Travel

Stirling – a guide for visiting this city in 2023

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Despite being a stone's throw from both Edinburgh and Glasgow, Stirling is criminally underrated as a Scottish tourist destination.

Even if you're not spending your entire Scotland trip in Stirling, it is definitely a city worth visiting for a few days as there is plenty to see and do. This is particularly true if you're interested in Scottish history, as Stirling was once the capital of the country and has been the setting of some of the most important moments throughout the nation's history.

We wanted to highlight the best things to see and do in Stirling for 2023, let's get into the guide:

Where is Stirling?

The city of Stirling is in Central Scotland, in the county of Stirlingshire. The city is often referred to as the 'Gateway to the Highlands' as it is often cited as the section of Scotland where the Scottish Lowlands blend into the Highlands. It's about 40 miles from Edinburgh and 27 miles to Glasgow, and the city is well connected to both cities via train and bus.

FireShot Capture 1789 - Stirling - Google Maps - www.google.com

What is there to see and do in Stirling?

There is a lot more to see and do in Stirling than first meets the eye, here are some of the highlights:

Stirling Castle

It might be unfashionable to say it, but we think Stirling Castle is better to visit than Edinburgh Castle. Owned and managed by Historic Environment Scotland, the castle sits at the top of the city and is probably the number 1 place we'd recommend you visit during your time in Stirling. We think it feels and looks much more like a castle than the castle in the capital, and is more interesting to explore. Much of the original building from the 15th century is still standing and is fascinating to walk around, plus the castle is usually much quieter than Edinburgh Castle. The castle has played an important part in Scottish history, with the castle being sieged at least 8 times throughout history and being the site where Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned. It's a must-visit for sure, learn more here - stirlingcastle.scot
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Wallace Monument

This Tolkien-esque structure towering over Stirling is the Wallace Monument, a stunning piece of architecture that has stood since the 19th century. The monument commemorates William Wallace, the most famous Scot who was a leader during the First War of Scottish Independence. The Wallace Monument is incredible to admire from a distance, but what's even more impressive is that you can actually climb up the 67-metre monument and enjoy the view from the top. Learn more here - nationalwallacemonument.com
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Walk around the University lake

Stirling University is a campus university, so unlike most universities in the UK, it has a central campus which is lovely to stroll around. The campus is focused around a lake which is full of ducks and swans, and you'll also find plenty of benches around the lake which are great to sit on and admire the view from.
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Visit Bridge of Allan

Bridge of Allan is a small town just along from the University, which is within walking distance from the city centre (around half an hour away). There are some lovely little independent shops to explore here as well as some great places to eat, with the highlight probably being the Allan Water Cafe which is famous for serving up some of the best fish and chips in the entire country. The Allanwater Brewhouse is also a brilliant place to head to if you like craft beers and ciders with ambiguous strengths.
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Old Town Jail

This is one of the top-rated attractions in Stirling, and is a bit of a hidden gem. Located in the heart of the Old Town, this former jail has been converted into an eerie visitor attraction complete with costumed actors to add to the creepy experience. Every tour includes a live performance from the actors, but it's not all just fun and games - you'll leave the Old Town Jail with a genuine insight into this 19th-century prison which was once described as “The worst prison in Britain" due to the shocking conditions of the cells and the treatment of the prisons. It's a grisly history, and it's all expertly outlined in an entertaining and engaging manner.
If you're feeling really adventurous, you can try one of the escape rooms here. Working as part of a team you'll have to work out the puzzles if you want to escape in time. There are 2 escape rooms to try, and they're both creepy and fun. Learn more about the Old Town Jail here - oldtownjail.co.uk
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Stirling Ghostwalk

As we've mentioned in this guide, Stirling is a city which is rich in fascinating history. A lot of history means a lot of....dead people. And just like in Edinburgh, there is the opportunity to try and "meet" some of these historical figures on a ghost tour. The Stirling Ghost Walk is a really interesting and fun tour which takes you around the oldest part of the city, known as "Stirling's Old Town". Follow the Happy Hangman as he gives you an insight into the dark and gruesome history of Stirling. We think it's very reasonably priced (£8 for an adult ticket) and lots of fun, book it here - stirlingghostwalk.com
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Mugdock Country Park

There are some amazing open areas around the city of Stirling, and Mugdock Country Park is certainly one of the best and most enjoyable to explore, and it's free - with 270 hectares of woodland, moorland, and heathland to explore, this country park is an ideal place to head to if you're looking for a break from the bustle of the city. A network of paths weaves throughout the country park making it really easy and enjoyable to walk around, and you'll find a number of interesting points throughout the park, including the ruins of Mugdock Castle. Dogs are allowed at the park and there is a visitor centre with toilets which closes at 6pm. Find the exact location of Mugdock Country Park on Google Maps here.
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Get involved with Keep Scotland Beautiful

Keep Scotland Beautiful is a great organisation which is actually based in Stirling, at The Castle Business Park. As the name suggests, the focus of the organisation is to keep Scotland looking beautiful and to encourage people to get involved in activities such as picking up litter and cycling rather than driving. If you're staying in Stirling for a few days then you could actually organise a litter pickup or another event. It's not only a great way to see the area, but it's also a great way to leave Stirling looking better than it was when you arrived. You can learn more about Keep Scotland Beautiful on their website here, or you can walk to the office very easily from town. We've created a Google Map route here (it's about a mile and a half from the train station), or you can walk from Stirling to the Raploch, take the left down Weir St (just before The Golden Chip) and walk for about half a mile until you see a sign for the Castle Business Park.
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Walk up Dumyat

Looking over the city is Dumyat, a hill that sits on the West side of the Ochil Hills. A walk to the top isn't too difficult compared to many of the Munros in Scotland, but it definitely isn't straightforward either and will require some decent footwear at the very least. Once you reach the top you'll be rewarded with an excellent view across the city and beyond. The best way to reach the foot of the hill is to follow the 'Dumyat ascent' route next to the university, which is a circular route and which takes you through some nice woodland. Learn more here - walkhighlands.co.uk
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Blair Drummond Safari Park (& Briarlands)

Blair Drummond Safari Park is about a 15-minute drive from the centre of the city, but if you want to get up close and personal with amazing animals then it is absolutely worth the effort. Here you'll find over 300 animals including rhinos, tigers, monkeys, and more.
If you don't have a car you can take a bus to a stop which is right across from the park, learn more here - blairdrummond.com
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Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre & Battle Experience

The Battle of Bannockburn is probably the most famous battle in Scottish history, and it took place just a few miles outside of Stirling. There is now a visitor centre dedicated to the battle in Bannockburn which is well worth a visit. Managed by the National Trust, the visitor centre is much more than just a dull museum - this is a properly immersive experience, outlining every gruesome detail via a digitally re-created version of the battle. Once you've finished this part of the experience, you can explore the surrounding parkland which is stunningly beautiful and includes some impressive statues, including a large bronze statue of Robert the Bruce. Find the visitor centre on Google Maps here.
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Smith Art Gallery and Museum

This might not be as intense of a look into Scottish history as the aforementioned Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre, but it is still very interesting nonetheless and still outlines some very interesting local and Scottish history. What's more, this museum is totally free to visit and is probably the best free attraction in Stirling (aside from maybe climbing Dumyat!). At the Smith Art Gallery and Museum, you'll learn about the amazing history of Stirling and see some beautiful pieces of art. There is also a great cafe here, and the 19th century building itself is very impressive too. But the highlight for many is the grounds - known as Ailies Garden, this half acre area includes many different gardens and things to interact with, which is especially fun for kids. Learn more here - smithartgalleryandmuseum.co.uk
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Visit Gleneagles

Stirling is well-placed to visit one of the most prestigious hotels in the whole of the UK, Gleneagles. As well as a luxury 5 star hotel, Gleneagles is also home to 3 championship golf courses, a spa, and the only restaurant in Scotland which has received 2 Michelin stars. A trip to Gleneagles is an unforgettable experience, and we'd highly recommend a visit if you have the time. Learn more here - gleneagles.com
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Cycle to Gleneagles

One of the best ways to arrive at Gleneagles is by bike - it's a great green way to travel, and if you're cycling from Stirling or one of the surrounding towns or villages, you can visit Gleneagles for brunch then cycle home (book in advance). There are also 10 bicycle stands at Gleneagles station if you want to take your bike there, and you can also hire bikes (both push bikes and electric bikes) at Gleneagles, learn more about that here.

Here are the 2 best routes that you can follow to Gleneagles from Stirling and the surrounding area:

via B8033 (approx 1 hour 45 minutes) - this route takes you through both Bridge of Allan and Dunblane, two lovely towns, as well as through some very pretty countryside. See the full route on Google here.

 via B824 (approx 2 hours) - the only slight deviation you might like to make from the route above is to go past Blair Drummond to Doune after you've passed through Bridge of Allan, skipping out Dunblane. The countryside surrounding Blair Drummond is beautiful its flat layout allows you to enjoy uninterrupted views of the impressive hills, including Ben Ledi. See the full route on Google here.

What should you be aware of before visiting Stirling?

Stirling is a city but it's very compact, and aside from the slightly steep walk up the Old Town, most of what you'd like to visit is within walking distance. Even the university and Bridge of Allan can be walked to fairly easily from the centre of the city. But if you're not up for walking and you don't have a car with you, then the bus networks are very good and frequent.

Where to stay?

If you're set on staying in Stirling during your visit, then you've actually got quite a number of options, from simple hotels (Travelodge, Premier Inn, Holiday Inn) to great independent hotels (The Golden Lion, Stirling Highland Hotel, Hotel Colessio) as well as self catering (Stirling Self Catering) and plenty of Airbnb options.

 

Bridge of Allan, the small town right next to Stirling (with an excellent chippy and amazing brewery) also has plenty of accommodation options, despite a number of hotels and B&Bs closing there in the last few years, meaning much of the information you'll find online is now outdated. For example, The Queens Hotel is now closed, as is the Royal Hotel. Popular options currently include The Meadowpark Hotel and The Arns Glamping Pods.

 

For a complete list of accommodation options in both Stirling and BoA, we advise visiting these websites:
Hopefully, this guide has inspired you to visit this brilliant Scottish city. Make sure to visit The Kelpies which are nearby in Falkirk.  We've got guides about other underrated locations in Scotland such as Crail and St Andrews, as well as locations like Gullane. Check them all out!

Finn is the editor of You Well and has been writing about travel, health, and more for over 10 years.

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