Stirling is a city between Glasgow and Edinburgh. It’s best known for William Wallace and Stirling Castle.
Stirling is like a cooler, more laidback version of Edinburgh. You get similar history and a similar castle – but without the crowds.
I spent a few days in Stirling on my trip through Scotland. We started in Glasgow, took the train to Stirling, and ended in Edinburgh before taking a trip around the Highlands with Haggis Adventures.
Is Stirling worth a visit? What should you do in Stirling? Keep reading to discover the top five things to do in Stirling, Scotland.
1) Stirling Castle
If you’re going to do one thing in Scotland, it’s Stirling Castle. Someone told me this castle was better than the castle in Edinburgh. That’s why I went to this castle – and not the one in Edinburgh.
Stirling Castle is exactly what you expect a medieval castle to look like. It’s on a hill with views for miles around. It’s a strategic location for more than just the hill: the castle is surrounded by cliffs on three sides and it’s the furthest downstream crossing of the River Forth. Stirling was destined to be a defensive position.
Stirling Castle played a big role in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 1700s, when Bonnie Prince Charlie tried to seize it (and failed).
It also played an important role in the 1500s during the whole “Mary Queen of Scots” era. Mary, along with seven other Scottish Kings and Queens, were crowned at Stirling Castle.
Here’s the best tip I can give you for Stirling castle: if you can, visit the castle late in the afternoon – try visiting two hours before it closes. That’s when day tours from Edinburgh leave. The place was empty and getting emptier when we visited.
2) Visit the National Wallace Monument
William Wallace fought a big battle in Stirling, The Battle of Stirling Bridge took place directly beneath this monument.
Today, the monument is worth a visit: you can climb the tower to get a 360 degree view over the region. It’s also a museum, and you’ll learn more about William Wallace as you climb.
One highlight is seeing William Wallace’s two-handed sword. The sword is six feet long – about the size of a man. It gives you an idea of how large William Wallace may have been.
The whole William Wallace thing is unusual: they really don’t know that much about the guy beyond from a few vague lines in obscure texts. However, the Wallace National Monument is absolutely a must see sight if visiting Stirling.
We took a city bus to the monument from the city centre. It’s not easy walking distance.
3) Visit the Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre
Never heard of the Battle of Bannockburn? That’s okay. It was a major medieval battle that occurred right here in Stirling.
Visit the Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre to relive the battle. There’s a museum explaining the battle.
The highlight, however, is a video game where you can play different roles in the battle. My travel companion and I played different sides of the battle. Having grown up playing strategy video games against, we had a lot of fun competing over the game. We thought it would be a basic and silly game – but it was much more fun than it looked. You position battalions (like cavalry, archers, and infantry) and traps (like caltrops) around the battlefield over a few moves, then watch the battle play out.
There’s also a 3D interactive exhibit where you can see the Battle of Bannockburn come to life in front of your eyes.
We got to the museum as it opened. Because of that, we were able to play multiple games before other people arrived. Sometimes, the museum gets crowded – and you have to play games with multiple people. We got to control everything on our side, which was very cool.
4) Visit the Robert the Bruce Statue
Robert the Bruce was a big figure in Scottish history. He was the King of Scotland from 1306 to 1329.
Robert the Bruce established his legend in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn, when he defeated a much larger English army under Edward II of England, thus re-establishing the kingdom of Scotland.
The Robert the Bruce Statue in Stirling is right next to the Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre. Make sure you visit the statue before or after you visit the museum. There’s a large horse statue and a cement circle commemorating the battle.
5) Visit the Cemetery and Church of the Holy Rude
Stirling has a very old cemetery behind the Church of the Holy Rude. The church was built in the 15th century. You can walk inside.
The cemetery behind the church is very cool. It’s on a hill just below the castle, which means you have a similar view to what you’d see from the castle.
Take a look at some of the dates on the tombstones when walking around. Then look at the hills in the distance and realize how much history you’re standing in.
I don’t believe in ghosts or spirits. However, walking home from the bar in Stirling, past the cemetery, with nobody else around, I swear you could feel something.
Where to Eat and Drink in Stirling
Some of the best spots to eat or drink in Stirling include:
The Portcullis: This was one of our first nights in Scotland, so we treated ourselves to a traditional Scottish meal. This restaurant is just below Stirling Castle (hence the name). It’s also the first place I had haggis. Oh, and this restaurant/hotel is about 80 years older than my country (it was built in 1787).
Hermanns: A fancier place to eat just down from the castle, Hermanns describes itself as “Scots-Austrian” food.
Nicky-Tams Bar and Bothy: Traditional Scottish pub with local ales and cocktail pitchers. Seems popular among locals despite being in the city centre.
The Ground House: Good coffee, soup, and pastries at a fair price.
The Crossed Peels: One of a million JD Wetherspoon pubs in the UK.
BrewDog Stirling: One of a million BrewDog breweries in the UK.
Dusk: A nightclub in a student town. What more do you need to know?
Fubar: Another nightclub in a student town.
Other Bars: Katie’s Bar, Claymores, Miraki, Boozy Cow, Kilted Kangaroo – one of them should have what you’re looking for.
How to Get to Stirling
There are like 20 trains and buses from Stirling to Edinburgh and Glasgow. I’m the Wandering Boozebag, not Google Maps. Figure it out.
We stayed in Stirling after spending two nights in Glasgow and before heading to Edinburgh. It’s less than an hour from either city.
Where to Stay in Stirling
Stirling has all of the usual hotels, bed and breakfasts, and Airbnbs you can find on the usual websites.
Being a student town, there are surprisingly few hostels in Stirling. We stayed in the Willy Wallace Hostel and it was fine. It’s not particularly well-rated online, although neither is any other hostel in town. Willy Wallace Hostel did the job for the two nights we stayed there.
We visited in late June, which should be the heart of tourist season, and didn’t have trouble finding accommodations.
Final Word: Is Stirling Worth a Visit?
People will tell you that Stirling is only worth a day trip from Edinburgh. However, I’m happy we spent two nights there. Stirling had plenty to offer, and walking through an empty medieval town at night was very cool (and a bit spooky).
Maybe I’m biased. I played the Age of Empires II William Wallace tutorial campaign. I’ve been studying this specific part of history since I was 10.
However, if you’re looking for an easy escape from Glasgow or Edinburgh, then Stirling is definitely worth a one or two day visit.