Stirling Castle sits on top of Castle Hill in the historic city of Stirling where it has served as both a military fort and royal palace for over 900 years. Today, it offers both guided and self-guided tours and is under the management of Historic Environment Scotland. Discover everything you need to know about Stirling Castle with this article, which includes an overview, visiting advice, useful tourist information, and ideas for other places to visit in Stirlingshire.
|Opening Hours:||1 April - 30 September 9.30 am to 6 pm (last entry 5 pm)
1 October - 31 March 9.30 am to 5 pm (last entry 4 pm)
|Admission Price:||Adult (16-64yrs) £18.00
Concession (65yrs+ and unemployed) £14.50
Child (5-15yrs) £11.00
Family (1 adult, 2 children) £35.50
Family (2 adults, 2 children) £52.00
Family (2 adults, 3 children) £61.50
|Parking:||Paid on-site parking, maximum 4 hours £4|
|Contact:||+44 (0)1786 450 000|
|Facilities:||Toilets, gift shop, cafe, partial disabled access, guided tours, audio guide|
Like Edinburgh Castle on Castle Rock, Stirling Castle sits proudly on top of Castle Hill, the enormous rock formation that can be seen from all directions in this lovely part of the Stirlingshire countryside. For hundreds of years, it served Scotland both as a defensive military position and as a royal palace, but today it’s one of the nation’s highest-rated attractions.
Robert the Bruce liberated the castle from the English in 1299, and Mary Queen of Scots was crowned there in 1542. A visit to this historic site will take you on a journey to discover both of these important events and many more.
This castle is drenched in history, with many of the still-intact buildings dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, but its story begins in the early 12th century, when King Alexander I established a chapel on top of Castle Hill. From these humble beginnings, a fortress was constructed on top of the hill, which eventually transformed into the castle that we see today, and many of the existing sections date as far back as the 1300s.
1: Stirling Castle is one of the largest and most important castles, both historically and architecturally, in Scotland. It was a central location during Scotland’s Wars of Independence and was the childhood home of Mary, Queen of Scots. Visiting the castle offers a rich insight into Scotland’s turbulent past and the lives of its royal court.
2: Stirling Castle is a stunning example of Renaissance architecture, with its magnificent Great Hall, Chapel Royal, and Royal Palace. The Palace, in particular, is one of the best-preserved Renaissance buildings in the UK. Its carvings, sculptures, and period furnishings provide a glimpse into the opulence of the Scottish court in the 16th century.
3: Set on a volcanic rock overlooking the city of Stirling, the castle offers breathtaking panoramic views. From its battlements, visitors can see the Wallace Monument, the site of the historic Battle of Stirling Bridge, and the beautiful Scottish landscape. This strategic location highlights why Stirling Castle was vital in controlling the route between the Highlands and the Lowlands.
1: The tickets are a bit pricey but you can save on ticket costs by getting a Historic Environment Scotland membership. This membership allows unlimited free entry to all HES sites in Scotland.
3: If you’d like to visit another famous castle you’ll find Doune Castle (a filming site for several TV shows and movies) is just a 20-minute drive away.
There are a lot of reasons to visit Stirling Castle, whether it’s to soak up the atmosphere or learn a bit about its history. As soon as you walk up to the main castle esplanade, you can’t fail to be impressed. It just dominates the skyline, and as you head towards the entrance, you begin to understand why this place was chosen to be the seat of royal power for hundreds of years.
The statue of Robert the Bruce overlooking the Stirlingshire countryside only reinforces just how important Stirling Castle once was to Scotland.
If you come for the history you can take part in a guided tour with one of the knowledgeable guides (which I recommend if you want to learn about the castle’s past). However, if you’d rather take things at your own pace you can easily pick up a portable audio tour (available in several languages) and follow its directions instead.
If you prefer other activities there are plenty of events going on throughout the year such as the recreation of a royal Christmas in December and various battle re-enactments during the summer. There are lots of interactive exhibitions to enjoy too, with the palace vaults being designed for younger visitors and the castle exhibition explaining the history of the castle from its earliest times to the present day.
And if all that isn’t enough to keep you occupied there’s a regimental museum on the site that celebrates and commemorates the battles of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
In addition, you can relax in the Queen Anne gardens (if the weather allows), and there’s also a café to sit down and take a rest with lovely countryside views from a rooftop patio. And as always with Scotland’s tourist attractions, you can pick up a souvenir or two from one of the attraction’s gift shops.
While Robert the Bruce is best known for his victory against invading English forces at the Battle of Bannockburn, his descendants, Robert II and Robert III, are known for establishing a fortress in Stirling. However, Stirling Castle did not become one of the finest royal palaces in Europe until James IV ordered additional construction.
Built in the Renaissance style, the Royal Palace and the Great Hall look more like the buildings you’d expect to see in Rome or Paris than the imposing defensive fortifications you’ll find elsewhere in Scotland such as Edinburgh Castle. The Great Hall in particular is well worth exploring, with the Royal Gold harling that covers its exterior making a fantastic backdrop for photos as you stand in the castle’s main courtyard.
Head inside this magnificent banquet hall and you’ll discover huge windows lighting a gigantic room which would have been cosy even in the middle of winter thanks to five large fireplaces built into the walls. There are even galleries for minstrels and trumpeters inside and you can only guess how lavish the dances and feasts must have been back in the day.
The Royal Palace is another highlight that instantly transports you back to Scotland’s royalty in the 1500s, when King James V was in power.
It’s in this building where Mary Queen of Scots spent most of her childhood, and she’d have enjoyed a fair amount of luxury, even by today’s standards. Brightly coloured tapestries cover the walls (now faithfully restored to their former glory), with period paintings and original furniture giving you a real glimpse into the life of Scottish royalty.
And for extra authenticity, the castle’s past is made all the more real thanks to the tour guides dressed in character costumes, who’ll be only too glad to recount some of the intriguing tales of power struggles that happened within the palace’s walls over 500 years.
The castle is also famous for its ghosts and there have been frequent reports of a ghostly female figure dressed in green roaming through the castle’s corridors, while many tourists have reported seeing a man dressed in full Highland garb walking around in the shadows.
As he’s so elaborately dressed, most visitors think he’s a tour guide, so they wander over to talk to him, but rather spookily, the Highlander simply turns in the other direction and walks away before completely vanishing into thin air!
Things to Do
Explore the Royal Palace: Dive deep into Scotland’s history by exploring the Royal Palace, a Renaissance building where Scotland’s royalty once lived. Each room is a treasure trove of artefacts and period furnishings, and you might even be transported back in time thanks to costumed characters in some of the rooms.
Visit the Great Hall: The Great Hall, built for James IV in 1503, is one of the largest and most impressive of its kind in Scotland. Its vaulted wooden roof and grand fireplaces are a sight to behold and it’s easy to imagine how grand the banquets and royal gatherings must have been back in the day.
The Stirling Heads Gallery: This gallery offers an interactive experience, showcasing a collection of oak medallions known as the ‘Stirling Heads.’ Learn about the castle’s history through these intricately carved heads which depict kings, queens, characters from the bible, and classical mythology.
Tours: To immerse yourself in the history of Stirling Castle, take an audio tour from the ticket office and walk around the castle at your own pace. Alternatively, take a guided tour with knowledgeable guides to learn fascinating details about the castle, including its previous occupants and significant events that occurred over the years.
Stroll around the Castle Gardens: The castle’s gardens, with their manicured lawns and colourful borders, are a lovely place to stroll around on a sunny day. Take in the peace and quiet of the Queen Anne’s Garden or look over its walls for stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
Things to Do Nearby
Church of the Holy Rude. St John St, Stirling FK8 1ED. 3-minute walk.
A 15th-century church that is still an active place of worship. The church hosted the coronation of King James VI in 1567. It is open to the public when services are not running.
Stirling Old Town Jail. St. John St., Stirling, FK8 1EA, is a 3-minute walk.
A history-themed tourist attraction that takes visitors on a journey through the 170 years that the building served as a prison. Prison guards take visitors on a tour of the jail to show them what it was like for inmates in the 1800s.
Argyll’s Lodging. Castle Hill, Stirling FK8 1EG. 2-minute walk.
A 17th-century nobleman’s home that was built for those serving the royal court at the castle. Most of the tapestries and original artworks are on display. Entry to Argyll’s Lodging is by guided tour only.
The King’s Knot. 4-minute drive.
A large green space below Stirling Castle that was once the recreation area for royalty. At one time formal gardens were laid in the park but now only the earthworks remain.
Old Town Cemetery. Stirling FK8 1EG. 1-minute walk.
This extensive cemetery sits between Stirling Castle and Holy Rude church. It contains a number of historically important monuments including the Star Pyramid and the Martyrs Monument.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Stirling Castle worth visiting?
Stirling Castle is definitely worth visiting. It rates 4.5/5 on TripAdvisor and #5 of 97 things to do in Stirling. The castle is famous for its royal quarters, Great Hall, and regimental museums.
Why is Stirling Castle famous?
Stirling Castle was once the main royal stronghold in Scotland and had even more importance than Edinburgh Castle.
It was the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots and James VI and was a major player in the Wars of Independence when it changed ownership 8 times in 50 years.
It was also an important military base for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regiments, and today it is one of the most-visited tourist attractions in Scotland.
Did Mary Queen of Scots live in Stirling Castle?
Mary Queen of Scots spent her childhood years in Stirling Castle. She moved from Linlithgow Palace to the castle on the 27th July 1543.
She was crowned ruler of Scotland just six weeks later and spent the next four years in Stirling Castle for her own safety.
Who lives in Stirling Castle now?
No one lives in Stirling Castle today. Historic Environment Scotland owns and operates it as a historic tourist attraction.