The Palace of Holyroodhouse, located in the historical quarter of Edinburgh in Scotland is the official residence of the British Monarch when visiting Scotland. It forms the beginning of the Royal Mile, the palace itself situated in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat and rising upwards towards the volcanic rock where Edinburgh Castle is situated today. Walking along the Royal Mile is an experience in itself, the tall historical tenement buildings, the narrow alleyways, cobbled stone streets and secluded entrances giving a unique and distinct character to this part of the city. Today, the Palace sites besides the new and modern Holyrood Parliament building where the devolved administration sits deciding affairs of state. It’s a remarkable contrast of two distinct architectural styles that reflects the character of the city, this perfect amalgamation of old and new reflecting the tradition and growth of the Scottish capital. The Palace since the 16th century served as the residence for the Kings and Queens of Scotland and is today used for state occasions when the British Monarch resides in Scotland. Besides a single week in the summer when the Queen is resident, the Palace is open to the public to visit and tour.
The Palace reopened to visitors on a reduced entry basis in July after the National Lockdown concluded, as with all attractions we’ve visited in recent months feeling the financial consequences of closing its doors to visitors for this sustained period. Today, it operates on a timed entry basis ensuring the safety and wellbeing of its staff and visitors. There is a strict path and direction around the attraction, whatever freedom and liberty to explore at whim banished to the confines of history in an age of a global pandemic that continues to permeate around the world and expose its deadly influence upon wherever it finds a viable audience. It presents and exposes the nature of historical, well indeed any cultural destination in the modern world, wanting to experience the full depth of the history on show but constantly aware of your surroundings. It can feel tiring, it can feel a little restrictive but a necessary evil to ensure the Palace remains viable as a destination to visit. Certain rooms remain closed, unable to adequately adjust to social distancing. Activity rooms for families shut for a similar reason. Facilities restricted to a solitary location at the entrance to the Palace although thankfully staff are willing to allow you to exit the route to make use if you require.
As part of the Royal Collection Trust, the charity established to preserve and allow entry to a selection of palaces across the Nation, it has adapted and continued to operate the various attractions in line with national restrictions, at the moment Holyroodhouse is the sole destination available to visit, Windsor Castle scheduled to open on the 3rd December and The Queen’s Gallery on the 4th December. Whilst operating as one of the departments of the Royal Household, the charity undertakes its work without any public funding relying on admission income from Holyroodhouse, Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and other trading arrangements to allow it to fulfill its activities and charitable aims. With restrictions in place and the significant period of time it has been closed this year, you can understand the financial impact of the pandemic upon the charity and how reliant it is on visitors returning again given the opportunity. Whilst only travelling up from London, it was still a destination to visit on my most recent trip to Edinburgh, one of two attractions after Edinburgh Castle along the Royal Mile that should be a must see destination on any itinerary.
A Royal Residence in Scotland
The Palace felt more open, more welcoming than its peers in London though the shadow of Covid was ever present as you passed through the stone arch and entry system into the open courtyard beyond. There is an audio guide available to use which I would recommend, one of the surprising entries on the system was a welcome from the trusts chairman, HRH The Prince of Wales reflecting on the extraordinary year for the Royal Collection Trust in light of the Covid Pandemic. It was a surprising addition, quite often when visiting historical locations and using audio guides there is a sense this has been recorded a long time ago with no real contemporary points of reference. Here, with that introduction it just served to make it feel modern and up to date. The courtyard was visually impressive, it had a certain air to it, in style and grandeur you felt humbled and in awe at the aesthetic and detailing of the exterior. One of my slight critiques of Hampton Court, of which the Palace reminded me of in parts, is the eclectic architectural styles as a result of being developed and built over a period of time. Here, everything looked uniform and as one, for me, a superior front facade to the interior within. The square Inner Court Yard looked almost identical to the palace in London, no critique, it establishes a common trait in the design and style of these locations but it was interesting to observe.
Restrictions in place require you to navigate around the courtyard in a clockwise direction, passing through the kitchens which was interesting to see as a functioning, livable Palace in contrast to more historic locations. I enjoyed seeing the exterior and there was a fascinating discussion from one of the Palace staff around some of the history. I’ll willingly concede to being largely ignorant of the history of the Scottish monarchy so it was fascinating to have this brief but informative discussion outside. From there you ascend up into the Throne Room, marvelling at the variety of riches and decoration on display. It is very similar to other attractions in the same spirit, it brought back memories of walking through Kensington Palace or Hampton Court with its focus on preserving the interiors for generations hence. Still it was enjoyable to see, certain nuances and differences to its English peers that gave it a character of its own. The portraits of the monarchs were as you might expect, walking through the palace in Holyroodhouse with its ornate furniture and highly decorated walls, everything is static, everything is frozen in time, it’s remarkable to consider it becomes a functioning residence for the British monarch with this preserved historic collection transformed into a livable accomodation for Her Majesty.
One of the highlights of the visit to Holyroodhouse was the Great Gallery, one of the largest single rooms on your tour home to an assorted collection of treasures and paintings from across Scotland. It looked amazing with portraits of the real and legendary kings and queen of Scotland hanging on the walls that added a real gravitas and sense of occasion to the visit. I adore these embellishments, it adds character when it works and here it certainly did with gusto. Today, of the 111 originally commissioned only 95 remain with small signs of damage visible on some as advised on our tour guide. It’s used for banquet and state occasions by the Monarch with honors bestowed upon individuals, this was interesting to see as it included certain titles only found in Scotland that added a bit of distinctiveness to the location setting it apart from its contemporaries in England. The antechambers beyond were interesting to walk around, adding another part to the story of the palace, less visually moving than te Gallery but still a nice space to walk around. Ascending up, you visit the older section of the Palace, the inner and outer chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots. It reminded me of the Tower of London with its different styles on different levels, this felt and looked like the more historical section of your visit, given the narrow entrance staircase you can’t imagine Her Majesty ascends to this part of Holyroodhouse with great frequency.
Whether its an aversion of old stone towers, confined spaces or the unmistakable realization of walking across creaking wooden floor boards, the look and feel of these chambers noticeably contrasted to the Gallery below. The rich red carpeting, the open space, bright lights and treasures on show a world away from the more confined, smaller spaces of the chambers above. Still it was enjoyable, the final room of the interior home to a number of jewels and treasures of Scotland. Descending down brought you into the gardens and exterior of the visit. Unfortunately, the Abbey Church is currently closed undergoing preservation work. Whether this was ordinarily open, I can’t say, this type of work is critical at times, the bell tower at Parliament for instance has been scaffolded off for over a year now, whilst some restoration work can be scheduled out of season with minimal impact to visitors, others need to be undertaken to ensure it remains safe and viable. The gardens themselves were interesting to see, not a lot to note but still an enjoyable open green space in Edinburgh to walk around. It concludes with some of the best visits of Arthur’s Seat outside the immediate grounds of the Palace. It saved one last treasure until the very end, the views were amazing and worth the price of admission alone.
This was certainly one of the highlights of the visit, it had been one of the attractions we wanted to visit when we started planning a trip to Edinburgh but largely came about by good fortune and fortuitous timing. Only a week or so after our visit, the Scottish capital went back into a state of lock down and restrictions curtailing visits to the Palace. Thankfully, it is now open to domestic visitors from Scotland and I would certainly recommend it to anyone that manages to visit Edinburgh in the near future, though of course as the site advises, for the time being, ensure you book ahead as nearly all attractions in Scotland are operating on a strictly forward booking policy at the moment, visiting on a whim is deterred or outright denied to ensure the attractions can project numbers and operate safely. It’s understandable, and like Edinburgh Castle is operating with as much open as possible but there are concessions, the smaller rooms that would be impossible to govern safely without strict entry systems in place are closed and I can’t imagine until there is a return to normalcy they will reopen any time soon. I would have liked to have seen the abbey grounds open but given the restoration work in progress, lamentable but understandable.
Subjectively, I would suggest there is a great deal of familiarity between Holyroodhouse and a number of historical palaces and castles around the country. If you’ve been fortunate to visit Hampton Court or indeed any of the Historic Royal Palace attractions in recent years, it may feel a little to familiar in parts. The inner court yard for instance is nearly identical to its peer in London, thankfully a small part of the tour but certainly sharing many similarities in its appearance. Equally, the interior has a similar aesthetic and quality to it, I’ll concede the scope to vary the look and feel is probably limited to royal parameters or protocol. That said, when you’ve seen one throne room with red carpeting and ornate decorations, they start to look very similar across the realm. The best aspects of the visit were the elements unique to the location, the gallery was remarkable to see and certainly instilled that sense of occasion and prestige to where you were. The guides providing history and context were knowledgeable and welcoming to visitors, the views of Arthur’s Seat from the gardens was memorable and one of the best natural backgrounds to an attraction I’ve witnessed.
Edinburgh, like London is blessed with an abundance of cultural riches befitting a city of its status, especially along the Royal Mile that is home to both the Castle and the Palace on opposite ends. There is a distinct appearance and design of the city that gives it more of a European feel than its counterpart in the south, working in harmony with its impressive natural surroundings that elevates and magnifies the significance and importance of its greatest treasures. The Castle on the rock and here, the Palace sitting in the shadows of the elevated terrain a short walk away home to the rock formation known as Arthur’s Seat. It is benefiting of the Monarchy as their place of residence whilst on state duty in Scotland, and for the rest of the year available to visitors in a more transparent and open manner than its counterparts in London. I’ll readily concede to having a prior interest in the historic palaces having spent time in recent years visiting the various states across London, here, an ideal opportunity to view their counterpart in Scotland. I wasn’t disappointed, it is a magnificent building, detailing a chapter of Scottish and indeed British history normally absent in other settings. A great destination to visit that whilst feeling a little similar to other attractions has an appeal and charm of its own that is easy to recommend.
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