I wrestled a lot with different destination ideas between Edinburgh and Inverness. I toyed with the idea of going to St Andrews for the day. I also considered going straight through to Inverness and spending more time in that area. In the end, a stopover at Stirling Castle on the way up to Inverness seemed like the best way to optimise my time. Plus, I had heard about the castle and was keen to visit it.
How to get there:
There are numerous trains from Edinburgh to Stirling and it takes a little less than an hour to get there so it’s actually easy to visit on a day trip. I bought a one-way ticket to Stirling which cost me £8.50 and then a ticket from Stirling to Inverness (about 3 hour journey) which was £11.30.
What I did:
I had my luggage with me so I had to store it for the day. Luggage lockers are available at the Stirling bus station which is just next to the train stations. So I made my way there to store my bags and then I was free to roam for the day.
There are buses that take you from the train station up to the castle and even further out to the Wallace Monument. If you actually have a full day and are there during peak period, I think it’d be an easy way to see the sights in Stirling. Unfortunately, I had really limited time and the bus timings didn’t quite work for me. I would’ve loved to have visited the Wallace Monument, but instead decided to take it easy and focus on Stirling Castle itself.
If you’re walking to the castle, as I did, fair warning: it is an uphill walk. Not too steep, but it was about 15-20 minutes.
On the way up, I stopped at the Church of Holy Rude. (I know, what a cool name!) It’s the medieval parish church of Stirling and was built in 1129. Located next to the castle, it has been witness to royal baptisms and coronations. (Fun fact: James VI was crowned here!) Plus, it has a pretty awesome ceiling made of oak beams!
After wandering around the church, I finally made my to Stirling Castle. A massive statue of Robert The Bruce greets you when you arrive, along with a lovely view of the surrounding countryside. Once you get to the castle, you immediately understand why it played such an important role in Scottish history. (You can see the tower of the Wallace Monument in the photo below!)
Admission to Stirling is £14.50 (and includes a visit to Argyll’s Lodging, a 17th century townhouse located near the base of the castle). I also got the audio tour at £3. The castle also provides guided tours on the hour (included in the ticket price), which I gladly took. I love guided tours cos you get to learn so much more than you would’ve otherwise!
Here’s why you should visit Stirling Castle: aside from Edinburgh Castle, it is arguably the other most important castle and fortification in Scotland’s history. In fact, some would argue that Stirling Castle was so important that whoever held it would hold power over central Scotland. That’s why it was defended so strongly and why the Battle of Bannockburn and Robert The Bruce’s victory was so crucial. (All this fun, interesting historical info will be shared by the guide, so join the guided tour if you’re a history nerd like me!)
The one thing that made me feel ambivalent about the castle: they’ve restored the rooms in the Royal Palace and furnished it according to what it would’ve looked like in the 1500s during the reign of James V (complete with guides dressed in period costume who would provide information on each room and answer questions!). On one hand, it is pretty cool that they’ve made the effort to make the royal residence come alive for visitors. On the other hand, sometimes I’d rather my imagination do the work.
The other cool building in the castle grounds is the Great Hall. First of all, its exterior is a distinctive gold hue which is what it would’ve been back in the 1500s. The building was used to host various events such as banquets, feasts and dances. At the front of the hall is a long table where the king & queen were seated, and it’s a great photo op!
Also of note is the Chapel Royal which saw key events such as the crowning of an infant Mary Queen of Scots and the baptism of James VI. Interesting how such a simple building saw so much history & pomp!
Once I was done with the castle proper, I went to check out the gorgeous view along the castle walls.
Built as the residence of a nobleman, Argyll’s Lodging was named after the Campbells of Argyll. Its interior is decorated in the Renaissance-style, with some of the original furniture and furnishings.
Above are the High Dining Room, My Lady’s Closet (the private salon of the lady of the house) and the Drawing Room. I wish I had more time to properly take it all in, alas time had run out.
I took a slow leisurely walk back to the the train to catch my train to Inverness. It was a pretty full day, but I was glad that I went! Visiting both Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle gave me a fuller picture of Scottish (royal) history.
Have you visited Stirling and what did you like most?