EdinburghRegions of Scotland

Craigmillar Castle Visitor Guide

Welcome to one of Edinburgh’s best-kept secrets, the majestic Craigmillar Castle. Steeped in grandeur, cloaked in mystery, and brimming with stories of royal intrigue, Craigmillar Castle is an unmissable destination for history enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike.

In this article, we’ll walk its ancient halls, explore its fascinating history, and discover why this captivating fortress holds a special place in Scotland’s past.

Craigmillar Castle
Address:Craigmillar Castle Road,
EH16 4SY
Opening Hours:1 Apr to 30 Sept: Daily, 10am to 5pm (last entry 4.15pm)
1 Oct to 31 Mar: Daily, 10am to 4pm (last entry 3.15pm)
Admission Price:Adult (16-64yrs) £7.00
Concession (65yrs+ and unemployed) £5.50
Child (5-15yrs) £4.00
Family (1 adult, 2 children) £14.00
Family (2 adults, 2 children) £20.00
Family (2 adults, 3 children) £24.00
Parking:Limited free car park on-site
Contact:0131 661 4445
Facilities:Shop, toilets, bike rack, picnic area, drinks machine, water refill


If anyone mentions the words ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘castle’ in the same sentence, most people instantly imagine the mediaeval fortress on Castle Rock. But there’s another castle in Edinburgh that has almost as much history, yet it goes entirely unnoticed by the majority of visiting tourists.

Sitting just three miles outside of the city centre is Craigmillar Castle, the ancestral home of the once-powerful Preston family. Although the castle is currently in ruins, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has done a fantastic job of restoring it as a tourist attraction. While it’s true that much of the castle is roofless, it still remains one of the best-preserved mediaeval castles in Scotland, and its location means it can easily be combined with a visit to Edinburgh Castle or Holyrood Palace.

There’s a car park on-site but to be honest the Lothian Bus network is so good I suggest you take public transport instead so look for the number 14 bus from North Bridge which will drop you a few minutes walk away from the castle entrance.

The centre of Craigmillar Castle consists of a large L-plan tower house that was built in 1425, along with an enclosed courtyard wall and a sizeable outer courtyard that was added in 1511. These walls are incredibly thick, but especially so in the central tower where the walls are over 11 feet wide in places.

When you visit, have a look at the ‘murder holes’ in the outer walls of the central tower, which used to be a standard feature of fortified castles in Scotland. They were used by soldiers to drop heavy stones on invading troops, and you can see similar defences as you walk around Edinburgh Castle.

To the south, there are the remains of the Preston formal gardens that include the family chapel built in 1520, and it’s easy to imagine you’re walking the same paths that Mary Queen of Scots walked when she was a guest. In fact, the gardens of Craigmaillar Castle have so much history associated with them that they’ve even been included in the UK’s National Register of Historic Gardens.

Craigmillar Castle

The Highlights

1: Craigmillar Castle makes a nice change from Edinburgh’s city-centre attractions, and its location near the Royal Infirmary means buses constantly head in that direction throughout the day.

2: The castle has lots of nooks and crannies that are great fun for children to explore, and adults will enjoy wandering around the ornate rooms and the view from the walkway on the curtain walls.

Visiting Tips

1: Purchase a Historic Environment Scotland Explorer Pass to see this and other Scottish castles for free.

2: Several bus services run from the city center to stops near Craigmillar Castle. You can take Lothian Buses service numbers 14, 30, or 33, and get off at stops close to the castle, then walk the remaining short distance. The journey typically takes around 20-30 minutes depending on traffic.

3: If you’re driving, the castle is approximately a 15-minute drive from the city center, depending on traffic. There’s a parking area near the castle for visitors, though it’s quite small and can fill up quickly.

Craigmillar Castle

Tourist Information

Craigmillar Castle makes a nice change from the busy city centre, and it’s far enough from the hubbub that it almost feels like you’re in the countryside, even though the bus ride from Princes Street takes just 20 minutes.

There are a couple of surprises at the castle, the first of which is the huge tree growing inside the central courtyard, and the second is the viewing platform on the upper level of the tower house.

You’ll get great views across the city from the platform, and it’s the perfect location to take a few photos of Holyrood Park. The rest of the castle is just a series of plain rooms, most of which are in ruin, but at least HES has installed lots of information panels that explain the history of the castle.

A visit shouldn’t take much more than one hour, but it’s possible to make a visit last longer by taking a walk around Craigmillar Castle park which has a large woodland and several rough paths running through it. The castle and its surrounding parkland hosts various events throughout the year, including historical reenactments, educational tours, and family activities so it’s worth checking the events calendar to see what’s coming up next.

With regards to facilities, the site is quite basic with restrooms and a small shop where visitors can purchase souvenirs and guidebooks, but there’s no café, so it’s a good idea to take your own refreshments or plan to eat elsewhere.

Craigmillar Castle

The History of Craigmillar Castle

Building works began on the castle in the late 14th century and it was the main home of the wealthy Preston family until they sold it in 1660.

One of the most famous residents of Craigmillar Castle was Mary Queen of Scots, who famously took refuge there after the birth of her son, James VI. It was during this time that a plan was made to kill her husband, Lord Darnley, which partially led to her downfall.

Following Mary’s exile, the Preston family remained the owners of the castle till Sir John Gilmour purchased it, at which time the Gilmour family carried out extensive renovation work on the accommodation areas. Sir Gilmour had risen to the position of senior judge and held a considerable amount of power and he was also a favourite of King Charles II.

Much like today, the wealthy of the time displayed their fortunes through the size of their houses, and Craigmillar was one of the more formidable status symbols in the area. However, by the late 18th century the walls were beginning to crumble and it was feared it would fall completely into ruin. Thankfully, the castle passed into state care in 1946, and today Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for maintaining the Category A listed building – the highest level of protection that can be given to a historic building in Scotland.

Craigmillar Castle

Things to Do

Explore Craigmillar Castle: Take a journey through history as you explore the nooks and crannies of Craigmillar Castle. This well-preserved medieval castle offers an insight into life during the 14th to 16th centuries. Discover the great hall, the private chambers, and the fascinating tower house.

Discover the Castle Gardens: There are lovely gardens and green spaces all around the castle that you can explore. These were once the hunting grounds for the castle’s residents, but they are now open for visitors to enjoy a leisurely walk, have a picnic, or just relax and appreciate the scenery.

Photography: This historic castle, with its breathtaking views of Edinburgh, provides a fantastic opportunity for photography. Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, you’ll find plenty of inspiration within the castle’s walls.

Family Treasure Hunt: Turn your visit into an adventure for the whole family using the castle’s quiz. Set the kids off to look for hidden features like the remains of a fishpond in the shape of a letter P. Don’t forget to download the fact-finding quiz before you go.

Attend a Local Event: Throughout the year, Craigmillar Castle hosts a range of events from historical reenactments to children’s activities. Check the website before your visit to see what’s coming up next.

Craigmillar Castle

Things to Do Nearby

Holyrood Park. Queen’s Dr, Edinburgh EH8 8HG. 5-minute drive.
One of the largest city parks in the world, Holyrood Park is famed for Arthur’s Seat – the 251-metre pinnacle that offers 360-degree views of Edinburgh. Other highlights are St. Anthony’s Chapel and Duddingston Loch.

Gilmerton Cove. 16 Drum St, Gilmerton, Edinburgh EH17 8QH. 7-minute drive.
A subterranean labyrinth of caves and passageways that are believed to be hundreds of years old but have an unknown purpose. Visitors are taken underground on a guided tour that explores the history of Edinburgh and the secrets of the caves.

Blackford Hill Local Wildlife Reserve. Hermitage of Braid, Edinburgh EH9 3HJ. 9-minute drive.
A large green space in the centre of Edinburgh that is rarely visited by tourists. It features a collection of footpaths that wind their way to the hill summit for panoramic views across the city.

Dr Neil’s Garden. 15 Old Church Ln, Duddingston, Edinburgh EH15 3PX. 5-minute drive.
A secluded city garden situated next to Duddingston Loch in Holyrood Park. Planted with a collection of flowering heathers and alpines alongside conifers, rhododendrons and herbaceous borders. Entry is free.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Craigmillar Castle worth visiting?

Craigmillar Castle is worth a visit as it’s one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Scotland. It offers a wonderful insight into the living conditions of the time, and the castle’s tower house, one of the oldest in Scotland, is a particular highlight. The views from the top are spectacular, you can see right across the city of Edinburgh. The castle’s gardens are also a delight to explore. If you’re a fan of history or architecture, you’ll find plenty to enjoy there.

Did Mary Queen of Scots stay at Craigmillar Castle?

Mary Queen of Scots stayed in Craigmillar Castle in September 1563 and from November to December 1566.
The castle was a popular escape for royalty whenever the politics of Edinburgh became too dangerous.

Was Craigmillar Castle used in Outlander?

Craigmillar Castle was used in the TV series Outlander when it portrayed Ardsmuir Prison in episode 3 of season 3.

What is the significance of Craigmillar Castle?

Craigmillar Castle is known for its close ties to Scottish royalty, most notably Mary Queen of Scots who often resided here. It was in the castle that the plot to murder Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley, was hatched.

Craig Neil

Craig Neil is the author, photographer, admin, and pretty much everything else behind Out About Scotland. He lives near Edinburgh and spends his free time exploring Scotland and writing about his experiences. Follow him on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.