My favourite thing to do once I arrive in any new place is to embark on a walking tour. As Stirling is one of Scotland’s most historically important cities, I didn’t think I would have any trouble finding one there. However, it turns out the Stirling walking tour options are somewhat limited and a little expensive.
Knowing that I couldn’t be alone in wanting to get under the skin of this fascinating city, I put together my very own self-guided walking tour based on recommendations from hostel staff and other travellers.
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Stirling Walking Tour Map
The route winds through the fascinating streets of the Old Town and takes around an hour to complete. This does not include the time spent at each paid attraction. If you intend on going into the Old County Jail or Stirling Castle, you will be looking at roughly the whole day.
There is some steep uphill paths but nothing too challenging. The route can be followed in the order listed or completed in reverse.
Your Self-Guided Stirling Walking Tour
Mercat Cross, Broad St, FK8 1EF
You will begin your tour at the Mercat Cross, located close to Stirling’s famous castle. The Mercat Cross is the Scottish name for the market cross, commonly found it Scottish cities. Essentially, this area was where the monarch, baron or bishop granted the residents of the city the right to hold a market.
State and civic proclamations also used to be read from the Mercat Cross by the town-crier. This was done to inform the Scottish people of happenings locally and after the marriage of the thistle and the rose, also bought news from London.
Historically, the Mercat Cross was a hugely important area for local people and they would come there to do their shopping, catch up on gossip and even watch executions.
Mar’s Wark, FK8 1EG
Walk up Broad Street towards the ruined building to see Mar’s Wark. This structure was originally built in 1570-1572 by John Erskine, the Earl of Mar and keeper of Stirling Castle under James VI. Although this formerly grand Renaissance townhouse was once beautifully decorated, today it stands in ruins.
Beedy eyed visitors will be able to spot the royal arms above the entrance to Erskine’s house, used to demonstrate his grand status. It is possible to walk around the ruins but you will need to enter from the back, via the graveyard. Don’t rush off just yet though, our walking tour will take us through the graveyard in good time!
Stirling Castle, Castle Esplanade, FK8 1EJ
No walking tour around Stirling would be complete without a visit to this 12th-century castle. This magnificent castle was formerly the official royal residence for Scotland’s monarchy and Mary Queen of Scots grew up here.
Outside the castle, there is a large statue commemorating Scottish hero, Robert the Bruce. The castle and the surrounding area gives way to some incredible views on a clear day and you can see out to the Wallace Monument and beyond.
Entrance into the castle costs £16/£15 in advance (adults). However, if you are looking to visit a few historic Scotland sights during your trip, you may find it better value to invest in an Explorer Pass.
Old Town Cemetery, FK8 1EG
Head towards the Star Pyramid, also known as Salem Rock and make your way down the stairs and into the Old Town Cemetery. It is no secret to regular readers, that I love exploring cemeteries and make a conscious effort to explore them when I get the time.
The oldest part of the Old Town Cemetery is located next to the Holy Rude Church and this is where you can see some of the most interesting of the graves. Owing to the time at which the first people were buried in the Old Town Cemetery, few could read and write. Therefore, carvings of pictures were used to tell the story of their lives. It is possible to guess a lot of the occupations relating to the deceased just by looking at their graves.
Perhaps the most notable resident of the cemetery is John Cowane, Stirling’s greatest benefactor. Although he was involved in many forms of work, he is most famous for the Cowane’s Trust and Hospital, located just outside of the cemetery, close to the Church of the Holy Rude.
Cowane’s Hospital, 49 St John Street, FK8 1ED
Built in 1637 as an almshouse and also known as the Guildhall, Cowane’s Hospital was funded by local merchant John Cowane, Dean of the Merchant Guild. Originally, this place was used for Guild members to meet in but after this, it was used as a school and then as a hospital during times of epidemic.
Unfortunately, the hospital was undergoing maintenance during my visit so I wasn’t able to look around, however, when open, visitors are able to peruse the great hall and garden for free.
Church of the Holy Rude, St John St, FK8 1ED
On the surface, this church appears to have a strange name but archaically, Holy Rude means Holy Cross. The church has huge historical importance and has hosted both royal baptisms and coronations. It was here that King James VI was crowned King of Scots in 1567.
It is possible to go inside the church but visitors should be aware that it closes its doors in winter. However, there is a plaque outside which details some of the church’s history.
Stirling Tolbooth, Jail Wynd, FK8 1DE
Once you have finished at the church, turn right on to St John Street. As you walk, you will see the Tolbooth on the left. This was the main municipal building in Stirling and housed both a courthouse and a jail. Prisoners awaiting execution were kept in the tallest windows and you can still see the bars there to this day.
In current times, the Tolbooth is used as a centre for creatives. It hosts regular events, including live music, painting classes and comedy shows.
Old Town Jail, St John St, FK8 1EA
Opposite the Tolbooth and on the side of the road on which you are standing, is the Old Town Jail. Once the Tolbooth became too overcrowded to take any more prisoners, the Old Town Jail opened under pressure from prison reformers.
The prison has a fascinating history and visitors are definitely advised to check out the jail. As with many other Scottish attractions, the Old Town Jail is closed in the winter.
SYHA Youth Hostel, St John St, FK8 1EA
Continue to follow the road and look out for the youth hostel on your right. Initially, it seems like an odd attraction to include on a walking tour but bear with me. The youth hostel is located in the grounds of Erskine Marykirk, the first church to officially withdraw from the Church of Scotland’s authority after the reformation.
The church’s founder Ebeneezer Erskine (not to be confused with John Erskine from earlier), is buried in a tomb right outside the building.
Stirling Highland Hotel, Spittal St, FK8 1QT
Located close to the youth hostel along the same side of the road is the Stirling Highland Hotel. Previously, the hotel started its life as a Franciscan convent founded by King James IV. This was its purpose for over 50 years until it was demolished in 1559 during the reformation.
After this, it was turned into the Stirling High School before finally being reopened as a hotel. The hotel is very proud of its roots and suggestions of the building’s previous life are apparent throughout the property. The on-site restaurant is aptly named ‘The Scholar’ and photographs of the eight headteachers that once worked there are still on display in the bar area.
If you fancy booking a stay in Stirling’s most historic hotel, you can check availability here.
The Atheneum, Spittal St, FK8 1DU
Continue down Spittal Street and at the joining of King Street, look out for the Atheneum. Built in 1816 on the site of a former meat market, this library cum municipal offices is now the home of ‘wee Wallace’ a statue dedicated to Scotland’s most famous freedom fighter. Big Wallace is situated at Wallace Monument.
Stirling Back Walk, FK8 2HU
Follow the road past the Corn Exchange and onto Back Walk. It begins opposite the library at Corn Exchange Road and is marked by a carving of a wolf. This comes from a folk tale, believed to be from the 9th-century. In this story, a Viking raid disturbed a sleeping wolf and once awoken, the wolf let out an almighty howl. This howl alerted the folk in Stirling and saved the city from attack.
This urban walkway follows the old city walls right up to Stirling Castle, before continuing back up to the Old Town. The views are beautiful on a clear day and there is the opportunity to take in even more history on the route, in particular, that of the beheading stone which was once used for public executions.
Alternatively, book yourself on to a Stirling walking tour!
Travellers looking for more guidance can always book themselves onto a walking tour around Stirling. Admittedly, there isn’t loads of choice but the tours on offer do get consistently good reviews. Walking Tours In is a company that is highly rated by travellers.
If the above tours is a little out of your price range, the Willy Wallace hostel also runs a free (tip-based) walking tour but this is only for guests. You must sign up the day before and be ready when the tour leaves, around 10 am.
Where to stay in Stirling:
For budget travellers, there is no better choice than the Willy Wallace hostel. Offering dorm rooms and cheap privates, this hostel is a great place to meet other travellers. There is a communal kitchen so that guests can cook and a large common area. The cheapest dorm bed available is just $18/£13.
Having played host to plenty of notable guests over the years, The Golden Lion is one place that has got hospitality nailed. Scottish poet Robert Burns sat on one of these windowsills to write and other guests have even been from the Royal family. The hotel is centrally located and rooms begin at $63/£48 per night.
Hotel Colessio ($$$)
This stunning hotel is located in a Victorian building in the centre of Stirling. Everything about Hotel Colessio screams luxury, from the down pillows and duvets to the opulent amenities from the White Company. Rooms begin at $85/$65 per night, not including breakfast which is an additional $19/£15.
Have you been on a walking tour around Stirling?
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