• Alexandra Gross

Everything You Need to Know About Edinburgh's 3 "Holyroods"

After a fantastic walk around Edinburgh Castle, I was yearning to find an experience of that caliber again. A visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse - just a twenty minute walk down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle - was the most logical choice. Right next to the palace are The Queen's Gallery and Holyrood Abbey, so I added a visit to those to my day as well. Also in close proximity is Holyrood Park, where I completed my day with a hike up to Arthur's Seat (the volcanic summit and the highest point in the city).

Deciding whether to include these attractions in your next trip to Edinburgh? Here's everything you need to know about the palace, abbey, and park.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

A Brief History

Holyroodhouse was originally built as an accompanying guesthouse to Holyrood Abbey. The guesthouse was converted into a palace between 1501 and 1505 by James IV. It sustained various forms of damage over the years, which came to a peak in 1650 when the east side was set on fire by Oliver Cromwell's forces. In 1670, during Charles II's reign, plans began to repair the castle. A tower to match the existing one (pictured below) was added, making the palace more symmetrical.

In the 1700s, the palace and abbey fell into neglect once again and wasn't visited by a reigning monarch until 1822 when George IV visited Scotland. He subsequently arranged repairs to be made to the palace. George V made improvements to the palace to make it suitable for modern life, and today, Holyroodhouse is the monarchy's designated residence in Scotland; Queen Elizabeth II spends a week at Holyrood every year. You can read more about Holyroodhouse here.

Ticket Prices

A combined ticket to Holyroodhouse, abbey, and gallery will cost an adult £21.90. If you'd rather skip the gallery, your ticket will cost £16.50. Information about discounted and family tickets can be found here.

Notable Royalty of Holyroodhouse

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587)

Mary lived at the palace for six years. You can walk through her bedchamber, outer chamber and supper room. The murder of her secretary, David Rizzio, took place within these rooms.

Charles II (1630-1685)

Charles II was a big focus of the palace, as well as the current gallery exhibition. He was the son of (you guessed it) Charles I, who was executed in 1649 for tyranny. With his death, the monarchy was abolished and replaced with a republic, known as the "Commonwealth of England". Charles the II and his younger brother, James, went into exile. The republic didn't last; in 1661, Charles II was crowned King of England, Scotland and Ireland.

James II & VII (1633-1701)

Because Charles II's wife was unable to have children, upon his death, the throne was succeeded by his brother, who became James II & VII (second of England and seventh of Scotland). James II & VII lived in Holyroodhouse before ascending to the throne.

Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788)

Also known as "The Young Pretender" and "Bonnie Prince Charlie". If you're a fan of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, you'll know who he is. In the weeks leading up to Culloden, Charles spent six weeks here.

I found every room fascinating, but a few stand out more than others. One was The Great Gallery, filled with paintings commissioned by Charles II of all the previous kings of Scotland; There are approximately 100 portraits, completed in only two years (roughly one a week). He had them painted with a nose shaped identically to his own, to strengthen his claim to the throne. Many of the rooms are also covered in beautiful sixteenth century tapestries; while the colours have faded some, they're still spectacular. It's difficult to comprehend the level of skill and time that would have gone into creating these. And, both creepy and fascinating, you can see a lock of Mary's hair in a box in her outer chamber.

The Queen's Gallery in Holyrood Palace

If you can at least appreciate art, this is worth seeing. The Queen's Gallery is an exhibition of artwork from the Royal Collection and changes about every six months. The exhibition I saw was called Charles II: Art & Power. Charles II's reign marks the Restoration period in England, thus art was a huge emphasis for him. Some of the things you can see include beautiful portraits by Peter Lely, exceptional prints, early scientific books, and newspaper clippings.

Holyrood Abbey

Holyrood Abbey was founded by King David I in 1128. The word "rood" means cross, thus the name translates to "Holy Cross". Legend has it that King David was hunting near Edinburgh when he was thrown from his horse, startled by a wild boar. A holy cross appeared, frightening the boar and saving the king from being killed by it. Thus, the abbey was created as a gesture of gratitude. Over the years, there have been several coronations, royal weddings, and royal burials here. The abbey is now in a ruinous state, but is beautiful all the same. Certain places evoke feelings not easily put into words; this is one of those places.

The palace gardens are also supposed to be spectacular, but during the winter they're only open on the weekend. While I'm sure they're still pretty in the winter, the summer is the best time to see them, as the flowers are all in bloom.

The really cool thing about the ticket is that you can ask to have it treated as a donation rather than admission, which will earn you a stamp, allowing you re-entry for the next year. If you'll be back within the next year it's definitely worth it for the new gallery exhibition alone; I'll be using mine for that as well as to see the gardens during the summer.

Holyrood Park

After visiting the Palace of Holyroodhouse, I decided to get some lunch. I'd recommend packing a lunch, but if you lack foresight like I do, there's always a cafe or restaurant nearby. There's a cafe at Holyrood Palace itself, but I found it a little more expensive than what I wanted to spend (maybe next time).

Instead, I went over to the Scottish Parliament Building across the street, which has a shop and cafe open to the public. I had to go through an experience similar to airport security just to get into the cafe which was a little more than I bargained for, but the cream of broccoli soup and latte came in at just six pounds. Trust me; that's extremely reasonable.

After lunch, I was sufficiently fuelled to tackle Holyrood Park. Really all you need to know about this park can be summarized in one sentence on Historic Scotland's website: "Arthur’s Seat, the park’s highest point, is the remains of a volcano, and stone and flint tools found here reveal human activity as far back as 5000 BC."

From this entrance to the park, you can take the path on the right to walk through the park, or take the path on the left to climb up to the summit (Arthur's Seat).

One of the highlights for me was seeing the ruins of St. Anthony's Chapel. Like the Abbey (but on a smaller scale), this is one of those places that has the ability to pull you back in time. Standing next to it, you feel like you're no longer in the present, but you're not quite in the past either. It's a bit of an eerie feeling.

From St. Anthony's, I continued along the path. This path is known as the green path and is considered to be an "easier" route to the top. For some it may be (like the elderly man who essentially ran past me and kept his pace all the way to the top), but for me it was still a challenge. Anyone of reasonable fitness can do it, but unless you're extremely fit, you'll definitely work up a sweat, especially towards the top.

It's really difficult to emphasize the scale of this hill in photographs. This is one of those experiences that you just have to do yourself. The hike to the top took me about an hour, with several stops along the way.

Finally, I made it. And the views were absolutely spectacular. Edinburgh can get quite foggy, so I was lucky to be able to view it on such a clear day.

Have you been to the three Holyroods in Edinburgh? Tell me your thoughts on it in the comments below!

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Alexandra E. Gross


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