In Scotland, Falkland Palace holds a special place as the historic house of Mary, Queen of Scots. But the Queen of Scots was hardly the only royal to grace this royal palace, though – there’s a long history of Stuart kings living at and renovating the palace and its gardens.
A continual renovation is why the crowning glory of Falkland Village and Scotland’s past has remained in such splendid preservation since it was constructed centuries ago. What’s more, the Falkland Palace interior is a passage through time, studded with portraits of monarchy gazing upon you as you wander its many halls and rooms.
We’ll be covering the intricate history of Falkland Palace, how to get there, details to know, and the top attractions you can look forward to.
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Falkland Palace History
In the 12th century, a hunting lodge occupied the site in Falkland Palace’s stead. During the 13th century, it was expanded to become a castle owned by the Earls of Fife, also known as Clan MacDuff. Sitting on a slight hill surrounded by meadows and woodlands filled with game, the castle was perfectly positioned to defend and sustain itself.
In 1424, James I took possession of Falkland Castle, and it became a popular country retreat for the Stewart Kings and their queen consorts. They practised falconry there and enjoyed hunting red deer in the woods.
James II to Mary of Guelders, who initiated improvements in 1461, including a stairway leading from the queen’s room to the pleasance and a gallery containing two chambers. The palace gardens were also adapted, with two ponds built within the hay yard, a lawn laid outside the queen’s chambers and a door built for her to access the garden easily. It quickly became a favourite residence, and Margaret of Denmark of James III visited in 1473.
In the decades between 1497 and 1541, King James IV and James V transformed the tranquil grounds and royal apartments into a stunning Renaissance-inspired royal palace. A new chapel was constructed and roofed in 1512 while masons worked on the Great Hall and the wall around the garden.
From 1537, James V continued to extend the buildings in the same Renaissance style, including a tennis court in his required designs. Despite the renovations, the royal family and court visited Falkland Palace.
When James VI married Anne of Denmark in the late 16th century, he gifted her Falkland Palace. By 1598, her bed chamber had tapestries from Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.
After the Union of the Crown and the relocation of the royal family to London in 1603, Andrew Murray was left to watch over Falkland Palace. In 1615, he advised that the palace was in dire need of repairs, and James Murray, the architect, applied the necessary maintenance for King James’ visit in 1617.
A more extensive restoration took place in 1887 when the 3rd Marquis of Bute bought the estate and started 20 years of repairs with two architects. The extensive formal garden was also improved, with new trees and shrubs planted and bridges built to link the orchard and palace gardens.
In 1952, the palace was finally handed over to the National Trust for Scotland, having faith that they would maintain the property from then on.
Things to Remember About Falkland Palace, Scotland
Here are a couple of things you should keep in mind on your Falkland Palace visit.
Falkland Palace Opening Times
Falkland Palace and Gardens in Fife are open daily from March to October from 11 am to 5 pm. During the winter months from November to February, the site is closed. The shop, however, will be open from 1 December 2023 to 22 December 2023 from 11 am to 5 pm every day.
Falkland Palace Entry Fee
Tickets for adults to enter the palace and gardens are £13, while concession tickets are £9. Family tickets range from £13.50 to £30.
Entry exclusively to the extensive gardens is £6.50 for adults and £5 for concession tickets. Entry for members of the National Trust for Scotland is free.
Unfortunately, the palace isn’t wheelchair friendly due to its many stairs.
As with most historic castles, no photography is allowed inside.
How to Get to Falkland Palace, Fife
Here’s how to get to Falkland Palace by car, bus, and train.
Ways to Get There Using a Car
Take the A90 and then turn onto the A91, later turning onto the A912 to reach Falkland. There’s a public car park near the estate.
Ways to Get There Using Public Transportation
Bus 36 and bus 64 are two of the best bus lines to take, although there are others. The closest bus stop is Liquorstane, which is only a 2-minute walk away. The Palace stop is about a 5-minute walk.
The nearest train station is a 48-minute walk from the palace, so getting a taxi or catching a bus from there would be optimal.
Attractions at Falkland Palace
Wondering what you’ll find at the palace? Here are a few of the highlights you can’t miss.
Peruse the Library
If you love burying your nose into a good book, then this library on the palace grounds is the place to be. Adorned with painted ceilings, mellow ochre colour scheme, richly textured walls, and furniture from ages past. It’s the ultimate cosy book nook with its ancient collection of texts.
It’s a relatively small space at the top of a winding spiral staircase, so prepare your calves for quite the workout – it’s well worth the trip, though.
Stop by the Royal Chambers
In the east wing are the king’s and queen’s rooms, both decorated to the hilt with tapestries, paintings, and plush furnishings. The rooms in the palace are not as big as you may imagine, but they are stuffed to the brim with finishings and antiques that bring the past back to life in a visceral way and leave you with a comfortable, lived-in feeling.
This may be because the palace wasn’t designed as a defensive fort but as a pleasure residence for royals enjoying the hedonistic aspect of their station. In a French chateau style, they focused more on decor than fortifications.
For those who love spooky detail, if you look up as you enter the queen’s chamber, you’ll see the death mask of Mary Queen of Scots above the door looking down upon you.
Visit the Chapel Royal
The Falkland Palace Chapel in the South Range is a mesmerizing work of dark wood panelling and bright, intricately detailed paintings along the walls. Tapestries and candles surround the crucifix, and there are cushions in place for the devout to kneel and pray.
It was dedicated to St Thomas, and today, it acts as the Catholic parish church for Falkland so that you can attend mass at 9 am on Sunday morning in an extraordinary place.
See the Oldest Tennis Court
The royal tennis court of Falkland Palace is situated in the lower sector of the gardens, just past the remains of the old castle. You’ll see the roofed spectator’s area, now the cosy home of the Palace Garden, swallows every spring and summer.
Mary Queen of Scots loved the game, and it’s rumoured that she scandalized the courts by dressing in men’s breeches to play.
Built from April 1539 until late in 1541 by King James V, this real tennis court with grey-blue plaster coating its high walls is the oldest still in use today by the Falkland Palace Royal Tennis Club.
Head to the Meadow
The wildflower meadow is a natural delight that the current gardeners are bringing back to life. Ten thousand wildflowers and as many flowering spring bulbs have been planted, and now the meadow is only cut once every 4 years to allow the plants and wildlife to flourish in accordance with nature.
The insects that are drawn to the meadow benefit the fruit trees in the ancient orchard in terms of pollination and have brought other wildlife into the area, including endangered red squirrels.
Native hawthorn, oak, and willow trees have been added to the orchard in a recreation of typical 15th-century species that would’ve been planted here. Spring is obviously the best time to visit the meadow when the riot of wild colours is at its peak beauty.
Visit During an Event
From apple picking to plant sales, musical performances and garden walks, there’s often something happening at the palace to entice visitors and enthral them with a bit of historical wonder.
Tips and Advice to Have a Fulfilling Trip
- For a tasty lunch break, stop at a quaint café in the village nearby, as there is no café on palace property.
- Wear comfy walking shoes as there are many steps to traverse in the palace and ground to cover in the gardens, and you wouldn’t want to wear your feet out. The cobbled streets in the village aren’t very high-heel friendly either.
Interesting Facts about Falkland Palace
The current head gardener of Falkland Palace is attempting to recreate the Percy Cane garden according to the original design of the flower beds and flower choices.
At one point, wild boar were imported from France and kept within the palace’s park for hunting.
Queen Elizabeth sent deer to Falkland Palace as diplomatic gifts in 1586 and 1587 for its hunting grounds.
In July of 1600, herons began to nest in the park, and James VI forbade anyone to kill a heron as he wanted them to multiply and the flock to grow on the lands.
Falkland Village and the palace itself both served as prominent filming locations in the TV series “Outlander” during its early seasons, with the village standing in 1940s Inverness.