Sitting pretty on Margaret Street in Fife is Dunfermline Abbey and Palace, where beauty and history collide. People come to admire the crumbling, ancient walls of the original castle as well as the dappled sunlight filtering through the colourful mosaic of stained glass windows.
History buffs will revel in the historic environment of the abbey church, filled to the brim as it is with royal ancestry and remains. And if you love architecture, look no further than the impressive medieval interiors of Queen Margaret’s church. Whether you swing by the south wall or linger by the abbey ruins, there is no wrong way to spend an afternoon or morning perusing this piece of Scottish history.
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Dunfermline Abbey History
The fascinating history of Dunfermline Abbey and church stretches back to the 11th century when it was just a quaint priory founded by Queen Margaret in 1070 AD. It was erected on the picturesque piece of land where she married Malcolm III. Benedictine monks were brought over to initiate a small community and, coincidentally, the first Benedictine house in the country.
David I, the son of Malcolm III and Queen Margaret (also known as St. Margaret), felt the priory deserved more grandeur and set about turning it into a gorgeous spectacle of architecture. In 1128, he began his project, calling in stonemasons from Durham Cathedral to bring his vision to life. That vision included the famous Dunfermline Abbey nave, which still stands in all of its glory today.
In 1303, Dunfermline Abbey was damaged rather severely by Edward I, but after the Wars of Independence, King Robert (also known as Robert the Bruce) financed its restoration and included some new buildings. His remains were buried on the Abbey’s grounds, along with other royal persons such as Queen Margaret and David I.
A century or two later, the abbey nave was converted to a parish church or kirk for the Dunfermline peoples after the Protestant Reformation in 1560, and the old choir section was left to dereliction and finally collapsed.
These days Dunfermline Abbey is not only a gorgeous historical landmark in Scotland but also an active parish church called Dunfermline Abbey Church. It was established in the 19th century, where the old choir once stood.
Dunfermline Abbey and Palace: Things to Remember
If you’re heading to the abbey, it’s best to take note of these important factors.
Dunfermline Abbey and Palace Opening Times
There are two seasonal sets of operating hours to view the ruins, church, and palace during your visit. From May to the end of September, the abbey is open from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm from Monday to Saturday, and from 1 pm to 5 pm on Sundays. From October to March, the opening times adjust to 10 am to 4 pm with the abbey closed on Sundays and Mondays. Last entry is 30 minutes before closing time.
Adult entry fees are £6 each and children’s entry fees are £3.50 each. You can also purchase a family ticket for £20.
While the paths within the ground are accessible to all with a gravel surface, the kitchen, refectory floor, lower floor of the palace, and upper floor in the gatehouse are not accessible for visitors in wheelchairs.
Children under the age of 16 must have an adult accompanying them. The site may also close for lunch from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm and is closed from 25 December to 5 January. Any part of the site may be closed at short notice for weddings, funerals, and other events.
How to Get to Dunfermline Abbey and Palace
No matter which direction you’re coming from, here are the easiest ways to get to the abbey.
Ways to Get There by Car and/or Public Transportation
There are several ways to reach the abbey church, the first of which is by car. From the north, you’ll enter Dunfermline from the A823, and from the east, you’ll take the M90 and then follow the signs from Exit 3. You’ll enter the town via Queensferry Road, coming from the south and via the A985 from Kincardine from the west. Bear in mind that the abbey buildings don’t have a car park, so if you drive in, you’ll have to pay for parking in town.
If you prefer public transport, you can take a bus to Dunfermline and enjoy a 5-minute walk to the abbey buildings, or take one of the frequent trains from Edinburgh to Dunfermline Abbey and Palace. It’s only a 15-minute stroll from Dunfermline Town Railway Station, otherwise, you can catch one of the many taxis there if your boots weren’t made for walking.
Attractions at Dunfermline Abbey, Fife
So what exactly is there to see at the Abbey, you might be wondering? Read on to find out more about the many glorious things to do at this Scottish landmark.
Visit the Royal Graveyard
The abbey is the final resting place for many a Scottish monarch – 18 royals and 7 kings were buried beneath its soils between 1093 and 1420. Its status as a royal mausoleum is set in stone, and who knows? Perhaps you’ll bump into a noble ghost while you’re reading the famous names on the tombstones and walking the neatly trimmed pathways.
See the Royal Palace
The Abbey was not only a priory and abbey church, but a royal palace, too. Abbeys typically had several types of accommodation for various guests, but from the start, the guesthouse was most likely a royal residence. After the Scottish Reformation, the west range and guesthouse were officially converted into Dunfermline Palace and Anna of Denmark, wife to James VI, lived here. The elaborate feel alone is enough to convince you that the nobility spent plenty of time here.
Walk Through the Nave
This piece of the historical site is managed by Historic Environment Scotland. As you walk through the south west entrance, the 900-year-old pillars and columns of carved stones are awe-inspiring, eternally reaching for the sky. The stained glass windows shimmer their bold colours down on you as you continue your stroll towards the royal vault containing the tomb of Robert the Bruce, a detailed floor plaque marking its place, and then make your way to the east end where the shrine of St. Margaret lies in its elaborate glory.
See the Gatehouse and Refectory
Next up is the gatehouse, a short walk from the nave. The tattered ruins of the monk’s refectory have a couple of boards to read about the site’s history and further understand how its ruin came about. But even in its timeworn state, the moss-stained walls and carved windows of the vast refectory are majestic, and you can imagine how in its heyday, it was the masterpiece of architecture.
Stop by the Gift Shop
Souvenirs of the places you travel to are always a fun way to finish up a visit to a landmark, especially one as special as this abbey. The gift shop might be small, but it has some lovely items. Take your pick of unique trinkets for yourself or for friends back home.
Book a Tour
Sometimes the best way to experience a place is with the knowledge of a guide to point out all the fantastic facts and other tidbits you might not notice if you go it alone. A trip to Dunfermline church can be worked in as part of a longer day trip exploring more historical landmarks in Scotland, so why not take advantage?
Tips and Advice to Have a Fulfilling Trip
- Either pack a lunch or head to one of the many cafés nearby the abbey for a bite to eat after sightseeing.
- Dunfermline Park is just outside the west gate of the abbey and has plenty of delights to enjoy after your historic sightseeing adventure.
- If possible, plan your visit around the weather. Not only is the site more gorgeous by sunlight, if the weather is bad enough, it may close without much warning.
- Over 30,000 tourists visit the abbey each year, so if you want to take stunning pictures without a crowd of tourists clogging up your camera, arrive at opening time.
- Fife is renowned for golfing, so whether you’re a pro or a hobbyist, bring your clubs and head for the greens.
- If you need a caffeine boost after sightseeing, why not visit the best coffee shops and roasteries in nearby Edinburgh to get your daily fix?
Interesting Facts about Dunfermline Abbey
- The remains of Robert the Bruce were interred in front of the high altar of Dunfermline Abbey – well, most of them at any rate. His heart was removed after death and taken on Crusade in respect of his deathbed wish to join his comrades in battle against the “infidels,” which he had not managed to achieve in life. Eventually, his withered heart was buried at Melrose Abbey, and King Robert could finally rest in peace.
- Dunfermline Abbey is the birthplace of Charles I, the last monarch to be born on Scottish soil. Born in 1600, his parents Anna and James VI, left Dunfermline Palace 3 years later for London, and the palace fell into disrepair.
- Originally, Margaret was no saint. Not officially, at any rate. But thanks to her Catholic devotion and religious services, the Pope canonized her in 1250. As a result, a shrine was built on the abbey church grounds in Fife, and her exhumed body was moved there along with her husband’s for pilgrims to pay their respects. In 1560, Mary Queen of Scots had Margaret’s head removed and brought to her as a macabre good luck charm for the birth of her first child. The remains have moved several times since but are now lost to history.
- Dunfermline, Fife, is one of the oldest towns in Scotland, and the abbey was once the capital of the country.
Dunfermline Abbey is truly a site to behold, not only visually but for all the royal historic wealth that resides in the walls of this royal palace and church. There’s even the shrine of a saint to bless its beautiful buildings, rustic ruins, and tombs holding the ashes of kings. Although it had a small start as a tiny priory, it grew in ways Queen Margaret herself probably didn’t imagine. This is one must-see attraction you just have to cross off your Scottish bucket list while you’re there.