Most people who visit Stirling come here for two reasons: Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument. They stop here on their way from Edinburgh to the Highlands, tick off the main attractions and get back on the road – but like so many other Scottish cities, Stirling deserves much more attention! All you need is to plan a day trip and fill it with these 13 cool things to do in Stirling!
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Stirling is one of those notoriously underrated cities in Scotland. I had been twice before, but – surprise, surprise – never really saw more than the Castle myself. This trip would be different!
Below I’ll share what to do in Stirling – you can fit them all into one day trip – and of course some info on getting to and getting around Stirling.
How to get to Stirling
Stirling is located in the Central Belt of Scotland and you can reach it by train from Glasgow or Edinburgh within 30-40 minutes – so, leave your car at home or don’t even rent one!
It’s central location makes it a brilliant day trip destination when you’re on a city break, but it is also a great hub to access the rest of Scotland in all directions. Whether you hop from city to city, want to explore the Trossachs and the Highlands or want to go off the beaten track to the Cairngorms and the east coast, you can reach pretty much anywhere in Scotland within just a few hours by public transport. As such, it is also a great place to base yourself, if you want to do a lot of day trips around Scotland!
Map of Stirling
Stirling is an incredibly walkable city – the only place you’d really want to take the bus to is the Wallace Monument, as it’s a 40-minute walk out of town.
When you arrive in Stirling you can make your way to the Visit Scotland information, half-way up the Castle hill, and pick up a city map, or you can like me simply wander around – it is pretty hard to get lost in Stirling!
You can also find all the places I include in this list of things to do in Stirling on the map below:
13 cool things to do in Stirling
#1: The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum
Disclaimer: My visit to the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Museum was part of a sponsored campaign.
When it comes to Scottish history, few places are as significant as Stirling and Stirling Castle. I never took myself for a military history geek, but a visit to the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum showed me that military history is anything but old and dusty – if it’s told the right way!
The museum tells the story of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Regiment, one of Scotland’s proudest regiments in the British Army. It was recently re-opened after undergoing a huge effort to renovate the building and modernise the exhibition. The curators wanted to preserve the rich history of the regiment for future generations, but also re-imagine how these stories could be told in an engaging way.
Each gallery of the museum focuses on a different aspect of the history and context around the military regiment, and wraps the sometimes dry facts of warfare, weaponry and accolades up in the personal stories of the people who lived through it.
My favourite story? The one where the regiment’s mascot Shetland pony Cruachan was demoted for biting the Queen… Or the one of the soldier who wrote a beautifully decorated love letter to his girlfriend asking her to marry him. You’ll need a tissue for that one.
When you hear the human stories behind the uniforms, military history is all of a sudden much more relatable. The museum is an absolute must-see and entry is included in your ticket for Stirling Castle.
#2: Stirling Castle
When it comes to the best Scottish castles to visit, there is no way around Stirling Castle. Stirling has always been one of the most significant castles in the country. Countless Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned here, including Mary Queen of Scots. Its significance went thus far that if you were in charge of Stirling Castle, you held the key to Scotland.
As such, the castle has been fought over for many centuries – from the Scottish Wars of Independence (and some famous dude called William Wallace) to an unsuccessful attempt to take the castle by Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Today, the castle offers a much more tranquil setting and a great opportunity to learn about Scottish history and medieval architecture. A tour around the castle begins at the top of Castle Hill from where you can enjoy fantastic views of the city and surrounding hills. Inside the thick castle walls, you can wander the Royal Palace and see the kings and queens’ quarters. The heart of the castle is without a doubt the Great Hall, which has been restored and painted yellow, just as it would have looked many centuries ago.
Other highlights include the walk around the castle wall, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum and the beautiful flower gardens.
#3: The Engine Shed
Scotland is a history geek’s paradise – there are so many historical buildings to discover, from medieval castles to modern palaces, traditional blackhouses and ancient ruins, and of course wonders of modern architecture and technology. But how are they maintained?
This is the question Scotland’s Building Conservation Centre at The Engine Shed in Stirling is trying to answer. Opened in 2017, the centre is a mixture of education space and hand-on museum. A film introduces you to the mission of the centre as well as some of the modern technologies that are used to scan historical buildings and structures in Scotland. These scans are then used to create 3D models which are essential to maintain and conserve these buildings for the future.
In the great museum hall you learn about the methods and techniques to conserve different kinds of materials used in Scotland’s historic buildings through hands-on activities. The highlight of the museum though is the augmented reality experience at the centre of the hall – with an iPad you can swipe across a giant map of Scotland and “visit” different historic buildings across the country, look at 3D models, photos and learn about their conservation!
#4: Local shopping
Many Scottish people come to Stirling to go shopping – but there is more than the shopping centre and high street shops!
Definitely check out Made in Stirling – a sprawling shop that sells products by local artists, makers and designers. You’ll find quirky designs and cool artwork next to locally inspired jewellery, soaps and gifts. Shopping here you can be certain that you’re supporting the creative scene of the city and wider region.
Another lovely shop is Calluna – a small independent shop that sells plants, sustainable designs, fair-trade products and responsible gift ideas. The owner was immediately up for a chat and talked me through their selection of products. My favourite were by far all the different bamboo socks by thought, a sustainable fashion label – I just loved all the different patterns you could get!
I’m a sucker for #doorporn – you know if you follow me on Instagram… Almost nothing makes for a prettier photo, than a colourful door in an otherwise potentially grey city.
I put my phone away for this, so I couldn’t look at my map, and simply followed every lane and street that took my fancy – and around every corner I found more colourful doors to photograph!
I can’t decide whether my favourite was this yellow door on the left, or the building on the left – if you look closely, you’ll see that it’s the Boy’s Club building and it tells you to “keep smiling” above the window to the left! Maybe that’s the one time where I didn’t mind being told to smile!
#6: Church of Holy Rude
The Church of Holy Rude is Stirling’s second oldest building after the castle. The medieval church was built in the 15th century, but it was founded centuries before that in 1129. The name of the church sounds a little weird nowadays, but it actually means ‘Church of the Holy Cross’.
While I couldn’t visit the church’s interior on the day I spent in Stirling, I loved roaming the cemetery behind it. There are numerous stone crosses and intricate gravestones to discover. The best thing about the cemetery though is the view. Make sure you climb the little hill at the centre for the best views across to Stirling Castle and out over the surrounding hills of the city.
#7: Vegan Food in Stirling
Admittedly, there are no vegan restaurants in Stirling, and you can’t compare it to the likes off Glasgow or Edinburgh, but there are a few vegan options in Stirling.
For lunch head to Cafe Aina, a restaurant int he historic heart of Stirling with a Greek menu and lots of vegan options. I had a vegan souvlaki wrap and loaded fries with vegan Greek cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.
#8: Viewpoint hunting
Even though a visit to the Wallace Monument was not on my itinerary for this day trip – it was simply too far from Stirling city centre for such a short winter day – I wanted to get a good view of it. Here are a few of the viewpoints I found along the way, although I’m sure there are so many more I didn’t find!
Stirling railway bridge | Before you head into Stirling’s city centre, take a moment to stroll across the bridge over the railway station – the views of the monument from the end closer to the river Forth are incredible!
Darnley Park | There is a playground in this little park which lies on the hill towards the castle, next to a few residential buildings. Have a walk along the little wooden path – the views are super pretty!
St Mary’s Church | I stumbled across this church on my hunt for pretty doors and found the view of the monument really pretty!
Castle Hill | Probably the one view to the monument most visitors to Stirling will see is from the Castle Hill right below Stirling Castle.
Lover’s Walk | My favourite view to the Wallace Monument was definitely from the shores of the river Forth. The walkway along the river is called Lover’s Walk (what a suitable name) and as it meanders around Stirling’s city centre it offers a variety of views from different angles!
Gowan Hill | The last viewpoint I managed to visit just as the sun went down is Gowan Hill, behind the castle. Unfortunately, the sun had gone down already, making it hard to make out the monument, but the views to the hills of the Trossachs in the purple light of dusk were pretty epic too!
#9: Riverside & Cambuskenneth Abbey
I was lucky enough to be taken on a wee private tour of Stirling’s hidden gems by Camila from Adventitious Violet and her partner. They suggested to check out Cambuskenneth Abbey on the other side of the river Forth, not only for potential views of the monument, but also because it’s a little known place to visit in Stirling.
We walked through the calm Riverside neighbourhood and reached the abbey just as the sun reached the golden hour. A photographer’s paradise! The abbey is an old Augustinian monastery which dates back to the 12th century. It was abandoned during the Scottish Reformation and today only the tall campanile towers over the the surrounding fields.
During the summer the abbey is open to visitors and on occasion the stairs to the top are open too!
#10: Stirling Old Bridge
You might have heard about the Old Stirling Bridge before – in history class maybe, but more likely because you watched Braveheart. In the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297) the Scottish Highlanders led by Andrew Moray and William Wallace defeated the English forces in a devastating blood bath.
Today’s bridge is believed to be slightly further downstream than the medieval bridge that marked the battle, but it is still an incredible sight to visit. It is only open to pedestrians and – of course – it also offers great views across to the Wallace Monument and back to Stirling Castle.
#11: Walking on Castle Hill
There are a couple of paths criss-crossing the Castle Hill on which Stirling Castle rests. We started walking from Old Stirling Bridge up Gowan Hill for sunset views, but continued to make our way around the trails until we emerged from the rest again by the Holy Rude cemetery.
Walking here is a welcome break from the city traffic, and even though you can still hear the roads up here, it feel like all of a sudden you are miles away, surrounded by nature!
#12: A wee pub crawl
The best day trips in Scotland end with a dram – and so Camila, her partner and I ended our tour at the Settle Inn, Stirling’s oldest pub. There is a cozy fireplace to keep you warm and welcoming locals behind and in front of the bar.
If you wanted to make a pub crawl out of it, also check out the Curly Coo Bar, Stirling’s only whisky bar, and the Aussie pub Kilted Kangaroo – they are definitely among the best pubs in Stirling!
#13: Wallace Monument
No visit to Stirling would be complete without the Wallace Monument. Whether you catch a glimpse from one of the viewpoints or make your way to visit the monument up close, it will no doubt feature in your Stirling day trip.The Wallace Monument was built in the 19th century when there was a resurgence of Scottish national identity. It commemorates Sir William Wallace, the Scottish hero of the 13-14th century Scottish War for Independence.Visitors can climb over 240 steps to the observation platforms and visit the exhibition’s about the monument, Wallace and related history inside the tower.
And just like, my day trip to Stirling has come to an end. But wait, there’s one last thing – did you notice something about this guide? Apart from the castle and the monument, all these are things to do in Stirling for FREE – so in addition to being pretty and interesting, Stirling also makes for a great day trip when you’re visiting Scotland on a budget!
Have you ever visited Stirling?
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