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**Post updated, October, 2019
An hour’s train ride from Edinburgh, Stirling is a wonderful taste of Scotland, and the site of some of its most significant (and epic) history.
As the saying goes, "he who hold Stirling holds Scotland," and it was here in 1297 that William Wallace enjoyed a victory over the English, memorialized in everyone's Scottish favorite, Braveheart.
The Stirling city centre you’ll want to see is small and easily walkable, though hilly, which is the source of so much of its rugged beauty. So let's discuss what you can see in Stirling on a day trip from Edinburgh!
How to get to Stirling from Edinburgh
If you have a car - hop in and drive over to Stirling! Ok, that was easy!
And, if you don't have a car, it's probably even easier - trains leave regularly from Edinburgh Waverley. In general, I recommend booking tickets in advance, to be sure you'll have a place and to schedule your time. However, you shouldn't have a problem buying tickets day of, for a last-minute excursion!
Once you emerge from the train station in Stirling, start walking up the hill. You’ll easily be able to tell you’re going the right way - your calves will let you know.
Grabbing lunch in Stirling
We grabbed an early lunch (11:15 AM) at one of the local pubs on our walk up the hill. That said, having experienced the town, I’d have waited for lunch until I got closer to Stirling Castle, recommendation below, but it’s always hard to walk by a pub without popping in, especially after hopping off a train!
A nice lunch deal was on offer - sandwich and a pint. I, apparently ridiculously, asked to substitute a half pint, as it was at this point...perhaps 11:19 AM...but here in lovely, perfect Scotland, even 5’3 American lawyers are required to drink full pints of beer at lunch. The bartender replied to my request, with an entirely straight face, as though we had asked for a free round of flaming shots, “Full pints only. No half pints.”
I drank it. Obviously.
I did earn an approving nod from a regular, propping up the bar.
Visiting the Church of the Holy Rood, Stirling
The gorgeous Church of the Holy Rude is the first stop on a whirlwind tour of Stirling. Built just slightly after the ancient castle that looms above it, the version we see today was begun in the 15th century. The interior is small, lovely, and well-maintained, but to me the churchyard was the main attraction - large, expansive, and covering centuries of Stirling’s history, we spent quite a while perusing the intricate gravestones and enjoying the view of the church, castle, and surrounding countryside.
Exploring Stirling Castle, on a day trip from Edinburgh
Reminiscent of Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle juts majestically out of the rolling hillside. With its location as the gateway to The Highlands, the castle has been the site of a number of significant battles, from the earliest days of its existence.
The portion of Stirling Castle that you will see is mainly from the 15th and 16th centuries, though earlier portions have been preserved. Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned here, and Bonnie Prince Charlie was responsible for the most recent siege of the castle, in 1746 (he was unsuccessful).
The Great Hall of the Castle (one of many buildings of the structure, like all castles), was one of many buildings that ultimately had to be restored and largely reconstructed. Historic Scotland elected to do so in the bright limewash that would have covered the castle, causing it to contrast starkly with the city below and hills behind. It stands today as an excellent reminder that castles were not always old, and history was not always written. It reminds me of the affinity that we hold for the ancient Greek and Roman statues we see in art museums - sedate and dignified, we do not see the colorful pain that would have brought them vividly to life, so many years ago.
An excellent summary of the restoration of Stirling Castle is available from 99% Invisible.
The castle offers helpful and thoughtful itineraries, though, for a traveler such as myself, following the map is likely sufficient.
Having completed your visit to the castle, we were fortunate to be able to visit Argyll's Lodging, a well-preserved 17th-century townhouse, with entrance fee included in our ticket price to the castle. Unfortunately, the Lodging is currently closed for "essential maintenance." Check back on the website - hopefully this will change soon!
Stopping by the pub in Stirling
Our final stop was THE PORTCULLIS, a cozy pub near the castle, as we ambled back down the hill. I'd definitely recommend lunch here, before or after your visit to the castle, but as we had already eaten, we opted for a pint (they do allow half pints, I came to find).
How much time to spend in Stirling?
Stirling is a lovely town - full of history and Scottish charm. Stop by for a day and check it out. With the quick travel over from Edinburgh, and Stirling's easily management and walkable town centre, it's an easy half-day trip from Edinburgh.
And if you want to spend a bit more time than we did, journey out to The Wallace Monument which, incidentally, does offer complimentary transportation, as it's a bit outside the town itself.
Thanks so much for stopping by!
I hope you'll consider stopping by Stirling during your time in Scotland. It's a gorgeous place, with a fascinating history and charming people. We'll be back!
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