In the second part of our Edinburgh as a tourist series, The Edinburgh blog looks at The Palace of Holyroodhouse. Not only does the Queen stay here for some part of the year, it is also a tourist attraction where, for a fee, you can enter the palace grounds and certain rooms inside The Palace of Holyroodhouse.
The Queen’s Gallery, that has changing displays from the Royal Collection, is built before the courtyard entrance of Holyroodhouse and occupies space above the shop and counter where you may purchase tickets and gifts. A combined adult ticket to see the Queen’s Gallery and Holyroodhouse is ¬£12.50. Single adult tickets are ¬£5 and ¬£8.80, respectively. It’s worth noting that photography is prohibited inside both the gallery and palace, but allowed outside. You should check the website before visiting to ensure that the Queens presence hasn’t closed the palace, or that it’s not shut for some other visitor/maintenance.
When walking around the gallery or the palace you are given an electronic device and headphones that, once you punch the appropriate number in, give an audio description of the exhibit. In the gallery this could be negated as text descriptions are also provided, but in the palace there are no text descriptions so you must use the headphones if you wish to hear about what you’re seeing. This device worked excellently and I found the commentaries sufficiently detailed, yet not overlong and boring. Foreign language versions are available.
The current exhibition when I attended in the Queen’s Gallery this past Sunday was “Unfolding pictures: Fans in the Royal Collection“. This exhibition ends May 29th. It was a well laid out exhibit with many cabinets containing fans that had once belonged to royals including Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. They ranged from the early 17th century until the 1930’s and the three Faberge fans on display were stunning pieces. However, my personal favourite was an Austrian brise leather fan of Queen Alexandra that has her name written vertically upon it. The exhibit touched on the materials and manufacturing process of fans, but I thought provided insufficient information to why fans died a death through the 20th century. Overall the fan exhibit provided some interesting moments and a link to an essential Royal accessory from the previous few hundred years.
Very disappointingly upon arrival a little sign stated that ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ Chambers’ inside the palace were closed until Summer 2006 for maintenance. The website didn’t mention this in advance, and even though the artifacts usually exhibited here had been moved into another room, I couldn’t help but be disappointed that I was going to miss out on seeing the room where Rizzio was stabbed to death by Lord Darnley and his conspirators. My personal advice would be to wait until Summer when these rooms are open, as currently you will miss out on seeing Mary Queen of Scots’ Bed chamber, supper room, outer chamber and not to mention the spiral staircase to these rooms.
After having your ticket verified you walk into the forecourt of Holyroodhouse palace. Here, lies the fountain and many a good photo opportunity is provided. You can also see the gates that protect access to this forecourt and the front view of the palace includes James V’s tower. The entrance has a couple of guard boxes on either side, so you can pretend to be a soldier if need be. The palaces entrance is very beautiful with a black and gold clock high up on the stone crowns stand, and the royal crest below this.
After walking through the entrance you have a great view of the quadrangle and all four sides of the internal walls of the palace. After this it’s cameras away as you walk up the great stair to the first floor of Holyroodhouse; and the plasterwork on the ceiling here is really awesome. Next is the Royal Dining Room, that the headset commentary states the Queen uses when in residence. Again, the plasterwork and intricate painted detail on the ceiling was my focal point. The guide book really does have some excellent photos of this and contains layouts of the rooms with artifacts numbered and described.
After this is The Throne Room where you can see a pair of upholstered thrones made for King George V and Queen Mary - no sitting on them though! I found the Daniel Mytens picture of Charles I here fascinating, and it was well described in the commentary. It seemed his eyes were looking right at you and you got a great sense of history that here stood a man who was later executed. The adjoining Evening Drawing room contained some wonderful tapestries, with the Africa one particularly imaginative. Further rooms include The Morning Drawing Room where the Queen gives audiences when in residence and the Kings bedchamber, where the painting on the ceiling and the fantastic detail of the plaster work really is awe inspiring. The Great Gallery contains some great portraits, including one of Mary Queen of Scots. The Stuart and Jacobite artifact collection was interesting, although as mentioned, disappointing it wasn’t displayed in it’s usual Mary Queen of Scots’ Outer Chamber location.
The Ruins of the Abbey Church of Holyrood are adjoining the palace and these are great to walk around. It gives you a great sense of history and sheer inspiration. I think the commentary mentioned many writers get inspired through the ruins and it’s easy to see why. Definitely one of the highlights of the tour.
A walk through the beautiful gardens brings the tour to a close and luckily on the day I visited the sun was shining and the flowers were in bloom:-
Afterwards we visited the cafe that provided a decent piece of chicken and roasted potatoes, along with a healthy slice of Black Forest Gateaux (¬£2.50). This is pleasant to sit outside at during Summer, and they even serves bottles of Peroni.
In summary I think the Palace of Holyroodhouse contains so much history and provides that slight voyeurism into the surroundings the Royal Family inhabit that it is in many ways a necessary and worthwhile Edinburgh tourist attraction. At ¬£12.50 for the combined ticket I do think better value could be offered, especially to the British taxpayer, who already contributes to the Royal family through our fiscal system.
What is there is done well and the headphone commentary system works extremely well. I do think the lack of human tours around the palace mean you miss out on the more personal/quirky stories of the Palace though. Also I would not recommend visiting until Mary Queen of Scots’ chambers have re-opened; as you miss out on the architecture and sheer history associated with these rooms.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse at a glance
- Address: Palace of Holyroodhouse, Canongate, The Royal Mile, EH8 8DX View at Google Maps
- Website: http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=36
- Price (at time of review): The Palace: Adults ¬£8.80. Under 17 ¬£4.80. Under 5’s free. Family tickets available. The Queen’s Gallery: ¬£5 adults. Combined adults ticket is ¬£12.50. See their website for full details.
- Time the visit takes: Approx. 40 mins for the Queen’s Gallery and 1.25 hours for the Palace of Holyroodhouse