Located halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, Stirling Castle is a magical place that will virtually teleport you to another epoch. The castle has a complex history spanning over hundreds of years, with the first records of it coming from the 12th century. Combined with its absolutely stunning beauty, this beautifully preserved ancient relic is a must-see in any visit to Scotland.
Robert the Bruce takes centre stage in front of Stirling Castle.
The castle itself sits on top of Castle Hill, a quartz-dolerite crag, with steep cliffs surrounding it. The castle, perched atop this impressive land formation, makes quite an impression from whichever direction you approach the township of Stirling. Most of the buildings that now form the castle date back to the 15th and 16th centuries.
Some of the monumental occasions that have taken place here over the years include the crowing of Mary, Queen of Scots, sieges during the Wars of Scottish Independence and a failed attempt by Bonnie Prince Charlie to take the Castle. The Battle of Bannockburn also took place nearby. In this battle, Robert the Bruce led the Scots to victory and defeated Edward II's army. The battle of Stirling Bridge, where William Wallace led the Scots to defeat the English, took place nearby over the River Forth. The history is long, involved and turbulent – and you'll be fascinated as you try to unwind it during your visit to the castle.
Stirling Castle these days is a huge tourism drawcard, without having the flood of visitors that flock to Edinburgh Castle. With 300,000 visitors each year, the castle is currently undergoing a huge restoration effort. There are currently also efforts to reproduce The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries, intricate woven works believed to have been of great value in the royal collection. The Palace, Great Hall and the Royal Lodgings have been lovingly restored, and you'll often find actors lurking about in Medieval garb to give more than a hint of authenticity.
Visitors are welcome to wander Stirling Castle by themselves and even have a picnic on one of the gorgeous lawns, but your 14 pound ticket does include a guided tour, and it's worth attending one. Your guide will help you make heads and tails of the structure and give you some good pointers about where to go. Other events run throughout the year, such as costume exhibitions, orchestra performances, theatrical plays and historical talks.
A guided tour, with a Medieval man in the background.
The castle is said to be haunted – of course! The green lady of Stirling Castle is thought to be one of the servants of Mary, Queen of Scots. And the good lady herself is believed to be the ghost of a "pink lady".
The township of Stirling itself is also a must-see. The "old town" is truly wonderful, and includes drawcard attractions such as Nicky Tams Bar & Bothy, the most haunted pub in Scotland. The old jail is also worth a visit, and the Stirling Ghost Walk shouldn't be missed.
Looking over the township of Stirling from the castle.