Feel free to storm the castle

10-year-old Jennie Macdonald and 11-year-old Robbie Mackintosh help launch the free passes

10-year-old Jennie Macdonald and 11-year-old Robbie Mackintosh help launch the free passes

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HOW often have you heard family and friends say it took them years to get round to visiting Edinburgh Castle?

It’s certainly easy to take Scotland’s cultural treasures for granted. So what better time to reconnect with the country’s past than on the feast day of its patron saint? And without spending a penny.

Historic Scotland will open more than 40 of its top attractions next weekend and on November 30 – all part of the St Andrew’s Visit For Free programme.

Edinburgh Castle will be among those offering free entry, with sites the length and breadth of Scotland – from Stirling Castle’s newly refurbished Renaissance Palace to Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness – opening their doors as the country’s winter festivals season gets under way.

“There are so many people who say they haven’t been to the Castle in 20 or 30 years, or not since they were children,” says Nick Finnigan, executive manager of Edinburgh Castle for Historic Scotland.

“But it has a real relevance to the population, from the people who get married here to the people who saw Arcade Fire or Brian Ferry. For St Andrew’s Day we’re saying – come up, it’s free.”

Along with St Andrews Castle and Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle will be free to enter on November 30, with more than 40 other sites free on November 26 and 27.

Visitors to the Castle – Scotland’s most-popular tourist attraction – will also have a chance to view the Honours of Scotland and the Stone of Destiny.

“People really underestimate the amount of time that you can spend here,” adds Nick. “People think that you can ‘do’ the Castle in an hour but I would say you need to spend a whole day here – at least.

“We want the residents of Edinburgh, and Scotland, to enjoy their heritage. One of our aims in this event is to make sure that all elements of this building are presented to the public.

“On the day, the full visitor experience will be available free, including some of the most popular attractions in Scotland – from St Margaret’s Chapel to the Mons Meg siege cannon to the amazingly atmospheric Great Hall.

“The St Andrews Visit for Free programme is an integral part of Scotland’s winter festivals season,” says Nick. “By making the Castle open to the public we feel we are showing our full commitment to the success of the festivals.”

This year there will also be costumed performances happening at the sites, from the legend of St Andrews at St Andrews Cathedral to special events at Edinburgh Castle. A winter festival family quiz will also be held at Edinburgh Castle which will run until Burns Night, with the Gaelic Junior Guides conducting two special performances on St Andrews Day itself.

By registering at www.ticketgiveaway.co.uk, visitors can download free weekend passes providing access for up to two adults and three children to all ticketed Historical Scotland properties.

And Historic Scotland will be offering visitors the chance to collect stamps at each site over the weekend, with those collecting five eligible for entry to an online competition for Historic Scotland membership and the chance to win a VIP trip to Edinburgh and Stirling castles.

Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop has voiced her support. “Historic Scotland’s free admission is hugely popular with visitors and is a great way to kick start this year’s winter festivals campaign,” she says.

“Scotland is home to some of the most magnificent castles, abbeys and palaces in the world and this is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate St Andrew by visiting one of these sites for free.”

“We’re very pleased to open our doors for free this November,” says Stephen Duncan, director of commercial and tourism at Historic Scotland

“Prospective visitors just need to ensure that they register in advance to have the opportunity of free access to some of the country’s top visitor attractions.”

Edinburgh, Stirling and Urquhart castles are open from 9.30am to 5pm. All other properties will be open 9.30am– 4.30pm. For more information, visit www.historic-scotland.gov.uk.