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The Scottish Parliament Building: Things to Do 2023

The Scottish Parliament Building: Things to Do

Last updated on May 13th, 2023.

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The Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh is one of the most controversial and fascinating places in the city.

The building is located in a prime position in the city centre opposite Holyrood Palace where it commands a striking view of Holyrood Park and The Royal Mile.

Discover the history of the Scottish Parliament building along with an overview of what it’s like to visit with this complete visitor guide.

Address:The Scottish Parliament
EH99 1SP
Opening Hours:Monday and Friday and public holidays (including Spring bank holiday) –10am to 5pm (last entry 4.30pm).
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – 9am to 6.30pm (last entry 6pm).
Closed on weekends.
Admission Price:Free
Parking:None on-site. Parking is available in Edinburgh.
Contact:0131 348 5000
Facilities:Shop, exhibition, cafe, creche, guided tours.

The highlights

1: Scottish Parliament building tours are free and allow visitors to see parliamentary business taking place while learning about the history of the building, its design, and how it is used by MPs. It’s also possible to see the interior of the building on a self-guided tour.

2: Visitors can watch live debates in progress from the balcony of the debating chamber. The actual content of the debate may not be of interest to many visitors but it’s worth spending a few minutes to see how debates are run.

3: Aside from the fact that entry and tours are completely free, the location of the Scottish Parliament building means it’s worth adding to every Edinburgh sightseeing itinerary. Within a few minutes walk are Holyrood Palace and Holyrood Park – two of the city’s top attractions.

holyrood parliament

Visiting tips

1: Entry to the public can be cancelled at a moment’s notice for security and other concerns (Covid-19 for example) so it’s best to check the Scottish Parliament website for updates before leaving home.

2: Speaking of security, it’s very tight at the Scottish Parliament building so be prepared to be searched and have your belongings checked before entering.

3: The facilities are very good and include a café, a shop, and even a crèche, and there are lots of information booklets to read through in addition to the helpful tour guides.

As far as the café is concerned though, the one across the road at Holyrood Palace is a wee bit nicer for tourists.


The Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh is home to the Scottish government and is also a fascinating example of modern architecture.

Situated at the bottom of The Royal Mile on 4 acres of land, the building is in an unparalleled location for the seat of Scottish politics, with the stunning royal palace of Holyroodhouse directly opposite and the monumental peaks of Holyrood Park just a few minute’s walk away.

scottish parliament building pin

Even though it’s a relatively new addition to Edinburgh’s 1,000 years of history, it has one of the most intriguing stories of anywhere in the capital.

The Parliament of Scotland has been making legislature for hundreds of years, from the time when the old Scottish Parliament building was located in the chamber of the Court of Session on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

However, the operations of the Scottish Parliament were interrupted by the 1707 Treaty of Union which incorporated the parliaments of England and Scotland with a central government based in London.

This movement of power from Edinburgh to London lasted 290 years until a public referendum in 1997 approved the reinstatement of the Scottish Parliament which, in turn, led to the creation of the new Scottish Parliament building we see today.

Although it’s a working place for the government, visitors are welcome to view the interior on free guided tours that explain how the building is used, its architect, and how the design reflects Scotland’s proud history and its place in the modern world.

Scottish Parliament Building

Tourist information

The Scottish Parliament building is in use daily with more than 1000 permanent staff assisting 129 MSPs, and it’s one of the few places where the public can experience the inner workings of a nation’s government.

Visitors enter via a security gate at the entrance opposite Holyrood Palace, after which they are free to either explore the building or join a free guided tour.

The tours are highly recommended as they explain the architecture, art, and history of the building before viewing the main debating chamber which has a separate gallery seating area for 300 members of the public.

The debating chamber is arguably the highlight of a visit as it’s an amazing space – especially the roof which manages to span 100 feet without requiring a single supporting column – and is a testament to Scotland’s engineering prowess.

Scottish Parliament Building

However, from the very beginning there was a lot of controversy about the building’s unusual architecture as well as its budget which soared to a ten-fold increase on its original estimate, partly due to the choice of location.

Initially, three sites around Edinburgh were considered, but a last-minute entry from the Scottish and Newcastle brewery eventually won favour with the city council due to its position in the heart of Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This location perfectly sums up Scotland, with the natural beauty of Holyrood Park to one side and the historic Holyrood Palace directly opposite, bordered by The Royal Mile which eventually leads to Scotland’s biggest tourist attraction at Edinburgh Castle.

On non-sitting days (usually Monday, Friday, and weekends), visitors can view the main hall, the public galleries of the debating chamber, and the main committee rooms, while guided tours offer access to the floor of the main hall, the garden lobby, and committee rooms.

Scottish Parliament Building

The history of the Scottish Parliament building

Although the location of the Scottish Parliament building was initially welcomed by the general public, the design was not.

The building began with an international competition in 1998 to find a suitable architect, and the Spanish designer Enric Miralles was eventually chosen.

Although many people were in favour of Miralles’ abstract designs, the Scottish Parliament building costs spiralled from an initial estimate of £40 million to a staggering £430 million by the time it was finished in 2004 – three years behind schedule.

Sadly, Miralles died in 2000 so he didn’t live to see his creation opened to the public, but he would no doubt be happy to know that in the first 6 months over a quarter of a million people visited the Scottish Parliament building, and today it’s one of Edinburgh’s most-visited attractions.

Scottish Parliament Building

Discover more places to visit in Edinburgh with: The Best Places to Visit in Edinburgh – The Ultimate Guide.

Explore this area with a detailed paper map from Ordnance Survey:

Edinburgh – 350 Explorer.

Edinburgh – 66 Landranger.

OS Explorer Maps: Best for walking, mountain biking, and finding footpaths. 1:25,000 scale (4cm = 1km in real world). Buy OS Explorer maps direct from Ordnance Survey.

OS Landranger Maps: Best for road cycling, touring by car, and finding attractions. 1:50 000 scale (2 cm = 1 km in real world). Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.

Things to do nearby

Holyrood Park. Edinburgh EH8 8AZ. 2-minute walk. One of the largest city parks in the world, Holyrood Park covers an area of more than 650 acres.

The highest point in the park is Arthur’s Seat which is a long-extinct volcanic plug. Popular areas to visit are Salisbury Crags and Duddingston Loch.

Holyrood Palace. Palace of Holyroodhouse, Canongate The Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH8 8DX. 1-minute walk. Holyrood palace is HM The Queen’s official residence in Scotland.

The palace is open to visitors who can explore the royal rooms on a self-guided tour. Tickets include a visit to The Queen’s Gallery and Holyrood Abbey.

Dynamic Earth. Holyrood Rd, Edinburgh EH8 8AS. 4-minute walk. A family-oriented science-themed attraction that aims to educate and entertain visitors with a collection of displays and exhibits. There is a café on-site, a 360-degree cinema, a café and more.

Calton Hill. Edinburgh EH7 5AA. 17-minute walk. One of the most popular free attractions in Edinburgh. Calton Hill offers superb views across the city and is home to the recently renovated observatory and restaurant.

There are several monuments on Calton Hill including Nelson’s Monument – a tower that can be climbed – and the National Monument of Scotland.

The Royal Mile. 1-minute walk. Historic street in Edinburgh that connects Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle. The Royal Mile is famed for its medieval architecture and narrow closes and wynds.

The Royal Mile is home to a wide selection of tourist attractions, shops, restaurants, and cafés.

Frequently asked questions

Where is the Scottish Parliament held?

The Scottish Parliament is held in the Scottish Parliament building in the Holyrood area of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Address: Edinburgh, EH99 1SP.

What style is the Scottish Parliament building?

The Scottish Parliament building was designed in the Deconstructivist style. The structure was built using steel, oak, concrete and granite. It was designed to look like it’s growing out of the land and the first drawings took inspiration from a tree branch.

Who designed the Scottish Parliament building?

The Scottish Parliament building was designed by Catalan architect Enric Miralles. The first design was created in 1998 but the building didn’t open until 2004. Enric Miralles died in 2000.

How much did Scottish Parliament cost?

The original estimate for the construction of the Scottish Parliament building was between £10 million and £40 million. The final cost exceeded the estimate by 10 times at £414 million.

Is the Scottish Parliament free to visit?

There is no entry cost to visit the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh. Visitors must adhere to security checks upon entering after which they can walk around part of the building to see the debating chamber and other areas. There are also free guided tours that can be joined throughout the day.

By Craig Neil

Craig Neil is a travel writer from Edinburgh with a passion for visiting Scotland's tourist attractions from the rugged Highlands to the bustling cities. Join him as he shares personal experiences and tips & advice about touring Scotland. Follow him on Pinterest and YouTube.