The impressive hilltop fortress at Stirling has been a symbol of Scottish national pride for hundreds of years. The Royal Court here once attracted knights, nobles and foreign ambassadors to revel in the castle’s grandeur.
Today’s visitor can experience much of the castle’s eventful history. One highlight will be James V’s Palace – one of the finest and best-preserved Renaissance buildings in Britain. Following a major programme of research and renovation, it can now be seen by visitors much as it looked on completion in 1545. The Palace’s six main rooms are so colourful and elaborate because James and his French wife Mary of Guise wanted to appear wealthy, learned and sophisticated.
The castle is also a place to learn about Scotland’s long history of turbulence. In one 50-year medieval period Stirling changed hands eight times, as Scots and English fought for control of the kingdom. It’s also a place closely associated with great historical figures including William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots.
Tour the great castle kitchens and cellars, the Chapel Royal, the gardens, the defences, and the Museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Other highlights include the Great Hall, which was built for James IV around 1503 to impress his new queen, Margaret Tudor. It was the largest banqueting hall ever built in medieval Scotland with five enormous fireplaces for heating. And don’t miss Argyll’s Lodging, on the way into the castle. It’s Scotland’s most complete 17th-century townhouse, built for a great nobleman serving the royal court.
Castle Esplanade, Stirling, FK8 1EJ. Tel: 1786 450 000. www.stirlingcastle.gov.uk