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It’s always fun and interesting to visit castles and palaces, but it is even more special when you get to visit an actual working palace.  I was excited to have the opportunity to tour the Palace of Holyrood House, the Queen’s official residence when she visits Edinburgh. 

We would also visit the ruins of the Holyrood Abbey and the Holyrood Gardens, where the Queen throws an annual Garden Party.  Setting foot in a place where the Queen stays makes me feel more connected to the royal family, there is also a real sense of history here. 

Let me tell you more about what you can expect when you go inside Holyrood Palace.

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About Holyrood Palace

The name Holyrood comes from the old word “rood” which means cross.  The abbey was the first building on the site so it makes sense that it was called Holy Rood.  The palace was built next to the Abbey and is the home of Scottish Royal History.  It has been a royal residence for 500 years!  Some of the history of Holyrood Palace is reflected in the impressive collection of portraits, especially in the Great Gallery, and also many (over 60) very large and beautiful tapestries, some brought from Buckingham Palace.

Anisa posing in one of the guard houses.- "Inside Holyrood Palace" - Two Traveling Texans

Anisa posing in one of the guard houses.

Queen’s Residences

The Queen’s main Official Residence is, of course, Buckingham Palace, which I hope to visit soon.  On the weekends, her official residence is Windsor Castle.  When she comes to Scotland each July to open the Scottish Parliament, her home is the Holyrood Palace.  She also has an official residence in Northern Ireland called Hillsborough Castle.  All these residences are owned by the crown.


Holyrood Palace Castle Yard

When you go through the gate to Holyroodhouse Palace, you enter the castle yard. This large open space is designed to show the palace building off to maximum dramatic effect. It’s worth taking the time to stand back and admire the architecture of the palace, it is an impressive and imposing building.  Right in front of the castle, you will see a fountain (it wasn’t on when we were there), be sure to go close and admire the details.  Towards the back of the yard, you will also find a statue of Edward VII.  After admiring the pieces of art, we took a few Holyrood Palace pictures including some fun ones in the sentry posts and headed inside.

Holyrood Palace Interior

Before you go inside Holyrood Palace, you visit the courtyard.  You can see that the building is laid out in a quadrangle.  The design is classical, with different columns on each level that get more ornate on the higher floors.  It was in this courtyard that Zara Phillips, the Queen’s granddaughter and Mike Tindall, the former England Rugby Player had their wedding reception.

Note: No photos are allowed inside the Palace.  The photos of the Palace rooms included in this post have been provided by the Royal Collection Trust.

Royal Dining Room

Next, you move inside and up the Great Stairs into the Royal Dining Room which has been used since the time of Queen Victoria.  When we visited, the room was set up with the table that the Queen dines at which can be expanded to seat up to 30 people.  It was interesting to learn that the Queen sits at the middle of the table and not the head.  This way it is easier for her to talk to more people.

Neat to see where the Royal Family dines! - Image Credit: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018 - Inside Holyrood Palace - Two Traveling Texans

Neat to see where the Royal Family dines!
Image Credit: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

The Throne Room

Then you move into the Throne Room, which originally was the Guard Room, but got its name from the two thrones in the room.  The Thrones were commissioned by George IV.  I almost missed these because my eyes were drawn to the large portraits on the walls.  Charles II who is responsible for how the palace looks today and James I of England (also known as James VI of Scotland) are among the monarchs who have portraits in this room.  

The Queen hosts her lunch for the Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Thistle, the highest order of chivalry in Scotland, in this room.  You will see and learn more about the Order of the Thistle throughout Holyrood Palace tour.

The Throne Room has some impressive portraits in addition to the thrones. - Image Credit: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018 - Inside Holyrood Palace - Two Traveling Texans

The Throne Room has some impressive portraits in addition to the thrones.
Image Credit: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

The bed is the King's Bedchamber is gorgeous and not meant for sleeping. - Image Credit: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018 - Inside Holyrood Palace - Two Traveling Texans

The bed is the King’s Bedchamber is gorgeous and not meant for sleeping.
Image Credit: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

King’s Bedchamber

Next, you go through the King’s Ante Chamber, the most important waiting room of the palace, before entering the King’s Bedchamber.  Of course, the focal point of the King’s Bedchamber is the beautiful bed, but the king would not sleep there.  The room was more a show of power and status.  The artwork on the wall of the Greek deities and the elaborate ceiling help reinforce the King’s stature.

The Grand Gallery

The Grand Gallery is the room where the Queen holds State functions, including investitures – among others, Sean Connery was honored here.  ‘Grand’ is about right! This room is long, elegant and the walls are covered with 96 portraits of Scottish monarchs.

Holyrood Palace has been a focal point of a number of conflicts with the English.  On one occasion, some of the paintings in the Great Gallery were damaged by the English.  While they did their best to repair the portraits, you can still see the damage on some of them.  It wasn’t blatantly obvious though, I had to get a warden to point it out to me.  

The Great Gallery is filled with portraits of Scottish Monarchs. -

The Great Gallery is filled with portraits of Scottish Monarchs.

They also had a TV set up playing the Highlights of Holyroodhouse video, which included some ceremonial footage with the Queen including some of the Holyrood Garden Party.

The Queen’s Lobby and Ante Chamber

In the Queen’s Lobby they have some of the jewelry and regalia for the Order of the Thistle on display, as well as other honours, such as medals given to those honoured as Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), or Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).  Next, you enter the Queen’s Ante Chamber which is the oldest part of the castle.  You can tell by looking at the windows and seeing how thick the walls are.  They must be about four feet thick.

Mary Queen of Scots at Holyrood Palace

Lastly, you visit the area of the palace that was Mary Queen of Scots’ apartments.  She is a controversial figure and I have been fascinated with her since I read the Other Queen by Philippa Gregory.  The first room is Queen’s bedchamber which contains a bed worth over £20,000 so it is kept behind glass and in low light to protect the fabric. Mary married her second husband, Lord Darnley in this room.

Next, you have to go up 25 spiral steps to the Mary Queen of Scots bedchamber.  You can see the French influence that Mary brought with her from her time in France.  The room was significant not just because Mary Queen of Scots lived in it but also because her second husband, Lord Darnley had her secretary, Rizzio, murdered here.  Lord Darnley was jealous of Rizzio’s relationship with Mary.  The rebels stabbed Rizzio 56 times!

Mary Queen of Scots' Bedchamber - a beautiful room filled with history.- Image Credit: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018 - Inside Holyrood Palace - Two Traveling Texans

Mary Queen of Scots’ Bedchamber – a beautiful room filled with history.
Image Credit: Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

The final room you visit is Mary Queen of Scots Outer Chamber.  This is the room where Mary, a devout Catholic prayed.  It also had some interesting artifacts including Mary Queen of Scots hair, the Darnley Jewel, a letter written by Mary, and the Holyrood Ordinal.  The Holyrood Ordinal is a prayer book that reminded me of the Book of Kells.

Holyrood Abbey

As part of your admission, you also get to visit the Holyrood Abbey, or really its remains.  The ruins of the abbey were depicted in the painting called the Ruins of Holyrood Chapel by the French artist, Louis Daguerre.  

The Abbey is located directly behind Holyrood Palace and was founded in the 12th century.  The original abbey included more buildings (cloisters, dormitory, etc) than the Holyrood Abbey ruins you see today.  By 1500, the Holyrood Abbey was one of the largest and most impressive monasteries in Scotland. 


You can see here how the Abbey is right behind the Palace.

This church was also used for royal ceremonies, including the coronation of James V (Mary Queen of Scots father) and Charles I.   In the 18th century, the roof collapsed and they decided it was too costly to repair especially since there was another church on the Royal Mile.

Anisa inside the ruins of Holyrood Abbey.-

Anisa inside the ruins of Holyrood Abbey.

Even just seeing the ruins, you can tell the Holyrood Abbey Church must have been a magnificent building.  The columns that still stand are huge and I loved the detail design of the windows.  I can just imagine how beautiful the stained glass must have been.  In some ways, it reminded me of Walsingham Abbey.

If you head to the back corner, you will find the Royal Vault which holds the remains of James V, his Queen, and other royals.  Surprisingly, it is not an elaborate tomb.  In 1688, the tomb was violated by rioters.  Queen Victoria ordered it repaired in 1898.  I didn’t recognize any of the names on any of the other graves that are located throughout the Holyrood Palace Abbey.

The Palace Wardens give tours of the Holyrood Abbey every hour, just ask a warden for details. 

Queen Elizabeth II hosts her annual Holyrood Garden party here for 8,000 guests.  As I walked along the path, I dreamed about attending that party and what it must be like.  I also thought about how pretty the garden would be in the summer with everything in bloom.  

We stumbled upon a nice sculpture and took in the views of the palace, abbey, and Holyrood Park.  As we got close to Holyrood Abbey, we could see some more of its ruins buried under the grass.  I tried to imagine what the Abbey would have looked like in its prime.

The Palace Gardens were so green, even in January.-

The Palace Gardens were so green, even in January.

Entrance to the Gardens is included with your admission ticket to Holyrood Palace.  During most of the winter, the gardens are only open to visitors on the weekends, however during December and the rest of the year, the Holyrood Palace Gardens are open daily.  

If you purchase the Royal Visit ticket, it includes the Garden History Tour. During this tour, you get to go off the path and see the Jubilee Border (planted in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee), Queen Mary’s sundial, and ha-ha (a trench at the edge of the garden, which creates a barrier without blocking the view of Holyrood Park).


Holyrood Palace Cafe

When you exit the palace into the Mews Courtyard, you will find the cafe.  They serve afternoon tea (or Champagne afternoon tea if you prefer) along with a selection of soups, salads, main courses and home-baked cakes. On a nice day you can sit outside with nice views of Edinburgh Holyrood Park.  

If you have a party of five or more, you are advised to book in advance.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the Cafe, but I would love to do a Holyrood Palace afternoon tea next time.

The Queen’s Gallery

After visiting the Palace, we went back inside the gift shop to the Queen’s Gallery.  During our visit, the special Holyrood Palace exhibition was about Prince Albert’s four-month visit to India and the gifts he brought back.  Prince Albert made the trip to help improve relations with India and to meet with the Maharajas.  As you might have guessed the gifts displayed were very gold, artistic, and beautiful.  One of my favorites was the dagger which had pearls inside that moved with the dagger.

The Holyrood exhibition, Splendours of the Subcontinent, was on display until April 22, 2018.

Holyrood Palace Gift Shop

You will walk through the Holyrood Palace shop to get to the ticket desk and the Queen’s Gallery, but if you are a fan of the Royal Family like me, you should browse a bit.  They had some beautiful china, nice teas, and biscuits (cookies for my fellow Americans).  I was tempted to buy the china that was made to commemorate the Queen’s 70th wedding anniversary but wasn’t sure if we had room in our bags.

Holyrood Palace Review

We enjoyed our visit to the Palace of Holyrood House, it’s definitely one of the things you must do in Edinburgh.  I thought it was fascinating to set foot in the Queen’s Scottish residence, a place where several important historical moments took place.  Even Russell, who is a history buff, learned a lot from the audio tour.  It was full of interesting Holyrood Palace facts.  The wardens in each room were so helpful in answering my questions.  I just wish that you were allowed to take photos inside the palace.

Logistics for Your Visit to Holyrood House

Where is Holyrood Palace Located

The Palace of Holyrood House is located at the end of what is called the Royal Mile across the street from the Holyrood Scottish Parliament building.  At the other end of the Royal Mile, you will find Edinburgh Castle.  The address for the Palace of Holyrood House is Canongate, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH8 8DX.  

If you are driving, there is public parking near Holyrood Palace in the Holyrood Palace car park.  If you are using public transportation, you can take the train to Edinburgh Waverley Station and it is a 15-minute walk.  To take the bus to Holyrood Palace, use bus numbers 6, Skylink 300, or the hop on hop off tour bus which all stop near the Palace.  

Holyrood House Opening Times

In general, the Holyrood Palace opens daily at 9:30 am.  In the winter (November 1 – March 31), the last admission is at 3:15 pm and they close at 4:30 pm.  In the summer, they stay open until 6 pm so the last admission is 4:30 pm.  Since Holyrood is a working royal palace, they do have to completely close at times like when the Queen is in residence.  Be sure to check the website for up to date Holyrood Palace hours.

Holyrood Palace Admission

You have several options for Holyrood Palace tickets.  You can either get the standard admission (£15 for adults) which includes admission to the Palace, Gardens (on the path only), and the Abbey.  If you prefer, you can get the Royal visit (£24.50 for adults) which also includes admission to the Queen’s Gallery where special exhibitions are held and a Garden History Tour.   All options include an audio guide and all tickets can be converted to a free one year pass to return to the Palace of Holyrood House for the ticket holder.  You just sign your ticket and get it stamped when you leave.

If you want to visit all the Royal Attractions in Edinburgh – Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh Castle, and Royal Yacht Britannia – consider purchasing the Royal Edinburgh Ticket.  You can save up to 25% compared to buying tickets for the attractions separately.  Click here for more information about the Royal Edinburgh Ticket

Note: Holyrood Palace prices are accurate as of January 6, 2019.  Please check the website for the most up to date information.

Holyrood Palace for Kids

You may be wondering if you should bring the kids to Holyrood Palace. The palace does offer family tickets that include admission for two adults and three under 17.  We did not see any children during our visit but they did have free booklets with activities for kids inside the courtyard to help keep them entertained.  Also please note that for safety reasons, strollers are not allowed inside the palace and must be checked.

Have you visited Holyrood Palace or another one of the Queen’s residences? Tell me about your experience in the comments.


Pin For Later

Expert Tips for Visiting the Palace of Holyrood

  • If you have questions about anything you see at the palace, just ask the wardens.  I found them very helpful.
  • No photography is allowed inside the palace.
  • You should allocate three hours if you plan on doing the Royal Visit.  If you are just seeing the Palace, Abbey, and the Gardens (path only) then I would plan 1 ½ hours.
  • If you have time, go for the Holyrood House afternoon tea at the cafe.  Book ahead if your party is five or more.

Disclosure: We would like to thank the Holyrood Palace for hosting our visit and providing photos of the rooms inside Holyrood Palace. As always, opinions are my own.

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  1. katherinefenech2017

    My memory is such a sieve. I think that I’ve actually been into Holyrood. That green corridor definitely looks familiar, although there ARE a lot of castles in the UK. I just love the history of these places. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Anisa

      Katherine – Haha! Yes so many castles and so much history!

  2. Emese-Réka

    This was an interesting read, Anisa. It is amazing to me that a castle like this is still in use! Thanks for sharing your experience on #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Anisa

      Thanks Emese! Glad you enjoyed it. It was surreal visiting such a historic place that is still so important today.

  3. Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats

    Glad you got a chance to visit here on your quick Edinburgh trip but sorry we were not around 😉 We’ve been a few times as you might imagine and always recommend it to visitors to Edinburgh if they are still up for another royal spot after visiting Edinburgh Castle. The best time to visit the palace rooms is the winter months as they are at their most quiet but for the gardens it is is definitely the Spring/Summer when they are at their most stunning.

    • Anisa

      Jessica – I am sure we will be back, so hopefully we can meet up next time. I saw Edinburgh castle on a previous visit – I don’t think I will ever ge3t tired of royal spots! And yes, I would love to see the gardens when they are in bloom.

  4. sensetheplace

    A very complete guide of this fabulously historical place. When I can associate people with places where they lived, I understand the ins and outs of history much better.

    • Anisa

      Thanks so much. Yes, I feel like when I visit a historical place, it helps me understand history much better.

  5. Karen

    What a beautifully detailed blog about your visit. Been to Edinburgh so many times and admired from the outside yet never been inside. Thanks for sharing. Kx

    • Anisa

      Thanks Karen. Next time you’re in Edinburgh you should visit the inside. It’s such a fascinating place

  6. xyuandbeyond

    I love tours like this where I can feel and see the history and almost picture in my mind the people walking through the halls.

    • Anisa

      Faith – You would love Holyrood. I hope you get the chance to visit.

  7. Kathi

    It’s cool to see how it looks on the inside! I’ve only been to Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s summer residence, but you can’t go inside – only around the garden…

    • Anisa

      Kathi – I would love to visit Balmoral too, even if its just the gardens. I love anything that has to do with the Royal Family!

  8. Suitcase And Wanderlust

    Wow, what a detailed post and guide, thanks for sharing. Edingburgh is still on my list of places to go. I’d love to photograph the nature of Scotland.

    • Anisa

      Thanks so much. You would will love Edinburgh and Scotland is a beautiful country to photograph.

  9. Zoe | Together In Transit

    Love your post! This place sure is great to explore!!

    • Anisa

      Zoe – Thanks so much, glad you enjoyed the post. It was a great place to visit.

  10. Carmelatte

    Oh I defo have to visit this place <3

    • Anisa

      Klaudia – You would love it!

  11. tashasoyster

    A very informative post, I love how you’ve outlined each room. The castle looks wonderful, added it to my list!

    • Anisa

      Thanks Tasha, glad you enjoyed it. I actually left a few rooms off believe or not! You can see those rooms for yourself.

  12. Sara

    I wonder how the Queen decides which residence to use for what… Holyrood looks especially lovely and more manageable than some of the large residences, so I think I would prefer it if I were her. 😉 Scotland has been on my list to visit – I keep hoping for a great fare sale to make the trip! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Anisa

      Sara – Mostly the Queen stays at Holyrood for the week that the Scottish Parliament opens each year. It’s convenient since the parliament building is right across the street.

  13. kad8585

    WHat a stunning and historic place. I would love to visit thw inside!! Sadly the queen was there when I was so I couldn’t step inside but saving this for when I get back. So lovely!!

    • Anisa

      Kelly – Awe that is too bad, but yes you will have to go next time. It’s such a fascinating place.

  14. Neha

    Thanks for sharing such a beautifully detailed account. I couldn’t see Holyrood when I was in Edinburgh, sadly had to leave it for another time. Hopefully some day I’ll be able to visit again. Love the idea of having afternoon tea at the Queen’s palace!

    • Anisa

      Neha – Thank you. I hope you get to visit again too. Yes, I love afternoon tea and even more if it is at a palace.

  15. California Globetrotter

    I feel like I’ve been here before! I visited Edinburgh back when I was 15 or so but don’t remember much but this certainly looks familiar! Nonetheless, thanks for putting it back on my radar for a future visit! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Anisa

      Lolo – Since I know you love castles, I am sure you would love it.

  16. Morgan

    Scotland will never lose it’s charm! Going to have to add this to my next Edinburgh itinerary. After falling in love with the UK i’ve been to Scotland 3 times, most recently for Hogmanay in 2016/17. Such a fun celebration

    • Anisa

      Morgan – I love Scotland too. I haven’t been for Hogmanay yet. I bet that was alot of fun.

  17. Michelle

    Absolutely gorgeous! I love visiting palaces in Europe, and like you, I am intrigued by Mary, Queen of Scots. Gotta add this palace to the list! 🙂

    • Anisa

      Thanks Michelle. You will love it. If you are interested in Mary Queen of Scots, you need to also visit Edinburgh Castle where she gave birth to her son.

  18. twobytour

    I was having flashbacks to all my courses dealing with English history! It’s still confusing, but wow, those buildings, especially the ruins of the abbey, are incredible. I never thought of a bed as a status symbol, but I guess you’ve really made it if you have beds you don’t even use. It all looks gorgeous. Is there a post about Edinburgh itself in the offing? My Scottish heritage (clan Fraser) interests me a lot more than the rest of the usual West European mix, and I’m a huge fan of Irvine Welsh, so Edinburgh is high on the list for future trips. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    • Anisa

      Thank you! I don’t have a post that is an overview of Edinburgh because I haven’t had enough time to really explore the city. The other post I have is about Edinburgh Castle, which is definitely a must see too. It has the Crown Jewels of Scotland along with so much history and great views over the city.

  19. Ruth

    Wow, this is quite a palace! I am going to sound dumb in here but I had no idea the Queen had an official residence in Scotland. I have visited Buckingham and Windsor and I guess I have to add Holyrood to list of places to see. How long it took you to see the main sights in there? Looks like a big place. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Anisa

      Ruth – The Queen has an official residence in Scotland because she has to open the Parliament every year (in July). This palace is convenient because it’s right across the street from the Parliament building. We spent about 2 1/2 hours there, but we did spend some time on pictures, so you could probably see it in 1 1/2 hours. I would also leave some extra time to do the afternoon tea.

  20. Amanda

    Ok, now I am seriously jealous of you! I am in love with learning about the Queens (largely in part to my addiction to Masterpiece Theatre) I am currently devouring Victoria and of course alerady binged on The Crown Season 2. It would be such a dream come true to make it to London and see these amazing places you have been sharing with us! In the meantime, I am enjoying living vicariously through you.

    • Anisa

      Haha Amanda! Yes, I love the royal family too, so try to see as many things related to them as possible. If you are looking for some interesting reading, I do really enjoy Phillipa Gregory’s books. The Tudor period was really fascinating!


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