I toured the Queen's 'haunted' royal residence in Scotland to learn more about its murderous history

I toured the Queen's 'haunted' royal residence in Scotland to learn more about its murderous history
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  • Queen Elizabeth is currently in Edinburgh, Scotland, for Royal Week.

  • Back in November 2020, I visited Holyrood Palace, the Queen's "haunted" Edinburgh residence.

  • It's certainly the creepiest royal residence I have ever visited.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh was a 16th-century palace of the Stuarts and today serves as Queen Elizabeth II's official residence when she visits Scotland.

holyrood palace aerial view
An aerial view of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.De Agostini Editorial/Getty Images

Every summer, typically near the end of June, the Queen has an annual visit to Edinburgh known as "Holyrood Week" or "Royal Week," as it's known in Scotland. She visits Scotland to honor its heritage and accomplishments.

It's worth noting, however, that the relationship between Scotland and England has always been fraught and remains so following the failed 2014 attempt for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, as reported by Smithsonian magazine and the BBC.

It's centrally located in the city near Edinburgh's Old Town at the end of the Royal Mile. It also sits on Holyrood Park, which is open to the public.

holyrood palace google maps
The map on the left shows where the palace is in relation to the rest of the UK, while the map on the right shows where it is located in Edinburgh, Scotland's capital city.Google Maps.

The palace is at the opposite end of the city to Edinburgh Castle and is across from the Scottish Parliament building.

The history of the palace is a bloody one, and today, it's said to be haunted.

holyrood palace historical image
The palace in 1753.Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Holyrood Abbey — an ancient monastery located in the grounds of Holyrood Palace — was actually founded before the palace, in 1128.

The abbey had royal chambers which were preferred by the country's monarchs to the nearby Edinburgh Castle, a royal residence at the time.

The building that we now know as Holyrood Palace was built next to the abbey during the early 1500s.

The palace is arguably most well-known as being the location where Mary Queen of Scots' private secretary David Rizzo was murdered in 1566, in an attack that many historians believe was orchestrated by her husband, Lord Darnely, who thought they were having an affair.

Some people now think that Rizzio's ghost haunts the building to this day.

I visited Holyrood Palace on a cold Friday the 13th in November 2020. It was just a one-hour train journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh Waverley station, followed by a 15-minute walk to the Queen's residence.

edinburgh train station
My view of Edinburgh Castle from the platform at Edinburgh Waverley train station.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

I arrived in Edinburgh to beautiful blue skies and a view of the famous Edinburgh Castle.

The palace gates reminded me of Buckingham Palace and did not look very inviting.

holyrood palace gates
There seemed to be tight security surrounding the palace.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

Thankfully, I soon realized I wouldn't have to wait to be allowed through the gates — there was another entrance around the corner for visitors with tickets.

Interestingly, the iron gates are also fairly new, dating from the 1920s and built as a memorial to King Edward VII, according to the BBC.

Contrary to the impressive gates, visitors are welcome at the palace. It costs £16.50, or around $20, for an adult ticket to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, however, I was given a complimentary press pass.

mikhaila at holyrood palace edinburgh
I was given a headset upon arrival.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

The process of entering the building and receiving my guided audio tour headset went smoothly as there were hardly any other visitors that day. I also felt safe as visitors and staff wore masks.

The audio guide instructed me to explore the palace exterior first.

holyrood palace exterior
The palace exterior.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

The sunshine and blue skies, however, didn't exactly give me spooky Friday the 13th vibes.

Royals themselves narrate the audio tour of the palace, which caught me off guard.

prince charles audio tour
A peek at my audio guide.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

I was surprised to hear Prince Charles' voice at the beginning of the audio tour, giving a personal introduction and thanking visitors for coming to the palace. This later became a theme on the tour, with further narrations from Charles, Princess Anne, and Prince Edward.

The palace quadrangle was used for Zara Phillips' wedding reception in 2011. This is also where Her Majesty's office is based when she stays at the palace.

holyrood palace quadrangle
The quadrangle.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

There were ropes along the side of the path preventing guests from standing on the lawn, however, I was able to follow the path to the other side, where the gift shop was located.

Then it was time to explore inside the palace, where I found the royal dining room. A staff member informed me that this is the room the Queen uses when she hosts official banquets, and she usually sits in the middle seat so she can speak with most of the guests.

dining room holyrood palace
The dining room.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

An oil painting of Queen Elizabeth II wearing ceremonial robes and the collar of the Order of the Thistle has been displayed in the center of the room since 2018.

It wasn't long before Princess Anne's segment of the audio tour, where she said she didn't believe the rumors that the palace is haunted: "In spite of its history, and people say, 'oh, isn't it haunted,' I've never felt that."

holyrood palace sitting room
This sitting room had photos of the royal family on the table.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

I wasn't sure I was convinced by Anne's words. The further I traveled through the palace, the darker and eerier the rooms seemed to be.

At first, I thought it was related to the dark colors of the furnishings in the sitting room (pictured) compared to the bright, pastel colors in the dining room. However according to the Royal Collection Trust, on dull weather days, you should expect the lighting can be particularly dim in certain parts of the palace.

Prince Edward, meanwhile, said during his segment of the tour that the palace always felt more like a home than a palace to him, adding that it has an "intimate and special feel which is unique among royal palaces."

holyrood palace music room
The King's Closet.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

Perhaps this building isn't as large and grand as Buckingham Palace, but in no way did it feel small and intimate to a commoner like me.

There were various functions for all of the rooms, and the music room (pictured above) — formally titled the King's Closet —was initially designed to be used as a study but now instead features instruments on display.

As I climbed the dreary staircase that led to Mary Queen of Scots' bed-chamber, I found myself doubting the royals' opinions once again.

holyrood palace stairs
The spiral staircase.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

The 25-step spiral staircase was narrow and dusty, bringing home the historical and creepy feel to the building.

These were the stairs climbed by the men who went on to kill David Rizzio in Queen Mary's private chambers upstairs.

It was here, in Mary Queen of Scots' private chambers, that her husband Lord Darnely's plot to murder David Rizzo occured, according to the audio tour.

holyrood palace bedroom
Mary Queen of Scots' bed chamber.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

Mary's bed chambers (pictured) has a curtain separating it from her supper chamber, which is where the Queen, her ladies, and Rizzio were dining on the night that he was murdered.

A group of armed men traveled up the spiral staircase, through Mary's bedroom and into the supper chamber, where they dragged Rizzio away and into the outer chamber.

Historians say he was dragged into the next room — the outer chamber — where it's said he was stabbed 56 times by his assailants.

holyrood palace ante chamber
A murder reportedly took place in this room.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

This is the room Mary used to receive visitors, which is now used to display Stuart and Jacobite relics that have been collected by various Scottish monarchs.

It's also the room where Rizzio was killed, and legend says you can still see a bloodstain near the window where his body was left. While I didn't see any stain — it was too dark — I was starting to feel unsettled by the dark history of this building.

Once back outside on the grounds, I walked along the palace gardens to view the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, used as royal chambers before the palace was built.

holyrood abbey
Holyrood Abbey.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

The now-grey skies and straggly looking tree made it look like a setting for a Halloween movie.

By this point, I had been at the palace for around two hours, and I was the only visitor in this area.

mikhaila holyrood abbey
Outside Holyrood Abbey.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

I was visiting during a weekday, so that was likely why there weren't many people around.

Or, perhaps, everyone else had enough sense not to visit a supposedly haunted palace on Friday the 13th.

After leaving the palace, I discovered a couple of Scottish and royal-themed gift stores nearby. One, in particular, was selling a special tartan in memory of the late Princess Diana.

princess diana tartan
The Scottish Experience gift store.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

While most of the tourist stores seemed to sell Scottish and historical souvenirs, this was one of the only stores I passed that seemed to celebrate the modern royal family.

I then ventured over to the nearby Arthur's Seat, an extinct volcano and hilltop overlooking the city on Holyrood Park, just across the road from the palace.

arthur's seat
Arthur's Seat.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

Arthur's Seat was formed from an extinct volcano, creating an 882-feet hill that overlooks the city, including Holyrood Palace which sits directly opposite.

Viewing the palace from this perspective was strange. After all, it wasn't as grand as Buckingham Palace. From this far away, it could pass for any regular building — not a supposedly haunted palace.

arthur's seat skitch
The view of the palace from Arthur's Seat.Mikhaila Friel/Insider

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the palace, and I especially loved that the audio tour was narrated by the royal family themselves.

I also enjoyed learning about the palace's dark past. The story of Mary Queen of Scots and David Rizzio is something that the royal family don't shy away from — maybe because, as Princess Anne said, they may not believe the rumors that it left the palace haunted.

While I can't say whether the palace is haunted, it certainly is the creepiest residence I've ever visited — and this will be remembered as one of the most amusing and unusual ways that I have ever spent Friday the 13th.


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