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!
Craigmillar Castle doesn’t need the fame garnered by Outlaw King as it is an interesting location in its own right. The ancient ruin was a popular residence for horse-riding, hunting, and, most commonly, for plotting away from the watchful eye of the city, While the history of Craigmillar castle has very little to do with Robert the Bruce, it is tied closely to the fate of another royal- Mary Queen of Scots.
A half-day or a day trip to Craigmillar Castle should be on every visitor to Scotland’s bucket list; the castle is easily accessed from Edinburgh’s city centre; it is located only 3 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!
Craigmillar Castle Edinburgh: A Wee Bit Of History
Craigmillar castle was originally outside of Edinburgh, until the city limits expanded widely 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 (walk around 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 two following 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 makes for a great family day out- children love exploring the many nooks and crannies of the castle.
Craigmillar castle also offers stunning views of Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat. Edinburgh castle can also be spotted from the top of the tower.
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 about the castle is the 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.
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.
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.
1 April to 30 September: Daily 9.30am – 5.30pm
October: Daily 10am-4pm
1 November to 31 March: Sat – Wed 10am to 4pm
£6.00 adult | £4.80 concession | £3.60 child (5-15) | Under 5: Free
It’s astonishing Craigmillar Castle isn’t more popular than it is, but with the boost of exposure as its use as a filming location (and maybe this article) this will hopefully change. It 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?