First of all, if you're visiting the castle, wear 5 t-shirts, 3 jumpers, 2 scarves, and a coat made out of a duvet. It is colder than Pluto. It's so cold, it feels like there are rats chewing your face off. Trust me on this. It's even colder than Edinburgh, and it's in Edinburgh. Bring 5 rolls of film, you will take thousands of photos. Wear a hat. It's windy.

Nothing can prepare you for it. You look at the pictures, sure, you think, it can't really look like that... On your first day in Edinburgh, you stroll on to Princes Street from wherever you're staying, everything seems normal, and then it suddenly looms into view. One side of the street is normal, shops, pedestrians, blah blah blah. The other side? A fucking huge mountain with a massive castle on top. Nothing - nothing - can prepare you for the first time you see it. It's easy to spot first-time visitors to Edinburgh, they're the ones shuffling along Princes Street, open-mouthed, gawking at the castle and tripping over. You can't tear your eyes away from it, you wonder how on earth these people can carry on with their lives and not stare at it in amazement. The fact that it's an extinct volcano makes it even cooler. Literally. That was a terrible joke, I'm sorry. You will piss away at least one roll of film just taking photos from this street.

Go to the end of Princes Street, cross the road, and walk up The Mound, an almost vertical road. This will bring you on to the Royal Mile, and the approach to the castle. If you have time, call into the Camera Obscura, it's really really cool, and they have holograms too. Walk towards the castle. Watch it get bigger and bigger. Buy a ticket, they're £7.50 for adults, £2.00 for children. Don't bring any children. Please. They'll just get bored and annoy people (see below). It's open 9.30am to 6pm during April-September, and 9.30am to 5pm October to March. No dogs allowed. If you are using a wheelchair, be warned: it's bloody steep, and everywhere's cobbled - there's pretty good access to most of it, but some of it's just too narrow.

As soon as you're in, go to the toilets, they're just to your left. You've got a long journey ahead. You can buy an audio guide here if you want, but I wouldn't bother, just experience the place for yourself. Note: gusfoo says getting the audio tour is a MUST. The audio tour guide for the Castle is pretty non-standard in as much that each entry in it is played as a sort of "radio drama" piece, giving an intense feeling of occasion and place. Well worth the (small) fee - in that case, it sounds worth checking out, go for it. Now - onwards.

Walk up, check out the exterior walls, there are good photo opportunities here. At the top is a lovely coffee shop/restaurant selling yummy food and drink - try and get a window table, the views are gorgeous. Just next to the shop is a fucking huge artillery gun, which is fired every day at 1pm. If you have a hetero girlfriend, don't expect any attention for at least half an hour, as she will be swooning over the real live soldiers guarding the place in their uniforms. If gay guys have the same men-in-uniform thing as girls, then the same thing applies. This gun is loud, I mean really loud. We didn't go to the castle the first day we were in the city, and I was disappointed because we wouldn't get to hear the gun. At 1pm, in a shop on one of the backstreets, we embarrassed ourselves by jumping an inch off the floor and shouting "Christ!". You'll hear the gun. Wherever you are. But if you can get there in time, it's fun to watch, because when the soldier marches over to it, he never announces it or does a countdown - he just stands there for a minute or two, looking at his watch. You think, hmm, I wonder when th-BOOM! Fuuuuck! Everyone jumps, swears, screams, then laughs.

I can't carry on with directions now, because there are so many twists, turns, and little diversions. Explore everywhere thoroughly - if you haven't worn enough clothes, you won't want to do this, it'll be too cold. See the huge cannons, look along their barrels and pretend to light them with your lighter, for comic effect. Check out the spooky prisons and dungeons - imagine being locked up for the rest of your life in the tiny cells, or shut in a crumbling dungeon with 100 others. Marvel at the crown jewels, and imagine living as royalty in the huge, ornate rooms. Take 50 photos of one of the views from the top of a wall, and then take another 50 from another spot just 4 feet away.

The war memorial is quite moving - books and books of the Scottish who died in the service of their country. The sign on the door asks you to be quiet out of respect for the dead - sadly, the day we were there, it was full of parents who let their bastard children run around shouting, climbing on the memorial, and slamming the books shut. This upset me very much. If you're going to bring children, either make them realise that this is a quiet place devoted to people who died, or leave them the fuck outside. It's not a fucking McDonalds, or a toyshop, it's a memorial to people who died. Message ends.

My favourite thing about the castle was totally unexpected. Over the side of one of the walls is a tiny platform that you can't get to, you can just look down at it, with lots of tiny little headstones - it's a graveyard for the soldiers' dogs. It's really sweet, upsetting, and strange. You won't forget it. I certainly won't.

When you've seen the whole place, stroll down to the Royal Mile, go into one of the many pubs, and get a drink down your neck. Then have some more.

If you like touristy places, you'll like this place. If you hate touristy places, you'll love it. I hate touristy places. It's stunningly beautiful, magical, and I've never seen anything quite like it. If you've never been to Edinburgh, it's worth going just to see the castle.

But trust me - it really is cold. Seriously, now. Listen to Uncle Ralphy.

Update: SEF says "You know, though, if you visit in June it's ... well, it's not warm precisely, but a lot warmer" - fair enough, although I'll always keep a hat in my pocket, just in case...

For pictures of the castle, go here:

You won't believe the pictures are real, though. I didn't. You'll just have to go there. Disturbingly, the above site also has a close up shot of a kilted soldier's legs. Hmm...

Ooh! I've just realised that this is my first ever Place node. Huzzah! and so on, and so forth.