Dunfermline Abbey is located in the heart of Scotland’s ancient capital and several medieval royals are buried inside, including Robert the Bruce. The abbey borders a large public park and is within a short walk of Dunfermline high street.
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Review of Dunfermline Abbey
Dunfermline Abbey is a historic site that has a history stretching back almost as far as the history of Scotland itself.
It’s here at this impressive 900-year-old abbey where some of Scotland’s greatest kings and queens were buried, with prominent figures including Saint Margaret (wife of Malcolm III) and Robert the Bruce buried beneath the abbey grounds.
But it’s not just the inhabitants of the mausoleum that draws in thousands of visitors every year, because this is one historic building that’s worth visiting just to appreciate its architecture.
What started as a small priory in 1070 became the grandest abbey in the whole of Scotland thanks to the continuing programme of building works that began all the way back in the 12th-century.
We can thank King David I for the monumental scale of Dunfermline Abbey after he became inspired by the equally impressive Durham Cathedral in England, and even today you can’t fail to be impressed by the enormous Romanesque pillars inside the magnificent nave and the colossal buttresses that surround the outside of the building.
It really is a bit of a gem amongst Scotland’s historic attractions.
Things to do at Dunfermline Abbey
If you’ve got any interest in history then you’re going to really enjoy a visit to Dunfermline Abbey with its hugely impressive nave and mausoleum housing Scotland’s medieval royalty.
But even if tales of dusty old kings and queens aren’t your thing, a trip to this Historic Environment Scotland site is well-worth taking.
The grounds surrounding the abbey are expansive and house a huge collection of tombs and gravestones so they’re a good place to start your tour, and after wandering around the neatly trimmed graveyard paths you’ll probably be itching to look inside the main abbey building.
The first thing I recommend you do when entering the nave is to look up and gaze at the pillars and columns that tower overhead.
It always amazes me how those medieval stonemasons managed to create such monumental buildings back in the day, especially one like Dunfermline Abbey which still impresses modern-day visitors 900 years after its foundation stones were first laid.
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Even if you’re not a religious type I can guarantee you’ll be impressed by the stunning stained-glass windows – especially if the sun is shining through them – which is part of the reason why over 30,000 tourists visit this historic attraction each year.
Another good reason for coming here is to see the final resting place of Robert the Bruce with its regal bronze floor plaque, and the elaborate shrine of St. Margaret at the east end of the nave.
Leaving the nave you can head towards the gatehouse where you’ll see the ruins of the old monk’s refectory which has a few information displays to read, while the nearby Dunfermline Park can be easily visited through the gate at the western end if you want to head off in that direction (the park is well worth walking around anyway as it has a few attractions of its own, including a museum, pavilion and a peacock sanctuary).
As the abbey is located in the heart of Dunfermline it’s easy enough to find a café if you fancy a snack after enjoying your slice of history, and it’s only around a half-hour drive across the Forth Bridge if you want to head into Edinburgh afterwards.
The history of Dunfermline Abbey
The first religious site in Dunfermline was the priory established by Malcolm III in the 12th-century, and it’s on this small church that the Dunfermline Abbey that we see today was built.
It was actually Malcolm’s wife, Margaret, who introduced Benedictine monks to Dunfermline Priory, and after her death her son, David I, began works to build a magnificent abbey that would rival any other in Scotland.
In 1250 the remains of Margaret (later to become Saint Margaret) were moved to an elaborate shrine at the eastern end of the abbey and Dunfermline became the primary site for burials of Scottish royalty.
Perhaps even more famous than Saint Margaret’s tomb is that of Robert the Bruce who was interred there in 1329.
King Robert had close ties to the abbey as he had personally overseen its reconstruction after it was damaged by Edward I during the Scottish Wars of Independence and Dunfermline Abbey became a beacon of Scotland’s self-reliance.
Unfortunately, the abbey was yet again ransacked during the Scottish Reformation in 1560 but thankfully the nave was left unharmed. Although Dunfermline Abbey lost its status as a site of royal burials shortly after the Reformation (Iona Abbey was used instead), the nave continued to be used as a parish church right up to the present day.
- The nave is a huge building and there’s a lot to see so thankfully HES have installed plenty of information panels so you know exactly where it all fits into Scotland’s history.
- This abbey has a fascinating past – it’s a great site for history buffs.
- It’s centrally located in Dunfermline so it’s easy to find and perhaps even better is the fact that it’s surprisingly easy to get to from Edinburgh.
- There aren’t any toilets on-site but there are cafés with toilets nearby. Just head towards the town centre.
- Dunfermline is a nice enough town but I highly recommend after you visit the abbey you drive west on the A985 to explore the quaint historic village of Culross.
- If you’d rather stretch your legs in Dunfermline you’ll find Pittencrieff Park nearby which is large enough to spend a full afternoon at.
St Margaret’s Street,
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Things to do near Dunfermline Abbey
- Pittencrieff Park. Pittencrieff St, Dunfermline KY12 8QH. 1-minute walk. An extensive public park with a spiders-web of footpaths through managed lawns and coppices. The park includes children’s play areas, a pavilion, several memorials, a peacock sanctuary and more.
- Dunfermline town centre. 2-minute walk. Historic Dunfermline offers a number of local shops, cafés, pubs and restaurants in its high street which is an easily accessible walk from the abbey.
- Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum. Moodie St, Dunfermline KY12 7PL. 4-minute walk. A museum dedicated to the entrepreneur Andrew Carnegie who was born in Dunfermline but later moved to America to become the world’s richest man. The museum features original artefacts as well as displays of 19th-century life in Dunfermline.
- Abbot House. 11 Maygate, Dunfermline KY12 7NE. 2-minute walk. Local centre for Dunfermline history and heritage. This historic building aims to preserve the story of the town and its people with a collection of archives, exhibits and displays. There is a café and a micro-brewery on-site.
- Pittencrieff Glasshouse. Dunfermline KY12 8QH. 2-minute walk. A large refurbished glasshouse that is over 200 feet long. The glasshouse contains a variety of exotic plant species from across the globe. The front of the glasshouse features ornamental gardens and flower borders.
More places to visit in Central Scotland
- The Scottish Deer Centre – Fife: Complete Visitor GuideSet in 55 acres of lovely Fife countryside, The Scottish Deer Centre is an animal conservation park that looks after 14 species of deer from around the world as well as wolves, otters, wildcats, and birds of prey.
- Scone Palace – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideScone Palace is widely recognised as one of the top tourist attractions in central Scotland, not only because It’s a genuinely interesting place to visit but also because it’s absolutely steeped in history.
- The Crieff Hydro – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideThe Crieff Hydro is a popular resort in the Perthshire countryside that offers a range of health-based activities as well as large grounds for walking and relaxation. The hotel boasts over 200 bedrooms and over 50 self-catering properties, as well as restaurants, cafes and bars.
- The Kelpies – Stirlingshire: Complete Visitor GuideThese equine marvels are Scotland’s celebration of a bygone era of horse-drawn barges that kept the nation’s industry going for well over a hundred years, and although Clydesdale’s (the breed of horse) are no longer a sight on the canals you can at least enjoy the spectacle of the world’s biggest horse sculptures when you go to visit them at Helix Park.