Many monarchs have had a fondness for Scotland throughout the centuries and in Edinburgh, there are symbols of these royal relationships everywhere. Among the city’s elegant street of towns both old and young, sit memorials and monuments to the Kings and Queens of the past.
Edinburgh Castle has been a royal home for over 1000 years set upon Castle Rock. It is not yet known how far back the first inhabitants settled here with estimates currently dating back to the 1st century AD.
St Margaret’s Chapel sits in grace within the citadel walls as the oldest known building in Edinburgh and the birthplace of King James VI and I of England hides inside the Castle’s main body. The location does mean a healthy walk for visitors, but the grounds are well worth the energy needed to get there.
As you walk between the guardian knights and under the portcullis, you can imagine soldiers marching through the gates and gentlemen and ladies with maids drifting by to take part in feasts and events. There is this sense of walking among greatness. Legendary occupants to grace Edinburgh Castle’s rooms include King David I, King James IV, Mary Queen of Scots, King James VI and I of England and King Charles I. All have left their mark on this castle location.
The Grand Hall installed by showcases armour and weapon displays and hosts guest activities such as Tudor music, dancing and historical talks. Inside the small room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son James, there is a beautiful painted ceiling made to attract the eye.
Today the Castle site is home to many of the Scottish regimental museums, as well as being proud house of the dazzling Scottish crown jewels and the Honours of Scotland. The one o’clock gun is a symbol of the guards presence, running like clockwork since 1861.
Head down the Royal mile and you will yourself at the gates of the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Known today as the Queen’s official Edinburgh residence, the first Palace was constructed here around the year 1500 as a home for King James V and his wife, Margaret Tudor during their stays by Holyrood Abbey. The palace has been adapted and rebuilt over the years to include turrets and a beautiful fountain. The Edinburgh crest sits high on the front towers – a showpiece with lions and unicorns, long standing representatives of the city.
Many of the rooms remain with decoration as chosen by Queen Victoria and Albert ready for visitors to admire. As an admirer of Victoria & Albert, it is thrilling to walk through rooms where their time was spent. Both claimed to feel at peace in this corner of the world and there is a wonderful feeling of homeliness in Holyroodhouse that I imagine formed a part of this serenity.
The largest room in the Palace is a great long gallery showcasing paintings of royalty past. The majestic portrait of Charles I is very impressive at one end of the gallery with many other rarer portraits adorning the walls. See if you can spot the secret door in one wall!
The Abbey ruins are sheltered by the Palace, preserving a frame nearly 900 years old. Learn more of the Abbey and its grounds with the free audio tour for visitors including speeches from members of the Royal family, sharing memories and stories of their time at Holyroodhouse.
From the 14th June 2019, Holyroodhouse is holding a special exhibition A Royal Wedding: The Duke & Duchess of Sussex, displaying the outfits worn by Harry & Meghan at their wedding in Windsor Castle last year.
The Royal Mile connecting the Palace and castle is in fact not one, but five connecting streets and comprised of a Scot’s mile at 1814 metres, slightly longer than a standard English mile. Many of the city’s museums and galleries can be found on these connecting streets and can be visited for free if you decide to venture inside.
If like me, you love to wander around and get a sense of city life then you are in for a royal treat in Edinburgh. The new town in particular has statues that appear on many of the main streets and parks. The statue of George IV in the ironically named George Street has an amusing tale to tell. The statue commemorates George’s visit to Scotland. He was the first monarch to visit in some time and George appeared in a kilt, no doubt as a gesture to the nation. Unfortunately he committed the faux pas of wearing his kilt several inches shorter than the normal length of just below the knee, and this was comically created as part of the memorial.
Edinburgh was a firm favourite with Victoria & Albert and monuments to both can be found in the city centre. Albert astride his horse keeps watch in Charlotte Square, the same location as the official residence of Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon and the nearby Georgian House. A young Queen Victoria poses on top of the Scottish National Gallery in a sculptured gift from the former queen to the city. Sadly I did not see any statues to our current Queen Elizabeth II or her family, but I did find tributes.
The Royal family have always had a keen interest in nature and the outside world. The Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh is a credit to this, with a rare floral collection to be admired. The jewel in the botanical crown is the Pre-Victorian Palm House, reopened by Prince Charles in 2005, and the glasshouse collections.
The gardeners here are dedicated to the study of flora and the results of their labour include a fantastic orchid selection, a rhododendron speciality and floral specimens from ten of the different climates around the world.
The Chinese Hill and Nepalese garden are in progress and also worth a visit. Look out for the city skyline view from the top of Chinese Hill.
Only a few miles from The botanical gardens is the port town of Leith, home of the best visitor attraction in Edinburgh, the Royal yacht Britannia. Britannia is the last royal yacht to be built and was in service from 1954-1997. Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family sailed the equivalent of once round the world per year on official state business. Britannia was also used for family vacations and as a honeymoon venue for the royal family wishing to escape the public eye for a while.
Since the decommissioning of Britannia, the yacht has made its home in Leith as a fascinating exhibit of royal life. Exploring the ship, feels like a bit of a gift from the royals. Family photographs are on display, mixed with those of the crew or “Yachties” during their work and leisure time.
As always I am most interested in the daily goings-on and really enjoyed seeing the Queen’s living room/office and the family’s favourite sun-room as much as the kitchens and crew quarters below deck. It felt like a real privilege to gain this intimate view of their world, at points where voyages were otherwise completely private and I would heartily recommend a trip to this unique attraction.
Edinburgh is full of royal attractions, more than I have seen in any other place. It is absolutely worth spending a day looking around all of the above venues and there are plenty more waiting to be found. Enjoy!
Coming up next….Harry Potter, ghost and witch fans, this one is for you as we bring you Edinburgh – A magical guide!