Not only is a visit to Stirling Castle a fantastic experience in terms of the sheer beauty you will see, it’s also quite fun. The Palace Vaults are downstairs facilities in which specialised techniques, crafts and art-making were accomplished over the years. Remember that a medieval castle of this nature was like a whole world to many many people, from the servants to the artisans who were employed by royalty to cook and clean, to sew and maintain the status of the royal family and the building itself.
Visiting these vaults, you can try on period costumes in the Tailors’ Vault, or try your hand at playing medieval musical instruments in the Music Vault; the Carver’s Vault offers fascinating insight into the tools of the trade of sculptors whose work decorates the architecture of the castle; and in the Painter’s vault, you can discover how pigment was made and all the different recipes applied for different colours to be mixed.
The Queen Anne gardens, restored to their former glory – they were originally gardens, but then were converted to a bowling green in the 1600s – are among the highlights of the experience, from an outdoor perspective. Here you can enjoy the shade of a 200-year old beech tree, as you gaze at the façade of the Queen’s Lodging and the Prince’s Tower.
The castle has wheelchair accessibility and a courtesy vehicle for visitors who may struggle to navigate steep staircases or inclines unaided, which will offer you splendid insight into the castle. You will not, however, be able to access the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum, the Great Kitchens or the Elphinstone Tower, if you are wheelchair-bound.
There are a range of tours available of Stirling Castle; to avoid disappointment it’s always a good idea to call before you get there: some tours will be curtailed if the weather is unfavourable. There are different closing times, during the course of the year, as the sun sets earlier in winter. Please also be advised that a ticket will give you all day access to the castle, but you will be refused entry more than 45 minutes before closing time.
The castle is easily accessible by air, with an easy drive from either Glasgow or Edinburgh airports. Or you can travel to the castle by rail: the Stirling Station is on Goosecroft Road of Stirling’s city centre, and the distance from the station to the castle is easily covered by foot, taxi or bus. If you’re driving in your own or a hired car, the parking is available on a first-come-first-served basis and there is a £4 cost for parking. You can even ride your bicycle to the castle, as the complex conveniently has bicycle rails where you can safely park.
Once you’re inside, there are free guided tours, which last 30 minutes each, and are conducted each hour, on the hour. You can gain access to these tours on a first-come-first-served basis. If you miss the tour, or would prefer to explore the place alone, you are welcome to do so, and to hire an audio guide. No unaccompanied children are allowed in.
You can freshen up, eat a meal and buy mementoes at the Unicorn Café on the castle’s premises and several gift shops which sell a vast variety of Stirling Castle souvenirs, from knick-knacks such as Stirling Castle fridge magnets, cheap toys and T-shirts, as well as traditional Scottish sweets such as edible rose petals and whisky fudge, to high quality authentic pieces of tapestry, knitting or pewter collectibles.
If you’ve seen the castle, but want to explore the surrounding gems of the area of Stirling, you might want to visit the Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park, which is about a 12 minute drive to the north; or the Battle of Bannockburn, a battle site, which you can find about 3 miles south of the castle, and the River Forth meanders all the way through the terrain.
While there are no accommodation facilities in the castle itself, there are many hotels situated less than a mile from it, including the Lost Guest House, the Portcullis Hotel, the Stirling Highland Hotel, Allan’s Guest House and Hotel Colessio, to name just a few. At any of these establishments, you can expect genuinely sterling treatment and a Stirling tourist experience that you won’t forget.
Address: Castle Esplanade, Stirling FK8 1EJ, UK, Phone: 44-17-86-45-00-00 Things to Do in Scotland: Stirling Castle - Photo: nikonbhoy/Fotolia
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