Will we see the queen?Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the Queen when she’s in Scotland, though she doesn’t always stay there. Every year her Majesty attends the ‘Holyrood Week’ of engagements, which includes a garden party in the grounds of Holyroodhouse in the last week of June or first week of July. The family doesn’t spend a huge amount of time at the palace, most of the autumn, winter, and spring they are either at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, or Sandringham, and they tend to spend the summer at Balmoral in the Cairngorms rather than in Edinburgh. So it’s unlikely, but you could bump into her.
What will we see on a visit to the palace?On your trip to the palace you’ll be able to see the State Apartments, which include the magnificent bedchamber created for Charles II (but which he never got to use), the Royal Dining Room, which is still in use when the Queen is in residence, and the Throne Rome and Privy Chamber, which are used for ceremonial purposes and meetings between the Queen and the First Minister of Scotland. You’ll also see the bedchamber where Mary, Queen of Scots lived between 1561 and 1567, and where she witnessed the murder of her private secretary, David Rizzio, in 1566. Next to the palace, you can explore the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, the original building on the site, built in 1128 on the orders of King David I of Scotland. Finally, you can unwind in the beautiful gardens of the palace. In addition to the multimedia guide, you can get free tours of the gardens, the Abbey, and the palace with a warder. Just ask what the tour timetable is for the date of your trip when you arrive at the palace.
Why is it called Holyrood Palace or Holyroodhouse?The word ‘rood’ is an Old English word for cross, and the term ‘Holyrood’ was used to refer to the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. There are two different stories which explain the name. In the first, King David I of Scotland was hunting in the forest when he was thrown from his horse, as it had been startled by a stag. He was either saved by the appearance of a miraculous cross in the sky, or by sunlight reflected from a crucifix which appeared between the stag’s horns and as a mark of gratitude and thanksgiving he founded the abbey in its present site. The name could also come from a relic of the True Cross, brought by the King’s mother to the abbey and then known as the Black Rood of Scotland. The relic later fell into the hands of the English before disappearing from Durham Cathedral during the Reformation. Whichever story is true, Holyrood means ‘Holy Cross’, and the palace takes its name from the Abbey.
What’s in the Gallery?The Gallery of Holyrood Palace is used as an exhibition space, featuring different temporary exhibitions of art from the royal collection. From November 2018 to June 2019 that exhibit features art from the time of King Charles II, from June 2019 to November 2019 it will feature art on the theme of Russia, Royals, and the Romanovs, and from November 2019 to March 2020 it will host the largest collection of the work of Leonardo da Vinci ever shown in Scotland, on display to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death.
How long does a visit take?The multimedia tour takes about an hour, but you can take your time to explore everything thoroughly, especially the gardens. If you take a tour with a Warder in addition to using the multimedia guide then you should plan at least 3 hours for a visit.
Is a visit suitable for children?A trip to the Palace of Holyroodhouse is suitable for families with children of all ages! There are special child-friendly activity trails for the palace, the abbey, and the gardens, which you can print in advance. The multimedia tour also has a family-friendly version in English, so children will enjoy following along as you explore. There are also special seasonal events for children, many of which include arts and crafts and other activities, so watch out for those! The only caveat is that strollers aren’t allowed inside the palace, so you might want to bring a baby carrier for the smallest family members, or you can borrow one from the visitor information desk.
Are there any ghosts in the palace?With a history of murder, revolution, and warfare, it would be surprising if nobody had ever reported any mysterious sightings. Guests at the palace have reported unusual drafts and the sound of crying coming from the lower floors. More concerning that spooky wind-like sounds are the reports of the ghost of Agnes Sampson, also known as Bald Agnes, who was tortured, tried, and executed for witchcraft in 1591. Her crime was to have hampered the new Queen Anne’s voyage to Scotland from Oslo by raising storms. Other reported ghosts include Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed in England in 1587, and her murdered secretary David Rizzio.