Our hometown: things to do in Stirling
Destinations | 26 April 2021
Destinations | 26 April 2021
We’re lucky to live in a country where almost every stone, hill or loch has its own story, but in Stirling you can really appreciate the layers of history hidden underneath one, relatively small place. Just on the other side of our street, a small park now grows over an old Roman road that led imperial troops north. The hill of Dumyat – the Stirling’s favourite spot for hikes and runs – once housed a fort of the ancient Maeatae tribe. But it’s Scotland’s turbulent Middle Ages that left the biggest mark on Stirling’s identity.
The majestic Stirling Castle still towers above the royal burgh. In the past it secured the best way connecting the north and south of the kingdom, housed kings and queens of the Stuart dynasty and – much later on – served as a base for one of the most famous Scottish Regiments: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Nowadays it’s the second most visited attraction in Scotland and provides plenty of stories to explore for the whole family. From the castle walls you can spot the town’s second focal point: the National Wallace Monument. Commemorating the Scottish hero near the site of his greatest victory, it dominates the Ochil Hills and houses an interactive exhibition about Sir William’s life (one slightly more accurate than Braveheart). On the southern edge of Stirling, another site completes the historic trio. The Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre allows you to immerse yourself in the decisive encounter of the Wars of Independence and have a go at leading medieval forces into battle.
Any of Stirling’s big attractions can easily fill a fun day in town, but on our tours we always try to visit a few less obvious spots and tell the lesser known tales. One of them is the Church of the Holy Rude just beside the castle. Its historic kirkyard is full of gravestones marked with symbols of old guilds and more than one gruesome legend begins within the shadow of the musket ball-marked tower. Above the kirkyard rises Ladies’ Rock – an outcrop from which in medieval times the ladies of the court would observe knightly tournaments. On a sunny day it offers great views over Southern Highlands, as well as a different look at the castle itself. If you want to see or photograph the royal keep from another perspective you can also climb the Gowan Hill just west of the castle hill. On a summer day it’s also a perfect green enclave for a picnic and a short breather between sightseeing. But to be honest, if you like walking and have some time to spare, that’s just the beginning!
Stirling is just the perfect size to discover on foot, with many gems hidden within an hour’s walk from the royal keep. When going down from the castle you might want to choose the Back Walk – a safe and easy path around the hill, offering great views of Kings Park and leading past The Smith Art Gallery and Museum into town. These two spots can already occupy you for hours. “The Smith” reveals amazing stories of Stirling’s citizens and its most prized possession is the oldest football in the world. The old royal pleasure grounds of Kings Park (together with the peculiar green pyramid of King’s Knot) are a must-see on a clear day: there you can walk around the traditional golf course with great views of the Castle Hill, grab a coffee and a traditional Scottish roll at The Pavilion café and spend some time spotting the many happy dogs of Stirling.
If you fancy a walking quest and another close encounter with history, you can head to the tiny village of Cambuskenneth on the other side of the river Forth. In the olden days it was connected with the town by small boat ferry, but now you can reach it through a small footbridge from Riverside’s pleasant Lover’s Walk. The tiny hamlet set between the riverbank and lush fields is picturesque enough, but what makes it special are the ruins of the Cambuskenneth Abbey. Only foundations and a bell tower remain of the once grand Augustinian monastery, but thanks to its discreet character it’s still a very moving place to visit. From there, rather than tracing back your steps, you can walk through the Causewayhead to the 16th c. Old Bridge and cross back into town near the site of the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
How to finish an active day in Stirling? Snatch an unusual souvenir from one of the local artists at Made in Stirling, treat yourself to a feast at the locals-favourite Gabe’s Diner and grab a pint at The Settle Inn – our oldest and friendliest pub.
Of course there is one final way to discover all the great things to do in Stirling: reach out to our family-run private tour company and book yourself a special Stirling tour!