Updated: Apr 9
Stirling has some fascinating visitor attractions, contained within a compact old town, that makes it a must see for anyone visiting Scotland.
Stirling is a great place to visit and should never be overlooked by those heading straight for the Scottish Highlands, Glasgow or Edinburgh. There is a wealth of history to discover here and a visit to Scotland would be incomplete without visiting this fascinating, historic city.
As always, please follow all UK Government Covid restrictions & guidance and only visit Stirling if it's completely safe to do so. Here are my favourite sixteen places to visit in Stirling:
Stirling Castle is considered by many to be the most important castle in Scotland and is an absolute must-see for any visitor to Scotland. Highlights include The Great Hall – the largest medieval banqueting hall in Scotland and The Palace, which remains one of the most splendid Renaissance buildings in Britain. There is so much to see and do at Stirling castle that you must set aside plenty of time!
Stirling Old Town Jail
Opened in 1996 and located in the city’s historic quarter, the Old Town Jail is an interesting insight into how prisoners were dealt with in Victorian times. The story of the prison is told through costumed actors and the view of Stirling from the rooftop viewpoint is not to be missed.
The Wallace Monument
Constructed in the 1860’s, this iconic national monument, dedicated to freedom fighter William Wallace, tells the story of his brave campaign for Scottish independence. Other Scottish heroes are also celebrated in the Hall of Heroes for their contribution to science, industry and the arts. The views from the top viewing platform are stunning!
Stirling Old Town Cemetery
Located in the small valley between Stirling Castle and the Church of the Holy Rude, you'll find this amazing, atmospheric cemetery which is one of my favourites in Scotland. There's lots of interesting graves and monuments to explore, two of which are particularly worth a look which I detail below.
The Martyrs Monument
Also known as the 'Mary Martyrs', this beautiful monument is a tribute to two sisters and their elderly neighbour from Wigtownshire, who were found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death by drowning for their religious beliefs. Sadly, two of them were tied to a stake and drowned in the rising tide of the Solway Firth. A very sad tale indeed. The monument is very atmospheric and depicts an angel overlooking the two young sisters.
The Star Pyramid
This intriguing pyramid is located in the old Drummond Pleasure Ground next to the Old Town Cemetery. It was built by William Drummond in 1863 and dedicated to all those who suffered martyrdom "in the cause of civil and religious liberty in Scotland". A Bible and confession of faith were sealed into the pyramid when it was built.
Located at the top of Broad Street next to the Church of Holy Rude, the ruins of Mar's Wark are well worth a look. The facade you see today was once an impressive Renaissance townhouse for the hereditary keeper of Stirling Castle, John Erskine the Earl of Mar, and was built around 1570. The building is embellished with some interesting statues and gargoyles. Well worth a look as you make your way up Castle Wynd to see the castle itself.
This handsome house is Cowane's Hospital and is found directly opposite the Church of Holy Rude. The building dates back to 1649 and was built by the wealthy local merchant, Master John Cowane, who bequeathed his estate for 'a place of hospitality' for fellow members of the local Merchant's Guild who fell on tough times. It really wasn't a hospital in the sense we're familiar with today! By all accounts Cowane was a bit of a rogue and womaniser, and his colourful statue still adorns the front of the building today. It's said that on the stroke of midnight, every Hogmanay, his spirit dances down the streets of Stirling looking for a good time!
Stirling Arcade is a beautiful Victorian shopping arcade with a diverse range of independent retailers and cafes. Built in the early 1880’s, in the heart of Stirling’s old town, the arcade itself has some lovely architectural and decorative features that make it a very stylish and relaxing place to shop or have a coffee. Shops sell everything from musical instruments to jewellery, lingerie and furniture!
Located near Stirling Castle, Argyll’s Lodging is a fantastic example of an aristocratic 17th-century townhouse. As well as the impressive Renaissance architecture, highlights include the High Dining Room (above) with its splendidly elaborate painted decoration and the Drawing Room with its amazing recreated tapestries.
Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum
Established in 1874, this excellent gallery and museum houses an amazing collection of rare artefacts and fine art from all over the world, including a permanent exhibition on the story of Stirling and its earliest origins. The Smith hosts new and exciting exhibitions throughout the year and has an excellent cafe and shop for visitors to enjoy.
Bannockburn Heritage Centre
This excellent visitor centre tells the story of Robert the Bruce’s famous victory over Edward II’s English army on 23 & 24 June 1314 at Bannockburn. Despite all the odds, Bruce overcame a much larger professional army to win freedom from the English and the outcome changed the course of Scottish history forever. The exhibitions do a great job in explaining the importance of Bruce’s victory to Scotland. There's an excellent restaurant here and, if you're looking for some Scottish gifts and souvenirs, have a wee look around the gift shop before you go.
The Tolbooth is located in Stirling’s old town and is Stirling’s leading venue for the arts and live music. It re-opened in 2002, after extensive refurbishment, and is now home to many of Scotland’s best musicians and performers. For live music in Stirling it’s the place to go!
Stirling Ghost Walk
The Stirling Ghostwalk started life as a community project about 20 years ago. It’s still a hugely enjoyable way to explore Stirling’s old town and learn about some of its past colourful characters. Using professional performers, the old town becomes an atmospheric back drop for a brilliantly entertaining mix of drama, comedy and storytelling.
A wonderful shop located at 8 Broad Street in the city centre, Alan Waldron manufactures, repairs and sells all kinds of bagpipes. He's also an avid collector of historical bagpipes and memorabilia and is happy to advice any keen player or beginner. A must visit for any fan of the bagpipes.
Blair Drummond Safari & Adventure Park
Located a short journey to the north west of Stirling on the A84, Blair Drummond is a fantastic place to take the kids. With a zoo, boat trip and adventure playground, there’s no shortage of entertainment for all the family. On a more serious note, the park has a worthwhile animal conservation and education programme that all visitors should support as much as possible. (Note: the Park is closed in the winter).
Spending a Day in Stirling
Stirling is a remarkably historic city for its size, but not for its location.
It was geographically significant for many centuries as the nearest foot bridge crossing over the River Forth to the north and the Highlands. This strategic importance led to two famous Scottish battles being held here: The Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 when William Wallace defeated the English army and Bannockburn in 1314 when it was Robert the Bruce’s turn to overcome the English invaders.
Stirling, as a result of all this history, is a fascinating city to visit and is a small, compact place with most attractions within a short journey of each other.
Stirling Castle is undoubtedly Stirling’s most recognisable icon and is regarded by many to be the finest castle in Scotland – even better than Edinburgh. Surprisingly, the castle has some delightful gardens and lawns which really softens the old castle walls and battlements. It’s a very exciting castle to visit, with lots of hidden nooks and crannies to get lost in and it’s very easy to spend the best part of a day here exploring its many treasures.
The Great Hall, Stirling Castle
There’s a very good exhibition telling the story of the castle’s unique history and the restored Great Hall, the Palace and the Chapel Royal are all some of the highlights of a visit. The Douglas gardens are a particularly lovely part of the Castle, offering superb views to the Highlands and a visit to the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum is also very worthwhile. Also worthy of note are the newly commissioned seven reproduction Stirling Tapestries of which four are being woven at the castle itself. You can see the tapestries being hand woven in a purpose built studio within the castle.
While visiting the Castle it’s also worthwhile visiting Argyll’s Lodging at the top of the Castle Wynd. This is an atmospheric renaissance townhouse built by Sir William Alexander in the 17th Century. Highlights of this impressive house include its spectacularly decorated High Dining Room and the Drawing Room with its specially recreated tapestries and chair of state.
At St John Street in the city’s historic quarter is a rather unusual attraction – Stirling’s Old Town Jail. This famous Victorian prison is great fun to visit, especially for children, and gives an interesting insight into what the poor Victorian inmates once had to endure. Costumed character actors do a great job of telling the story of the jail and its famous prisoners and you really do find yourself transported back in time. When you’ve finished the tour it’s very worthwhile heading up to the rooftop viewpoint which delivers amazing views across the city to the Trossachs, the Forth Valley and the Ochil Hills.
The Old Town Jails predecessor is also nearby – The Tolbooth which was once the city’s infamous court house and jail. Nowadays it’s the base for Stirling Council’s Arts & Events Team and is the city’s premier venue for live music and the arts. If you’re at a loose end in the evening it’s very worthwhile checking out what’s on in this very popular venue.
The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum, just outside the city centre, is an excellent place to visit to find out more about Stirling’s history and houses many rare and unique Scottish artefacts. It even has the world’s oldest known football! There’s also excellent galleries of local, contemporary arts, crafts and photography. The Stirling Smith also has a lovely garden in the grounds called Ailie’s Garden which aims to teach visitors about the Scottish countryside, biodiversity and waste management. If you get peckish here, there’s also a really good Gallery Cafe which offers home baking and light lunches.
The view from the top of The Wallace Monument, Stirling
A little further a field, around a mile and a half north of the city centre, is the instantly recognisable and iconic National Wallace Monument. Built in the 1860’s as a tribute to William Wallace the “freedom fighter”, the tower marks the spot and commemorates the scene of his most famous victory – The Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Wallace’s huge broadsword is on display here and you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about his incredible campaign for Scottish freedom.
The tower also commemorates other Scottish giants in the fields of science, industry and the arts in the magnificent Scottish “Hall of Heroes“. The highlight of any trip to the monument, however, is the tremendous views at the top over to the Trossachs, the Forth Valley, the Ochil Hills and the Pentlands. On a clear day the views are some of the most impressive in Scotland. Being a little out of town, there’s also a very handy cafe serving all kinds of refreshments, light lunches and snacks.
The Hall of Heroes at The Wallace Monument, Stirling
No trip to Stirling, however, would be complete without a visit to the Battle of Bannockburn Heritage Centre. Located around 2 miles south of the city the heritage centre commemorates the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, when King Robert the Bruce famously overcame King Edward II’s English army, ultimately resulting in The Declaration of Arbroath and independence from England.
Bannockburn Memorial, Stirling
The centre has an excellent audiovisual presentation and teaches a lot about the battle itself and the Scottish Wars of independence. Bannockburn was an important and pivotal turning point for the Scottish nation and it still resonates down through the centuries in the Scottish psyche to this day. To understand this battle, the reasons for it and the consequences of the victory is to understand a great deal about the Scots as a proud and resilient nation.
Stirling is a great place to visit and should never be overlooked by those heading straight for the Scottish Highlands, Glasgow or Edinburgh. There is a wealth of history to discover here and a visit to Scotland would really be incomplete without visiting this historic city.
Author: David Wheater