Linlithgow Palace is a Renaissance ruin that was the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. The fortified building is located in Linlithgow in West Lothian next to Linlithgow Loch.
Although the palace is partly in ruin and many sections are roofless it is still an impressive historic attraction. The site is managed by Historic Environment Scotland which allows access daily for a small admission cost.
|Opening Hours:||Friday 10am–4pm|
|Admission Price:||Adult £7.20|
Child (5+ yrs) £4.30
|Parking:||Free car park on-site|
|Facilities:||Toilets, disabled toilets, exhibition, shop, bike racks, picnic area|
Linlithgow Palace is located in the quaint West Lothian market town of Linlithgow, more-or-less halfway between the cities of Stirling and Edinburgh.
Although mostly roofless and virtually in total ruin, it’s an impressive building that offers just as much history as either of the royal residences in the old and new capitals.
It’s also quiet enough that you can walk around it without being constantly jostled by the hordes of tourists that you’ll find in those other two hyper-busy attractions.
Linlithgow is a fairly unremarkable town but it has a peaceful countryside feel to it that makes a nice change from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh and it’s absolutely dripping with history – largely due to the beautiful renaissance palace that’s secreted away down a narrow road leading away from the high street.
Were it not for a couple of signposts you’d never think that one of Scotland’s former royal residences was located there, but making the 20-mile journey from Edinburgh or Stirling will allow you to appreciate what I personally think is one of Scotland’s finest historic buildings.
Linlithgow Palace was originally built as a royal retreat for nobles making the journey between the two cities and thanks to its location next to Linlithgow Loch it would have been both self-sufficient and easily defended.
The location has been inhabited for over 2,000 years and Roman remains have been discovered throughout the area, but as a Scottish royal residence it can trace its roots back to the reign of David I in the early 12th century when the first Scottish palace was built.
The buildings we see today were built by James I from 1424 onwards with subsequent additions made by James III, and over the course of the following centuries they were inhabited by a succession of Scottish nobility including James V and Mary Queen of Scots.
Unfortunately, this majestic palace fell into decline when James VI (the first ruler of both Scotland and England) moved his royal court to London in 1603 which meant there was no need to maintain the vast complex of sumptuously decorated rooms in Linlithgow.
The final nails in the coffin for the palace occurred in 1607 when the north quarter collapsed and again in 1746 when a great fire swept through the palace leaving it roofless and exposed to the elements.
Today, the former royal residence is cared for by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) who have gone to great lengths to restore the majority of it and they also look after the surrounding parkland which has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
There’s a lot to enjoy during a visit to Linlithgow Palace whether you’ve got an interest in history or not, but especially so if you’re the type of person that likes ambling around historic attractions.
2: The palace is enormous and you’ll spend an age wandering through its countless rooms and passageways. This attraction is good value for money, especially if you have a Historic Environment Scotland membership as entry is free.
3: The loch and surrounding parkland are beautiful – and great for wildlife spotting.
1: There are picnic benches in the park so take a packed lunch for al-fresco dining with a nice view. If you’d rather east elsewhere you’ll find a number of cafes in Linlithgow high street.
2: There’s a car park next to the palace but spaces are limited, especially in summer at the weekend – get there early to secure a space.
3: Climb to the top of the main tower for stunning views across Linlithgow Loch.
As with all HES sites there are lots of information boards dotted all over Linlithgow Palace so you’ll be able to discover the history of the place without having to constantly ask the attendants and you can walk around in whatever direction you like on a self-guided tour.
You’ll start at the grand entranceway that sits opposite St. Michael’s Parish Church but my advice would be to first take a look inside the church and then head into the park before entering the palace.
The church is beautiful inside and it’s a fine example of medieval architecture while the park and loch are an oasis of wildlife.
Both are completely free to enter and make a visit to Linlithgow a great family day out, with the bonus that the loch features a lovely two-mile path around it.
There’s a huge amount of wildlife on Linlithgow Loch including the rare Great Crested Grebe and a number of nesting swans, so make sure you’ve got your camera at hand during your walk.
The park is also a top spot for a picnic and there are several benches installed in it while the town centre and its delicious country cafés are just a few minutes away on foot if the weather starts to close in.
Head back to the palace and you’ll find the ticket kiosk and souvenir shop inhabited by knowledgeable staff who’ll be happy to answer any questions you have, after which you can head into the courtyard to go selfie-mad in front of the fountain.
This three-tiered masterpiece was installed by James V in 1538 and it’s festooned with carvings – most of which are remarkably well-preserved. It’s an impressive sight at any time of year but if you’re able I suggest visiting on Sundays in July and August when you can view it in action.
The surrounding courtyard is enormous and gives you a good idea of just how big this royal residence is.
There’s no fixed route to follow so you’re free to walk in any direction you like – but try to climb the main tower on the northwest corner to really appreciate it and take the time to explore the west range which is in a remarkably well-preserved condition.
From there you’ll find superb views of the palace quadrangle and the loch, with the rooftops of the town to one side and the treetops of the West Lothian countryside in the other.
Heading back down the stairs will present you with a maze of great halls and secluded corridors with the upper rooms being exposed to the elements and the lower rooms being roofed but quite dark, cold and damp.
Still, that’s all part of the experience isn’t it?!
All-in-all I’d plan at least 3 hours for a visit to Linlithgow Palace and more if you intend to walk around the town.
If you have spare time I’d also include nearby Blackness Castle into your day which is another of Scotland’s magnificent historic buildings that also has stunning views over the Firth of Forth.
Discover more castles to visit in Scotland with: The Best Castles in Scotland – Ultimate Visitor Guide.
Things to do
History: Linlithgow Palace is a treasure trove of Scottish history where you can roam the birthplace of famous monarchs like Mary Queen of Scots and James V. Every stone whispers tales of the past, offering visitors a unique opportunity to step back in time and imagine what it would have been like to grow up in one of Scotland’s finest castles.
Photography: The palace’s stunning architecture and panoramic views of Linlithgow Loch create a perfect landscape for photography enthusiasts. Capture the intricate stone carvings and formidable defensive walls for photos that are truly worth sharing.
Picnicking: The palace grounds provide an idyllic setting for a picnic. With sprawling green lawns overlooking Linlithgow Loch, you can enjoy a relaxing lunch with a view, making it a delightful experience for families, couples, and solo travellers alike.
Wildlife Watching: Linlithgow Loch is teeming with wildlife including ducks, swans, and other waterfowl. With a pair of binoculars (link to binocular reviews), bird lovers can spend hours gazing over the water and the surrounding landscape.
Fountain: Don’t miss the beautiful fountain in the main courtyard. Built by James V in 1538, the fountain is adorned with intricate carvings of mythical creatures and is one of the oldest still-functioning fountains of its type in Britain.
Royal Birthplace: Linlithgow Palace is renowned as the birthplace of some of the most notable Scottish monarchs, including King James V and his daughter, Mary Queen of Scots.
Architectural Grandeur: The palace is a prime example of the early Renaissance architecture in Scotland. It was one of the principal residences of the monarchs of Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries and was built and added to over two centuries by successive Stuart kings.
The Great Hall: The Great Hall in Linlithgow Palace is one of the grandest medieval halls in Scotland. It was originally built by James I and was used for state banquets and other royal ceremonies.
The Fountain: The palace is home to a magnificent fountain in the inner courtyard, built by James V in 1537. It is said to have flowed with wine during the visit of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745.
Fire Destruction: A great fire in 1746 destroyed much of the palace, leaving it in a state of ruin.
Setting for Outlander: The palace has recently gained fame as a filming location for the popular TV series ‘Outlander’. Fans of the series will recognise it as the location for the fictional Castle Leoch.
Haunted History: The palace is reputed to be haunted by the spectre of Mary of Guise, the mother of Mary Queen of Scots. Visitors have reportedly heard her ghostly footsteps echoing in the empty halls.
A Royal Park: Surrounding the palace is Linlithgow Peel, a royal park that was used for hunting and hawking. It is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its diverse bird life.
Things to do nearby
Linlithgow Museum. 93 High St, Linlithgow EH49 7EZ. 4-minute walk. A volunteer-run museum that explores the royal history of Linlithgow and the people who lived in the town over the centuries.
House of The Binns. Binns View, Linlithgow EH49 7NA. 10-minute drive. Grand 17th-century manor house set in magnificent grounds.
The house is open to the public for tours which show the original portraits, furniture and porcelain of the Dalyell family. There are also woodland walks throughout the grounds.
Blackness Castle. Blackness, Linlithgow EH49 7NH. 12-minute drive. A large castle that overlooks the Firth of Forth. Known as ‘the ship that never sailed’ due to its unusual shape. The castle is open for self-guided tours and there is a gift shop on-site.
Hopetoun House. Queensferry, South Queensferry EH30 9RW. 25-minute drive. 17th-century manor house that is one of the largest in Scotland.
The house is privately run and is open for guided tours with extensive grounds offering lots of walking opportunities. Midhope Castle – the setting for the TV series Outlander – can be found elsewhere on the estate.
Kinneil Museum. Duchess Anne Cottages, Bo’ness EH51 0PR. 11-minute drive. A museum sited inside the 17th-century Kinneil House. The ground floor has an exhibition about Bo’ness town and the upper floor features a gallery.
Frequently asked questions
Did Mary Queen of Scots stay at Linlithgow Palace?
Mary Queen of Scots was born in Linlithgow Palace in 1542. Though her primary residence was in Edinburgh, she stayed in Linlithgow Palace several times throughout her life as it is located midway between the cities of Edinburgh and Stirling.
Who burned down Linlithgow Palace?
Linlithgow Palace fell into a serious state of disrepair after James VI moved his royal court to London in 1603. Though it was partially maintained by the royal coffers in the following years it practically served no purpose, so when soldiers of the Duke of Cumberland’s army accidentally set fire to it in 1746 it was abandoned for good.
What are Linlithgow Palace’s opening times?
Visit the opening times page for the current opening times.
What visitor facilities are there at Linlithgow Palace?
Visit the facilities page for updated information on available facilities.