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The designed landscape at Holyroodhouse Palace comprises the open spaces and dramatic hills of Holyrood Park and the gardens around the Palace. The Queen's Drive was put through the Park in the mid-19th century. The Park is now a through-route for traffic as well as an open, public space in the middle of the city, incorporating Duddingston Loch, which has been a bird sanctuary since 1928.

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Location and Setting

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is situated at the east end of the Royal Mile in the centre of the City of Edinburgh. To the south of the Palace lies Holyrood Park, the geological composition of which has resulted in one of the most dramatic settings of any capital city in the world. The highest point in the park is reached at Arthur's Seat, 820' (250m), which is volcanic in origin, as are many of the hills around Edinburgh. Calton Hill, which lies to the north of the Palace is a remnant of the Arthur's Seat volcano. It forms a significant feature from the garden, as do the follies which adorn it. Within the Park are many sites of great geological interest, and several can be seen from the Queen's Drive through the Park. From the top of Arthur's Seat, panoramic views are gained across Edinburgh and the whole of central Scotland; north to the Lomond and Ochil Hills in Fife, and to Ben Lawers and Ben Ledi on the edge of the Highlands, south to the Moorfoot and Lammermuir Hills, west to the Bathgate Hills and east to Traprain Law. Arthur's Seat itself can be seen as the dominant feature of the Lothian landscape from many miles away and is the most scenically significant feature of the natural landscape of Holyrood. The garden adjacent to the Palace is of little scenic significance in the immediate surroundings at ground level but views can be gained looking down into the garden from the elevated situation of Holyrood Park.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is situated within some 682 acres (276ha) of designed landscape enclosed by a boundary wall. The designed landscape includes the Palace yard and the garden which lies to the east of the building. Holyrood Park, or the Kings Park as it is also known, is a natural landscape and an important feature of the Palace policies. It covers some 600 acres (244ha) and includes three lochs, St Margaret's, Dunsapie, and also Duddingston Loch which was incorporated into the park in 1928 having previously been part of the Prestonfield policies. Documentary evidence of the development of the landscape at Holyrood is provided by John Gordon of Rothiemay's illustration of the gardens at Holyrood in 1647, General Roy's map of c.1750, a copy of a map of Holyrood Park in 1769 made by Napier College Commerce and Technology in 1977, the 1st edition OS map of 1855, and the 2nd edition OS map of c.1900.

Comparison of these can be made with the modern OS map to show how the setting of the Park has gradually changed from the mid-18th century when the city was confined on either side of the Royal Mile. By the mid-19th century, housing and industrial development had extended south along the west side of the park and similar development has since extended along the east boundary from Abbeyhill to Duddingston. Throughout this time, the extent of the park itself has changed little.

Landscape Components

Architectural Features

Holyroodhouse Palace is listed category A. Construction of the quadrangular palace was begun by James IV in 1501, but the only surviving part of the earliest buildings is the north-west tower which dates from 1528-32. The main part of the Palace was rebuilt between 1671-79 to the design of Sir William Bruce and Robert Mylne, master mason. There is reference to work done by William Adam and Thomas Clayton but most of this work was removed between 1824-34 when alterations were made by Robert Reid. Further work was carried out in 1842, 1860-61, 1911 and 1968. Included in this A listing are the Palace Yard Gates, designed in 1920 by Sir George Washington Browne as a memorial to King Edward VII, and a bronze statue of Edward VII by H.S. Gamley. The Fountain, also listed A, stands in the Yard on the west side of the Palace. It was designed by Robert Matheson in 1859 and made by sculptor John Thomas. The Gateway and former school (Chauffeur's Quarters) is listed B. The Gateway was also designed by Robert Matheson in 1861 and forms part of the Guardroom; it leads to the Royal Mews Yard. The Chauffeur's Quarters were designed by Archibald Simpson in 1846 and are still used by the Coachmen and Grooms. The Palace Yard House, listed B, dates mainly from the 19th century. The Abbey Court House, listed B, dates originally from the 16th century but was rebuilt by Robert Reid c.1830 and further work was carried out by Robert Matheson in 1857. A sundial, listed A, stands in the garden to the north of the garden, dating from 1633.

The West Lodge, situated to the south of the Palace Yard dates from the 19th century. The East Lodge, at the entrance to the Park from Meadowbank Terrace, and the South Lodge at the entrance to the Park from Duddingston Village and St Leonard's Lodge at the south-west entrance from Park Road all date from the mid-19th century and were designed by Robert Matheson. They are all Tudor-style cottage houses. St Margaret's Well dates from the 15th century and was sited in its present position in Holyrood Park in 1859. The remains of St Anthony's Chapel, thought originally to have been a Hermitage area, are also sited on the north slopes of the Park.


Holyrood Park lies to the south of the Palace. It is thought that this area was once covered by the Forest of Drumsheugh. The plan of 1769 shows that the Park was used at that time for pasture on the higher ground and for arable crops at the lower ground. Today, the Park is almost devoid of mature trees, except on the north-west boundary; grazing was discontinued in 1977. The highest part of the Park is the summit of Arthur's Seat 820' (250m) but there are several other smaller summits throughout. Hunter's Bog lies in the valley between Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags and was the site of Rifle Ranges between the 1830s and 1960.

The Queen's Drive was constructed around the Park in 1843 with four access points. Prior to this there had only been tracks through the Park. The Park has now become a through route for traffic to and from the city centre from the east side of Edinburgh. The area to the east of the gardens and the north of the Queen's Drive is laid out as playing pitches.

The Park has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the Geological interest provided by the Arthur's Seat volcano and the Salisbury Crags Sill and to the Biological interest provided by the rare plants which occur at the cliffs. In addition there is ornithological interest at Duddingston Loch which supports a high concentration of wintering wildfowl; it was designated as a bird sanctuary in 1928. Wildfowl are also found to a lesser extent on St Margaret's Loch. Prior to being designated as a SSSI, Duddingston Loch had an established Curling Club, which was founded in 1795.

The Gardens

The Palace garden extends north to the service yards on Abbey Hill and south to the Queen's Drive and is bounded by a haha on the east side. The ruins of Holyrood Abbey lie to the north-east of the Palace and a garden feature has been formed from the excavated remains of the choir and east conventual range. The gardens have been remodelled in recent years incorporating the ornamental trees which have been planted over the years since the mid-19th century. There are extensive lawns with herbaceous borders and island shrub beds. The planting within the shrub beds is designed to provide colour in the summer when garden parties and other events are held. One of the herbaceous borders was planted for Her Majesty's Silver Jubilee in 1977 with silver foliage plants. The Royal Company of Archers practise archery in the garden in summer.

Within the nursery area to the north-east of the Palace are the many glasshouses which contain a wonderful display of pot plants grown for the Palace and Castle. Bedding plants are also propagated here and this nursery also supplies several gardens under the care of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Directorate.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:

Reason for Inclusion

Holyrood Palace and Park make a major contribution to the Edinburgh scenery and have rich historical associations with the Augustinian Abbey since the 12th century and as a Royal residence since the 16th century. The Park is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Site History

The early form of the garden associated with Holyrood Abbey prior to the 16th century is uncertain. The drawing by John Gordon in c.1647 shows several enclosures laid out with elaborate parterres. The map of 1769 does not show any garden on the present site, only two linked enclosures on the east wall of the Palace between it and St Anne's Yards. By 1855, the extent of the present garden was established, as shown on the 1st edition OS map. This garden has been remodelled in recent years.

There are known to have been human settlements in the Kings Park during the Bronze Age as revealed by geological surveys in the area around Dunsapie Loch. Further evidence was found during the course of the construction of the road through the Park in 1843 when Bronze implements were dug up. In 1128, an Augustinian Abbey was founded at Holyrood by David I (1124-53). It was one of several founded by the King, others being at Kelso, Melrose, Jedburgh and Dryburgh. In those days, the Kings would lodge at the Abbey as the guests of the Monks.

In Edinburgh, the main Royal residence was at the Castle, primarily for security reasons although from the early 15th century the Abbey was increasingly favoured as a Royal Residence, and James II was born here in 1430. A spacious palace complex was progressively formed for James IV & V in the first half of the 16th century. It is thought that several parterres were laid out around the Palace at this time. In 1603, James VI of Scotland was crowned King of England and the Royal Court was moved to London.

In the period of unrest which followed the deposition of Charles I, Cromwellian forces took up residence in the Palace, during which time considerable damage was caused. After the restoration of the Crown in 1660, Charles II commissioned Sir William Bruce and Robert Mylne to restore the Palace although the King in fact never visited the site. He commented that the three Royal Apartments shown on Bruce's plan were unnecessary and that he would only have his own Great Apartment to the east overlooking the new Privy Garden. The exact nature of this garden is unknown, but a herb garden and two formal gardens are thought to have existed then. A drawing by John Gordon of Rothiemay in c.1647 illustrates several elaborate parterre designs in the gardens at Holyrood; some of these designs have been used by J.S. Richardson in redesigning the parterres at the Great Garden of Pitmedden (q.v.).

In 1670 Dr Robert Sibbald and Dr Andrew Balfour established a physic garden, only the second in Britain, at St. Anne's Yard, situated to the north of the Palace. In 1695, part of the King's Garden was adopted by James Sutherland who, by that time, had been appointed in charge of the physic gardens. Sutherland was appointed Professor of Botany at the University in the same year. In 1699, he was made King's Botanist and, in 1710, created Regius Professor of Botany.

In 1679, the brother of Charles II, James, Duke of York, took up residence at the Palace as Lord High Commissioner. Despite strong Presbyterian feeling in Scotland, he later furnished the Abbey as a Catholic Chapel and established a Jesuit College and Catholic printing press in the Palace. He succeeded his brother as King and was crowned James VII of Scotland and II of England in 1685. Public outrage at his religious convictions caused him to flee to France three years later. In his absence, the Abbey was sacked by the people.

In 1715, an uprising which sought to restore the Stuart Crown was instigated by James Edward, son of James VII (II), but failed. In 1745, Charles Edward Stuart landed on the west coast of Scotland from where he made his way to Edinburgh, amassing support on the way. He camped at Duddingston on 17th September and next day rode through Holyrood Park and stopped at St Anthony's Well before entering the Palace to reclaim his right to the Scottish Crown. His cause was defeated at Culloden in April of the following year and the Palace saw no other Royal visitor until 1822. The arrival of George IV in that year caused some improvement work to be carried out.

Queen Victoria visited in 1842 and used the Palace subsequently on visits to Scotland. It was during her reign that significant improvements were made to the Palace and gardens as well as in the Park, where the Queen's Drive was laid out and lodges established at the entry points. Since then, the Palace has become the official residence of the monarch in Scotland. The Park has changed little but the gardens have been remodelled to suit their role as the setting for summer garden parties hosted by Her Majesty the Queen and the Lord High Commissioner.


Victorian (1837-1901)

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland

  • Site of Special Scientific Interest

  • Reference: Holyrood Park
  • Grade: B


  • Palace (featured building)
  • Description: Construction of the quadrangular palace was begun by James IV in 1501, but the only surviving part of the earliest buildings is the north-west tower which dates from 1528-32. The main part of the Palace was rebuilt between 1671-79 to the design of Sir William Bruce and Robert Mylne, master mason.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Fountain
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Sundial
  • Description: Sundial in the garden of Abbey Court House.
  • Ruin
  • Description: The ruins of the 12th-century Holyrood Abbey form a feature in the Palace gardens, which have been remodelled in the 20th century. They consist of lawns with herbaceous borders, shrub beds and ornamental tree planting.
  • Earliest Date:
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Key Information





Principal Building

Domestic / Residential


Victorian (1837-1901)





Open to the public


Electoral Ward





  • Historic Scotland