It seems you can’t walk 10 minutes in Scotland without tripping over another castle, or at least the ruins of one. Linlithgow Palace is no exception, being pretty close to Edinburgh, though it’s more of a magnificent ruin than a functioning castle these days.
It has housed some impressive people in its time, with many royals numbering among them, and its history is fascinating, to say the least. You’ll find there are connections to numerous royals and historical happenings, so it’s just the place for you to visit next on your trip to Scotland.
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Linlithgow Palace History
From the 12th century, a royal manor has existed on the site where the current roofless ruin stands today. It was enclosed by barricading wooden palisades from 1301 to 1302, turning it into a fortification built by the English forces under Edward I’s command and referred to as the Linlithgow Peel.
in 1313, however, William Bynnie and his 7 sons took the fort back for the Scottish. He was just an ordinary hay-seller rather than a noble warrior, but nonetheless, he and his family accomplished a mighty task for the current King, Robert the Bruce.
A great fire swept through the town of Linlithgow, West Lothian, in 1424, taking with it the residence. In that same year, James I of Scotland began building a majestic royal residence rather than a fortified castle on its remains. It was meant to be a pleasure palace for entertaining the royal court travelling between Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle.
Despite expectations, Linlithgow Palace served as a royal residence for many of the Stewart kings and queens. Mary of Guelders, who was the mother of James III, made some improvements to the palace to accommodate the exiled Henry VI.
They fully enjoyed the peace and quiet the great royal palace by Linlithgow Loch offered, so much so that it also served as a royal nursery. James V was born there in 1512, and later on, in 1542, Mary Queen of Scots came into the world at this favoured residence. And let’s not forget Princess Elizabeth, born in 1596.
From 1603 onward, Linlithgow Palace lost its raging popularity with Scottish royalty as their visits began to dwindle. This is probably due to the royal court moving to London when James VI claimed the English throne as James I.
It was already in a state of disrepair in some areas, such as the North Range, which collapsed in September 1607 and was rebuilt by King James between 1618 and 1622. The effort was made to refurbish Linlithgow Palace to its former glory, with a new courtyard façade painted and gilded, as were statues of the Pope and others on the east side, and new decorative friezes added indoors with walls left bare, ready for tapestries and paintings.
Despite all this effort, the only monarch who returned was King Charles for one night in 1633. By 1641, the roof of the great hall was gone, and the fountain in the courtyard had been vandalised, though some wooden carvings remained in the chapel.
It was declared ruinous once again in 1668 and finally destroyed in a fire in 1746 accidentally set by the Duke of Cumberland’s army on the night of 31 January, thanks to some ill-placed lamps on straw beds.
Nowadays, the palace is in the care of Historic Environment Scotland
Things to Remember When You Visit Linlithgow Palace
If you plan on visiting this fascinating piece of Scotland’s history, here are a few things to bear in mind.
Linlithgow Palace Opening Times
From April to September, the palace is open from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm daily with the last entry at 4:45 pm. In the winter months, from October to March, it’s open daily from 10 am to 4 pm, with the last entry at 3:15 pm.
The site is closed from 25 to 26 December and 1 to 2 January.
The entrance fee for adults is £10, for children under 16, it’s £6, and concession tickets are £8. These prices can be reduced by £2 each if there are restrictions on access to parts of Linlithgow Palace.
The Linlithgow Palace entry fee for families ranges from £20 to £34, while the reduced rates are £14 to £25. Prices are subject to change.
Members of Historic Scotland can gain free entry to the site by showing proof of their membership on arrival.
While there is some uneven ground, many places are level enough for visitors using wheelchairs. Some areas, such as the first floor and upper levels, will not be accessible. The stairs are often uneven and steep, so those with mobility issues would have to take caution.
The concession ticket price does not apply to students, and to be eligible, you must provide proof you’re unemployed or over the age of 65. Children under the age of 16 must also be accompanied by an adult.
How to Get There
Need some clues on how to reach the palace? Here they are.
Ways to Get There Using a Car
If you’re coming from Edinburgh, take the A90 and A904 to get to Linlithgow Palace. It’s also reachable from the M9.
Ways to Get There Using Public Transportation
Trains depart regularly from the bigger cities to Linlithgow, and the town’s station is only a 5-minute walk away from the palace. Otherwise, there are several bus stops within 6 to 9 minutes walking distance, the closest of which is on St Ninians Way, and a plethora of buses to choose from, like the F45 or X38.
Attractions at Linlithgow Palace
There’s a lot to see at Linlithgow Palace, and here are some of the best parts.
Climb Queen Margaret’s Bower
It might be a tiny and tall turret, but you’ll get some amazing views of the courtyard if you steel your calf muscles and climb the steep stone steps to the top. It’s said that this bower is where Margaret Tudor waited for her husband, James VI, to return from the Battle of Flodden.
Check Out the Chapel
Right next door to the south of Linlithgow Palace stands St Michael’s Parish Church. Though the establishment of the church took place in 1138, the fire that destroyed the palace in 1424 took the church with it as well. Most of what remains dates from the 15th century onwards as a result.
However, many of the statues that were part of the new church were defaced or destroyed by Protestants in 1559, and only the statue of St Michael remains on the south-west buttress. Some improvements were made to the magnificent ruin in later centuries: the stained glass windows added in the late 19th century beside their plainer brothers really stand out in the sunshine and add life to the ancient stones.
You also can’t miss the church spire, added in 1964 with its gleaming aluminium spikes raised to the sky. Even though it’s stood the test of time, the church’s bright red carpet and old stones lit with the glow of golden lights really create an atmosphere you’ll want to bathe in.
Visit the Fountain
In the middle of the central courtyard sits the three-tiered fountain built by James V, and it’s worth getting a look that’s up close and personal. This magnificent hexagon-shaped piece sits on a bed of small cobbles, stands 16 feet high, and is intended to reflect the mighty power of the king with its not-so-subtle crown on the top tier.
Water flowed from the carved crown down to deep-tiered bowls with spouts that were shaped like human heads and mythical creatures, and for Bonnie Prince Charlie’s visit, the fountain flowed with wine.
The inner workings of the fountain were restored in 2007, though water rarely flows through it today to avoid any further damage through erosion.
Be in Awe of the Linlithgow Palace Great Hall
While the great hall of Linlithgow Palace may no longer have a roof or tapestries to decorate its walls, it’s no less a marvel to behold. The surfaces inside are mostly time-worn stones, weathered and craggy, but in its prime, it catered to the celebrities of royal history.
As you look around, you can almost picture it as it once was. At the southern end were the withdrawing chambers, where the royalty would retire after dinner with their chosen guests. Towards the north end, rising in 3 levels, were spacious kitchens complete with giant fireplaces and high-vaulted roofs to cater to royal palates.
The sturdy rounded recesses are a glorious marker of the early Renaissance influences, possibly inspired by the buildings of 15th-century Rome. The fireplace divided into 3 hearths by carved pillars to the southern wall is befitting of a majestic royal residence and is, in fact, the best surviving medieval fireplace in Scotland.
Picnic on the Peel
There is an extensive peel surrounding the palace, perfect for longer walks and admiring views of the castle from different angles. Its verdant, soft grass makes it ideal for picnicking unless you’d prefer to pop on a bench or picnic table instead.
Check your Calendar and Attend an Event
There are plenty of events at Linlithgow Palace to keep you entertained, from film screenings and Christmas ambles to Scottish dancing. Visit the Historic Scotland website for details.
Tips and Advice to Have a Fulfilling Trip
- An audio guide that visitors can download is included in the price of your admission ticket, so make good use of it to learn the history behind the stone slabs of Linlithgow Palace.
- Linlithgow Palace is one of the places that can close with little to no notice depending on factors like the weather. Check their status on Historic Environment Scotland’s website before you set out.
- Dogs are welcome at the palace but must remain leashed at all times and you must pick up after them.
- If you want more out of your visit to the area and love fishing, you can get a fishing permit for Linlithgow Loch. Just head to the website of Forth Area Federation of Anglers.
- Linlithgow Palace isn’t far from Edinburgh, so it makes the perfect day trip.
Interesting Facts about Linlithgow Palace
- Who doesn’t love a ghost story? Old buildings don’t only hold history and fascination, but perhaps they hold some spirits, too. Linlithgow Palace is said to be haunted by the mother of Mary Queen of Scots, Mary of Guise.
- On 31 May 1503, Margaret Tudor, the bride of James IV, received Linlithgow Palace as a gift, and it became one of her principal residences. Talk about setting high standards for wedding registries!
- “Outlander” fans will recognise Linlithgow Palace as the setting of Wentworth Prison, where the fictitious Captain ‘Black Jack’ Randall kept Jamie prisoner and tortured him. Grab a selfie and boast about walking in Jamie’s footsteps to your friends.