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 who allow access daily for a small admission cost.
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Review of 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 building 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 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.
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Things to do at Linlithgow Palace
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 north-west 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, 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.
- Linlithgow Palace is midway between Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle so you can easily include them in your sightseeing itinerary.
- The 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.
- 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.
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Things to do near Linlithgow Palace
- 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 the extensive grounds offering lots of walking opportunities. Midhope Castle – 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.
More places to visit in The Lothians
- The Bass Rock – East Lothian: Complete Visitor GuideThe Bass Rock is absolutely enormous and reaches 107 metres above sea level at its highest point, with most of the sides of this 320 million-year-old volcanic plug standing almost vertical above the pounding waves of the Firth of Forth.
- Seton Collegiate Church – East Lothian: Complete Visitor GuideSeton Collegiate Church, known locally as Seton Chapel, is a collegiate church south of Port Seton in East Lothian. The church is situated next to the magnificent Seton House – which can be glimpsed through the trees at one end of the site – and the grounds are a total oasis of peace and quiet.
- Hailes Castle – East Lothian: Complete Visitor GuideLocated a mile and a half from East Linton in East Lothian, Hailes Castle sits in a beautiful riverside setting that’s perfect for an afternoon of exploring followed by a picnic next to the gentle River Tyne that flows behind it.
- North Berwick Law – East Lothian: Complete Visitor GuideStanding 187m above sea level, North Berwick Law dominates the landscape around the popular town of North Berwick.