The story of the Royal Family has played a huge role in shaping Scotland’s history and culture. From Robert the Bruce to his direct descendant and our current monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the country is brimming with places and attractions which proudly boast their fascinating regal connections and tales. From some of our most popular attractions to places with an unexpected royal claim to fame, discover more of the country which has been the favourite holiday destination of the Queen and her family since the days of her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria.
Location: Scottish Borders
Robert the Bruce is a national hero, the king who fought for Scotland’s independence. His dramatic life ended in 1329 – not from battle wounds, but what is thought to be leprosy. As was customary for the time, the body of the king and his internal organs were buried separately to be embalmed. But there was one important detail about the Bruce’s burial which tells a story of its own: the removal and final fate of the king’s heart. Robert’s dream was to take a tour of the Holy Lands before his death. If he died before then, he asked that his heart go in his place and return to Melrose Abbey to be buried. This task was given to Sir James Douglas who wore the heart inside a metal urn on a necklace on his long journey to Jerusalem. This was cut short when Douglas died in a battle against the Moors in Spain. And so, the heart returned to Scotland and was laid to rest near Melrose Abbey, almost fulfilling Robert’s wishes. Rediscovered centuries later by archaeologists, the Bruce finally got his wish 700 years later in 1996 when the heart was finally interred in the abbey.
The Queen’s View
Location: Highland Perthshire
The Queen’s View is a breathtaking vantage point which takes in Loch Tummel, part of the Tay Forest Park, and the distinctive peak of Schiehallion. Unsurprisingly, it’s one of the most photographed viewpoints in the Highlands. The identity of the ‘Queen’ to which it owes its name is less certain. It is said it was a favoured spot of Isabella, the wife of King Robert the Bruce. Others say it was Queen Victoria, who upon first casting eyes over the spectacular vista, was so entranced by its beauty that she declared it hers on the spot! Fortunately, there’s no barrier to anyone – royal or not, from enjoying this picture-postcard view of Perthshire. Simply make your way there on one of the footpaths which circle the narrow loch, which is about 7 miles in length, or walk the short distance from the park and display carpark off the B8019 road. Afterward, pop into the visitor centre where you’ll find a café, amenities, and plenty of information about the area’s nature and history.
Aberdeen Art Gallery
When Queen Victoria first visited Scotland with Prince Albert in 1842 on her honeymoon it sparked off the second great love affair of her life – a deep and abiding relationship with the country which was to become her sanctuary. After building Balmoral Castle as their private retreat, the royal couple helped popularise the romantic tartan-clad, caber-tossing image of Scotland that endures around the world today. Aberdeen Art Gallery holds a very special painting that captures the Queen on the cusp of the happiest period of her life. See the portrait of a young, optimistic woman dressed in dazzling white displayed next to a portrait of her beloved German prince. It’s a dramatic contrast to most images of Victoria which show her later in life as dour-looking widow dressed head-to-toe in black. You’ll also find other artworks and artefacts documenting her and Albert’s life in Scotland.
The Royal George Hotel
In 1848 after a three-week holiday at Balmoral, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were making their return journey south by rail, disembarking in the city of Perth. On her previous visit to the city, the Queen was the guest of the Earl of Mansfield at his ancestral home of Scone Palace, home of the Stone of Destiny. With the Earl out of town, alternative accommodation was sought, and the Queen decided upon the genteel – but modest by regal standards, George Hotel for her first-ever hotel stay. During her brief visit, it’s reported that the Queen insisted she be treated no differently from any other paying guest and that the hotel run as normal. After her departure, the hotel was renamed by appointment ‘The Royal George’. In the lounge today, guests and visitors can spot the Royal Warrant proudly displayed alongside two lamp stands fashioned from the bed posts of the bed the Queen slept in.
The Balmoral Pyramid
Location: Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire
Cairns are man-made piles of stones shaped into peaks and have been built in Scotland since pre-historic times for both practical and symbolic reasons. Synonymous with the Highland landscape, many are surprised to learn that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert built their own cairns as a private testament to their love and family life together. In fact, you can find 11 such cairns in the Balmoral Estate erected by the royal couple to mark the marriages of their children. But the most poignant and striking of these has to be the Balmoral Pyramid, also known as Prince Albert’s Cairn. Built by Victoria in 1862 following his death, it measures 41 by 41 feet at the base and features a grief-stricken inscription: ‘To the beloved memory of Albert, the great and good Prince Consort, erected by his broken-hearted widow, Victoria’. From where the cairn stands, you can take in the splendid Royal Deeside landscape of Aberdeenshire that the German Albert came to love as much as his homeland. Balmoral Castle sits nearby and has been in the royal family since 1852 – it remains the current Queen’s favourite holiday spot.
It might not be as well-known as Balmoral, but the fairy-tale Glamis played a formative role in the young lives of our current monarch, Queen Elizabeth and her late mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Glamis was the family home of the Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and has been in the Lyon family since the 14th century. It was here she spent a happy childhood and would return many times with her husband Prince Albert (the future King George) and her little girls, Elizabeth and Margaret, to experience a more relaxed lifestyle free from royal protocol. Princess Margaret was born here in 1930 and in the grounds to the east of the castle, stands the graceful memorial to the Queen Mother’s youngest daughter. The sprawling gardens are renowned for their beauty, while the castle itself is steeped in Scottish history and lore, both as a royal residence and as the fictional home of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It even features on the Scottish ten-pound note!
The Royal Yacht Britannia
The Royal Family has always loved being on the water and nothing encapsulates their rich seafaring heritage better than the Royal Yacht Britannia which offers a tantalising glimpse behind the curtain of royal life and duty. After 44 years of service which saw it sail around the world promoting British interests and playing host to countless dignitaries, diplomatic summits and trade fairs – not to mention four royal honeymoons, this elegant vessel which was built by the John Brown & Co shipyard in Glasgow was decommissioned in 1997. It it is now berthed in Leith as a tourist attraction where visitors can see the State Dining Room where the Queen entertained world leaders and other famous figures, as well as her her simple but comfortable private cabins and rooms which, she is quoted as saying, made the yacht “the one place I can truly relax”. While the family’s annual summer cruise around the Outer Hebrides on board the yacht is now a thing of the past, the vessel is still occasionally used for private family events. One of the most recent of these was the pre-wedding drinks reception for Zara Philips, the Queen’s eldest grandchild, which was attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and his wife Catherine (Kate).