Most people who visit Stirling come here for two reasons: Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument. They stop here on their way from Edinburgh to the Highlands, tick off the main attractions and get back on the road – but like so many other Scottish cities, Stirling deserves much more attention! All you need is to plan a day trip to Stirling and fill it with these 10 cool things to do in Stirling beyond the Castle and Monument!
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Stirling is one of those notoriously underrated cities in Scotland. I had been twice before, but – surprise, surprise – never really say more than the Castle myself. This trip would be different! Below I’ll share what to do in Stirling – you can fit them all into on day trip! – and of course some info on getting to and getting around Stirling. But first, let me take you with me to Stirling:
VIDEO: My Day Trip to Stirling
How to get to Stirling
Stirling is located in the Central Belt of Scotland and you can reach it by train from Glasgow or Edinburgh within 30-40 minutes – so, leave your car at home or don’t even rent one!
It’s central location makes it a brilliant day trip destination when you’re on a city break, but it is also a great hub to access the rest of Scotland in all directions. Whether you hop from city to city, want to explore the Trossachs and the Highlands or want to go off the beaten track to the Cairngorms and the east coast, you can reach pretty much anywhere in Scotland within just a few hours by public transport. As such, it is also a great place to base yourself, if you want to do a lot of day trips around Scotland!
Map of Stirling
Stirling is an incredibly walkable city – the only place you’d really want to take the bus to is the Wallace Monument, as it’s a 40 minute walk out of town.
When you arrive in Stirling you can make your way to the Visit Scotland information, half-way up the Castle hill, and pick up a city map, or you can like me simply wander around – it is pretty hard to get lost in Stirling!
You can also find all the places I include in this list of things to do in Stirling on the map below:
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1) The Engine Shed
Scotland is a history geek’s paradise – there are so many historical buildings to discover, from medieval castles to modern palaces, traditional blackhouses and ancient ruins, and of course wonders of modern architecture and technology. But how are they maintained?
This is the question Scotland’s Building Conservation Centre at The Engine Shed in Stirling is trying to answer. Opened in 2017, the centre is a mixture of education space and hand-on museum. A film introduces you to the mission of the centre as well as some of the modern technologies that are used to scan historical buildings and structures in Scotland. These scans are then used to create 3D models which are essential to maintain and conserve these buildings for the future.
In the great museum hall you learn about the methods and techniques to conserve different kinds of materials used in Scotland’s historic buildings through hands-on activities. The highlight of the museum though is the augmented reality experience at the centre of the hall – with an iPad you can swipe across a giant map of Scotland and “visit” different historic buildings across the country, look at 3D models, photos and learn about their conservation!
2) Ethical shopping
Many Scottish people come for the shopping in Stirling – but there is more than the mall and high street!
Calluna was literally the first place I walked into during my recent day trip to Stirling – I love finding these little independent shops in Scottish cities that sell sustainable designs, fair-trade products and responsible gift ideas. Plus, you can get coffee at Calluna and they serve it all with soy milk!
The owner was immediately up for a chat and talked me through their selection of products. My favourite were by far all the different bamboo socks by thought, a sustainable fashion label – I just loved all the different patterns you could get!
I’m a sucker for #doorporn – you know if you follow me on Instagram… Almost nothing makes for a prettier photo, than a colourful door in an otherwise rather grey city.
I put my phone away for this, so I couldn’t look at my map, and simply followed every lane and street that took my fancy – and around every corner I found more colourful doors to photograph!
I can’t decide whether my favourite was this yellow door on the left, or the building on the left – if you look closely, you’ll see that it’s the Boy’s Club building and it tells you to “keep smiling” above the window to the left! And who doesn’t like to be told to smile by a couple of boys… **
4) Church of Holy Rude
The Church of Holy Rude is Stirling’s second oldest building after the castle. The medieval church was built in the 15th century, but it was founded centuries before that in 1129. The name of the church sounds a little weird nowadays, but it actually means ‘Church of the Holy Cross’.
While I couldn’t visit the church’s interior on the day I spent in Stirling, I loved roaming the cemetery behind it. There are numerous stone crosses and intricate gravestones to discover. The best thing about the cemetery though is the view. Make sure you climb the little hill at the centre for the best views across to Stirling Castle and out over the surrounding hills of the city.
5) Vegan Food in Stirling
Admittedly, there are no vegan restaurants in Stirling, and you can’t compare it to the likes off Glasgow or Edinburgh, but there are a few vegan options in Stirling – here are two gems I’d like to share with you.
For lunch head to the Fat Cyclist Cafe. The menu doesn’t list vegan options separately, but the staff is super helpful and will make sure you find something on the menu. I had a delicious open sandwich with mushrooms, sweet potato fries and a side salad.
I love a cake after lunch and my friends told me about Sable & Flea, a small coffee shop across the road from the cafe that usually has vegan cake options! I got two slices for takeaway and munched them while exploring the rest of Stirling!
6) View point hunting
Even though a visit to the Wallace Monument was not on my itinerary for this day trip – it was simply too far from Stirling city centre for such a short winter day – I wanted to get a good view of it. Here are a few of the view points I found along the way, although I’m sure there are so many more I didn’t find!
Stirling railway bridge | Before you head into Stirling’s city centre, take a moment to stroll across the bridge over the railway station – the views of the monument from the end closer to the river Forth are incredible!
Darnley Park | There is a playground in this little park which lies on the hill towards the castle, next to a few residential buildings. Have a walk along the little wooden path – the views are super pretty!
St Mary’s Church | I stumbled across this church on my hunt for pretty doors and found the view to the monument really pretty!
Castle Hill | Probably the one view to the monument most visitors to Stirling will see is from the Castle Hill right below Stirling Castle.
Lover’s Walk | My favourite view to the Wallace Monument was definitely from the shores of the river Forth. The walkway along the river is called Lover’s Walk (what a suitable name) and as it it meanders around Stirling’s city centre it offers a variety of views from different angles!
Gowan Hill | The last view point I managed to visit just as the sun went down is Gowan Hill, behind the castle. Unfortunately the sun had gone down already, making it hard to make out the monument, but the views to the hills of the Trossachs in the purple light of dusk were pretty epic too!
7) Riverside & Cambuskenneth Abbey
I was lucky enough to be taken on a wee private tour of Stirling’s hidden gems by Camila from Adventitious Violet and her partner. They suggested to check out Cambuskenneth Abbey on the other side of the river Forth, not only for potential views of the monument, but also because it’s a little known place to visit in Stirling.
We walked through the calm Riverside neighbourhood and reached the abbey just as the sun reached the golden hour. A photographer’s paradise! The abbey is an old Augustinian monastery which dates back to the 12th century. It was abandoned during the Scottish Reformation and today only the tall campanile towers over the the surrounding fields.
During the summer the abbey is open to visitors and on occasion the stairs to the top are open too!
8) Stirling Old Bridge
You might have heard about the Old Stirling Bridge before – in history class maybe, but more likely because you watched Braveheart. In the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297) the Scottish Highlanders led by Andrew Moray and William Wallace defeated the English forces in a devastating blood bath.
Today’s bridge is believed to be slightly further downstream than the medieval bridge that marked the battle, but it is still an incredible sight to visit. It is only open to pedestrians and – of course – it also offers great views across to the Wallace Monument and back to Stirling Castle.
9) Walking on Castle Hill
There are a couple of paths criss-crossing the Castle Hill on which Stirling Castle rests. We started walking from Old Stirling Bridge up Gowan Hill for sunset views, but continued to make our way around the trails until we emerged from the rest again by the Holy Rude cemetery.
Walking here is a welcome break from the city traffic, and even though you can still hear the roads up here, it feel like all of a sudden you are miles away, surrounded by nature!
10) A wee pub crawl
The best day trips in Scotland end with a dram – and so Camila, her partner and I ended our tour at the Settle Inn, Stirling’s oldest pub. There is a cozy fire place to keep you warm and welcoming locals behind and in front of the bar.
If you wanted to make a pub crawl out of it, also check out the Curly Coo Bar, Stirling’s only whisky bar, and the Aussie pub Kilted Kangaroo – they are definitely among the best pubs in Stirling!
And just like, my day trip to Stirling has come to an end. But wait, there’s one last thing – did you notice something about this guide? Except for the food & drinks you might want to buy, all these are things to do in Stirling for FREE – so in addition to being pretty and interesting, Stirling also makes for a great day trip when you’re visiting Scotland on a budget!
Have you ever visited Stirling?
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.