for royals and nobles to go about their plotting, or to simply escape the politics of the city.

>> Read more: 11 cheap pubs in Edinburgh

How to get to Craigmillar Castle in Edinburgh

Craigmillar Castle is easily accessible by bus; it takes less than 15 minutes from the centre of Edinburgh. A bus ticket will cost you only £1.70 each way, or £4 for a day pass. You can use Traveline to find the right bus, or search using Google Maps for the next available bus from your location.

Opening hours:

30 April to 31 March: Daily, 10am to 4pm

Closed December 25th and 26th and January 1st and 2nd.

Admission:

£6.00 adult | £4.80 concession | £3.60 child (5-15) | Under 5: Free

Bookings are required in advance. You can purchase your tickets here.

Summary

It’s astonishing Craigmillar Castle isn’t more popular than it is, but it should get a boost of exposure due to its use as a filming location. Craigmillar Castle ticks all the boxes a good Scottish castle should- it was a royal residence, it has a dramatic history, is only partially ruined and is achingly beautiful.

Visiting Craigmillar Castle in Edinburgh is a fantastic budget-friendly activity that isn’t yet overrun with tourists- I encourage you to visit!

Have you visited Craigmillar Castle?

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Celeste Weklych

Tuesday 26th of March 2019

SO excited to read this! Cannot wait to visit! I submitted my DNA on Ancestry.com and learned that Sir Simon Preston was my 18th Great-grandfather! When I saw the castle he built, although in ruins, was still able to be toured, I began researching and planning to visit! Hoping to stay at the Prestonfield House and perhaps see if I can find a tour guide who knows the history of the Preston family and the castle. In the meantime ... I'm reading all I can find on the subject!

Susanne Arbuckle

Wednesday 14th of November 2018

I've just watched the Outlaw King and although I've yet to make it to Craigmillar Castle, it is definitely on my list for 2019. Thanks for all the tips to help make my planning a bit easier!

Yvette Morrissey

Wednesday 14th of November 2018

It's a stunning castle and often overlooked thanks to Edinburgh Castle being so close. Have fun! The best photos are when you walk around the back of the castle into the field.

scots2travel

Monday 12th of November 2018

You're right, the history of that castle is colourful enough! The plus side is that film fans will learn the history when they visit in pursuit of a cool cinematic backdrop. Everyone's a winner.

Yvette Morrissey

Wednesday 14th of November 2018

I hope the film brings more tourism to the castle- it's truly stunning and I'm amazed it's not a hugely popular tourist attraction. It may very well be now however!

Ashley Cairns

Sunday 28th of October 2018

What a beautiful castle and with so much history!

Yvette Morrissey

Tuesday 30th of October 2018

It's amazing given the history it's not as popular as other castles in the area. I think this will change now given it was an Outlaw King filming location!

Dagney

Saturday 27th of October 2018

What a fascinating place! I didn't realise there was another castle so close to the city! And the prices are incredibly affordable for a British castle. Bet that wont last long with the new film. Speaking of, I'm going to have to check out Outlaw King so I can see more of this beautiful spot since unfortunately we won't be in Scotland for awhile :(

Yvette Morrissey

Tuesday 30th of October 2018

I'm guessing the price will be bumped up for next summer now that the castle featured in Outlaw King :)