Now the Palace of Holyroodhouse is set for one of its biggest makeovers since it was opened to the public more than 100 years ago.
The charity, which runs it as a visitor attraction, has unveiled a £10 million programme, due for completion by the end of 2018, aimed at making it more welcoming and family friendly.
The Royal Collection Trust wants every school pupil in Edinburgh to get the chance to visit the palace under the first major improvements since an art gallery and cafe opened in 2002 and 2004 respectively.
Visitors will be encouraged to make more use of the palace’s lavish grounds and forecourt, where the Queen’s annual garden party and the traditional Ceremony of the Keys are staged each summer.
New children’s activities will be provided in a specially created family room in the palace.
Outside the main palace, a series of little-used buildings dating back to the 15th century – including a former brothel –will be opened to the public for the first time when a dedicated education centre is created.
New displays of Royal Collection treasures are also planned in the palace’s state apartments, which are used by the Queen and other royals for official ceremonies and entertaining. These will reflect its sometimes turbulent history, including spells when Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie were in residence, and its origins, which date back to 1128 and the foundation by David I of an Augustinian abbey, remains of which are still in place. The oldest part of the existing palace is a 16th-century tower.
Jonathan Marsden, Royal Collection Trust director, said: “We’re going to be investing in the experience of visiting Edinburgh’s royal palace, right from the arrival, where everyone will feel more welcome, with better visitor facilities, and we’re going to be interpreting the palace more fully so that the extraordinary stories that went on here can be properly appreciated, and also that the Royal Collection can be experienced more directly.
“The palace sits in an extraordinary landscape and we’ll be doing more to help people get the most out of that. In our learning centre we’ll be ensuring that every school child in Edinburgh gets to know this palace early in their life.
“The Queen’s Gallery, which was created from some redundant spaces, has proved to be a fantastic place for people from Edinburgh and beyond to get to know the Royal Collection much better. Now we hope to do a similar thing with the palace as a whole.
“We have an opportunity with the underused Abbey Strand buildings to create a place where adults, families and schoolchildren can come and learn about the fantastic stories at the palace.”
Author Ian Rankin, who has agreed to join a steering group on a palace masterplan, said: “As an Edinburgh resident and a visitor to the palace – often in the role of amateur guide for visiting friends – I’m delighted there are to be significant developments, with the onus on education and information.”
The palace has been open to the public since the mid-19th century, with visitors being shown around Mary, Queen of Scots’ apartments.