Exploring Medieval Secrets in Craigmillar Castle

Our family has just returned from a month in Edinburgh, Scotland. The kids and I enjoyed all sorts of amazing adventures there while Mike took care of 16 university students with the help of an incredibly capable teaching assistant. The four castles plus one palace that we visited during our time in Scotland were highlights of the trip for all four children! Today I’m sharing our adventure exploring medieval secrets in Craigmillar Castle. I also have a few tips for visiting this castle with kids.

Can’t visit in person? Check out these awesome activities, books, and toys for exploring castles from the comfort of your own home!

Craigmillar castle is a wonderful introduction to medieval history for kids! Great tips for visiting Craigmillar Castle in this post.

Exploring Medieval Secrets in Craigmillar Castle

What better way to introduce children to medieval history than by touring a proper medieval castle? Craigmillar Castle is one of the best-preserved medieval castles you can find! Built beginning in the 14th century, with bits added on into the 17th century, this castle witnessed the move from Medieval living into the Renaissance Age.

The central portion of the castle – the tower house – dates back to the late 14th century. That is the portion of the castle that you see standing tallest in the photos. Several large sections were added on into the 17th century, without changing the original sections of the castle.

History for kids: Medieval Castles
Finding Symbols at Craigmillar Castle

Here the kids are running across the outer courtyard. The wall you see here was mostly built in the 15th century, with the bit starting just to the right of Lily (in the white jacket) added on in the 16th century. This newer wall encloses the outer courtyard. The crest above the door is the royal arms, showing that the land had been built on by a tenant-in-chief of the crown. This meant that the king allowed him to live on the land in exchange for him providing certain services, such as providing knights and soldiers for the king’s army. You can also find the coat of arms for the two Preston and Gilmour families that owned the castle over the centuries.

Walking along the top of the inner courtyard at Craigmillar Castle

We climbed up a spiral staircase and then a few more straightforward stairs to walk along the castle battlements. You can see the entire city of Edinburgh from this viewpoint!

Six-year-old Lily was disappointed to see no cannons at this castle. There may well have been some cannons on site at some point in time, and there are gunholes spread throughout to provide defense. However, this castle was a rural retreat in an area where it was not likely to be attacked very frequently – and to my knowledge, it was never attacked. Its location on the top of a hill means that residents can easily spot any intruders long before they draw near enough to physically attack.

Using Craigmillar Castle to Introduce Kids to Medieval History

Holiday adventures for kids at Craigmillar Castle

Exploring Craigmillar Castle

Medieval times always held a certain intrigue for me as a child, and with good reason! This castle is full of interesting little nooks and crannies. In the photo above, Anna is entering the vaulted cellars of the East Range. This is a fantastic space to explore and play hide and seek. There is even a prison room, which looks appropriately miserable. You can find the room where Mary Queen of Scots possibly slept when she sought refuge in Craigmillar Castle after giving birth to King James.

The Laird's Hall in Craigmillar Castle

The Laird’s Hall

This incredibly well-preserved Laird’s Hall is one of the highlights of this castle. Here the owners of the castle – first the de Preston family who built the castle, and later the Gilmour family – would have entertained guests. A friend in Edinburgh told me that she once attended a wedding that was held in this hall, so the castle is still used occasionally to entertain guests today (or at least was, a few years ago)!

Tips for Exploring Craigmillar Castle with Kids

Medieval History brought to life: Craigmillar Castle

Why Visit Craigmillar Castle?

Edinburgh Castle is much more famous than this castle, so why make the effort to visit this one as well? We love Craigmillar Castle for the lack of crowds, most of all! This castle is very relaxing to visit. There are rarely more than a few groups visiting at any given time. The castle is large enough that you can take your time to freely explore. The castle is feels more gentler, since it is a retreat rather than in the middle of the city. There are wonderful spaces for children to explore.

Making the Most of Your Visit

  • If you are spending a significant period of time in Scotland, I highly recommend joining Historic Scotland. They have affordable rates that allow you to visit the many castles in the area as many times as you like for one set fee. Membership also allows you a 20% discount in the local shops.
  • I always buy the simple guidebooks at these sites. Sometimes we read them while we are visiting, and sometimes we only open the book once we are home. I find that my children grow incredibly curious after seeing a location in person. Guidebooks provide fascinating details and bits of history that can provide plenty of additional learning long after you return home.
  • If you can, visit on a nice day. Much of the castle is uncovered, so it is a lot more fun when it isn’t raining! Mike took his students on an incredibly rainy day, and they still had a good time. The kids and I were invited along, but we opted to wait for better weather.
The scenic route to Craigmillar Castle

Getting to Craigmillar Castle

The easiest way to arrive at Craigmillar Castle is by car or taxi. If you take the bus, as we did, you can get off at the Royal Infirmary and follow a footpath. Alternately, get off one stop earlier and take a longer, but more beautiful, route through Craigmillar Castle Park. We recommend the park entrance, but be aware that you will have to walk all the way around the castle to reach the entrance – at least if you take the path we found!

Have you ever visited this castle? If you could visit any castle, which one would you pick?

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MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

6 thoughts on “Exploring Medieval Secrets in Craigmillar Castle”

  1. Elisa | blissful E

    Ooooh! I haven’t been in this one – it looks fantastic. Most of the castles I’ve been to were ruins, except for the very touristy ones. This looks perfect – well-preserved yet uncrowded.

  2. Great idea to visit a castle that is less busy–so great for keeping an eye on young kids! The guidebook idea is also great–much easier than Googling constant questions. Thanks for the share!

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