Situated high above the town of Stirling on volcanic rock, sits one of Scotland’s largest and most important castles – Stirling Castle! A quick flick through the history books will reveal that Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace all have links to this formidable fortress. Stirling was developed as the centre of Scottish royalty by the Stewart/Stuart kings between 1490 and 1600 and it’s this renaissance architecture that stands today.
Nowadays, you don’t need to be a king to explore this famous monument – the castle is managed by Historic Environment Scotland and is open daily from 9:30am. There is parking, a lovely gift shop and an excellent tearoom which serves delicious cakes and snacks. We recommend purchasing tickets online if you are visiting in the summer months as it can get busy.
Stirling Castle Highlights
Queen Anne Gardens
Once through the gates you will come face to face with a beautiful formal rose garden, known as the Queen Anne Gardens. Apparently, the royal garden has been here since the 1400s! The roses were all in bloom when we visited and we also loved sheltering under the beech tree which is over 200 years old. Don’t miss the stunning view from battlements.
The Great Hall
The Great Hall has been restored fairly recently – the ceiling is breath-taking and is the largest banqueting hall of its type in Scotland. It’s not hard to imagine the great feasts that used to take place here, with all five massive fire places lit. At the end of the room is huge oak table together with two impressive thrones, take a seat for a perfect photo opportunity. Check out the amazing stained-glass windows in this area, they depict various family coats of arms.
The Great Kitchens
Walk up the hill a little further and located in the Outer Close, near the Great Hall are the Great Kitchens. A truly fascinating insight into what was on the menu and how food was prepared and cooked back in the day.
The Royal Palace
For many visitors, the highlight is the grand Royal Palace and it does not disappoint. It was under the orders of King James V to celebrate the marriage to his new wife, Mary of Guise. You will be hit by the exterior first of all with its ornate stone carving. This is a very lavish building that was used to express the extent of royal wealth at the time. The royal chambers are decorated with rich fabrics and elaborate furniture, although most impressive are the unicorn tapestries and the painted Stirling Heads.
My favourite part of the Royal Palace are the guides, who dressed in authentic costumes and really bring the Palace to life. When we visited, there was a guide who, with wit and enthusiasm, gave us some history about the royal chambers. Our daughter also loved being told about the terrifying makeup trends of the time by two ladies who were great with kids.
If you were the King of Scotland in 1593 and you couldn’t find somewhere suitable to baptise your son, what would you do? Well James VI ordered a new chapel to be built, oh and it had to be completed in 7 months! Welcome to the Chapel Royal. The highlight of the first Protestant Kirk in Scotland is the very detailed fresco which was painted in 1628 ready for the visit of the new king Charles I.
The Stirling Heads Gallery
The Stirling Heads, sometimes referred to as Scotland’s ‘other crown jewels’, are a collection of carved heads that were displayed in the King’s inner hall until the ceiling collapsed in 1777. Following 6 years of restoration work, 37 replica heads were installed at Stirling Castle in 2011 on the ceiling of the upper floor of the Royal Palace. Visitors can now get a glimpse of what the inside of the palace would have looked like back in the 16th century.
We spent the whole morning exploring the castle and finished off our trip, with a visit to the excellent tearoom for a wonderful lunch. Recommended.
Good to know
Here’s the nitty gritty on visiting the castle, a kind of FAQ
Getting to Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle makes a great day trip from either Edinburgh or Glasgow and can easily be reached by car (see parking info below). Alternatively, you can catch a train or a bus to Stirling city centre followed by a 15 minute walk to reach the castle. It’s a fairly steep walk up to the castle so give yourself plenty of time!
Click on the map below for directions on walking from the bus or train station to Stirling Castle:
Can you park at Stirling Castle?
There is a paying car park on the castle esplanade, however, it fills up very quickly so check here for other options within the city. You will need to pay for the Castle’s car park in cash, so make sure you have some pennies on you! It’s worth noting that Historic Environment Scotland members get free car parking at the castle.
What are Stirling Castle’s Opening Hours?
Opening hours vary depending on the time of year so we recommend you check their website ahead of your visit.
How much does it cost to visit Stirling Castle?
It’s cheaper to buy tickets ahead online – you’ll save about £1 per ticket.
You might also want to consider purchasing an Explorer Pass if you’re spending a few days in Scotland and are planning to visit several Historic Environment Scotland sites or even a yearly membership if you’re Scotland-based. You’ll also get free parking.
Where to buy tickets to Stirling Castle?
As mentioned above, it’s cheaper to buy tickets ahead online – you’ll save about £1 per ticket. Alternatively, you can buy them at the castle, however, be prepared for some queuing!
Best time of day to visit Stirling Castle?
Stirling Castle is less crowded than the likes of Edinburgh Castle, however, it still draws in the crowds during the summer months. We recommend heading to the castle in the morning and during week days rather than week-ends.
Is Stirling Castle suitable for children?
Absolutely! We visited with our then 8 and 11 year old and we found the castle to be extremely family friendly. In fact, I think we might actually prefer it over Edinburgh Castle – gasp!
There were some great spaces for kids to explore in particular the Palace Vaults in the basement of the Royal Palace. Expect lots of interactive displays and medieval style dressing up costumes, our young daughter loved this area. The area is divided up into themes such as the Jester, Tailor, stone mason, musician and painter, it’s educational and interesting.