The Falkirk area is a haven for nature lovers and history buffs, a centre for Scottish engineering and an urban oasis surrounded by canals, parks and public art. Find out how to explore this bustling town in central Scotland sustainably with this guide for some of my favourite things to do in Falkirk.
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This post was commissioned by Visit Falkirk.
Falkirk was once the centre of Scotland’s industrial revolution. While Glasgow built ships that roamed the seas of the world, Falkirk led the country’s iron and steel production.
However, when the market for these heavy industries collapsed and factories like the Carron Ironworks closed in the late 20th century, Falkirk – like so many other industrial towns in Britain – had to reinvent itself.
And so, Falkirk went forth and created new green spaces, like the Helix Park, making the most of its existing infrastructure along the canals that pass through the town. It created historic trails and bike paths, perfect to explore the best of Falkirk, its history and heritage.
In this guide, we follow some of these trails to dive into some of the fantastic attractions and places to visit in Falkirk. Read on for:
- My top 10 things to do in Falkirk,
- Sustainable ways of getting around Falkirk,
- Ideas for extending your trip to the historic Forth Valley and more places to visit in the area,
- And a wee travel guide with suggestions for places to stay.
Table of Contents
10 Things to do in Falkirk
Falkirk Town Centre
Falkirk’s town centre is small but eye-catching. You can just wander and explore, or follow the Falkirk Town Heritage Trail which connects interesting historic sites, such as the Old Market Place with its beautifully restored Steeple, the Old Parish Church and the original location of Barr’s company, who make Scotland’s most famous soft drink, Irn Bru.
Some of my favourite stops on the trail are the charming lanes and back streets, like Wooer Street. They were once bustling with market stalls and businesses – and still are some of the most picturesque places in Falkirk.
There are two different trails and you can download the walking route & additional info here.
Falkirk Audio Tours with Falkirk Explored
Falkirk Explored is an interactive app with walking and cycling trails around Falkirk and the wider area. The app features lots of information about suggested stops on the trails, as well as detailed maps. You can download each trail to use offline which makes them the perfect companion for a day trip to Falkirk.
The audio guides are one of my favourite features on the app. I used the audio clips from the Falkirk Town Centre Trail to learn more about the buildings I saw around town.
Eat at Behind the Wall
There are many great places to eat in Falkirk. Many of them accept the Falkirk Gift Card, which is valid in businesses across the town – shops, restaurants, pubs, beauty salons and more.
It’s quite easy to find vegan options in Falkirk too. I ate at Behind the Wall, a relaxed and welcoming bar and restaurant on Melville Street. They have several vegan options on the menu and the staff is just the loveliest!
Paying with the Falkirk Gift Card was super easy – it would make a great gift!
Find more places to eat & drink in Falkirk and beyond here.
You might also like: How to travel Scotland as a vegan
Hire a Forth Bike
Please note, that unfortunately, Forth Bike has closed unexpectedly. (December 2023)
Falkirk is very easy to get to without a car, but instead of navigating local buses to get around between attractions, why not hire an e-bike and explore on two wheels?
Forth Bike is a bike-sharing scheme with electric bike stations all over Falkirk, Clackmannanshire and Stirling. You can check out an e-bike from any of the docking stations and use it to get around Falkirk & co with ease.
All you need to do is download the Forth Bike app, create an account and chose a subscription. A “Pay per Ride Pass” is available too and probably the best option for visitors. The first 30 minutes of each ride costs £2.40 and you’ll be charged £0.08 per additional minute. You can keep the bike for up to 10 hours, but it’s more practical to make use of the many docking stations around Falkirk.
I picked up an e-bike and followed the Helix Around Town Trail with the practical route card from Sustrans Scotland which allows you to tick off many of these things to in Falkirk. There is a Forth Bike docking station on High Street.
Personally, I love e-bikes because they make cycling more fun, without having to be a hardcore cyclist. I even used an e-bike to go on a multi-day cycling journey on the Scottish west coast.
Read about my cycling trip on the Caledonia Way here!
Explore the Canals
Falkirk lies at the intersection of two of Scotland’s most important canals – the Union Canal, which runs from Edinburgh to Falkirk, and the Forth & Clyde Canal, which connects the Firth of Clyde on the west coast and the Firth of Forth on the east coast.
Back in the day, these canals were an essential lifeline for Scotland and allowed boat traffic to cross the country from coast to coast instead of sailing all the way around the north coast. They were used to transport goods and service heavy industries, but this stopped abruptly with the advent of the railway lines. Scotland’s canals fell into disrepair, but luckily they have since been restored to their former glory.
Nowadays these waterways are mostly used for canal cruises and pleasure boat trips. There are shared paths for walking and cycling, and new attractions such as the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies are turning the canals into real eye-catchers.
A Boat Trip on the Falkirk Wheel
The Falkirk Wheel is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. It connects the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal and lifts boats by a height of 24 metres. Instead of a 6-hour journey through 11 locks, this journey now only takes about 20 minutes. At the top, boats have to clear two locks to reach the Union Canal, overcoming a total height difference of 35 metres.
There are two main ways to experience the Falkirk Wheel in all its glory. You can stand at the side and watch the rotating boat lift in action. This is a great way to get a sense for the almost impossible task the engineers had to pull off to make this work – of course it had never been done before.
But arguably the more hands-on experience is to ride the Falkirk Wheel in a boat. There are two trips an hour. Your skipper will tell you the story of the Falkirk Wheel and point out some landmarks on the way up, and take you a short section on the aqueduct towards the Union Canal before returning. The view from the top of the Wheel is magnificent and on a clear day you can see all the way to Fife.
There is a Forth Bike docking station near the Falkirk Wheel visitor centre.
A ride on the Falkirk Wheel is an absolute bucket list item for many – here are a few more Scottish places to add to your bucket list!
The Helix Park was developed to create an urban green space that connects local communities in Falkirk and beyond. At its core, the park is an initiative to improve the quality of life in this former industrial region of Scotland, and provide recreational space for its inhabitants.
The path network in the park stretches over 27 kilometres and features several public art projects, such as the Love & Kisses sculpture and of course, the famous Kelpies.
Explore more of the park on the Helix Loop cycling trail.
Tour the Kelpies
The Kelpies are possibly the best-known landmark in Falkirk. These two giant sculptures of horse heads are 30 metres tall and tower above a basin by the Forth and Clyde Canal. They were designed by Andy Scott and made from 600 tons of steel (300 tons each).
The Kelpies are mythological creatures that take on the shape of beautiful horses to lure humans into their underwater lair. However, the horses are also a monument to the majestic Clydesdale Horses that once served to pull heavy barges along the canals.
Anyone can see the Kelpies from the outside, but on a guided tour you actually get to step inside one of the sculptures and hear more stories about their construction from a local guide. It’s a unique experience and one of my new favourite things to do in Falkirk!
There is a Forth Bike docking station at the Kelpies car park.
Callendar House & Woods
Callendar House has been the seat of the rulers of Falkirk and the wider area for a thousand years. It’s located on the edge of the Roman Antonine Wall (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), making it a great place to visit multiple historic sites in Falkirk at once.
Today’s Callendar House was first built for the Thanes of Callendar in the 14th century. Its later owners, the Forbes family, extended in the style of a French chateau during the 19th century, adding side wings, turrets and a beautiful Georgian kitchen which is still in use today.
It’s free to visit Callendar House. There are several galleries with permanent exhibition about the history of the house and Falkirk, and temporary art installations. One of the highlights at Callendar House is a visit to the Georgian Kitchen where guides dressed in period costumes will tell you more about the historic kitchen appliances and utensils used in the 19th century.
Callendar House is surrounded by Callendar Woods, a sprawling park with landscaped ponds, playgrounds and serene woodlands. There is a Forth Bike docking station near the Callendar Park Play Area, but also a locked bike shed at Callendar House, if you’d rather hold on to your bike or travel with your own. Ask to use it at the reception.
PS: The Georgian Kitchen at Callendar House is also an Outlander film location! One of the most iconic scenes featuring the Duke of Sandringham and Murtagh were shot here. Check out Film on Forth to find more film and TV locations in the area.
Visit more Outlander locations in Scotland with my Outlander itinerary!
Indulge at Callendar House Tearoom
While you visit Callendar House, stop at the Tearoom on the second floor and indulge in a freshly prepared lunch or afternoon tea. The tearoom’s large panoramic windows offer views of the landscaped garden and the woodlands beyond. The food is delicious and the staff is super welcoming.
Extending your trip
Of course, these are not the only things to do in Falkirk. There is a lot more to see in Falkirk and beyond!
Visit Falkirk has developed several 3-day itineraries for Falkirk and Clackmannanshire which are easy to follow by bike. For example:
- The e-bike itinerary is easy to follow with a Forth Bike and includes stops at the Dunmore Pineapple, the Ochil Hills and the Skinflats RSPB Nature Reserve.
- The family itinerary consists of shorter routes that are suitable for small legs. On this route you’ll explore Falkirk, Bo’ness and Blackness Castle.
You can find all the cycling itineraries and lots of routes for day trips from Falkirk here.
Falkirk Travel Guide
How to get to Falkirk
Falkirk is easy to reach from Glasgow or Edinburgh by train. It’s about 20 minutes from Glasgow Queen Street to Falkirk High station, and about 30 minutes from Edinburgh Waverley. From there it’s about a 15-minute walk to the Forth Bike docking station on High Street.
The journey times to Falkirk Grahamston – Falkirk’s central train station – is a tiny bit longer. About 40-45 minutes from Glasgow and 35 minutes from Edinburgh. From there, the bike station is less than 10 minutes away.
Find more travel info here.
How to get around
The town centre of Falkirk is very walkable, but attractions like the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies are further away. They are not in easy walking distance, especially if you want to visit both. However, there are local buses that go to the Falkirk Wheel and the Helix Park.
An easy and sustainable way to get around Falkirk is by bike, but unfortunately the public bike-hire scheme has recently closed unexpectedly, so you have to bring your own bike or hire a bike somewhere else.
Where to stay
There are lots of different places to stay in Falkirk and the wider area. If you travel by bike, make sure you book bike-friendly accommodation with facilities such as secure storage, bike washing and laundry.
Find more accommodation in Falkirk and beyond here.
It goes to show that it’s worth exploring Scotland’s smaller towns like Falkirk. There are. so many fun things to do in Falkirk, unique experiences and fascinating places to visit.
I hope you feel inspired by this Falkirk travel guide to plan a day trip to Falkirk or even a longer adventure to Clackmannanshire – and consider going by bike!
Share your Falkirk travel experiences or any other places to visit in the comments!
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