A Palace In Scotland: Holyroodhouse

quad at holyrood
Courtyard at Holyroodhouse

As part of our family history weekend in Edinburgh, we visited the Palace of Holyroodhouse.  Although we were prompted to visit because of a family history connection, we had a lot of fun while we were there and learnt a great deal about the palace, the history of Scotland and royal family.  H loves learning about history particularly when it involves plenty of action and Holyroodhouse has seen its share of drama.

We visited Holyroodhouse on a very misty Edinburgh day that was just a little damp.  Due to the weather, we couldn’t really see the palace’s dramatic position with the Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat behind it. As you can see from my pictures hopefully, Holyroodhouse is an elegant, very Scottish palace building with classical proportions.

Getting Started

Tudor fountain
Listening to the Children’s Tour

Before you go, check that the palace is open.  It’s a working building and is used for royal engagements and events.  So sometimes Holyroodhouse is closed to the public.  For instance on our visit it was only open for one day, so we made sure that we went that day to see it.  That said, it isn’t closed a lot, but it’s worth double checking on the website to avoid disappointment.

At the start of our visit we were greeted by the friendly staff dressed in a traditional tartan uniform.  I was particularly taken by the rather nice capes some of the female staff were wearing to protect them from the rain.  For the first time ever, we were offered a children’s version of the audio tour.  Now we have tried audio tours before with H (now 7 years old).  He likes to press the buttons and listen for 5 or 10 minutes and then gets bored, so I was expecting the same this time.  I was amazed at the difference a dedicated children’s tour made.  He listened to about three-quarters of the tour on it and there are a lot of rooms to get through.  Because he was listening to the tour, it made it a lot easier for us to enjoy and listen to our tours too.  I really think that all audio tours should have a children’s option.

Tickets are available for different combinations and you can choose to include the gallery (which hosts exhibits from the Royal Collection) within your visit or not.  If you buy your ticket direct from Holyroodhouse, you can convert it into an annual pass by getting it stamped by the staff.  If you come from further afield, this might not be so useful, but I’d suggest getting it done, as it is free, so you can access the gardens during your stay even if you don’t go round the palace again.

Outside the Palace

soldier on sentry at Holyroodhouse
On Sentry Duty

You enter the palace through two courtyard spaces.  The outer mews courtyard has an elaborate, Tudor fountain.  More fun for H though were the soldier’s sentry boxes which weren’t in use when we were there.  H was able to pose in them and pretend to be on military duties.  By the way, you need to take any pictures you want outside the palace building as photography isn’t allowed inside.

Another thing that struck me is that Holyroodhouse is right in central Edinburgh, but when you enter you suddenly seem to be transported away from all the hustle and bustle, so it’s a good way of getting away from the crowds.

Inside the Palace

Going round the palace listening to the audio tour, you learn a lot about how the palace is used today and how it was used in the past.  Construction work started on the palace in 1501, but it was largely rebuilt in the 1660s, but has been refurbished a number of times over the years.  I liked that most rooms had a couple of chairs or other seats that you could use to sit on and rest your legs. There are some stunning rooms.  We liked the great gallery full of portraits commissioned by Charles II of his Scottish ancestors.  You can look out for the thrones and the king’s bed.  Further along the tour in Mary Queen of Scots’ apartments we heard a tale of a grisly murder.

In the grounds

Holyrood Abbey coffins
Pretending to be a Zombie

Outside you can wander around the lovely gardens.  There is room here for children to run around and play.  We visited the abbey ruins which are right alongside the palace.  H had a lot of fun here pretending to be a zombie and a vampire getting out of the stone coffins (that’s a seven-year-old boy for you).

Other Facilities

There’s a shop selling lots of royal themed items near the entrance and it’s a good place to pick up gifts.  I believe there is a family room with a chance to dress up in costumes, but we didn’t come across it.  The cafe looked rather nice and we were quite tempted by its afternoon tea offering.

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