A Guide To: Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace
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The Out About Scotland complete guide to Holyrood Palace

Religious Site Museum or Art Gallery Castle or Historic Building

What’s this attraction all about?

The palace of Holyrood House (as it’s officially known), is the main residence of the British monarchy in Scotland and is located at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from Edinburgh castle. The palace has a long history dating back to the 12th-century and it’s still used to host state occasions to this day. Queen Elizabeth II spends one week at the palace at the beginning of each summer, and many tourists wait excitedly for the royal flag to be raised which indicates that she’s in residence.

The palace offers loads of activities to visitors, including viewing the official state apartments of Mary Queen of Scots, the Throne Room and the Great Gallery as well as exploring the ruins of Holyrood Abbey and the beautiful palace gardens. There’s also an excellent cafe, one of the best-quality shops of any attraction in Scotland and an exhibition of master paintings in the Queen’s Gallery.



What can you do there?

As you enter the front courtyard via the ticket office you’re immediately presented with the palatial entrance to the front, glimpses of Holyrood Park to the right, and the ruins of the Holyrood Abbey to the left. But moving forwards through the main door will give you your first views of the palace interior, and an inclination of the sights to come.

The route through the interior rooms will take you on a tour of the history of the building, including the 17th-century king’s apartments, the Great Gallery, and the 16th-century apartments where Mary Queen of Scots took residence. Other fascinating areas open to the public are the royal dining room, the royal bedchambers and several royal drawing rooms, and if you walk into the dining room be sure to take a look at the collection of silverware that’s laid out on the dining table. You won’t believe that so many forks, spoons and knives could ever be used in one sitting!

As you wander through the palace rooms you’ll be amazed by the intricacy of the needlework on the tapestries that adorn the walls and the beautiful paintings that seem to cover every other available space. The level of opulence is astounding, and fine china, beautiful artworks, and rich fabrics seem to cover every surface. The king’s bedchamber in the east wing is well worth visiting just for the artwork that’s been carved into the ceiling plasterwork, so while you’re looking around the room remember to look up as well.

The most substantial room in the palace is the Great Gallery which is decorated with over 100 paintings of various Scottish monarchs from throughout history. Although it’s mainly used for banquets today, in years gone by it had several uses as a chapel, a place where Scottish peers were elected, and even as a ballroom.

Leaving the Great Gallery you can access the north-west tower which is where the doomed Mary Queen of Scots and her husband, Lord Darnley, took residence. A sensation of ancient history seems to ooze out of every wood panel and floorboard in this part of the palace, and many display cabinets house elaborate examples of jewellery and clothing from the era.

There are too many rooms in Holyrood Palace to describe them all in detail, but once you’ve had a wander around the inside make sure you view the adjoining gardens outside. Set over 10 acres they feature a stunning collection of roses, manicured lawns and examples of Scottish plant life laid out in the formal style of the 19th-century. In summer these gardens are still used for the official royal summer party where selected individuals are invited to the palace at the request of The Queen. It’s a long-standing joke around Edinburgh that you’ll know who’s been invited to the party because they’ll be showing off their car windscreen passes until Christmas…

The ruins of Holyrood Abbey are usually the last section of the palace to be explored, and although the roof has long gone, the size of the building is still impressive. Constructed in 1128 by King David I, the abbey has held many important events such as the parliament of Robert the Bruce, the marriage of King James II, and the marriage of King James III.

The Queens Gallery is situated near the entrance to the palace and it’s well worth visiting to see some of the old masterpieces that you might not be able to see in any other gallery in Scotland. The exhibition is themed and rotates around on a regular basis, so if you re-visit later in the year you’ll probably see an entirely new collection of paintings.

Finally, no visit to an attraction like this would be complete without a visit to the cafe which is, of course, top-notch. The quality of the food on offer is amazing, and although it’s a little pricey it’s well worth the expense. And before you leave don’t forget to check out the shop which has some of the finest quality souvenirs that I’ve ever seen in a Scottish tourist attraction.


The history of the attraction

The story of Holyrood Palace begins with the ruined Augustinian Holyrood Abbey that was founded in 1128. Being so close to Edinburgh Castle the abbey soon took on importance as a royal household and administration centre, with Robert the Bruce holding sessions of parliament there in the early 14th-century.

By the early 16th-century the construction of a new gothic-style palace had been undertaken on the orders of King James IV, who also oversaw the construction of the gatehouse and the royal apartments. Following this a chapel was built in the south wing while the west wing was converted into a library and an extension of the rooms in the royal apartments.

In 1650 the east range of the palace was set on fire by English troops under the command of Oliver Cromwell which led to the eastern section of the palace being abandoned, however after Charles II was throned in 1660 a plan of reconstruction began which included the addition of a south-west tower housing a council chamber and a gallery to link the king and queen’s apartments.

Reconstruction works for the palace began in 1671 and took seven years to complete, with the finished building now featuring the square design and central quadrangle that we recognise today. The imposing quadrangle is a monumental construction with each side being around 230 feet in length, while the floors vary in height from two to three stories. Suffice to say, wherever you view Holyrood Palace from you can’t fail to be impressed by it.


What I liked about this attraction

  • The buildings and furnishings are absolutely beautiful and not only that but there’s a whole load to learn about the palace as you walk through it on your tour.
  • The garden is lovely (especially in summer) and the abbey is a fascinating old ruin.
  • Points also go to the cafe and the shop which are both top quality.

What I didn’t like about this attraction

  • The entrance fee is a bit pricey, but then it should keep you occupied for a good few hours.
  • Likewise, I thought the cafe was expensive, although the food was great.
  • If you’ve got really young kids or teenagers with a smart-phone fixation then I suspect they’re going to get a bit bored walking through all the palace rooms.

Getting there

Palace of Holyroodhouse,

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Contact details

Prices and opening times


Palace of Holyroodhouse Combined visit to the Palace, The Gallery & Garden History Tour
Adult £15.00 £20.20
Over 60/Student (with valid ID) £13.50 £18.40 (over 60), £17.90 (student)
Under 17/Disabled £8.70 £11.20
Under 5 Free Free
Family (2 adults and 3 under 17s) £38.710 £51.80
Opening time Last admission Closing time
1 November – 31 March 09:30 15:15 16:30
1 April – 31 October 09:30 16:30 18:00



Giftshop Onsite Bus Stop Nearby Toilets Onsite Suitable for Young Children Suitable for the Elderly Restaurant Onsite Accessible for pushchairs Light Snacks Available Hot Drinks Available Easy Access Pathways Accessible for the Disabled



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Craig Smith

Craig Smith is your guide to the best attractions in Scotland. He loves exploring the Scottish wilds and is happiest when he's knee-deep in a muddy bog in the middle of nowhere.

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