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Enter the heady world of Scotland’s Renaissance kings and queens and discover the fascinating history of the magical city of Stirling.
A historic city in central Scotland, Stirling is one of the country’s most interesting places to visit, especially if you like to step back in time during your holidays. A magnificent medieval castle resting on a craggy volcanic rock, a national monument overlooking the site of the Battle of Stirling Bridge where a Scottish rebel defeated the English, and various other fascinating historical landmarks will be ample fodder for any keen historian.
In addition, the stunning scenery surrounding the city won’t disappoint. With the Trossachs National Park and a handful of lochs nearby, there will be ample opportunity to see the sights, as well as some gorgeous restaurants, pubs and bars to put your feet up in style afterwards. Here are 5 reasons to visit this amazing historic town in Scotland...
Important landmarks to experience
If you’re visiting Stirling for the history, you won’t be disappointed. Let’s start with the majestic Stirling Castle, one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland, both historically and architecturally. Sitting proudly on the top of craggy Castle Hill and once the childhood home of Mary, Queen of Scots, it dates back in part to the 12th century, though much of it was added during the 15th and 16th centuries. Visit the elegant Chapel Royal, the 16th-century Great Hall and the opulent Royal Palace to find out about the series of events that took place over many centuries of conflict.
Next, follow the story of Sir William Wallace - patriot, martyr and Guardian of Scotland - at the imposing National Wallace Monument. One of the city’s most distinctive landmarks, it has breathtaking views overlooking the scene of Scotland’s victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Movie lovers will be in their element here, as the Hollywood blockbuster Braveheart, with Mel Gibson as the lead brings vividly to life the tale of Sir William and the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
Want to see other film locations in Scotland? Read our guide to Scottish movie locations here.
Don’t miss a trip to one of Scotland’s most significant abbeys, Cambuskenneth Abbey, the burial place of James III after he was killed during the Battle of Sauchieburn in 1488. This striking Augustinian building in the shadow of Stirling Castle has a fine collection of medieval grave slabs and architectural fragments to see. Its imposing early gothic bell tower, with lancet windows and ornamental arcades, will definitely be top of the list for holiday snaps!
Charming historic villages to explore
Jump in the car and uncover some of the beautiful villages surrounding Stirling. Start by driving down to St Ninians, just a mile south of the city centre. Formerly known as Eccles, it may have been a Christian site from an unusually early date – it is included in a document dating back to 1147 which refers to ‘the church of Egglis St Ninians with its chapels of Dunipace and Lithbert.’ No stranger to drama, the church was used to store munitions and was blown up during the Siege of Stirling Castle, part of the 1745 Jacobite rising. Only the tower survived which can be seen to this day.
Carry on to Torbrex where you can stop off to refuel at the old inn, which dates back to 1726. A small former weaving village, Torbrex lies a mile and a half southwest of the city. Though it mainly consists of 19th-century cottages, some buildings date back to the 17th and 18th centuries, including Torbrex House (1721) and Williamsfield House (1682). More interestingly, the oldest bones of a human from the Stirling area were found here in 2017 and are over 4,000 years old. Named ‘Torbrex Tam’ by archaeologists, he is thought to have died around the dates 2152-2021 BC.
Finish off by driving north of the city to Causeway and then to Bridge of Allan, a medieval spa town at the foot of the Ochil Hills on Allan Water. A favourite holiday spot of Charles Dickens, it has some fine Victorian villas and preserved public buildings to view, a clue to its prosperous past. Lovers of architecture won’t be disappointed with the Parish Church; the famous architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed the chancel furnishings including the pulpit, organ screen and communion table.
Historic attractions to learn about
Apart from the hugely important historic landmarks mentioned above, there are many other equally interesting places of interest to visit in and around Stirling, many of them free. Check out the paintings and local history exhibits at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum, a beautiful Victorian property which also does a roaring trade with their homemade cakes and sweet treats. On a rainy afternoon, spend another happy couple of hours in the contemporary Engine Shed, Scotland’s first ever centre dedicated to the conservation of buildings.
Another museum to dip into is the Kinneil Museum, located in the 17th-century stable block of Kinneil House. This interpretive centre is home to the excellent ‘2,000 Years of History’ exhibition, which tells the story of the estate from Roman times up to the present day. Uncover some fascinating facts about Mary, Queen of Scots and Emperor Antoninus Pius among other famous figures.
For more ghoulish tales of history and mystery, reserve a couple of hours in your schedule for a trip to Stirling Old Town Jail. Bring the past alive at one of the excellent Performance Tours and uncover the grisly details of infamous executioner Jock ‘The Happy Hangman’ Rankin. Make sure you head up to the Observation Tower where you can drink in some of the most wonderful views across the Old Town, including the famous castle as well as out to the Trossachs National Park.
If you’ve got older children or teenagers with you, you won’t want to miss a trip to the National Trust for Scotland’s multi award-winning Battle of Bannockburn experience. It puts you at the heart of the action as you witness the 1314 battle for yourselves with brilliantly immersive 3D scenes. Follow in the footsteps of Robert the Bruce and Edward II as you relive this bloody period in history.
You’ll find more history at the 12th-century Church of the Holy Rude as well as all around the city, including the town wall and the beautiful historic buildings in the old town.
The eating, drinking and retail therapy
If all that history has got you hungry for sustenance of another kind, you’ll be happy to know that cafés, restaurants and pubs are in plentiful supply in and around Stirling. From the elegant Scottish-Austrian Hermann’s whose décor and menu treats you to a taste of both countries, and the traditional stone Portcullis, which you must visit for a pint and a pub lunch, to the hidden rustic converted barn of Birds & Bees with its fabulous pub grub menu, there will be something for all taste buds.
Stirling is well known for its live music scene, and you’ll have no problem finding a venue to your liking. From tiny intimate gigs to huge arenas welcoming famous faces, all types of music lovers are catered for. Try the Corn Exchange Stirling or Mediterranea for an intimate vibe, and the award-winning contemporary Tolbooth Stirling or the traditional Albert Halls – over a hundred years old – for something a little grander.
If you want to indulge in a tipple or two while you are in the city, the area is home to various distilleries and bars where you can while away a happy afternoon or evening. Gin lovers should visit the Stirling Gin Distillery or if you are up for trying out some of the strong stuff, there are over 120 Malt Whiskies on offer at the Curly Coo Bar, Stirling’s only whisky bar. And if you’re always thinking how much you’d love to see the inside of a brewery, come and meet the on-site brewer and sample a Scottish pint at the Bridge of Allan’s Allanwater Brewhouse micro-brewery.
Shopping comes easily in Stirling, with a diverse range of unique and independent shops sprinkled across the city. Bakeries with tantalising breads and pastries, butchers and delis selling the best local produce, smart boutiques and bookshops… you’ll definitely find somewhere to while away a few hours. Don’t forget the farm shops and farmers’ markets either, bursting with locally sourced products from all around the region.
Those looking to take a souvenir home would do well to pop into the House of Henderson, where an array of traditional Scottish produce including kilts, tweeds and hip flasks will tempt you to part with your holiday pennies.
Surround yourself in stunning scenery
There’s so much to see around Stirling – the countryside and lochs are spectacular, and the views are simply out of this world. Take a day out at the Trossachs National Park, 15 miles from the city, where you can cycle and stroll along the loch shores or even hike up a Munro – the choice is yours.
Those with time on their hands and a bit of stamina can climb Ben Lomond, right at the heart of the park, or if you are looking for something more tranquil, visit one of the nature reserves around the city – Inchcailloch (28 miles) and Kinneil (17 miles) are two great examples.
For a thing of beauty, you can’t beat the waterfalls. The Falls of Falloch will take you over an hour by car (50 miles) but this popular beauty spot is well worth the journey. For something a little nearer to home, the beautiful Falls of Dochart which run through the small town of Killin, are 38 miles away. Stop off at the Falls of Dochart Inn which has an enviable position overlooking the spectacular cascades, for a warm Scottish welcome before heading home.
Of course, it’s not all about walking and climbing. When feet are tired and energy is low, hop aboard the mighty paddle steamer, ‘Maid of the Loch’ on Loch Lomond which will take you on a tranquil glide across the water; you’ll be a real part of paddle steamer history as she was. In fact, the last one ever built in Britain. Fancy finding out more about this most beautiful of lochs? Our guide to Loch Lomond tells you all you need to know.
As well as all of this, there are the bustling cities - you can’t go to Scotland and not visit its two principal cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow! Approximately 37 and 30 miles away respectively, you’ll have a couple of great days out visiting their famous historic attractions as well as enjoying their cultural scene and fine dining.
For some tips about the best things to do in Edinburgh, have a read of our guide to Edinburgh.
We think you’ll agree that all the fabulous things to do not only in Stirling but all around, make it the perfect place for a holiday. Come and base yourself in one of our holiday homes across the region. Our Stirling accommodation is just the place for a Scottish escape: stay in a contemporary apartment, cosy up in a cute-as-a-button cottage or go all out and hire a castle – the choice is yours!
For a selection of gorgeous places to stay in Stirling, click below and check out our selection of Stirling cottages.