By Victoria Bamber
At the end of The Royal Mile lies a gem. A gem sometimes overshadowed in a city with so many vibrant attractions and picturesque buildings. Overlooked by Arthur’s Seat and surrounded by stunning Scottish scenery lies The Palace of Holyroodhouse, which, if its walls could talk, would tell you tales of love, war, passion, heroism, treachery and murder.
We visited Holyrood Palace on a sunny yet chilly Tuesday afternoon. After taking a walk down the Royal Mile and arriving at the gates, we were navigated towards the gift shop in order to buy tickets. After a careful inspection of Prince William and Kate Middleton memorabilia, we proceeded to the kiosk to purchase the tickets for both the palace and the Queen’s Gallery, which is currently displaying an exhibition of never before seen photographs of The Royal Family. Sadly, the Gallery was shut on this particular day, but we paid for the palace (£10.50 for an adult, £9.50 for concessions and £6.35 for under 17s) and ventured outside into the courtyard for our first spectacular view of the building up close.
Eerily quiet and peaceful, the courtyard is the location for many Royal parades, processions and ceremonies. After taking in the scenery you are told to venture into the grounds to pick up the free audio guide, which came in many different languages and was (thankfully) very easy to use. As a relative newcomer to the city it was also nice to see the guards wearing their traditional tartan and offering help and advice if one looked a bit lost!
You were then free to wander about the palace as you wished. Built in 1128, Holyrood was most famously home to Mary Queen of Scots and has many of the original furnishings, portraits and ornaments which were present at the time. Following the audio guide, which was wonderfully introduced by Prince Charles, we approached every room, which all became grander and more lavish depending on their position in the palace.
Because The Palace of Holyroodhouse is still classed as a ‘working palace’, it is interesting from a viewer’s perspective to imagine the current Royal Family living in such luxury. Some of the features which we found particularly special were the portraits of past Kings and Queens, the intricate and beautiful ceilings – many of which are decorated with life-sized cherubs, and the dining quarters used when Queen Elizabeth II is in residence. Another part of the building which is worth visiting is the Great Gallery – decorated with hundreds of portraits. During Tudor times, the room had been a target for attacks, yet today serves as a place for celebration and ceremonies, such as Sean Connery’s knighthood in the year 2000.
Aside from being an interesting spectacle, Holyrood Palace also works as a museum, providing visitors with a chance to witness ancient manuscripts, ornaments and jewellery belonging to famous Scottish Kings and Queens. One of the most entertaining aspects of the visit was the climb up to Mary Queen of Scot’s quarters, which served as a place where she entertained guests, said her prayers and witnessed the murder of her secretary Rizzio by her jealous husband Lord Darnley. It is details such as these which makes the trip to the palace memorable, and provides those who enjoy history with enough knowledge to stay entertained, whilst engaging others in a world which is usually so alien.
Due to the fact we visited Holyrood Palace in winter, we were unable to visit the grounds, which (we could see out of the window) held some truly spectacular views. From April to October the gardens are free for visitors to browse and would truly round off the trip if the weather was permitting.
Aside from the scenery, we also felt that a highlight of the tour was the ruined abbey, which was founded in 1128 by King David I of Scotland. Despite the attacks it received over the years during the reformation, the bulk of the abbey still remains and its impressive yet mournful structure seemed to strike a chord with many people in the area. It is now visited by artists, writers and actors as an inspiring and beautiful setting, and we too felt that the Palace as a whole was a wonderful day out which we are determined to visit again in the summer months.
The Palace is open daily:
1 November – 31 March 09:30-16:30 (last admission 15:30)
1 April to 31 October 09:30-18:00 (last admission 17:00)
But closed on the following days in 2011:
22 April 2011
17 May – 3 June 2011
24 June – 8 July 2011
27-31 July 2011
25-26 December 2011
During Royal Visits
Suitable for disabled? Disabled access is good, apart from Mary Queen of Scots bedchamber, which is located up a spiral staircase and is sadly inaccessible for both wheelchairs and prams.