The Palace of Holyroodhouse is largely a seventeenth-century creation, planned for Charles II. Tours of the palace move through a series of royal reception rooms featuring some outstanding encrusted plasterwork, each more impressive than the last – an idea Charles II had picked up from his cousin Louis XIV’s Versailles – while on the northern side of the internal quadrangle, the Great Gallery extends almost the full length of the palace and is dominated by portraits of 96 Scottish kings, painted by Jacob de Wet in 1684 to illustrate the lineage of Stewart royalty: the result is unintentionally hilarious, as it’s clear that the artist’s imagination was taxed to bursting point in his commission to paint so many different facial types without having an inkling as to what the subjects actually looked like. Leading from this into the oldest part of the palace, known as James V’s tower, the formal, ceremonial tone gives way to dark medieval history, with a tight spiral staircase leading to the chambers used by Mary, Queen of Scots. These contain various relics, including jewellery, associated with the queen, though the most compelling viewing is a tiny supper room, from where, in 1566, Mary’s Italian secretary, David Rizzio, was dragged by conspirators, who included her jealous husband, Lord Darnley, to the outer chamber and stabbed 56 times; a brass plaque on the wall points out what are rather unconvincingly identified as the bloodstains on the wooden floor.

Holyrood Abbey

The evocative ruins of Holyrood Abbey, some of which date from the thirteenth century, lie next to the palace. The roof tumbled down in 1768, but the melancholy scene has inspired artists down the years, among them Felix Mendelssohn, who in 1829 wrote “Everything is in ruins and mouldering … I believe I have found the beginning of my Scottish Symphony there today”. Next to the abbey are the formal palace gardens, open to visitors in summer and offering some pleasant strolls.

The Queen’s Gallery

Essentially an adjunct to Holyrood palace, the Queen’s Gallery is located in the shell of a former church directly between the palace and the parliament. It’s a compact space with just two principal viewing rooms used to display changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection, a vast array of art treasures held by the Queen on behalf of the British nation. Because the pieces are otherwise exhibited only during the limited openings of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, the exhibitions here tend to draw quite a lot of interest.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Scotland features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

24 breaks for bookworms

24 breaks for bookworms

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas In 1971, fuelled by a cornucopia of drugs, Hunter S. Thompson set off for Las Vegas on his “savage journey to the heart of …

02 Mar 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge camera_alt Gallery
7 must-visit places in Scotland you've probably never heard of

7 must-visit places in Scotland you've probably never heard of

Scotland sports such a strong selection of tourist attractions – from castles and cabers to kilts and whisky – it’s easy to forget that there is much mor…

01 Mar 2017 • Robin McKelvie insert_drive_file Article
8 great alternative UK city breaks

8 great alternative UK city breaks

London, Edinburgh, Cardiff… These are the usual suspects when visitors are thinking about UK city breaks. But there are actually 66 other cities to be explore…

22 Feb 2017 • Greg Dickinson insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month