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You can once again take a tour of Holyrood Palace, now that enhanced health and safety measures are in place. Among the changes are mandatory advanced bookings and a limited number of people in the smaller rooms, which will reduce the number of people who can take the tours each day. If you’re not able to visit soon, here’s a virtual tour of the palace in the meantime.

An Overview of Holyrood Palace

The original building at this site was the Augustinian Holyrood Abbey, founded in 1128. The name derives from either Old English “holy rood” or Scots “haly ruid”, both of which meant “holy cross”. The abbey was purportedly started with a fragment of the cross which Jesus was crucified on. Over the next four centuries, the abbey was used for parliamentary sessions, crownings and interments.

Between 1501 and 1505, a gothic palace was built next to the abbey by James IV. This was followed by a complete reconstruction in the 1670s, which is the design we see today. The building is three stories tall and built around a quadrangle – a rectangular courtyard. Three styles of columns, each more intricate than the level below, decorate the building around the courtyard.

Holyrood Palace Founding Stone

A Virtual Tour of Holyrood Palace

Your ticket to the palace comes with a free audio guide. It covers each part of the castle and grounds, and includes several royal and notable figures giving speeches about the palace.

For the first time ever, photographs are now allowed in the palace (not just in the grounds), which is how I’m able to give you a virtual tour of the palace. While this will give you the photos, I don’t want to supplant the full audio guide tour of Holyrood Palace. You’ll have to visit in person to get that.

Front Courtyard

The highlight of the front courtyard is the ornate fountain, built in the 19th century as a replica of the 16th-century fountain found at Linlithgow Palace. For several years, there were storage containers on the south side of the courtyard, blocking a view of the palace from passing tour busses, but those have recently been removed.

Holyrood Palace Fountain

Quadrangle

The quadrangle might appear to be simple at first, but architecture lovers will note the intricate detail of the columns and stonework.

Holyrood Palace Quadrangle

Kitchens

My tour this year was different than last year, and a new room was opened up which previously had never been on display – the kitchens. This is the only part of the palace where photographs are still forbidden, although they let me take a snap of the decorations beside the actual kitchens.

Holiyrood Palace Kitchen Decorations

Grand Staircase

The grand staircase isn’t as impressive as in some palaces, but still beautiful in its own right. At the bottom, you’ll find display cases and swords on the walls. Surrounding the staircase are huge tapestries and portraits.

Holyrood Palace Great Staircase Displays

Holyrood Palace Great Staircase Tapestries

Royal Dining Room

This is the room where the Queen would host meals, although it was originally a guard chamber. The gorgeous silver banquet service dates back to 1935 and was a gift to King George V and Queen Mary by Sir Alexander Grant, in honor of their Silver Jubilee.

Holyrood Palace Royal Dining Room

Queen's Portrait in Holyrood Palace Royal Dining Room

Throne Room

This room is pretty obvious. The two thrones on the righthand side were commissioned in 1911, and the wood paneling was added in 1929. The portraits are of Charles I, Charles II and his consort, James II and his second wife, and James VII.

Holyrood Palace Thornes

Holyrood Palace Thorne Room

Presence Chamber

This room used to be called the Presence Chamber of Charles II. There are 4 large tapestries from Buckingham Palace which Queen Victoria brought up in 1851. During the realm of Queen Mary of Scots, there were 13 sets of tapestries throughout the palace, but none of these survived to this day.

Holyrood Palace Presence Room

Privy Chamber

Privy here means private, not a toilet. This was the original private chamber of Charles II where he entertained guests. There are several beautiful works of art, paintings and other artifacts around the room, including the intricate details on the ceiling.

Holyrood Palace Privy Chambers

Holyrood Palace Privy Chambers Tapestry

Holyrood Palace Privy Chambers Decorations

Holyrood Palace Privy Chambers Ceiling

King’s Ante-chamber

This was the King’s Study and features many more beautiful works of art and tapestries, as well as luxurious pieces of furniture. The centerpieces of the room are the harp and harpsichord.

Holyrood Palace King's Ante-Chamber

Holyrood Palace King's Ante-Chamber Harpsichord

Holyrood Palace King's Ante-Chamber Tapestry

Holyrood Palace King's Ante-Chamber Harp

King’s Bedchamber

The highlight of this room is the ornate bed, which dates back at least to 1684, although it was restored in 1976. Only the most privileged guests were allowed to enter this room when the king lived here. It’s also the only room with a colored painting on the ceiling.

Holyrood Palace King's Bedchamber

Holyrood Palace King's Bed

Holyrood Palace King's Bedchamber Ceiling Painting

King’s Closet

This was yet another lavish room for the king, complete with two ornate sleeping chairs and a Flemish cabinet from the 17th century.

Holyrood Palace King's Closet

Holyrood Palace King's Closet Seat and Fireplace

Great Gallery

This is the largest room in the palace. Along the walls are portraits of all the Scottish monarchs, dating back to the 1680s. Some of the portraits were damaged (and later repaired) during the Jacobite uprising. The room has been used for state functions and banquets by the Queen, as well as to carry out investitures for Scottish recipients of orders (knighthood, etc.).

Holyrood Palace Great Gallery

Holyrood Palace Great Gallery Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots

Holyrood Palace Great Gallery Portraits

Lobby and Ante-Chamber

The next two rooms are quite similar to other rooms in the palace with their decorations, tapestries and portraits. There are also a few artifacts in display cases you can see, including a tartan dress which I particularly liked.

Holyrood Palace Tartan Dress

Holyrood Palace Lobby Artifacts

Holyrood Palace Ante-Chamber Artifacts #1

Holyrood Palace Ante-Chamber Artifacts #2

Holyrood Palace Ante-Chamber Tapestry

Lord Darnley’s Bedchamber

This wasn’t actually the bedchamber of Lord Darnley, but rather contains the bed which he used before it was donated to Holyrood Palace in 1682. Bonnie Prince Charlie slept in this bed in 1745. It’s now displayed behind a glass barrier to preserve the textiles.

Holyrood Palace Lord Darnley's Bedchamber

Holyrood Palace Lord Darnley's Bedchamber Bed

Mary Queen of Scots’ Bedchamber

This was the very bedchamber that Mary Queen of Scots slept in during the 16th century. The gorgeous room is filled with furniture and artifacts, many of which were gifted to the castle long after Mary Queen of Scots was in residence.

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Bedchamber

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Bed

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Private Dining Room

Mary Queen of Scots’ Outer Chamber

This is the room where Mary Queen of Scots received her visitors, and included a small enclave on the east wall where she did her prayers. This is also where her secretary David Rizzio was stabbed to death. The reddish patch on the wooden floorboards by the window is attributed to the spot where he was killed. Now the room holds relics connected to Mary Queen of Scots, including the Darnley Jewel.

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Outer Chamber #1

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Outer Chamber #2

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Outer Chamber Darnley Jewel

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Outer Chamber Pomander

Holyrood Palace Mary Queen of Scots Outer Chamber Bible

Blood Stain of David Rizzio in Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Abbey

Unfortunately, the interior of the Holyrood Abbey is currently closed for renovations. It has been a ruin since the 18th century, but the medieval decorations and architectural styles are still evident.

Holyrood Abbey Front

A Virtual Tour of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Scotland 1

Holyrood Abbey South Face

Holyrood Abbey Flying Buttresses

Holyrood Abbey Interior

Holyrood Abbey Empty Window

Gardens

The gardens surrounding the castle are beautifully manicured by an expert team. Until now, the Queen has hosted a Garden Party every year in July during the week when she is in residence at the palace. In the northern portion of the gardens, there’s a sundial from 1633. You also have great views of the outside of Holyrood Abbey from the garden, as well as Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crag.

Holyrood Palace Gardens

Visiting Holyrood Palace in Person

The following information is the current opening times and prices for a tour of Holyrood Palace in person:

Opening Hours:

  • April 1st – October 31st: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • November 1st – March 30th: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays
  • Closed December 25th and 26th

Prices:

  • Adult: £16.50 ($21)
  • Over 60 / Student: £14.90 ($19)
  • Under 17 / Disabled: £9.50 ($12)
  • Under 5: Free
  • Family (2 adults and 3 under 17s): £42.50 ($54.50)
  • You can purchase a combined ticket with the Queen’s Gallery for a few dollars more.

As mentioned, you can only visit the palace with advanced bookings, and the tour sizes are limited. If you’re planning to visit Edinburgh in the near future and want to take a tour of Holyrood Palace, make sure you reserve your spot ASAP.

Things to Know When Visiting Holyrood Palace

Following the world events of 2020, enhanced health and safety features are in place throughout the palace. This includes hand sanitizer stations, social distancing, and extensive cleaning of all services. At this time, masks are not required to be worn in the castle. The safety features are also integrated into the audio guide.

Holyrood Palace Social Distancing

Holyrood Palace Safety Measures

The audio guide of the palace lasts about an hour, but you can take as long as you want to explore the palace (but take consideration that only a limited number of people are allowed in each area, except for the gardens, and social distancing is currently in effect. If you can, bring your own headphones to use with the audio guide.

Eating and drinking are not permitted within the palace, but there’s a cafe where you can get refreshments. You and your possessions might be searched before entering, and large backpacks and weapons aren’t allowed (obviously). Until now photographs were not allowed in the palace (as it was a government building), but due to the uncertainty of the Queen returning to the palace at this time, photographs are okay!

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Virtual Tour of Holyrood Palace

Further Reading

Finished with your tour and looking for other activities? Here are some other places to eat at, and activities to partake in around Edinburgh.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

In the center of Edinburgh is the unmistakable landmark of a 300-million-year-old extinct volcano. If you can muster the courage and stamina (little that you truly need), you can hike up Arthur’s Seat for a stunning, panoramic view of Edinburgh.

If you go on Tripadvisor, you’ll see ten negative reviews from dweebs who couldn’t find the chair at the top. Um, not that kind of seat! I like to think of it more like the “center of authority” type of seat, like that of King Arthur. Okay, maybe that’s not the real etymology, but it is the mythology of the pinnacle, so I’m forwarding this one.

Nearly everyone can enjoy a hike up Arthur’s Seat, although some trails are more difficult than others. The easiest way is to drive up to Dunsapie Loch (click for location) and hike up the eastern side to the summit. A bit of a longer hike is to park on Queen’s Dr by Dynamic Earth and hike around the front or back side of the Salisbury Crags and then take the stairs up the south trail.

Trail up Salisbury's Crags

The Tripadvisor reviews are accurate about one thing. There are no bathroom facilities, cafes or shelters at the top. On a hot day, bring some water. If it’s cold, windy, rainy or snowing, all of which are much more likely than sun, make sure you bundle up accordingly.

Panorama from Arthur's Seat

Once you get to the top, you’ll have a full 360° view of Edinburgh. To get you oriented, beneath you before the City Center is Salisbury Crags. Just to the right you’ll see a green and white stadium. That’s almost due north of you. Out to sea you can see Inchkeith Island. Just beyond the crag, you can see Carlton Hill with Nelson’s Monument. To the left of the crag is Edinburgh Castle, St Giles Cathedral and the rest of Edinburgh laid out in its splendor. But while I say the rest, Edinburgh actually surrounds Holyrood Park, which Arthur’s Seat is the centerpiece of.

How many cities can boast a hike this beautiful?