A visit to Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh was a given on our recent trip to Scotland. After years of hearing just how eclectic and cool Edinburgh is, I must admit l was a little bit afraid l wouldn’t like it given all the hype. Needless to say I was stunned by how much l enjoyed the city. It is absolutely gorgeous. Among the top fun things to do in Edinburgh is a visit to the official residence of the Queen when she is in Scotland. As expected, it is a ginormous space and l definitely recommend a trip to Holyrood Palace to not only discover royal history, but to check out the royal jewels.
Historic Holyrood Palace Self Guided Tour Overview:
The Palace of Holyroodhouse (official name) has been home to the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, including Mary, Queen of Scots (someone you might have heard of :-) ). Queen Elizabeth II spends one week each year during the summer at Holyrood Palace and holds official and state functions there. If you intend on visiting Holyrood, I would advise you to get there early as there are long lines to buy tickets. In fact we tried to get in late afternoon and were turned off by that, so we returned early the next morning and it was way better.
Getting to Holyrood Palace was easy for us as we had purchased our hop on hop off tickets via GetYourGuide, (our go to tour company) so as to get a good overview of the city and this was one of the stops on the bus route. We just hopped off at the Holyrood Palace stop which was at the bottom of the world famous Royal Mile. After purchasing our tickets, we were given our headsets. The Palace of Holyrood tour is self-guided which suits me just fine because you have the luxury of going at your own pace and can linger if you desire.
There is no photography allowed inside the Palace of Holyrood, but you can see some precious items here at the Royal Collection website.
Holywood Palace History And Interesting Facts:
- Built between 1671-1678 (the current reincarnation) in a quadrangle shape.
- The gardens of Holyrood Palace measures over 10 acres. Queen Mary used to practice her archery and hunting (wild boars were brought in from France) there. There is also the Holyrood Park outside of the gates which covers over 650 acres of ground. You can hike all the way to the top for an amazing view of the city, and we saw a lot of people doing just that. It still hosts the Queen’s annual garden party every summer.
- The ruins of Augustinian Holyrood Abbey was founded in 1128 on the orders of King David I of Scotland. Apparently, he had found himself in grave danger and near death having fallen off his horse, he prayed to God that if he was saved (after seeing a vision of the cross), he would build a church a thank you. Only 1 roofless nave remains, and it is stunning.
- King James II was born at Holyrood Palace, crowned there, married there and was laid to rest there to boot.
- Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1567) married both her husbands at the Palace of Holyrood. She witnessed the murder of her Italian private secretary David Rizzio in her royal apartment. Her second husband, Lord Darnley (a schmuck ) and his friends stabbed the man 56 times in the outer chamber. Her “apartment” was so tiny, you had to bend to get in and made me feel a bit claustrophobic :-). Not what l imagined for royalty, better fitting for a maid l would say.
- In 1650, the East side of the palace was destroyed by a fire whilst occupied by Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers. It was never determined if it was on purpose or not. After that incident, the east side was abandoned and the rest was used mainly as barracks.
- Bonnie Prince Charlie (The Great Pretender who attempted to overthrow the government and return the British throne to the house of Stewart, his family name) held court at Holyrood Palace for 5 weeks during the uprising.
- Hollywood Park and the Abbey was designated as a debtor’s sanctuary. Anyone owing debt could escape their debtors and prevent imprisonment by moving into the sanctuary. They were even allowed to leave on Sundays when it was forbidden to arrest people. Over 6500 debtors lived there, including aristocrats. That has never been repealed by the way, so if you owe money, you have someplace to go :-).
- Central heating and electric lighting was installed in 1911 before a visit by King George V.
- It became the official royal residence of the monarchy in the 1920’s. Dignitaries including Nelson Mandela, a Pope (forget which one), and Putin have been hosted here.
- A naked ghost is supposed to roam the palace. I wonder how one can tell if a ghost is naked… things that make you go hmm.. :-).
Other Royal Residence Tour: Peles Castle
Entry fee to the Palace of Holyrood:
£14 ($19) for adults
£12.70 ($17) for seniors over 60 years and students
£8.10 ($11) for under 17 years
Free for children under 5 years of age
Add an extra £5 to visit the Queen’s Gallery in addition to the Holyrood Tour.
Holyrood Palace Opening Times:
9.:30AM – 4:30PM in Winter
9:30AM – 6PM in Summer
One thing to remember is that the last admission into the Palace is about 90 minutes before closing time so plan accordingly.
Should you visit Hollyrood Palace?
Most definitely if you’re a fan of history and art. There are amazing works by artists such as Canaletto and Rembrandt in addition to the some spectacular jewels. I always love getting a glimpse of how the affluent and royal people lived and live. The whole tour of Hollyrood Palace will take you about two to three hours and it’s definitely a nice way to spend a vacation day in Edinburgh. My favorite places in there were Mary’s chambers and the ruins of the Abbey, which even though there is little left, lets you imagine how beautiful it must have been with all its grand Goth looks complete. As a fan of history, I consider Palace of Holyroodhouse a must-visit in Edinburgh. I didn’t love the fact that photography is not allowed inside of the palace :-) , but l enjoyed the tour thoroughly and the speaker’s accent on the audio tour was easy to understand (that had been a fear of mine :-) ). Holyrood Palace and Abbey should be included in your list of things to see and do in Edinburgh, in addition to the Edinburgh Castle tour, or better yet, Stirling Castle tour, our preferred castle of the two.
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Have you been to Scotland, and if so, did you enjoy the visit? Would you consider visiting Holyrood House Edinburgh or are you one who wouldn’t consider visiting because you are forbidden from Instagram selfies on the inside?