It’s hard to think of Edinburgh without immediately seeing Edinburgh Castle in your mind. The fortress on its Castle Rock is the most enduring symbol of Scotland’s capital city. But it’s hardly the only castle around. By all means, go and see this magnificent structure – it’s iconic for a reason and a must-see for any first-time visitor. But don’t stop there. There are other great old houses worthy of your attention, and one that no history buff spending time in Edinburgh should ever pass up: Linlithgow Palace.
The walls of Linlithgow that stand today were laid down starting in 1424, but like many castles in Scotland, it was built on the site of an even older fortress. In this case, the original castle, and the town surrounding it, had been destroyed in a massive fire. King James I built from the ashes one of the grandest and most opulent castles of the time, a place that served as a stopping point for royal travelers as well as a royal nursery. King James V, who ruled Scotland for thirty years, was born here in 1512. Thirty years later, the palace saw another, even more famous royal birth: that of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Linlithgow also lays claim to a bit of science fiction trivia, as the fictional birthplace of Montgomery Scott, better known as “Scotty” from the original Star Trek.
The palace is a short drive from Edinburgh, about 35 minutes from the city center. Just take the A8 west to Ratho Station, where you’ll get on the M9 heading north. But one of the things that makes Linlithgow such a great side trip is that you don’t need a car to get there. I often tell people on short trips to Edinburgh not to rent a car, and this is a prime example why. The trip is a quick, cheap and easy one by rail.
By train, you’ll get on Scotrail at Waverley Station, close to most of the downtown hotels. Depending on the time of day and whether you purchase ahead of time, the roundtrip ticket should be between £8 and £15, and the trip will take about 20 minutes, only three stops. It will let you off about a five minute walk from the palace, and you’ll get a chance to see the village of Linlithgow as well, which is charming in its own right.
The castle itself is the star, and now that it is in the capable hands of Historic Scotland, it is well maintained as both a historical treasure and a teaching tool for visitors and students. The castle opens at 9:30 AM every day of the week, and closes at 5:30 PM from April through September and 4:30 the rest of the year. Adult entrance is £5.50 and children £3.30.
But the castle isn’t the only thing worth seeing. The property around the palace, known as Linlithgow Peel, is as photogenic a park as you’re likely to find. The peel contains its own small loch, with a 4km (2.3 mile) walking path around it. The loch has two islands, and is home to several species of waterbirds, including tufted ducks and great crested grebes. If nothing else, the walk is worth taking just to get the perfect picture of the castle from across the loch.
Whether you’re a history nut, a birder or just looking to experience one of Scotland’s great castle ruins, Linlithgow is a great little side trip from Edinburgh that won’t take too big a bite out of your time budget. If you have any questions about the trip or any other aspect of your Scotland vacation, please comment below or send me a message on my contact page.