I felt like I was at home in Stirling from the moment I arrived. Have you ever felt like that with a place? My family is from Stirling, Scotland. Stirling has always been my home away from home, even before visiting for the first time. I’d heard all about Stirling from my grandparents and family members all my life. There were so many things to do in Stirling that were on my list simply from the stories I’d heard over the years.
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My Personal Ties to Stirling, Scotland
A trip to Scotland and Stirling was high on my list for many years. My mom was born there and it was where my family lived before immigrating to Canada. They bounced back and forth between Hamilton, Ontario, and Stirling throughout the 1950s and 1960s, following work opportunities. Eventually, they settled in Canada for good. Later on, my grandparents purchased a home in Stirling from an elderly relative. They split their time between Hamilton, Ontario and Stirling, Scotland for many years, living for half the year in each place.
I still have family in Stirling nowadays, although my grandparents weren’t able to travel back there in recent times because they became too old to deal with the stresses of flying internationally. Sadly, my grandfather became ill and had to stay in the hospital. When I visited him, he spoke so fondly about Stirling and Scotland. He loved walking up the hill to Stirling Castle with his brother every day. His brother had also recently passed, and I’m certain that it greatly affected his health and was a big reason why he got sick.
When it became apparent that my grandpa’s health wasn’t going to improve, he requested that half of his ashes remain at home in Hamilton, and half could travel back to Stirling. I promised my grandpa that I would make it to Scotland very soon, so I could visit this place that was so special to him. When he passed away, I knew that I had to travel to Scotland, and we did. For this reason alone, this trip holds a very special place in my heart.
Justin and I both instantly fell in love with Stirling. Even though we only spent one full day in Stirling (and two nights), we could easily see how we could call Stirling home, too.
The Best Things to Do in Stirling Scotland
Personal stories aside, I’m sure you’d like to gather some advice to visit Stirling, too. Here are all the best things to do in Stirling Scotland so you can enjoy the perfect Stirling day trip (although I urge you to stay longer and at least spend the night). Throughout this blog post, I’ll provide you with some suggestions for the top Stirling attractions, where to stay in Stirling, and the best places to eat in Stirling, too.
Visit Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle is undoubtedly one of the most famous tourist attractions in the entire region, and probably the most visited spot in Stirling. I was so excited to see Stirling Castle in person for the first time, and it certainly did not disappoint. It was likely my favorite castle visit in all of Scotland, even if I am a little biased with my love for Stirling. Stirling Castle is one of the top things to do in Stirling, Scotland.
I won’t go into too much thorough detail about Stirling Castle here, but I will say that you must venture into its various rooms to learn all about the history of the castle and the times. We watched fascinating short movies about various aspects of the castle, including its architecture and statues.
There are many rooms inside the royal palace where you can transport yourself back in time to the lavish daily lives of the royalty in the 1500s. The royal chambers are magnificently decorated, and there might even be a few costumed interpreters around to set the scene.
The Great Hall is the largest banquet hall of its kind built in Scotland, completed in 1503 for James IV. It was used for parties, feasts, and dances. There are two tall throne chairs for the king and the queen, and Justin and I couldn’t resist getting our picture taken there.
The views of Stirling from the top of Stirling Castle are among the best in the city. You can catch glimpses of the entire city, as well as the cemetery below which is the final resting place for many of my family members. In addition, there are also some gardens on the south side of the castle to check out, too. Admiring the scenery from the top of Stirling Castle is one of the most wonderful things to do in Stirling.
While it was a very rainy day in April when we visited and this may have deterred some tourists from visiting, Stirling Castle can get very busy (especially on the weekends and during high tourist seasons). For this reason, you may want to purchase a Skip the Line Entrance Ticket for Stirling Castle in advance to avoid some wait times. A trip to Stirling Castle is one of the best things to do in Stirling.
A Trip to the Wallace Monument
The National Wallace Monument is one of the most popular Stirling attractions, and usually the second most visited place in town, after Stirling Castle. Many people visit Stirling specifically to see the Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, and then they leave. That’s totally fine, of course! However, I am going to urge you to stay longer in Stirling to see other places around town.
Sadly, we didn’t get to visit the Wallace Monument when we were in Stirling! Can you believe it? Unfortunately, it was closed down for repairs for a couple of months surrounding our stay. However, I totally saw it as a sign that I’ll need to return to Stirling ASAP.
I’ll update this post once I get back to Stirling with more details (and photos) about the Wallace Monument. In the meantime, it’s a monument to Sir William Wallace, a patriot and guardian of Scotland. Even if you aren’t too familiar with Scottish history, I’m sure you remember him from the movie, Braveheart? As you ascend the monument, you can also enjoy brilliant scenery of beautiful Scotland. The tower overlooks the site of Scotland’s victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
Explore Stirling’s Old Town
If you are a regular reader of this blog, I’m sure you’ll realize how much I simply enjoy walking around new places and exploring them on foot. Stirling is no exception. One of my favorite things to do in Stirling is exploring its Old Town. Walk up and down the main streets in town, ducking your head into little shops along the way. Stop for a coffee or a pint at any local establishment. There’s so much history in these cobblestone streets.
When my granny was a child, she used to live on King Street, right across from The Golden Lion hotel. I heard lots of stories about her childhood in this area. So, I actually managed to find the building where she used to live in an apartment above a business. I snapped a photo for her so I could show her when I got home.
See the Enchanting Cambuskenneth Abbey
The Cambuskenneth Abbey is a fascinating historic site featuring the ruins of an old abbey, as well as a graveyard. It’s free to enter and roam, although it’s supposed to be only open between 9:30am and 5:30pm. We were there well past 5:30pm and no one came to lock the gates, but be mindful of those times just in case.
The abbey was founded in 1140 by King David I to serve Stirling Castle. Its surviving bell tower is an amazing example of architecture from the 1200s. Feel free to wander inside the bell tower, too. The bell tower is unique in Scotland, and I didn’t come across any other places quite like it.
I also loved seeing plaques noting where the former structures used to be. Only the doorway of the old abbey church survives nowadays. Much of Cambuskenneth Abbey didn’t survive after falling into ruin in the 1500s. John Erskine, Earl of Mar, quarried many of the stones from the abbey and used them to build his town house near Stirling Castle. It’s speculated that the tower survived because it was a useful lookout tower.
Cambuskenneth Abbey is also the burial place of King James III and Queen Margaret of Denmark in the 1480s. The small cemetery is a very peaceful place and its quite fascinating to explore.
Cambuskenneth Abbey quickly became one of our favorite places to visit in Stirling. You can certainly fit it in on your Stirling day trip itinerary as it’s not frequently visited and not too far off the beaten path. If you’re looking for what to do in Stirling and you seek something a little more unique than Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, consider going there for sure.
Walk to The King’s Knot for Views of Stirling Castle
When visiting Stirling Castle, you might notice an interesting grassy patch with a modeled mound down below at street level. This is the King’s Knot, below castle rock. While it’s an interesting looking formation from up above, I recommend going there for one of the best views of Stirling Castle itself.
King’s Knot was the royal pleasure ground where monarchs once took part in leisurely activities, like jousting, hunting, and hawking. It’s an octagonal stepped mound about three meters high. It was once part of the formal gardens of Stirling Castle, and the property was owned by the crown since the 1100s.
When we visited Stirling, it poured rain for most of the day. However, if you’re lucky and it happens to be a relatively sunny day, you’ll be able to enjoy views of Stirling Castle from here at sunset. I recommend going to the castle during the day and coming down to the King’s Knot as the sun begins to go down.
Visiting King’s Knot is completely free. Park your car at the side of the road (Dumbarton Road) and walk up to the King’s Knot. It was a little muddy when we were there in April, plus it had rained for most of the day. If you’d like to view the castle towering high up on the hill, this is one of the top things to do in Stirling.
Visit a Local Pub in Stirling
Stirling has so many amazing pubs right in town. One of the best things to do in Stirling is sampling a pint of Tennent’s at a local pub. Justin and I actually met with my uncle for a pint (or two…or three?) at No 2 Baker Street, a Victorian pub with a classic British menu.
While we didn’t have anything to eat at No 2 Baker Street, I did notice that there were a few vegan items on the menu like a chickpea burger, and even vegan ice cream for dessert! I also noticed that there are mushroom wings on the menu, although you’ll have to double check to see if they’re vegan or not.
There are several local pubs in town with some better for tourists and others where the locals primarily gather. My uncle tends to live in Stirling for at least 3-4 weeks a year, and this was his choice. We quite liked it there, so I can see why he thought we should meet there. There was another local pub he described (I didn’t catch the name of it) where old local men meet every day. While he said that he’s friends with many of them through my grandpa and other relatives, he also said that we’d totally turn heads if we walked in there on our own. My uncle thought it would be a pretty funny joke to invite us there for a pint (and I’m a little relieved that he didn’t, I must say!).
More Things to Do in Stirling
If you’re looking for even more things to do in Stirling, here are even more recommendations that we didn’t have the time to do. We’d love to check out these places upon our return.
- Walking tours from local residents are always great ways to learn about a new place. You can take a Walking Tour of Old Town Stirling to learn about the fascinating history of the city.
- Check out the Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre to learn more about the famous Battle of Bannockburn through interactive exhibits.
- Did you know that Stirling has its own cat cafe? You can visit the Cats Meow Kittea Cafe for an hour with the cats, as well as unlimited coffee and tea.
- Visit the Church of Holy Rude (meaning “Church of the Holy Cross”), a 15th century medieval church with a rich history and intriguing cemetery.
- The Stirling Old Town Jail is another one of the top Stirling attractions that we didn’t get around to seeing, but I’ve heard it’s a lot of fun. Learn about the history of crime and punishment in Stirling, and there’s also an observation deck with great views.
Where to Eat in Stirling
While there aren’t any 100% vegan restaurants in Stirling, there are lots of eateries with vegan and vegetarian options. Many of these restaurants and cafes are open for lunchtime and an early dinner. We did find that many restaurants in Stirling tend to close early (think 6:00pm or 8:00pm). If you’re looking to dine later in the evening, you might need to look for a pub.
We opted to have lunch in Stirling, as well as a coffee break. For dinner, we decided to buy groceries and cook our own meal back at our accommodation. We’ll give you all of the details about our Stirling apartment coming up next.
Cafe Aina: A Cozy Restaurant with Vegan Options
Cafe Aina is an adorable cafe and restaurant in Stirling where you can find lots of vegan options on the menu. About half of the menu is vegan, and you’ll find vegan versions of all your favorite dishes. For breakfast, there’s a full vegan breakfast, a vegan omelette, or a vegan breakfast roll.
We visited Cafe Aina for lunchtime. They have tons of delightful veggie options, like souvlaki (tofu souvlaki or falafel souvlaki), burgers, sandwiches, and even vegan cake. Justin ordered the Avocado, Pine Nuts, Mashed Olives & Vegan Cheese Panini, and I got the Falafel Burger. Both were so delicious and we were super impressed with our tasty homemade meals. If we only had room, we would have ordered dessert. Next time!
Mint Coffee Shop (for a Coffee)
After a day of sightseeing, one of my favorite things to do in Stirling was stop for a coffee break. We chose a little spot on the main street of Stirling’s Old Town called Mint Coffee Shop. The place featured coffee and tea, as well as lots of treats like cake and candy. I was in search of some caffeine and ordered a rich and flavorful Americano. It’s a cute spot in town, and not to be missed.
Tesco Superstore for Groceries
The Tesco Superstore in town is perfect for groceries, especially if you’re looking for items that cater to any special diet or food allergies. We found so many amazing vegan mock meats and other yummy treats at the Tesco, including some things that we can’t find back home. Justin and I made some vegan steaks for dinner that were really yummy! I also managed to find vegan chocolate buttons, which were a treat that I had missed since going vegan. Delicious!
Where to Stay in Stirling: Stirling Luxury Apartments
One of the best things to do in Stirling is spending the night there. You always get a better feel for a place once the day trippers leave. Justin and I spent two nights at Stirling Luxury Apartments, which we thoroughly adored. It felt like we had our own place to live in Stirling, and it was a beautiful and luxurious apartment. The apartments are self catering Stirling holiday homes. You’ll have full use of this luxurious apartment all to yourself, cooking your own meals if you wish.
We stayed at Apartment One (Stirling Luxury Apartments has two separate apartments), and it is tastefully decorated and styled. There’s a seating area with couches and chairs that easily fits four people, as well as a kitchen table for four. This apartment has two bedrooms, so it’s a great place to stay with another couple or a family.
This kitchen is fully stocked with everything you’d need to prepare delicious meals. There’s cutlery, plates, pots, pans, and more. This apartment comes stocked with coffee and tea, as well as a fancy espresso machine. There’s also a microwave, fridge, stove, toaster, and a kettle. You’ll also find a washing machine in this apartment, which is super convenient in case you need to do some laundry.
While this Stirling apartment was not in the middle of town, you could walk everywhere in a short amount of time. To walk from Stirling Luxury Apartments into town, it takes about 15 minutes. It’s also a short walk away from Cambuskenneth Abbey. As I mentioned, I highly recommend checking out this beautiful abbey, and you’re only a short stroll away from it here. Click here to book your stay at Stirling Luxury Apartments, and feel free to read more reviews from fellow travelers.
Things to Do in Stirling: Travel Map
If you’re looking for all of the top things to do in Stirling, but you’re a visual learner…don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Here’a a map of all the things to see in Stirling, including Stirling attractions, restaurants, and where we stayed overnight.
If you’re looking to rent a car and drive all over Scotland, we highly recommend comparing car rental prices for the best rate. Also, never leave home without purchasing the proper travel insurance to cover you on your adventures!
While there are so many things to do in Stirling for anyone traveling to Scotland, it was such a special day due to my personal connections with the city. I can’t wait to return to Stirling in the future, whether it’s for a Stirling day trip or extending my stay there. It’s easy to take a Stirling day trip from Glasgow or Edinburgh. I recommend stopping at the Kelpies in Falkirk on your way to Stirling, too. With so many historic tourist attractions in Stirling, delicious food, and a great pub scene, I’m sure you’ll want to visit Stirling right away.
Our visit to Stirling Castle was a gifted experience in partnership with VisitScotland.