Visiting The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh
Visiting The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh
by David Wheater of Tours of Edinburgh
At the other end of The Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle lies the majestic Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the British Monarchy in Scotland. It's well worth combining a visit to the Palace with a tour of the adjacent Scottish Parliament and then taking a walk up Salisbury Crags for great views of the city. Here's a brief introduction to the Palace with some of its highlights.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse sits at the bottom of Edinburgh's famous Royal Mile and is the Queen's official residence when she visits Scotland every year for official ceremonies and entertaining (the last monarch to actually use the Palace as their full-time residence was James VI who left in 1603!).
The Queen formally takes residence in the Palace for a week at the end of June, which has become known as 'Holyrood Week'. On her arrival every year, a large ceremony is held to pledge the city's allegiance, during which she is given the keys to the city. During Holyrood Week the Queen holds a special garden party with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, which is normally attended by around 8,000 Scots from all walks of life. Prince Charles also traditionally spends a week every year at the Palace to conduct royal engagements around the country.
Next door to the Palace are the impressive ruins of Holyrood Abbey from which the Palace of Holyroodhouse takes its name. Built by David I in 1128, the abbey is said to be founded after he was saved from being gored by a large stag while out hunting. Legend has it that he saw a glowing 'Holy Cross', which he believed was a sign from God that his life would be spared. Inspired by his vision, David I founded 'Holy Rood' (Holy Cross) Abbey for an Augustine Order, the ruins of which can be explored today alongside a visit to the Palace. Do read the inscription on the tombstone of Thomas Lowes in the Great East Window. Never have wiser words been written, and are perhaps more relevant today than ever!
The Palace was originally developed from a guest house attached to Holyrood Abbey in the 1500s and the oldest surviving part, the north-west tower, was built in 1529 by James V as a royal apartment.
The Palace has seen many up and downs over the centuries and fell into great disrepair during the 18th century. Despite only being used as a temporary residence, the Palace was refurbished and repaired during the 1800s. George V took a particular interest in modernising the Palace in the early 1900s and made it the monarch's official Scottish residence in the 1920s.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse is perhaps most famous for its links to Mary, Queen of Scots and the brutal murder of her private secretary, David Rizzio, by her jealous husband, Lord Darnley. A plaque still marks the spot in Mary's Outer Chamber where the attack happened. Mary Stewart spent six very eventful years living in the Palace and her dramatic past still dominates the history of the Palace to this day.
Some of the highlights of a Palace of Holyroodhouse tour include:
Mary, Queen of Scots' Bed Chamber and Outer Chamber
Located in the 16th-century tower, this fascinating room with its low, decorated ceilings was the scene of the murder of her private secretary, David Rizzio. There's even a secret staircase connecting her bedroom to that of her husband, Lord Darnley.
The Great Gallery
The biggest room of the royal apartments, the Great Gallery houses a very impressive collection of 89 portraits of Scottish Kings, some real and some mythical. The portraits, commissioned by Charles II and painted by Jacob de Wet, are said to depict Stuart royal lineage right back to an Egyptian pharaoh's daughter! The room is used every year for investiture ceremonies to honour Scots for outstanding lifetime achievements.
The State Apartments
Still used today by the Queen, the State Apartments have changed over time to reflect the different tastes of successive monarchs. The apartments are filled with exquisite fine paintings and works of art, the highlight undoubtedly being the fantastic collection of Brussels tapestries.
The Throne Room
A splendid room in the State Apartments, with its focus of the thrones created for George V and Queen Mary.
Located adjacent to the Palace, these interesting ruins are included in the price of your ticket. Founded in 1128 by David I of Scotland for an Augustine order of monks, the ruins have inspired many artists, writers and composers over the years.
Queen Mary's Bath House
Often overlooked, this quaint little house, with a pyramid roof, is located next to the road in the gardens to the north of the Palace. It was often said to have been where Mary, Queen of Scots bathed in white wine! It's probably more likely that this intriguing construction was used by royals as some kind of summerhouse while enjoying the Palace gardens.
The Queen's Gallery
Located next to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and opposite the Scottish Parliament building, The Queen's Gallery was opened by the Queen in 2002 to celebrate her Golden Jubilee. The gallery hosts a regularly changing exhibition of works of art from the Royal Collection and is well worth a visit.
The Palace is located in the Canongate at the bottom of the Royal Mile and is a 20-25 minute walk from Waverley Station. It's essential to take the audio tour, as it brings so much more to life than simply walking round. If you get your ticket stamped on the way out, you gain free access to the Palace for a year. Don't forget the Palace has an excellent shop and tearoom, and the beautiful gardens are well worth admiring, especially in the spring and summer.
For ticket prices and opening times please visit the Palace website at www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/palace-of-holyroodhouse/plan-your-visit
If you'd like to join me on a walking tour or photography tour of Edinburgh, please Email me or telephone me directly on 07400 705 357.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
Canongate, The Royal Mile EH8 8DX