11 Top-Rated Things to Do in Stirling
Stirling, in Central Scotland, is a fantastic city, with significant history and modern attractions. The River Forth winds through the city, offering the crossing point between Scotland's highlands and lowlands. This gateway status led to Stirling's significance in Scottish history, where kings fought to control this crucial location.
History is hard to miss in Stirling. Perhaps its most standout feature is Stirling Castle, sitting high above the rest of town. This famous castle is one of the most culturally relevant in Scottish history. Today, it's the city's most popular tourist attraction and offers hours of enjoyment and exploration.
But Stirling also has several modern attractions and a long list of things to do. The city's Lower Town, beneath the castle, offers ample shops, restaurants, and modern conveniences. This mix of the old and the new in Stirling makes for an excellent holiday experience and unforgettable Scottish adventures.
Enjoy your trip to Central Scotland with our list of top things to do in Stirling.
1. Tour Stirling Castle
No trip to Stirling is complete without a visit to Stirling Castle. It stands atop a volcanic crag overlooking the city and is one of Scotland's most historically significant castles. A sizeable portion of the castle dates to the 1500s, with a lengthy history tying it to modern times. Today, visitors are welcome to tour its grand gardens and recreated royal rooms.
Self-guided and guided tours are available at Stirling Castle. Plan for at least half the day exploring the grounds, including the many exhibit rooms that paint the stone castle's historical picture.
Among the many areas to check out include the Great Hall, the Royal Palace, and the Chapel Room – all re-created to resemble their royal heritage. Expect to encounter costumed characters inhabiting these grand parts of the castle.
Several areas of the castle resemble a museum, with interactive exhibits and authentic artifacts. These exhibits include the Great Kitchen, where costumed mannequins stand alongside plasters of food and meals once prepared in earlier times.
The Castle Exhibition is also not to be missed, giving a thorough timeline of Stirling Castle and its many sieges and additions.
Stirling Castle is open throughout the year. There is a small price of admission to enter, and reservations are recommended throughout the summer months. The castle closes earlier in the evening during the winter months (October through March).
Official site: https://www.stirlingcastle.scot/
2. Visit the National Wallace Monument
The National Wallace Monument stands proudly atop Abbey Crag on the city's north side. It overlooks the site of the famous Battle of Stirling Bridge of 1297, where Sir William Wallace further solidified himself as the national hero of Scotland. Today, the monument commemorates William Wallace and the significant Scottish history that followed in his footsteps.
The National Wallace Monument is open throughout the year. A small admission fee enables visitors to tour the monument's interior, where the real history unfurls.
Three exhibit rooms adorn each floor of the 220-foot-tall monument: The Hall of Arms, The Hall of Heroes, and The Royal Chamber. Atop the monument is The Crown, enabling a spectacular 360-degree view.
Visitors must navigate a skinny, spiraling, 246-step staircase to access each exhibit space. There is no elevator available. Within each exhibit is a plethora of information, artifacts, and marbled busts, all sharing a patriotic history of Scotland. Plan to spend at least one to two hours touring the entire monument.
The surrounding woodlands of Abbey Crag are also fun to explore. There is no price of admission to wander this natural landscape with trails throughout. Wood carvings and interpretive information line the main path leading to the castle, and the bluff trails lend a spectacular view of the city and rising highlands.
3. Take a Guided Tour of Stirling Old Town Jail
Stirling Old Town Jail was built in 1847 in response to overcrowding in the neighboring Tolbooth (touted as the worst jail in Britain for its deplorable conditions). Alongside its construction came a reformation in the prison system, led by Frederick Hill, the first Inspector of Prisons in Scotland. In this new system, prisoners endured solitude and a strict regime rather than harsh punishment.
Visitors to Stirling Old Town Jail dive deep into this fascinating history on a guided tour. Costumed actors lead these 45-minute tours throughout the jail. A complimentary audio guide accompanies the tour, alongside allotted time for self-guided exploration.
Stirling Old Town Jail offers a few different special tours throughout the year. In October, experience the "Jailhouse Horror" tour. This spooky twist on the standard sightseeing tour adds a bit of dramatic terror to the experience and is age-appropriate for children. And the "Jailhouse Christmas Carol" tour includes a jolly yuletide flair during the holiday season.
Official Site: https://oldtownjail.co.uk/
4. Day Trip to Doune Castle
Doune Castle is a popular day trip from Stirling, accessible with an approximately 12-mile drive from town. This fortified castle dates back at least to the 14th century and today inspires awe with its grandeur.
Visitors tour the castle courtyard and surrounding castle grounds, including an ancient Roman fort.
Doune Castle is also a popular destination for film and TV fans. The castle is easily recognizable for its extensive role in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The castle has also appeared in the hit BBC show, Outlander, and is the only Scottish castle to appear in HBO's Game of Thrones.
5. Admire the History of the Church of the Holy Rude & Old Town Cemetery
Church of the Holy Rude perches atop a volcanic crag in Stirling's Old Town, next to Stirling Castle. It's one of the oldest buildings in Stirling, second to the castle, with its current construction dating to the 1400s and early 1500s. This timespan includes significant historical events, including the 1567 coronation of the infant James VI as the king of Scotland.
Church of the Holy Rude is still an active place of worship as part of the Church of Scotland. Visitors are welcome to attend service on Sundays or tour the historic building throughout the rest of the week. Of particular note is the original oak-timbered roof, bearing marks of its 1400s construction.
When visiting, budget some extra time to visit the Old Town Cemetery next door, between the church and the castle. This eye-catching burial space has several historic stones, monuments, and statues. It also provides excellent views of the countryside on clear days.
Official site: https://www.holyrude.org/
6. Stroll through the Stirling City Centre
Stirling's City Centre, also known as Stirling Lower Town (for its position beneath the castle), is a wonderful place to stroll around.
It's a mix of pedestrian walkways and restaurants with plenty of shopping and people-watching. Here, have a planned or unplanned local meal, enjoy some live music, or find some keepsakes to take home.
The Stirling Arcade, on King Street, is the town's central shopping center. This Victorian arcade has several local and national boutiques, offering a broad mix of clothing and specialty shops. The arcade is historic, with a timeline spanning from the 19th century.
Stirling Lower Town caters to every meal of the day and any snacks between. If you're looking for a meal, head to places like Allan Park or Caffe Pompei for some of the most delectable places to eat. Other establishments, like Nicky-Tams and The Crossed Peels, offer more casual places to sit down and make some new friends.
7. Walk through History at the Battle of Bannockburn Experience
The Battle of Bannockburn Experience immerses visitors into medieval combat on the south side of Stirling. A significant appeal of this award-winning exhibit is a 3D-enabled presentation detailing the 1314 battle that plunged Robert the Bruce into the annals of Scottish history.
The immersive experience includes audiovisual presentations, an interactive map, and costumed characters detailing their battlefield accounts. This family-friendly event includes loud noises in a darkened room with some depictions of violence. The presentation lasts approximately 60 minutes.
The actual site of the Battle of Bannockburn is next to the visitor center and presentation room. Here, walk through history with interpretive panels throughout, further detailing the events of Robert the Bruce raising the Royal Standard. Also on-site is a magnificent Robert the Bruce statue posing for photos.
8. Enjoy Free Admission at Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum
The Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum was founded in 1874 at the bequest of artist Thomas Stuart Smith. Ever since, it has been a valuable resource for the arts and the rich history of Stirling and the surrounding region. And today, the Victorian-style museum offers free admission and an excellent way to spend a couple of hours.
The first two exhibits encountered at The Smith feature rotating works touching upon art and culture. The third gallery space is home to the permanent The Stirling Story exhibit, featuring thousands of artifacts spanning pre-human existence to modern times. Incredibly detailed presentations line this main exhibit with new history to dive into around every corner.
The Smith is also home to the popular Smith Cafe, featuring light fares and a full menu of tea and coffee libations. Lovely outdoor space also surrounds The Smith, offering a pleasant place to sit outside or burn off some extra energy.
9. Visit Cambuskenneth Abbey
The small village of Cambuskenneth is directly east of Stirling, accessible by a footbridge over the River Forth. This cozy village is home to the remarkable Cambuskenneth Abbey, dating back to the 1100s and founded by King David I. Today, this ancient abbey is only a shadow of its former self. Still, it offers pleasant scenery and glimpses into a longstanding history.
The most recognizable feature of the abbey is the historic bell tower, dating back to the 1200s. The foundation of the abbey church is also identifiable upon closer inspection, thanks to the interpretive markers on sight. The abbey is also the ceremonial burial site of James III and his wife, Margaret of Denmark, whose tombs still stand today.
Cambuskenneth Abbey makes a pleasant side trip in a day exploring Stirling. The grounds are open to the public from April 1st through September and are free to enter.
Including the abbey on a trip to the National Wallace Monument, located less than 1.5 miles away, is recommended.
10. Experience History at Stirling Old Bridge
The Stirling Old Bridge is an excellent place to visit for those interested in history and beautiful scenery. This medieval stone bridge spans the River Forth just east of Stirling Castle, toward the National Wallace Monument. This current "Old Bridge" was built in the 1400s or 1500s, replacing a series of timber bridges at this site.
The previous timber bridges gained the most fame from the 1297 Battle of Stirling Bridge, where William Wallace secured his place in history by defeating English forces. The location was also home to significant events during the Jacobite Rising of 1745.
The Stirling Old Bridge offers a quintessential photo opportunity and a nice place to enjoy the weather. More information about the Stirling Bridge and the Battle of the Stirling Bridge is available at the nearby National Wallace Monument.
11. See the Wildlife at Blair Drummond Safari & Adventure Park
This safari park is a popular family outing less than a 10-mile drive from Stirling. It's a drive-thru park set on 160 acres and features a wide array of animals. Expect to encounter animals like lions, alpacas, bison, lemurs, and chimpanzees among the over 300 residents.
While a car is required for the drive-thru safari, there are several activities to enjoy on foot. Many animals are viewable from platforms, and other experiences like animal presentations and Keeper Q&As also feature car-free animal viewing.
Attractions like giant playgrounds and a walk-through animatronic dinosaur exhibit are also at the facility.
Official site: https://www.blairdrummond.com/