It’s got a whole lotta history. Everything you need to know about Stirling Castle Scotland!
My guide to one of this country’s other famous castles – welcome to Stirling Castle Scotland!
Wait… there’s a castle in Stirling?
There is! Stirling has the nickname ‘Little Edinburgh’ and that’s because the city shares more than a few similarities with the capital. Just like Edinburgh, the city is jam-packed with history. There are cobbled streets, gruesome and gory stories from Scotland’s past, and even a castle perched on a volcanic rock overlooking the city. Familiar, right?
What is Stirling like?
The biggest difference between Edinburgh and Stirling is the scale.
You may think Edinburgh is a relatively small city, but Stirling really is compact. I lived in Dundee for a long time and it feels small even in comparison to that. With that said, it’s very cute, charming, and it packs a serious punch… especially when it comes to history. Everything about Stirling feels ye old, charming, and spilling over with character.
The city practically bleeds Scottish history. Where else will you find so many echoes of Scotland’s historical freedom fighters, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace? There’s the Wallace Monument, Stirling Bridge, and the Battle of Bannockburn visitor centre nearby, so if you want to deep dive into Scottish history then you’re definitely in the right place.
Which brings us nicely to Stirling Castle Scotland…
Stirling Castle history
Stirling Castle has held numerous roles throughout the years. It’s been a royal residence, a barracks, but probably most famously, a fortress. Its most prominent role is probably as the key to the kingdom of Scotland. Because of its central position connecting the Highlands with the central belt of Scotland, it used to be said ‘if you take Stirling, you take Scotland.’
The castle has been besieged over eight times and many of Scotland’s biggest historical battles all happen within a stone’s throw of the castle. Well, maybe more than a stone’s throw, but in the near vicinity at least. Let’s dive into what these in more detail.
What is Stirling Castle famous for?
Wars of Independence
The Wars of Independence was caused by the succession crisis in Scotland in 1291. Following the death of Alexander III there was no one to take the throne. Edward I of England was brought in to adjudicate the claimants but ruthlessly exploited the situation.
Despite a new King of Scotland being crowned in 1292, Edward forced him to pay homage to him and accept him as his overlord. Later that year the Scots swore allegiance to the English Crown and in 1296 an undefended Stirling Castle is captured by Edward I.
The Battle of Stirling Bridge
The following year, in 1297, the English are dislodged from the castle following the famous Battle of Stirling Bridge. This is where Scottish knight John Moray and William Wallace used clever tactics to beat the English army, who outnumbered them significantly.
They lured some of the English army over the bridge and then trapped them in between the bend in the river. They couldn’t retreat and nor could the rest of the army help them. It was a smart move that meant Stirling Castle was then surrendered to the Scots.
However, it’s only the following year, in 1298, that the English take the castle again following the defeat of the Scots at the Battle of Falkirk.
The Battle of Bannockburn
The castle changes hands a few times over the years. Robert the Bruce regains it in 1299 before it again surrenders to Edward I in 1304. It’s following the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 when the Scots, led by Robert the Bruce, defeat Edward II of England and take back the castle again for a lengthy period of time. Robert the Bruce destroys the defences to prevent them being used by the English in future.
Mary Queen of Scots Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle is the childhood home of Mary Queen at Scots. She lived at the castle until she was around six years old. While she wasn’t born there she was crowned Queen of Scots in the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle when she was only nine months old.
Who lives in Stirling Castle now?
No one lives in the castle right now. However, that’s fairly recent… relatively speaking.
The War Office actually owned the castle from 1800 until 1964, where it was used as a barracks. The great hall became an accommodation block. It was then restored when Historic Scotland took the castle over in 1964, and the great hall’s ochre yellow colour and beams were restored.
Stirling Castle Scotland facts
Are these facts… or are they fiction? It’s up to you to decide! Either way, there are some fascinating pieces of lore, legend, and mythology that surround Stirling Castle…
- The oldest surviving football was discovered there
The ball was hidden away in the rafters, behind the panelling in the Queen’s chamber in the castle. Tests confirm the ball is 436 years old. Mary Queen of Scots was said to be a fan of the sport. You can see it for yourself at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum.
- The first record of attempted flight took place here
A man named John Damian created a pair of feathered wings and threw himself off the battlements of the castle in 1507. Alas, he didn’t fly, and fell and broke his leg.
- The castle evokes the legend of King Arthur with its own round table
If you’re a fan of the stories of King Arthur and the knights of the round table you may be interested to hear of the connection to Stirling. The Stirling Round table, also known as the King’s Knot, sits in land that was once the royal gardens below the castle. In fact, William of Worcester said in 1478 that “King Arthur kept the Round Table at Stirling Castle.”
Your guide to visiting Stirling Castle Scotland
The opening times for Stirling Castle vary with the time of year.
|Time of year||Opening hours|
|April 1-September 30||9.30am-6pm|
|October 1-December 24||9.30am-5pm|
|December 27-December 31||9.30am-5pm|
|January 1-January 4||10am-4pm|
|January 5-March 31||9.30am-5pm|
I would give yourself around three hours to get around the castle. I arrived at 2pm and left just before 5pm, but that was a lot to do with the fact that the light dropped and it got dark. I also would’ve liked to see one of the other exhibitions but I just ran out of time.
Stirling Castle tickets
How much do tickets at Stirling Castle cost? Well, there are a range of tickets to choose from which I’ve outlined below. They’re also doing a phased re-opening and that has meant some areas of the castle aren’t open. As a result, there are reduced prices available.
Stirling Castle prices
|Ticket type||Reduced admission price||Normal admission price|
There are also a range of family tickets available which you can view on their website.
Can you get into Stirling Castle for free?
Yes, you can. And in fact, I got into the castle for free! There are two main reasons why…
- You’re a member of Historic Scotland
- You live in the local area i.e. the old town of Stirling
The castle has an agreement with the residents of the old town. That means if you live there you get in for free, so I just had to show proof of my address and I got through.
I have to give all credit for this tip to my next-door neighbours, who sent us a card when we first moved in and included this little gem of knowledge inside. Obviously, it won’t be applicable to most people who are reading this but you never know…
Stirling Castle booking
I’d definitely advise booking in advance. As I’m just five minutes along the road I just wandered up but they did ask at the gate if I had a pre-booked slot, which is their preference. It was a weekday in November, rather than peak season, so it wasn’t an issue, but the last thing you want is to get turned away – especially as it’s quite a steep hill to get there!
Stirling Castle address
Address: Stirling Castle, Castle Esplanade, Stirling, FK8 1EJ
Tel: +44 (0)1786 450 000
Stirling Castle parking
There is a cark park directly outside the castle. On their website, they say you must book car parking online in advance when you book your tickets, so that’s something to bear in mind.
The cost for parking is £4.00 for a maximum of four hours.
My tips for inside Stirling Castle
I have a few tips for visiting the castle…
- Go early – you definitely don’t want to be rushing around. There’s lots to see and you want to be able to soak it all up without having to rush around.
- Make sure you take in the views. Ever since I moved here I’ve wanted to see what the city would look from up there on that volcanic rock. It doesn’t disappoint!
- Chat to the staff. I really want to give a shout to the staff at Stirling Castle. They were super friendly and helpful throughout my trip – and their knowledge and passion for the castle really shone through. I learned so much about the castle from them!
Stirling Castle Scotland map
Want to know what to expect when you visit? Here is a link to a map of the castle so you can plan what you want to see! I didn’t get to see everything so I want to go back!
Stirling Castle guided tour: my must-sees
I would highly recommend doing a guided tour of Stirling Castle. I wandered around for a little bit by myself as I got there about 50 minutes before the next tour. That was totally fine, but sometimes you feel like you’re not really getting the full experience, right?
In fact, when I started taking pictures of some of the sculptures in the internal courtyard one member of staff approached me and explained what some of the individual sculptures signified, which made such a difference. Having someone walk you through a place can really bring it to life and so that confirmed that the guided tour was essential!
Our guide was awesome. The storytelling was on-point and I felt like I was able to soak up a ton of knowledge without it being too heavy or too long. The tour lasts between 45-55 minutes and takes you around various spots in the castle – definitely don’t miss it!
Stirling Castle Great Hall
This is the largest dining area in Scotland – it’s even bigger than the one found inside Edinburgh Castle! Apparently, it was once the largest great hall in the UK, until Henry the Eighth had to go one better and built one in Hampton Court Palace. Of course, he did!
On the outside the hall is painted with a stunning ochre limewash which, according to the tour guide, was a signifier of wealth. It’s been restored to how it looked when it was used as a hall, and it actually reminded me of the ochre shades that you find in Culross in Fife.
Inside, the beams on the ceiling are amazing. They’ve been restored to how they would’ve looked originally, using old drawings. There’s also an interesting little cubby halfway up the wall, which is where the trumpeter would play from to announce arrives to the hall.
One of the other things our guide pointed out was that the area where the king and queen would eat is actually raised above the rest of the space. This was intentional, and it was to highlight that they were above everyone else there – quite literally closer to god.
The royal palace
This interior area of the castle is really interesting. You’ll step back in time into the world of James V into a space that’s been decorated to look and feel like it did back in the 1500s. It’s a bit of an immersive experience with a series of actors on hand, dressed in period costumes, who will tell you more about the rooms you’re in. And they do it in style!
I enjoyed the queen’s chambers the most, as this is where you’ll see the magnificent Hunt of the Unicorn tapestry. There are a series of large tapestries, five I think, that hang from the walls of the chamber. Each one tells a different part in the story, step by step.
The actor on hand explained that in this instance the unicorn in the tapestry is representative of Jesus Christ. He also pointed out a lot of other symbolism hidden in tapestry that I would have otherwise have been aware of – it was so interesting!
I also enjoyed having a peek at the king and queen’s chambers in the royal palace. These were predictably opulent and set up to convey a particular impression to any visitors, but apparently, they didn’t even sleep there. They slept in smaller rooms nearby.
The tapestry exhibition
I had to go and see this exhibition to take a deeper dive into the Hunt of the Unicorn. It’s located all the way down past the guard house and the Nether Bailey. If you’re like me you’ll walk along the edge of the castle wall and enjoy the impressive views along the way.
It talks about the painstaking process of recreating the original tapestry in the royal palace. A team of weavers worked for years to do this: matching pantones to the original, dying the wool, and learning old techniques that would have been used in the 16th century. I loved finding out how they did it and the castle is all the better for having the tapestries in place!
It also talks about the power of visual imagery during this time. A lot of people didn’t read and write during this time and so being able to communicate a story through visual symbolism was particularly important.
In the tapestry, you can identify who certain saints are due to what they’re carrying and what that particular object represents. I love stuff like this – having to look closely to connect the dots to unlock the meaning of the work.
The great kitchens
I sped around to the great kitchens after the tour was finished to make sure I caught this before it closed for the day.
The last entry is 4pm and it’s definitely worth making time for. It shows what the castle kitchens would look like back in the day, complete with an array of mannequins – who are actually pretty realistic in the low light.
They’re baking bread, carrying in game, chopping vegetables, and filling delicious-looking pies. It definitely made me feel peckish!
Apparently, the staff who worked there wouldn’t get paid in cash, but they would get paid in beer, of which they’d drink rather large volumes of every day. It wasn’t as strong as it is nowadays, however, so they were able to function and get the dinner cooked!
I always love to see what would be on the menu during this time and luckily there was one on display. One intriguing-sounding dish is pottage, which was a type of soup!
Frequently asked questions
Is Stirling Castle the same as Edinburgh Castle?
I think we’ve probably established that it’s not. Edinburgh Castle is bigger than Stirling Castle and is home to the oldest crown jewels in Scotland and the Stone of Destiny. It’s also where you can hear the famous one o’clock gun that goes off at 1pm every day. But remember what I was saying earlier – Stirling has the bigger great hall!
Is Stirling Castle worth visiting?
Yes, absolutely! It’s charming, fun, and packed with history. Even if you’re not a big history buff – I’m not really – then there’s still plenty to enjoy, including the amazing views.
Planning a trip to Stirling? You might also like these other blog posts…
- The Wallace Monument: a guide
- Free things to do in Stirling
- Where to eat brunch in Stirling
- The best restaurants in Stirling
- Toast: the busy cafe that hits the spot