A Travel Guide:
High up on Stirling Sill stands a 600 year old fortress that is a birthplace of kings and a symbol of Scottish (and sometimes English) power. Called the silver brooch that holds the Highlands to the Lowlands, Stirling and Stirling Castle have played a major role in the history of Scotland. It is a place where monarchs like Mary Queen of Scots were crowned and kings were born and raised. If you love history, it's worth the 50 minute drive up the M80 from Glasgow.
Getting To Stirling Castle
Location: Castle Esplanade, Stirling, Scotland
From Glasgow or Edinburgh, you can take the ScotRail train for around 10£ round trip. You'll enjoy a comfortable train ride with a USB charging port for your phone and table to place your laptop or lunch. For drivers, it is a 50 minute drive from Glasgow up the M80 (Motorway) or an hour from Edinburgh.
Once in town, you can try to park directly at the castle, but you may want to take in more of this great little town, and parking is limited at the castle, so I'm sure they would rather not have you park there all day. Stirling is a very walkable city, so if you're in for a little exercise, you might park down at the Thistle's Shopping Center, where there is plenty of parking at 1£ per hour. This will allow you to take the 12 minute uphill walk at your leisure and maybe stop for some food or shopping along the way.
The Stirling Castle Experience
Walk past the statue of Robert the Bruce and you'll enter a fortress that has stood for some 600 to 800 years. The first gate you pass through is part of the Forework which was build in 1503 during the time of King James IV. This leads to the Outer Close courtyard where you'll pay your admission or show them your Historic Scotland Explorer Pass. I highly recommend getting the audio guide and headset, which will allow you to experience as much of this huge fortress as you can find time for. I was in there for 2 1/2 hours and felt I was speeding through at times. You'll see beautiful gardens, sweeping views, sculptures, and centuries of architecture.
And unlike nearby Doune Castle, where you have to use your imagination due to the lack of period pieces around, Stirling Castle delivers decor, period pieces and artifacts from several eras including Mary Queen of Scots' room and the room where King James was born.
The Royal Palace (and Gardens)
Making your way through the fortress, you'll find ample ways to view the Palace and Gardens. An elevated walkway just beyond the gardens is the optimal place to view the palace and even catch a glimpse of the surrounding countryside from beyond the walls.
After walking through a variety of gates, you'll arrive near the entrance to the Royal Palace. The audio tour will go as far as to detail each of these figures standing guard outside of the Royal Palace. Every statue has a story.
As you walk through the Royal Palace into the King's Presence Chamber, you'll see a variety of carved oak portraits on the ceiling. Some of these colorful faces from history are original 16th Century productions, but many were destroyed in 1777 when the ceiling in this chamber collapsed. So some of these are reproductions and other originals are off in other buildings around Scotland.
Queen's Bed Chamber
The audio tour and the furnishings in this room will recall the time of Mary Queen of Scots. You can also see the room where her son James VI was born. James would later succeed Elizabeth I as the closest heir to the English throne and would finally unite the two kingdoms as James I. Scottish history and all of the similar names can be quite confusing!
Looking out over the edge of the castle to the south, you can see the area where the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 took place. In this battle, Robert the Bruce fought off the English (by now the weaker Edward II was in charge) in a further attempt toward Scottish Independence, which would happen 14 years later. After winning the battle, rather than risk the loss of the castle to the English again, he had it destroyed. Thus the reason the current structure dates to later in the 14th and 15th Centuries. There is plenty of information in both signage and on the audio tour about this critical battle in the Wars of Scottish Independence.
History of Stirling Castle
Nothing about this castle's history is simple or straightforward. With it's highly desirable strategic location, it was sure to meet with a lot of turmoil - and this was the case. One of it's first known inhabitants was the Scottish King Malcolm III. Malcolm is credited by some as having killed MacBeth to avenge his father's death at MacBeth's hand. However, other sources have MacBeth dying in battle. For a time William Wallace controlled this hill, but so did his adversary Edward the Long Shanks (King Edward I of England). Edward I and Robert the Bruce both hold the distinction of having destroyed the fortress to keep the enemy from using it.
Many Kings and Queens of Scotland resided and were crowned here. By the 17th Century the buildings were falling into disrepair and were no longer residences for royalty. After the reign of Oliver Cromwell, the fortress was used as a prison. During the Jacobite uprisings, there was an attempt to commandeer the castle, but it was held by the government.
A Story From Stirling Castle
There was a murder at Stirling Castle. Apparently the young King James II of Scotland was a little hot tempered. After inviting his friend William, Earl of Douglas to Stirling Castle, he confronted William about his potential lack of allegiance to the king. An argument ensued that so enraged the king that James stabbed William 26 times and then had his courtier's bash in the poor man's head before James tossed him from a window to the spot pictured above where this lovely monument is encircled by flowers. As a king, James II had absolute power and was never held responsible for the death of his friend. The event was a precursor to a war between the James and Douglas clans.
Planning Your Visit
After paying 45£ for the 14-Day Historic Scotland Explorer Pass, I was able to enter the castle without paying the 15£ or paying for the audio tour (add this to the 9£ I would have paid at Doune and 26£ I would have paid at Edinburgh Castle and these 3 castles paid for my 14 day pass).
- Location: Castle Esplanade, Stirling FK8 1EJ, UK
- Tickets: 9£ (Child) to 15£ (Adult) - Reservations not needed. Discounts for advanced purchase.
- Historic Scotland Explorer Pass: Free Access
- Check Official Website for hours and tickets
- Time to View: from 2 1/2 hours plus
- Audio Tour: Yes
- On-site Parking: Yes (but could be limited in Summer). Best alternative is The Thistle Shopping Centre (12 minute walk with hill)
There are plenty of things to see inside. Not just the Royal Palace, but also the Great Hall, Royal Chapel, and Stirling Castle remains the home of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (a regimental troop). They actually have a museum inside the castle. Also take time to walk around the fortress walls for sweeping views of the area including Stirling itself.
And for food and entertainment, the town of Stirling is right down the hill. You can also visit Stirling Bridge and see where the original bridge was, where William Wallace (Braveheart) defeated the army of Edward I.