The Out About Scotland complete guide to Linlithgow Palace in West Lothian
Category: Historic building
Suitable for ages: 5 to 10 years, 11 to 18 years, 18+ years, 65+ years
Ideal for: Couples, Families, Tour groups, Solo travellers
I rate it: 8 out of 10
About Linlithgow Palace
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 place to visit that offers just as much history as either of the royal residences in the old and new capitals, yet it’s 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 tourist attractions.
Linlithgow is a fairly unremarkable town (in my opinion) but it’s got 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.
In fact, this prime 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, 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 for visitors to explore, 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.
Things to do at Linlithgow Palace
As with all HES sites there are loads 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 to my mind it’s more enjoyable to just amble through each room and soak up the atmosphere of 600 years of Scottish history anyway.
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 on out 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 fantastic family day out, with the loch offering a lovely two-mile walk around it on well-maintained paths. 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 cafe’s are just a few minutes walk away if the weather starts to close in.
Head back to the palace and you’ll find the ticket kiosk/gift 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 is 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 actually see it in action.
The surrounding courtyard is enormous and gives you a good idea of 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.
From there you’ll find fantastic 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, with both views providing stunning backdrops for photos.
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, but if you’ve got plenty of 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.
What I liked about this attraction
- It’s midway between Edinburgh and Stirling Castle’s so you can easily include them in your sightseeing itinerary
- Linlithgow Palace is enormous and you’ll spend an age wandering through its countless rooms and passageways
- The loch and surrounding parkland are beautiful – and great for wildlife spotting
My top tips
- There are picnic benches in the park so take a packed lunch for al-fresco dining with a magnificent view
- There’s a car park next to the palace but it gets full quickly – get there early to secure a space
- Climb to the top of the tower for stunning views across the loch
Photos and video
Address and map
Click the map for directions
Prices and opening times
- HES Member/Explorer Pass holder: Free
- Adult: £7.20
- Child aged 5-15: £4.30
- Child under 5: Free
- Concession: £5.40
- 1 Apr to 30 Sept: Daily, 9.30 am to 5.30 pm. Last entry at 4.45 pm
- 1 Oct to 31 Mar: Daily, 10 am to 4 pm. Last entry at 3.15 pm
Telephone: 01506 842 896
Website: Historic Environment Scotland
Getting there: Bus stop nearby, Car park on-site
Getting around: Disabled access, Easy-access paths, Pushchair access, Stairs
On-site conveniences: Gift shop, Picnic area, Snacks, Toilets
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