A tour of the Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament

A couple of Saturdays ago I fulfilled an ambition to tour the Scottish Parliament building – it’s been open since 2004, so I’m not really slow, am I? The building has always been controversial – it was late, over-budget and not everyone likes the design – but I felt I understood it much better after listening to our excellent tour guide, Adrienne. The Parliament is at Holyrood at the bottom of Canongate, the lower part of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile which is the medieval heart of the city. According to its website:

Drawing inspiration from the surrounding landscape, the flower paintings by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the upturned boats on the seashore, Enric Miralles, one of the world’s premier architects, developed a design that he said was a building “growing out of the land”.

Miralles also alludes to themes of openness and democracy and includes symbols of Scotland. The Main Hall, for example, is modelled on medieval vaults and features the Saltire cross from Scotland’s flag. Here, there is a Visitor Information Centre, exhibition, shop, café and crèche for visitors’ children.

Scottish Parliament Main Hall

Throughout, there are various works of art. Shown below are Contemplace by George Wyllie, the artist’s idea for a Scottish Throne, including the Stone of Destiny and references to Mackintosh, and a head of Robert Burns made of match heads by David Mach.

Travelling the Distance by Shauna McMullan is a collection of 100 handwritten sentences made of porcelain. The sentences were collected by the artist on a journey around Scotland to meet 100 women. Each of the 100 women was asked to write something about a woman they felt had made a significant contribution to Scotland. The artist asked each woman to refer her to another woman until she reached 100. We saw the parliament’s mace when we were in the Debating Chamber, but no photographs were allowed – the picture from the Visitor Centre, below, replicates the head, though the original, crafted in silver and gold by Michael Lloyd, was much more splendid.

It was a great thrill to step into the Debating Chamber having seen it so many times on TV. As I said, no photographs were allowed while on the tour, but we were able to go back to the Visitors’ Gallery later and take pictures from there. The Chamber is built in a semi-circle so that everyone is facing the Presiding Officer (rather than opposing politicians) and has a modern electronic voting system. I feel the archaic UK parliament at Westminster should learn lessons from this!

Scottish Parliament Debating Chamber

Throughout the Chamber, on the light fittings and in the glass, were symbols which we guessed to be whisky bottles, but apparently are stylised people, presumably to remind Members to whom they are responsible – us.

The chairs in the Visitors’ Gallery were rather an odd shape, but surprisingly comfortable – and the view behind was terrific.

Visitor’s Gallery

After our tour, we had lunch in the café before heading back into the cold. On the way out, I picked up a leaflet about Canongate which I’ve walked up and down many times, but following this map took us into some of the closes on either side and we learned some interesting history. That’s for a later post: for now, I’ll finish with some exterior shots of the parliament from Canongate.

The Scottish Parliament website has information on how to book tours. I found this general tour fascinating, and I hope to go back to take a more specialised tour soon – maybe literature or art.


  1. Trying to think what year I visited. Definitely before Jo Cox and I remember a measure of freedom. I didn’t take the tour as it was just a day visit but I was overall impressed with the building. It’s much more appealing inside than out. A blogging friend, Colin Baird, works there as a tour guide and I remember wondering if I might see him. I didn’t, of course. 🙂 Ships that pass…

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  2. Snap! I’m just back from Edinburgh. Its so easy to get to even in winter and you never wait more than ten minutes for a bus. Never been round the parliament building yet despite dozens of visits walking past it and about six times having lunch right beside the ponds. Nice to see inside it at last. Proves I can’t be that interested in politics…..nice to see the interior from your angle and perspective as I’m sure if I went in I’d focus on different aspects and objects. That’s what makes us all unique I suppose.

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    • There will be a reason for them – everything had a reason even if no one knows exactly what because the architect died before the building was finished. Looking at them again now, they could even be a very rough approximation to the shape of Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿


  3. I really like the Scottish Parliament building. I was pretty cynical when the design was unveiled because it is so modern for being in that context. However, once I visited the building, I was won over. I love the shapes and the quality of light throughout, the quirky angles, and the materials used. When my husband and I visited, we were not on an official tour and were apparently given a lot of freedom as we were permitted to take photographs inside the debating chamber. Or perhaps the rules have just changed since then.

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  4. I saw this building when I was there with Mum in 2007 and thought it looked quite weird. Thanks for the tour and the information. It just goes to show you shouldn’t judge a design without understanding the meaning behind it.

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  5. I was going to go in there a few years ago after walking to Arthur’s Seat and so had a rucksack with me but was put off when I went in to find you have to go through all this airport type security first, so I didn’t bother with it.

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