The main street of Edinburgh is called the Royal Mile, so named for the two structures at either end. At the top of the street is Edinburgh Castle; at the bottom is Holyrood Palace. Between the two, I prefer the palace.
The palace was built between 1671 and 1678, several centuries after the original castle structures were constructed. I don’t claim to be an expert in architectural styles, but I’d say the palace is a combination of different styles, from neoclassical to Victorian, but it also has a couple Roman features thrown in like the Doric columns at the gateway. In essence, I would call it a quintessential castle (but it’s a palace since Edinburgh already has a castle).
Since its construction, it has been the residence of the kings and queens of Scotland and is used for state occasions. Although Scotland no longer has its own king, the Queen comes up once a year at the beginning of the summer to spend a week in Edinburgh with the nobility of Scotland. She hosts a garden party which is quite the honor to attend.
Except for the week when the queen is in residence, Holyrood Palace can be toured each day. Tickets are £15 ($18), which is about 30% cheaper than the tickets for the castle. The palace is open from 9:30 to 6, 7 days a week. Only the historic apartments of Mary Queen of Scots and the state function rooms can be visited. This is still a good portion of the palace. It took me about an hour on the self-guided tour to take everything in. The self-guided tour comes with an audio guide which you can listen to at your own pace, learning about all the different historical features and facts.
Sadly, there are no photos allowed in the palace (not uncommon for a government building), but you can take as many as you want in the grounds. The front of the palace has a huge courtyard with an intricate fountain in the center. However, my favorite part is behind the palace. Nestled up against the building are the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, dating all the way back to 1128! There’s no roof, but you can see the flying buttresses and weatherworn statues along the walls. The stonework is just gorgeous. I’d say it’s my favorite ruins in Scotland after St. Andrew’s Cathedral up north.
The abbey is surrounded by the Queen’s Garden where she hosts her annual garden party. These are meticulously landscaped and have a stunning view of Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags. I just hope you can spend more time in the gardens than I did, since I managed to arrive on a rainy day – which only happens about 364 days a year in Edinburgh.
Overall, I would definitely recommend a tour of Holyrood Palace when you’re in Edinburgh, especially if you’re a fan of royalty, history or architecture. As it only takes a couple hours to explore, spend the rest of your day taking a tour of Mary King’s Close, the Brittania, the Royal Botanical Gardens, at a dog or cat cafe, on a ghost tour or at any of the other dozens of attractions which make Edinburgh such a special and magical city.