I visited Edinburgh for the first time last week. It's an interesting and beautiful city, famous for it's Royal Mile, which begins with Edinburgh Castle towering high up on a bluff above town and ending down in the valley with the Queen's official residence in Scotland, Holyrood Palace.
I've been to a number of palaces and castles over the years, in several different countries. I love history but to be honest they're usually much of a muchness, and Holyrood was no exception. In short - it looks beautiful on the outside, with wonderful architecture, high walls, turrets, and ornate fountains. All of this is set among wonderfully manicured gardens (although these weren't actually open when I visited, due to it being winter time).
The inside, however, can be looked at in two different ways. One is as a succession of large, beautifully decorated rooms with near priceless works of art adorning every wall. The other is as a succession of large, empty rooms filled with musty furniture with faded seat covers, and decorated with crusty, faded tapestries and cracked, barely visible paintings.
Holyrood is a working palace, and if we could see some of the Queen's living chambers it would have been worth it. Of course we didn't, the audio guide instead leading us through a succession of increasingly large banquet, audience and ceremonial chambers, all complete with their ancient fittings as described above. A couple of videos showed us how it might look when the Queen was in session, but on a regular visiting day all there is to look at is the other customers.
It was the audio guide that made it for me. Without it I would have quickly lost interest, having been round such similar places before. However, it filled me in with enough detail and historical background to genuinely gain my interest. The only downside was that there were no headphones - you had to hold it against your ear, quickly inducing forearm-ache. Luckily I was able to offset this utter stupidity of design with the headphones from my I-pod. It was available in several different languages.
Probably the most interesting parts were the chambers of Mary Queen of Scots. Inside the dark, gloomy bedchamber with her original bed still on view behind protective glass, we could hear all about the killing of her Italian servant by her then husband, which started off a chain of events that sent her life spiralling downhill towards eventual imprisonment and death.
At 14.50 tickets were a bit pricy. However, this includes 3 pounds for entry into the Queen's Gallery adjacent to the gift shop, which is basically a collection of official photos of the Royal Family. To be honest, it was a bit of a rip off and is easily missable unless you really want to see lots of pictures of the Queen as a young woman. Also included in the price is 3 pounds for the audio guide - but I would recommend getting it.
Opening information (borrowed from The Royal Collection website) -
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)
17 March 2011
09:30-13:30 (last admission 12:30)
The Palace is closed
22 April 2011
17 May - 3 June 2011
22 June - 8 July 2011
27-31 July 2011
25-26 December 2011
During Royal Visits
For anyone visiting Edinburgh it's pretty much a must see, but I would also recommend buying your souvenirs in the gift shop here. They were expensive, but the quality was far higher than the usual tourist tat you find at such places. The china and cutlery in particular were very beautiful.
Thank you for reading and rating. I'll be posting this review on my headofwords Ciao page in the next couple of days, complete with some pictures I took as I don't think you can upload them here. Check it out if you're interested.
Some of you may well have noticed the message I put up on my profile page last week, explaining that I was going to be away for a few days in Edinburgh for research purposes. If you did, you will probably be wondering what I am doing writing about one of the city's top visitor attractions. Well, the thing is, I had some time left over at the end of the week after I had finished my research, and it seemed a bit of a shame to just go back to my hotel room. After all, its not every day that I have free time - let alone free time in such a beautiful city - so I stretched my budget a little and decided to take the opportunity to visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse*. Anyone who knows me knows that I love visiting historic properties; there is something deeply and endlessly appealing in being able to nose around other people's houses, especially when those houses are cram packed with history and hung with impressive works of art. However, unlike the majority of such buildings I have had the pleasure of touring, this one stands out as being both a working residence and a building that has a close connection with the sort of historical figures and events that were of national importance and lasting notoriety. The Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence in Scotland of the monarch - in other words, it is where the Queen stays when she visits Edinburgh. The palace is situated in the Holyrood area of the city, the historic royal quarter that also includes Holyrood Park, a large area of semi-wild parkland, and Arthur's Seat, the extinct volcano that rises above the city to give Edinburgh one of its most visible landmarks. The associations of Holyrood with history and the ruling of Scotland is probably also why the site of the new Scottish Parliament is on a piece of land directly opposite the palace, neatly tying together the sites of the old and new powers in the country. The entrance to the palace is directly at the eastern end of the Royal
Mile - once described by Daniel Defoe as the "Largest, Longest and Finest Street in the World" - the road that links it to Edinburgh castle, which lies (rather unsurprisingly) a mile away. Holyroodhouse's origins go back to the twelfth century, although much of what is visible today is seventeenth century baroque architecture. According to legend, King David went out hunting one day and was suddenly confronted with a vision of a stag with a cross between its antlers about a mile east of Edinburgh castle. The most pious of the Scottish kings, he duly founded an abbey on the site of his vision in 1128. Many of the succeeding kings preferred to stay beside Holyrood Abbey, as it was a more agreeable and less draughty abode than the castle, at first in the monastic guesthouse and later in the palace that King James had built on the spot in the late 15th century. This early palace was replaced with a much larger building by Charles II, although he never actually lived there, and indeed it stayed something of a white elephant until Queen Victoria began to use it again as a convenient stopping-off place en route to Balmoral. However, it is the palace's association with Mary, Queen of Scots that it is really famous for - many events in her short and tragic reign took place at Holyroodhouse, including two of her three weddings and the murder of her Italian secretary, Rizzio. **First Impressions** As a visitor, finding Holyroodhouse itself is not a difficult task; it is a large and obvious building that can be found simply by walking down the Royal Mile away from the castle. I would strongly recommend that you do walk it, as not only is it a very attractive route, but also traffic is heavy and parking limited. However, as easy as finding the palace itself is, finding your way in proves to be a little harder. Whoever designed the visitor facilities here clearly doesn't believe in clear signposting. You see, the ticket
office, shop and toilets are all based in a courtyard, and the signs for visitors to follow are on boards that are put out every day - perhaps it was the person putting the boards out on the day I visited, but I found myself following signs into the courtyard and then being led in a circle through it that left me by the exit gateway. After going into the gift shop to ask where I could buy my ticket from, I found the ticket office hidden at the back of it. There was nothing outside to indicate that this is where you bought your ticket from, and judging from the bemused looks on the other visitor's faces, I was not the only one to be confused by this. Would it have really been so difficult to mark the building as "gift shop and ticket office"? Buying my ticket was an easy if rather painful experience. It turned out that the entrance prices stated on the current leaflets were in fact last year's, and they had gone up considerably since then. I was expecting to pay £5 for a student admission, but found it was in fact £6 - and a not insubstantial £7.50 for an adult ticket for that matter. The newly opened Queen's Gallery at the palace (which has exhibitions showcasing items from the royal collections) cost an additional £3 (£4 for adults), but as fascinating as the current exhibition sounded, funds would not stretch to buying entrance to that as well. Official guidebooks were priced at £4.50 - needless to say, I didn't invest in one of those, either. Fortunately, the toilets were signposted a little better than the ticket office was! These toilets are the only ones open to visitors in the palace, but are thankfully sensibly placed for you to access them before you begin your tour. They are clean and well kept, although there weren't a great many of them as I recall. This is fine if you happen to be visiting in January when the place is mostly empty, but in the height of summer I could imagine you would have to que
ue for quite some time here. The other visitor facility located in the courtyard is the café. However, I will not be able to tell you anything about this as it is currently closed for refurbishment until Easter 2004. I understand that such work does need to be carried out, and that it is better for it to be done during the quieter season, but it still remains that there is nowhere for visitors to even have a drink during their visit, as no alternative has been provided. Even a temporary coffee machine in the shop would have been helpful - it was a very cold day when I visited, and a hot chocolate would have gone down very nicely. **The Palace Tour** Leaving the courtyard to begin my tour, the first room you come across is the new "e-gallery". The room basically has half a dozen touch-screen computers (how long are they going to last once high season starts?) that you can use to find out more about the palace and the royal collections at your own pace. The information is pretty basic, but it is very easy to navigate around and filled with plenty of images, so it is accessible to both children and adults alike. Moving on, the tour proper starts in the next room. Handing over your ticket, you have the option of an audio guide to take on your tour with you, thankfully at no extra cost. I know some people feel a bit uncomfortable with using such equipment, but I would highly recommend that you take it up - think of it as having your own personal tour guide that you can shut up when you want to stop and look at something more closely! The audio tour is available in several languages (sorry, I didn't catch which ones, all I know is that there is a language setting on the equipment) and consists of a small digital device about the size of a walkman and some headphones. The tour is recorded in numbered sections that are listed by location on the player's screen, so you listen to the part for the room you are in,
go into the next room and press play when you are ready, and so on - all very straightforward indeed. The text is all very clear and easy to understand, and for the most part interesting as well, as it explains exactly what you are looking at, the significance and historical relevance of rooms, and in places gives you the option to go further (such as "if you want to hear more about X, press 17 now"). This helps you to get the most out of your tour, so you are not just wandering aimlessly around looking at pretty things. The tour takes you first of all up the great staircase that is hung with magnificent tapestries, then on into the royal dining room and the throne room used by George IV when he was crowned King of Scotland. You are led through the Great Gallery, one of the most famous and impressive rooms in the palace, where the walls are hung with 89 of Jacob de Wet's 110 portraits of the real and legendary kings of Scotland from Fergus I to Charles II. Various royal apartments are also included to reflect the changing tastes of successive monarchs, but the one I suspect most visitors will remember is the chamber of Mary, Queen of Scots (described as "the most famous room in Scotland"). This is not because of the grand nature of the rooms, but more because this is where the infamous murder of Rizzio took place right in front of the Queen. One of her apartment rooms now houses a small museum, which includes needlework done by Mary herself as well as a number of her possessions. The tour lasts about 50 to 60 minutes (depending on whether you listen to the extras or not), and concludes outside in the ruins of Holyrood abbey. At this point, I was looking forward to having a wander around the gardens, but I found that they are closed to visitors between November and March, despite the fact that you pay the same price for entrance all year round. I was quite annoyed by this I must admit, as nowhere is this information p
resented to visitors before they buy their ticket. I am not hugely bothered about missing the gardens, but it is more that I felt a discount should be offered to winter visitors to allow for this, as you are getting poorer value for money than if you visited in the summer. **My Opinion** Overall, I did enjoy my tour around Holyroodhouse, but I left with a distinct feeling of "is that it?". There are no two ways that the history of this building is fascinating and well presented, but I really don’t think that the 70 minutes I spent at the site were worth the money I paid to get in. Holyroodhouse presents a poor first impression to visitors with bad signposting, and the other visitor facilities do little to redeem it, with the shop being overpriced, the toilets few and the café non-existent - the closing of the gardens in winter without informing visitors until they had already bought their ticket was also a bad practice, I felt. This poor consideration and over charging of visitors lets down what is otherwise a good (if shorter than I would have expected) tour. On the balance, I would like to recommend Holyroodhouse to those amongst you who are very interested in (particularly royal) history, and who don't mind either no gardens (winter) or huge crowds (summer). I would say in its present condition it is unsuitable for families with young children due to the lack of café and the high price of taking a large group into the palace, though. **Details** Directions - If on foot, walk east along the Royal Mile to the end of the street. If travelling by car, the palace is fully signposted from city centre and major roads into Edinburgh, with the car park based on the edge of Holyrood Park. Bus numbers 35 and 64 and the open-top city tour buses also drop off near the palace. Opening hours - Opens 9.30am daily, closing at 4.30pm November to March and 6pm April to October. As it is a working pala
ce, Holyroodhouse is of course closed whenever the Queen is visiting Edinburgh. Details of days when the palace is closed to visitors can be found at: www.royal.gov.uk/output/page582.asp. Entrance price - For the palace only, tickets cost £7.50 for adults, £6 for students and over 60s, £4 for under 17s and under 5s are free. For the Queens Gallery, the price is £4 for adults, £3 for students and over 60s, £2 for under 17s and under 5s are again free. Disabled access - Quite limited, but some access for wheelchair users would be possible to the Queen's Gallery, some of the grounds and the ground floor of the palace. A lot of the palace will not be accessible to those who cannot manage stairs, though. It is recommended that visitors with disabilities contact the information office (0131 556 5100) for full information about access. Contact details - Visit www.royal.gov.uk, email email@example.com or phone 0131 556 5100. * - A "rood" is another name for a cross, so the palace name means "the house of the holy cross" in reference to the abbey it grew up alongside.
Visitor attractions are my business. I'm studying for a Masters in Heritage Studies at Salford University so I have to be critical about them. So you will be getting loads of heritage related reviews from now on. Anyway I was in Edinburgh in March on a field trip with my university class. I visited the Palace of Holyrood and the Queen's Gallery. I'm a Scot with a degree in History (mostly Scottish History) so I was looking forward to seeing somewhere that has been mentioned in my studies. The Palace of Holyrood has been the main royal residence in Edinburgh since the time of the Stewart Kings. It was built by James V of Scotland and Mary Queen of Scots often used the palace. Prices The cost of the ticket was quite expensive. It was £7 for a student. The other prices are: Joint ticket Palace and Gallery Adult £9.00 Over 60s £7.00 Under 17s £4.00 Under 5s Free Family £22.00 (2 adults, 3 under 17's). I was expecting a lot for my money. The Queen's Gallery The Queen's Gallery was superb. The exhibition at that time was the largest collection of Da Vinci sketches shown in Scotland. I'm not a big fan of the Mona Lisa so I was surprised how good the exhibition was. I loved the grotesque faces. They were macabre but funny. It was a joy to see simply presented sketches that spoke for themselves. The cost of the ticket was justified ny a visit to the Queen's Gallery. However the Palace itself was such a let down. We had a continental guide (Russian my course mates thought). I'm wondering where all the Scots are in Edinburgh. It seems to be populated by Australians, Canadians, Europeans, every race except Scots. Anyway the tour consisted of showing the state apartments. The problem was that the tour guide was not interesting in the slightest. In my course we learn that interpretation should not be information. This was pure information. It seem
ed to be a run down of every piece of furniture and where and when it was made. The royal facts were pitched at people with no previous knowledge of the royals at all. I found this frustrating as I have a degree in history. My course mates who had no knowledge just found it boring. The tour guide did not even make the murder of Rizzio interesting (Mary Queen of Scots secretary who was murdered in front of her whilst she was pregnant because her husband was jealous of him). She also missed out things and referred to things like "whilst Mary was captive" without explaining about when or why she was captive. My coursemates learned more from me than the tour guide. The other main problem with the tour was the pace of it. The tour was far too quick. You had no time to appreciate the rooms or even take in what she was saying half the time. There were some fascinating things in there but they were made unmemorable. From what I remember it was a beautiful place. Some nice carved ceilings and some interesting furniture including a chair with the whole of Tam O Shanter carved on it. The shop was not to bad but some of the stuff was a wee bit tacky. All in all go for the Da Vincis and I just hope people get a better tour guide than us I'd give the gallery five stars, but I?d give the Palace two stars
Everything you need to know about visiting The Palace of Holyroodhouse. How do I get there? By train the Palace is roughly fifteen minutes walk from Waverly Station. Many buses from the centre of Edinburgh pass by. The open top bus tour stops there How much does it cost? Adults £6.50 Over 60’s £5 Under 17 £3.30 Under 5 Free Family £16.30 When is it open? 1 April to 31 October 09.30 to 1800 (last admission 17.15) 1 November to 31 March 09.30 16.30 (last admission 15.45) Is it ever closed? Yes it is closed on 13th April 15th to 26th of May 4th to 8th and 27th to 30th June 1st to 10th July 25th and 26th of December. What is the Palace of Holyrood? It is the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen in Scotland. The royal apartments are used regularly by The Queen for official entertaining and State ceremonies. They are all beautifully decorated with many works of art from the royal collection. It is set in the large Queens Park where the Queen hosts a garden party in July every year .The year I was offered the chance to go unfortunately coincided with holiday arrangements. But I was told all about it from friends. Large marquees are set up in case of inclement weather, it is Scotland after all and trays of miniature scones, sandwiches and cream cakes are on offer. Who has lived there? Its most famous resident is Mary Queen of Scots and her chambers are housed in the Palaces west tower. Many of Mary, Queen of Scots belongings are on display along with Lord Darnleys Armour and the beautiful Darnley Jewel The Palace was also briefly the headquarters of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 during the Jacobite uprising. Are there any guides? Yes guides are available or you can explore at your leisure. Guidebooks are also available. Is there a shop? <
br> Like most tourist attractions there is a shop selling a wide range of books, postcards and gift items. It makes a great day out and on a good day it is lovely to have a picnic in the grounds. I hope you enjoy your visit and hope this is of help.