An incredibly controversial and contemporary building has in latter years arisen in edinburgh to be the scottish parliament building, which can be visited by the general public at no fee, and is well worth a view.
We visited the parliament bulding last year and we had mixed thoughts on the building itself. We combined this visit as we started from the top of the royal mile and walked our way down to the end to view this and then the holyrood palace so this is a good day out in edinburgh and the best way round to do it.
The building itself is free to gain entry but stringent security checks are taken so dont be alarmed when you have to go through body scanners and have your bag searched as this is common practice. Once inside you can view several areas within the building and of course go up to the galleires and listen to the parliament daily addresses which is very interesting. The parlimentary room is circular and has fantastic acoustics within the ceiling and this is quite a sight to see in itself. Its incredibly modern and has intercoms and screens for people to be able to view and listen and interact all the way round. We sat for a few moments and then made our way round the outside of the building.
If architecture interests you then this building is a must to see. A collation of brick, wood and metal with an influencial style of upturned boats throughout the concept of this build is rather extrodinary and incredibly bizarre to view. There are seating areas inside which form the outside look like stair cases and some parts although somewhat and strangely endeering are like a prisoned industrial build.
We took many photos and all of which were intriguing and perfect for designers and students alike. Its well worth a visit, its certainly not the average parlimentray build but one that will stand its course in history.
Holyrood has been home to the Scottish Government since 2004 and the building designed by Catalan architect Enric Miralles was the subject of much controversy because of the massive amounts of money spent on building it and many hated the modern design. I was invited to the parliament building as part of a group by my local MSP and after we had a meeting we were given a tour of the building by her researcher. My experience will be slightly different to most visitors as we visited on a day when the parliament was sitting, public tours normally only take place on non business days. Visit the Scottish government website for more details about what days and time tours take place.
Holyrood is at the bottom of the Royal Mile near to Arthur's seat, it is a lovely walk through the lovely cobbled old streets from the city centre to the parliament building but a regular bus service also operates, unless you are disabled it is best to leave the car at home as parking is extremely limited and very expensive.
The first thing that struck me when I first saw Hollyrood was how different the building looks in the flesh rather than the pictures on TV. The wooden roof beams look much softer and friendly than they do on the TV and there are also nice water features just outside the building. It is hard to fully appreciate the building from the outside, many of the features like the leaf shaped buildings and the merging of old and new are only fully apparent once you enter the building.
To enter the building you need to go through airport style security. There is a shop and visitor centre telling the story of Scotland on the ground floor which is open to visitors all the time, to explore the building further you need to take one of the guided tours.
The first port of call for us on our visit was one of the huge meeting rooms which was tastefully furnished with lots of wood and leather. Our next port of call was a conference room where we were told about the IT systems and where MSPs hold press conferences.
Much of the interior of the building seems very drab, a lot of the concrete staircases reminded me of a tower block for instance although I suppose they were perfectly functional. My MSPs office was similarly pretty drab, a tiny office with a terrible view of concrete pillars from the window.
The most interesting part of the tour was learning more about the history of the devolved parliament and government in Scotland from the middle ages to the present day. There is a room in the building where the old and new meet where the new parliament was built joining onto the ancient Queensbury house which was first built in 1681 and now houses a memorial to the founder of the present parliament Donald Dewar. The garden room will be familiar to anyone who has seen interviews with politicians on the TV and is also where you enter the main debating chamber. The design of the chamber is spectacular and it was great to see where the action happens, the design reflects the fact that politicians in the parliament are meant to work together rather than the traditional benches at Westminster where opponents face each other in debate. You can also book tickets to watch debates in action.
Like many Scots I was delighted when the Scottish Parliament buildings opened, for the first time since 1707 our country had a parliament. I am someone who has a keen interest in Scottish history and politics and I enjoyed my tour of the parliament but for somebody without the same passion for the subject it could be pretty dull. There is a lot of walking during the tour and a lot of stairs to climb so if you are disabled it is best to contact the parliament first to see if they can help you with access. A free crèche is also available to all visitors with advance booking. I'm glad that I visited the parliament buildings so that I could see for myself where the decisions about my country are made and it is a place I recommend all visitors to Edinburgh visit if they have an interest in history, architecture or politics.
MSP= member of the Scottish parliament.
What Is It?
The Scottish Parliament of Scotland is the central place of Scottish Politics. The parliament has 129 members called MSP's (Members of the Scottish Parliament) This is where they do some of there work, debating certain issues and representing their constiuency and/or region. They have been working in the Scottish Parliament since October 2004.
Why I Went
My mum actaully works there so i'm in and out all the time and have been there at least 50 times! So i'm seeing writing my first impressions and what it would be like to a tourist. I've been with the school so i'll also write about that! Enjoy...
In 1707 the act of Union took place. This meant Scotland was to be ruled by England and have the same laws etc. Then 292 years later Scotland decided "Hey, we want our own parliament!" so devolution took place. It started in the 1960's when support grew for the SNP (Scottish National Party) and support for a Scottish Assembly grew. It wasn't until the 70's when the plan for a Scottish Assembly was agreed by the UK Parliament. The idea was to have a democratically elected assemebly which would have powers o help run Scotland. Sadly it failed because of not enough support. But the idea was never forgotten about. So althrough the 1980's and 90's there was big pushes for a Scottish Parliament and devolution. In May 1997 Tony Blair took over power with the Labour party, and a referendum was finally made for the Scottish Parliament. Westminster voted for the Parliament and in May 1999 the first proper Scottish elections where held. Powers where then transferred from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament to the MSP's. They where first put in Church's General Assembly. Then the Scottish Parliament building started. After a long 300 year struggle we finally got a parliament building.
This meaning Scotland could finally have it's own system and some powers instead of debating them at Westminster. It's original budget for the construction was £50 million but that shot up to an incredible £475 million! Out of taxpayers money as well so was it really worth it? You decide...
Where Is It?
It is stationed in Scotland's capital Edinburgh. The Parliament sits right below Arthur's seat. It is beside the famous Holyrood Palace and Dynamic Earth and you can't really miss it. It is very close to Princess Street and right next to the Royal Mile. If your still stuck heres a link with a map. It comes in all different languages.
Why Go There?
If your interested in History, politics, current affairs or just even architecture then this will interest you! Depending on what you get up to it can be very interesting and educational. If you have a look out in a Scottish newspaper, the Parliament usually has certain days where it does different activties. It recently had rock bands come and play in the gardens and has special days for children/teenagers studying different parts of politics. It also has a big tourist appeal as well.
Whos Running It
Well the MSP's are the top of the of the parliament hireachachy. Then there is the civil servants who work for different departments. Then there is the security and staff who look after the building itself. It's always very busy so when you go you will see a lot of people rushing about. Theres not one person really running it. The six political parties however are SNP, Labour, Conservative (Torie), Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent. SNP are running the show with a minority goverment at the moment.
Parking/How To Get There?
There isn't a car park pacifically for the parliament. But there are a lot of close by ones that are regularly used by visitors. I've hardly ever been to parliament with the car myself. There is St.Johns Hill which is usually for Arthur Seat climbers. Thats the best one. then there is the Waverly station one but it can be havoc to get a space at peak times! Then there are other smaller ones scattered around. To be honest, if you want the best experience of the parliament take the bus or train.
There are more than 30 services offering direct drop offs at the parliament form lots of the most common used stops in Edinburgh. This is one of the most reliable methods. The service numbers are 35 and 36. Another method is train to Waverly Station. It is a 15 minute walk or 5/7 minute taxi drive. This is less convient however. The best is the bus. Especially if you have kids etc.
Wow the building. It's one of the main reasons it gets lots of visitors. The architect was Eric Miralles, sadly died at only 45 of a brain tumour before the building was complete. It was supposed to be the next modern king of Scottish architecture. It has very distinguishable features such as the stick out pods with steps and the "gun" shaped plaques plastered all over the building. I don't know what shape these "Gun" shaped things where supposed to be anyway? It is a very natural lit building with sky-lights when ever possible. This is good as there is hardly in artifical light, even at night time.
The building is split into many towers. Most are tower buildings where the different employees of the parliament work. Each party has there own floor or tower. There is the Canongate building which is one of the entrances. This is where the information centre is. Theres the huge debating chamber which is where MSP's debate certain issues. The beautiful garden lobby is a light, airy space where MSP's, journalists and staff can meet. It is quite imformal and is very comfortable. Then of course the big media centre. This is the building with the big 'gun" panels (sorry for me to refer them to this but that is the only way i can describe them really!) This is basically where they broadcast everything and this is where all the technical stuff happens. Queensbury house is quite hidden. This is where i think the Presiding officers offices are? Not actually quite sure, going to look it up... yep and the chief executive. Just wanted to make sure! And then finally is the MSP's offices. Each MSP has their own office and staff. Have been there a couple of times but don't think it is accessible to the public unless a meeting etc.
So i've told you what the buildings are and look like but i haven't said much what i think. It is a very beautiful building. I know a lot disagree but i think it is modern and well built. It is very unique. But £460 million? How could it have cost that much i ended up asking myself one day!
The Debating Chamber
The debating chamber is as i have already said is where MSP's debate certain different issues whether it be local to national. It has 129 desks and seat with the presiding officer sitting at the front. For people who didn't know what the presiding officer is it is someone who makes sure the debate doesn't go off topic and makes sure it is fair. It is an elected MSP who gets the job. At the moment it is Alex Ferguson of the Conservative party. He however is not allowed to take a side. When you look down onto the desks you will notice there is buttons and a little computer screen. This lets them vote yes or no. The part where the public audience sit is above the MSP's. They are seated in what party they are in. You can't really tell unless you recognise some faces who's sitting where. The leaders of the parties sit at the front. Listening to the debates is highly interesting. Depending of course what they are talking about. Some debates can get heated etc. The room itself is very tall with bright oak and wood everywhere. There is a magnificent ceiling of steel poles and wood. The seats which the public sit in are also wooden. A big highlight of the Scottish Parliament
When you go in, you will be asked to put your bag through a security belt and asked to go through a airport style scanner. You only have to walk through it. The whole procedure only takes an extra 30 seconds and isn't really much of a hastle. There is a lot of security measures as remember this is a parliament. Don't be alarmed if you are asked to go through the scanner again. I found some of my jewelry got the scanner beeping. They'll ask you take it off and all metal objects and go though again. It was my necklace that triggered it that particular time. Anyway after that you don't really notice the security precautions. There are certain building that are only for officials so the public aren't allowed past certain points. This again is just for security reasons.
Whats There To Do?
Well you have got there. You've admired the building, taken a couple of photos, had a look around the outside and you get inside. The building is huge so it takes a while just to look around the whole of the outside of it! You have had your security checks etc and your there, in the building. Now you need a guided tour! So book in advance by the way, its much easier. The guided tour is strongly recommended by myself. I've been on it with my school and thought it was great. The guided tour takes you around the parliament. The educational one i went on meant we got a talk about the politicians etc but i think you only get it if your with a school or educational purposes. So anyway you have a look around and you get to go to the debating chamber. This is my personnel favourite thing about the parliament. I love going to watch the debates. As a SNP supporter i am bias (i even admit it!) towards them but i try and listen to each side of the story. I think a lot of people would enjoy watching one of the debates, especially if it is something they feel passionitly about e.g. Education, crime, independence etc. When you've finished watching a particular debate you can go to the cafe and/or shop and purchase goods. Then you can have a little wander about the main hall again and head off. Sorry i wrote it a bit simple but it will fill about 2 hours. If your visiting the city it is a recommendation to go there. You couldn't really stay there all day (unless you worked there of course.)
Take the Kids?
Depending on the age of your child and their own personnel interests it isn't really the best place for children. However It does have a creche you can use it for leaving children from 6 weeks to 5 years. I think this is very good feature. I've only seen it once but it seems really good and modern. Very colorful and bright and run by a respectable company Kirktonholme Ltd. For older children there is the education part and is especailly good for teenagers studying Standard Grade/Higher Modern studies and english. You can organise school trips which i went on, which i really enjoyed. It was quite basic but was interesting.
The disabled access for wheel chair users is modern and great standards. There is space in the debating chamber, especially a signed for wheelchair use. There is level access to all areas of the building and it has a free wheelchair loan service for people whilst they are visiting the Parliament building. It is very wheelchair friendly.
For deaf or hard of hearing the parliament has released information about the Parliament in British Sign Language on video. They can also interpret proceedings into sign language if a member of the public requires this service to understand what is happening at a committee meeting or meeting of the Parliament. I've seen this happening before and it was really interesting to watch. It even has fitted induction loop and infra-red sound enhancement systems all over the parliament.
For the blind it has braille signs and information materials. It has maps in braille as well.
The shop sells large amounts of gifts and memorabillia for a keepsake for your trip to parliament. You can get anything gift wise from a pencil, to a bottle of Scottish Whisky! The shop is located quietly in the corner next to the cafe. it has a bright display on the window and inside is almost like a hall. The parliament color seems to be purple as alot of the labels are purple. They sell food and drink, e.g. Oatcakes, Whisky, fudge, tablet a lot of Scottish delicies. They also offer a huge hamper of there products with a basket. Then there is the keep sakes like pencils, t-shirts and the cutest teddy bears all displaying the Scottish Parliament logo somewhere. Then there is the more expensive memorarbiallia like watches, whisky flasks, clocks and even jewelry! It does have a great range to suit ever one. The price however can be a little high. The little keepsakes are suitably priced but i did feel some of the food was over priced a little. But i can't fault the chocolate however, it was great! A good finish for the parliament. I found the staff to be helpful and would help with assistance.
To get in is completely free. A guided tour however is strongly recommended however as there isn't much you can with out it. Cost is £5 per adult, £3 for children 5-16 years, students, disabled and people over 60. A family ticket (2 adults 2 children) is £15.20 and you get in free if your under 5 years or accompaning a disabled person. These are good prices for what your getting however. There is a shop and cafe as well with refreshments and gifts.
Whats Right With It
Well it is the parliament of Scotland to start off with. I think that factor is very important that we have our own devolution. It is an iconic symbol now. It is open to the public and has good facilites for the disabled and young children. You can got there as a tourist, interest in politics or even just to get some culture. If there is an issue that you feel strongly you can find out via the Scottish Parliament website and you can find out if and when they will debate that issue. Get onto the parliament website at
you will find any extra information there. If you where going to another Edinburgh landmark then you can add Parliament to a place to go to. It is right next to Holyrood Palace which is a big tourist area and Dynamic Earth so it will attract schools. So it really was in a good place.
Whats Wrong With It?
The reason it lost a start is because it wouldn't be everyones cup of tea. I don't think it would interest some people. It is however a great place to visit. Also i've brought up how much it cost! A lot of money and a lot of it was taxes (so paid by the people) and there was a lot of speculation about it. So some people may be unhappy to go becuase of that. But it is your money that has paid for it so i would recommend checking it out even if it was for that reason.
It is well worth a visit. If you have never been and quite fancy it then go! You really will like it. I'm definately recommending the Scottish Parliament to reviewers! A truly fantastic place to visit if your ever in Edinburgh or Scotland.
© scotlandizdabest 2008
When the Scottish Parliament was reinstated in 1999, after a 292 years 'holiday', it needed a home. For four years, it met in the Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland whilst the new building was being constructed. From the very start, this project was plagued by controversy and difficulties. The chosen site, at the bottom of the Royal Mile, was not everyone's favourite, and some even questioned if there should be a new building. When the Catalan architect Enric Miralles was chosen for the project, the choice of an architect out with Scotland was another contentious point. The original estimate for the cost of the building was £50 million, but it ended up costing around £470 million. To add to the already troubled start, Enric Miralles sadly died of a brain tumour in 2000, before the building was completed.
Officially opened by the Queen in October 2004, Holyrood was visited by 250,000 people in its first 6 months, which to some was a vindication. However, as Margo MacDonald (independent MSP) pointed out, did it mean they all liked it?
My husband and I were among these early visitors and our feelings were very mixed. We had been in Edinburgh when the work was being done, and had not been overly impressed with what little we saw behind the security barriers. But then again, a building site is never pretty so we put those very early impressions out of our minds. We really wanted to like the new building, not only because it had cost each of us about £85 (as it did everyone else in Scotland) but because it is an important symbol for the Scottish people. Personally, I felt the whole argument about cost had arisen mainly because the original quote was far too low. A Parliament is an important official building and as such should make people feel proud and give visitors a good impression of the country. After all, Portcullis House, the new accommodation block for Westminster MPs cost £250 million, whereas Holyrood came with all necessary accommodation and functions. I think there would have been as many complaints if the building had been 'cheap'. So what were we getting for our money?
We were very under whelmed by the exterior of Holyrood. The front entrance looked to me like the front of an airport or train station. To be fair, the landscaping around the building wasn't fully finished. But what were those funny sticks on top of the canopy for? Not to protect people from the sun, this is Scotland after all, and they certainly wouldn't keep the rain away. I did quite like the pillars going through a leaf shape cut-out in the concrete; it looked like a plant or a twig and leaf, quite organic. I also like the windows on the MSPs building; they were quite quirky and fun. But other parts looked like tower-blocks with little decorations stuck on them to make them look less tower-blocky.
Ok, the jury is still out, let's go in
We had hoped to visit when Parliament was in session, but it turns out they are mostly in recess during school holidays, so that is probably never going to happen. The visit is free, unless you wish to take a guided tour at £3.50. This lets you stand in the actual debating chamber, instead of just viewing it from the public gallery. If you wish to view a debate, it may be wise to obtain a ticket as you may not be able to get in on the day. More information on this is available here http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/vli/visitingHolyrood/chamberTickets.htm Free entry to the building doesn't mean you can walk right in however, you first have to go through security, as you would expect.
The first place you come to after security is the main hall. This I did not like at all. It felt weighed down by the very low (or at least it seemed low) concrete ceiling, by the darkness and general gloomy atmosphere. The vaulted ceiling has strange looking crosses in low-relief which I have since found out were Miralles' interpretation of the Saltire. They didn't work for me, as they reminded me more of religious symbols which I felt had no place here. There was also an exhibition there about the Scottish Parliament, a lacklustre affair as I remember it.
To get to the Debating Chamber, visitors have to follow corridors and stairs, again drab and uninspired. The chamber itself was a different matter. A huge, bright and airy space, where oak, glass and light come together in a most satisfying manner. This is more like it! The huge ceiling looks in places like an upturned boat and is truly amazing. Again though, small details enter your consciousness after a while, little niggles that spoil the overall effect. The semi-circular arrangement for the MSPs desks is very nice, but from the gallery they remind me of something. What is it now? Oh, yes, they have a distinct IKEA look. And who chose that pattern for the carpet?
The whole visit saw me hovering between being impressed and disappointed
Having been to Barcelona since our visit to Holyrood, I can see where Miralles was coming from (both figuratively and literally, as he was native of the Catalan capital). Many times during our stay, as we visited different places, I saw elements that reminded me of the Holyrood building. Understanding Miralles' concepts better did make the building more satisfactory. The choice of a Catalan architect was a potent symbolic gesture, as Scotland and Catalonia have similarities in their histories and political statuses. Aerial photographs of Holyrood show that from the air it is an amazing ensemble. But that is just the thing, isn't it? Common citizens of Scotland and visitors do not get to see it from the air. And its beauty and clever design should jump out at you, not require a degree in architecture to be appreciated. Overall, I think the Parliament Building is full of good design ideas and concepts, but they haven't quite come together. Despite the deliberate use of Scottish materials in its fabric, it still looks like it would 'fit' better in Barcelona. But as a symbol, I think visitors to Edinburgh should visit it, and make up their own mind. I for one will go back, to see if a little distance from the original controversy, the passing years and the final touches to the landscaping have lent Holyrood a little more substance.
Scotland's new Parliament sits at the foot of Edinburgh's famous Royal Mile in front of the spectacular Holyrood Park and Salisbury Crags. Constructed from a mixture of steel, oak, and granite, the complex building has been hailed as one of the most innovative designs in Britain today.