Stirling and the Central Highlands

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  • 1. Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre

    You can almost hear the trotting of horses' hooves and the zip of arrows in this 21st-century re-creation of the battle that changed the course...

    You can almost hear the trotting of horses' hooves and the zip of arrows in this 21st-century re-creation of the battle that changed the course of Scotland's history in 1314. Robert the Bruce's defeat of the armies of the English king, despite a 2-to-1 disadvantage, is the stuff of legend. Using 3-D technology, the visitor center allows you to see a battle raging across screens that ring the central hall. Participants on both sides speak directly to you, courtesy of holograms. Later you can play a role in a Bannockburn battle game (reservations essential; age seven and older only). Bruce pursued the Scottish crown, ruthlessly sweeping aside enemies; but his victory here was masterful, as he drew the English horses into marshy land (now the area around the new center), where they sank in the mud. A circular monument commemorates the battlefield. Book ahead; tickets are for timed entry.

    Glasgow Road, Stirling, Stirling, FK7 0LJ, Scotland
    01786-812664

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £7.50
  • 2. Blair Castle

    Its setting among woodlands and gardens, together with its war-torn past, make Blair Castle one of Scotland's most highly rated sights. The turreted white castle...

    Its setting among woodlands and gardens, together with its war-torn past, make Blair Castle one of Scotland's most highly rated sights. The turreted white castle was home to successive dukes of Atholl and their families, the Murrays, one of the most powerful in the land. During the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, the loyalties of the Atholls were divided—a preserved piece of floor shows the marks of red-hot shot fired when the castle was under siege. In the end the supporters of the English king held off the rebels and were well rewarded for it. The dukes were allowed to retain a private army, the Atholl Highlanders. The castle entrance hall presents some of the dukes' collections of weapons, while a rich collection of furniture, china, and paintings occupies the family rooms. The grounds contain a 9-acre walled garden, an 18th-century folly, and a play area for children.

    Off B8079, Blair Atholl, Perth and Kinross, PH18 5TL, Scotland
    01796-481207

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Castle and gardens £15, grounds only £7.70, Closed Mon., Tues., and Nov.--Mar.
  • 3. Drummond Castle Gardens

    These formal Victorian gardens, regarded as some of the finest of their kind in Europe, celebrate family and Scottish heraldry. Combining the formal French and...

    These formal Victorian gardens, regarded as some of the finest of their kind in Europe, celebrate family and Scottish heraldry. Combining the formal French and more relaxed Italian styles, the flower beds are planted and trimmed in the shapes of various heraldic symbols, such as a lion rampant and a checkerboard, associated with the coat of arms of the family that owns the castle. The gardens were on display in the filming of Outlander. The house itself is not open to the public.

    Off A822, Crieff, Perth and Kinross, PH7 4HZ, Scotland
    01764-681433

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £10, Closed Nov.--Apr
  • 4. Falkirk Wheel

    Tamfourhill

    The only rotating boat lift in the world, the Falkirk Wheel links two major waterways, the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal, between...

    The only rotating boat lift in the world, the Falkirk Wheel links two major waterways, the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal, between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Opened in 2001, this extraordinary engineering achievement lifts and lowers boats using four giant wheels shaped like Celtic axes; it can transport eight or more boats at a time from one canal to the other in about 45 minutes. The Falkirk Wheel replaced 11 locks. You can take a 50-minute trip as the wheel turns, and you're transported up or down to the other canal. The site offers children's play areas, as well as children's canoes and bicycle rentals. An on-site office has information on canal boat cruises. There are also several canal path walkways and cycleways. The excellent Heritage Centre provides plenty of information and has a good café and gift shop. There are a number of activities available around the site too, including archery and paddle boats. Booking your ride on the wheel ahead of time is essential in summer.

    Lime Road, Falkirk, Falkirk, FK1 4RS, Scotland
    8700-500208

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £13.50
  • 5. Inchmahome

    The 13th-century ruined priory on the tiny island of Inchmahome, on the Lake of Menteith, is a lovely place for a picnic after you explore...

    The 13th-century ruined priory on the tiny island of Inchmahome, on the Lake of Menteith, is a lovely place for a picnic after you explore the building's chapter house and other remains. It was a place of refuge in 1547 for the young Mary, Queen of Scots. In season, a seven-minute ferry takes passengers to the island, now owned by the National Trust for Scotland. The ferry jetty is just past the Port of Menteith (a village) off the A81 shortly before Aberfoyle.

    Off A81, Aberfoyle, Stirling, FK8 3RA, Scotland
    01786-385294

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Ferry £9, Closed. Nov.--Mar.
  • 6. Loch Katrine

    This loch, the setting for Sir Walter Scott´s famous poem "The Lady of the Lake", once drew crowds of Victorian visitors in search of the...

    This loch, the setting for Sir Walter Scott´s famous poem "The Lady of the Lake", once drew crowds of Victorian visitors in search of the magical mysterious places that Scott described. The thickly wooded and wild banks of the loch have remained an attraction for generations since. Since 1859, it's also been the source of Glasgow's freshwater. Cruises depart from the Trossachs Pier at the eastern end of the loch, where you can find shops, a restaurant, and bike hires. The iconic steamship Sir Walter Scott is currently undergoing repairs, but the Rob Roy III and the Lady of the Lake offer regular 45-minute cruises. You can also make the round-trip journey around the loch or get off at Stronachlachar at the western end of the loch to break for a coffee and admire the pier's beauty; you can return on foot or by bicycle via the lochside road. Reservations are required if you're taking a bike on the boat, so book ahead. Sailings are year-round, but are reduced in number between October and May.

    Aberfoyle, Stirling, FK17 8HZ, Scotland
    01877-376315

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: 45-minute cruise £13; 2-hour round-trip £22; one-way to or from Stronachlachar £17
  • 7. Loch Lomond

    Known for its "bonnie, bonnie banks," Loch Lomond is Scotland's most well-known loch and its largest in terms of surface area. Its waters reflect the...

    Known for its "bonnie, bonnie banks," Loch Lomond is Scotland's most well-known loch and its largest in terms of surface area. Its waters reflect the crags that surround it. On the western side of the loch, the A82 follows the shore for 24 miles, continuing a farther 7 miles to Crianlarich, passing picturesque Luss, which has a pier where you can hop aboard boats cruising along the loch, and Tarbert, the starting point for the Maid of the Loch. On the eastern side of the loch, take the A81 to Drymen, and from there the B837 signposted toward Balmaha, where you can hire a boat or take the ferry to the island of Inchcailloch. Once you're there, a short walk takes you to the top of the hill and a spectacular view of the loch. Equally spectacular, but not as wet, is the view from Conic Hill behind Balmaha, a short but exhilarating climb. The hill marks the fault that divides the Lowlands and Highlands. If you continue along the B837 beyond Rowardennan to where it ends at a car park, you can join the walkers at the beginning of the path up Ben Lomond. Don't underestimate this innocent-looking hill; go equipped for sudden changes in the weather. Hikers can also try part of the 96-mile West Highland Way (www.west-highland-way.co.uk) that runs along the shore of Loch Lomond on its way north.

    West Dunbartonshire, Scotland
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  • 8. Loch Rannoch

    With its shoreline of birch trees framed by dark pines, Loch Rannoch is the quintessential Highland loch, stretching more than 9 miles from west to...

    With its shoreline of birch trees framed by dark pines, Loch Rannoch is the quintessential Highland loch, stretching more than 9 miles from west to east. Fans of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–94), especially of Kidnapped (1886), will not want to miss the last, lonely section of road. Stevenson describes the setting: "The mist rose and died away, and showed us that country lying as waste as the sea, only the moorfowl and the peewees crying upon it, and far over to the east a herd of deer, moving like dots."

    B846, Pitlochry, Perth and Kinross, Scotland
  • 9. Queen Elizabeth Forest Park

    For exquisite nature, drive north from Aberfoyle on the A821 and turn right at signposts to Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. Along the way you'll be...

    For exquisite nature, drive north from Aberfoyle on the A821 and turn right at signposts to Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. Along the way you'll be heading toward higher moorland blanketed with conifers. The conifers hem in the views of Ben Ledi and Ben Venue, which can be seen over the spiky green waves of trees as the road snakes around heathery knolls and hummocks. There's another viewing area, and a small parking lot, at the highest point of the road. Soon the road swoops off the Highland edge and leads downhill. At the heart of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, the Lodge Forest Visitor Centre leads to four forest walks, marked by quirky sculptures, a family-friendly bicycle route, and the 7-mile 3 Lochs Forest Drive, open April to October. Or you can sit on the terrace of the Bluebell Cafe and scan the forests and hills of the Trossachs. The visitor center has a wildlife-watch room, where you can follow the activities of everything from ospreys to water voles.

    Off A821, Aberfoyle, Stirling, FK8 3UX, Scotland
    01877-382383

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, but parking costs £3 for the day
  • 10. Scone Palace

    The current residence of the Earl of Mansfield, Scone Palace (pronounced skoon) is much more cheerful than the city's other castles. Although it incorporates various...

    The current residence of the Earl of Mansfield, Scone Palace (pronounced skoon) is much more cheerful than the city's other castles. Although it incorporates various earlier works, the palace today has mainly a 19th-century theme, with mock castellations that were fashionable at the time. There's plenty to see if you're interested in the acquisitions of an aristocratic Scottish family: magnificent porcelain, some sumptuous furniture, a fine collection of ivory, clocks, and 16th-century needlework. Each room has a guide who will happily talk you through its contents and their associations. In one bedroom hangs a portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a young Black woman who was born into slavery in the British West Indies, then taken to England by her white British father and raised by the Mansfield family; while her father only officially granted her freedom upon his death, she was raised as a free gentlewoman and became a well-known society beauty in the 1760s. (The 2013 film Belle is based on her life). A coffee shop, restaurant, gift shop, and play area are on-site. The palace has its own mausoleum nearby, on the site of a long-gone abbey on Moot Hill, the ancient coronation place of the Scottish kings. To be crowned, they sat on the Stone of Scone, which was seized in 1296 by Edward I of England, Scotland's greatest enemy, and placed in the coronation chair at Westminster Abbey, in London. The stone was returned to Scotland in November 1996 and is now on view in Edinburgh Castle. There is a maze and a children's playground on the grounds too. You can only see the palace on a timed guided tour, which you should book in advance.

    Braemar Road, Perth, Perth and Kinross, PH2 6BD, Scotland
    01738-552300

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Guided tours of palace £20, gardens only £10, House closed Nov.--Mar. Grounds closed Mon.--Thurs. Nov.--Mar
  • 11. Scottish Crannog Centre

    Here's your chance to travel back 2,500 years to a time when this region's inhabitants lived in circular homesteads known as crannogs. Standing on stilts...

    Here's your chance to travel back 2,500 years to a time when this region's inhabitants lived in circular homesteads known as crannogs. Standing on stilts in the middle of lochs, these dwellings were approachable only by narrow bridges that could be easily defended from intruders. This center reveals the strength of these surprisingly comfortable communal homes that were built entirely of wood, right down to the nails. Visits are by guided tour, beginning with an interesting exhibit on construction methods, followed by some fun with Neolithic lathes and tips on lighting a fire without matches. You can also reserve ahead to paddle a dugout canoe onto beautiful Loch Tay. It has limited hours of operation in November, February, and March, but there are special events throughout the year.

    Off A827, Aberfeldy, Perth and Kinross, PH15 2HY, Scotland
    01887-830583

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £5, Closed Dec. and Jan
  • 12. Stirling Castle

    Its magnificent strategic position on a steep-sided crag made Stirling Castle the grandest prize in the Scots Wars of Independence during the late 13th and...

    Its magnificent strategic position on a steep-sided crag made Stirling Castle the grandest prize in the Scots Wars of Independence during the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Robert the Bruce's victory at Bannockburn won both the castle and freedom from English subjugation for almost four centuries. Take time to visit the Castle Exhibition beyond the lower gate to get an overview of its evolution as a stronghold and palace. The daughter of King Robert I (Robert the Bruce), Marjory, married Walter Fitzallan, the high steward of Scotland. Their descendants included the Stewart dynasty of Scottish monarchs (Mary, Queen of Scots, was a Stewart, though she preferred the French spelling, Stuart). The Stewarts were responsible for many of the works that survive within the castle walls. They made Stirling Castle their court and power base, creating fine Renaissance-style buildings within the walls that were never completely destroyed, despite reconstruction for military purposes. Today, you enter the castle through its outer defenses, which consist of a great curtained wall and batteries from 1708. From this lower square the most conspicuous feature is the Palace, built by King James V (1512–42) between 1538 and 1542. The decorative figures festooning the ornate outer walls show the influence of French masons. An orientation center in the basement, designed especially for children, lets you try out the clothes and musical instruments of the time. Across a terrace are the Royal Apartments, which re-create the furnishings and tapestries found here during the reign of James V and his French queen, Mary of Guise. The queen's bedchamber contains copies of the beautiful tapestries in which the hunt for the white unicorn is clearly an allegory for the persecution of Christ. Overlooking the upper courtyard is the Great Hall, built on the orders of King James IV (1473–1513) in 1503 and used for extravagant banquets. Before the Union of Parliaments in 1707, when the Scottish aristocracy sold out to England, the building had also been used as one of the seats of the Scottish Parliament. Among the later works built for regiments stationed here, the Regimental Museum stands out; it's a 19th-century baronial revival on the site of an earlier building. Nearby, the Chapel Royal is unfurnished. The oldest building on the site is the Mint, or Coonzie Hoose, perhaps dating as far back as the 14th century. Below it is an arched passageway leading to the westernmost ramparts, the Nether Bailey, with a view of the carselands (valley plain) of the Forth Valley. To the castle's south lies the hump of the Touch and the Gargunnock Hills, which diverted potential direct routes from Glasgow and the south. For centuries all roads into the Highlands across the narrow waist of Scotland led through Stirling. If you look carefully northward, you can still see the Old Stirling Bridge, the site of William Wallace's most famous victory. When visiting, it's smart to book your tickets—and accompanying timeslot—online before you arrive.

    Castlehill, Stirling, Stirling, FK8 1EJ, Scotland
    01786-450000

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £16
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  • 13. The Kelpies at the Helix

    The Helix, a country park on the edges of Falkirk with cycle and walking paths, play areas, and a wetland, is home to sculptor Andy...

    The Helix, a country park on the edges of Falkirk with cycle and walking paths, play areas, and a wetland, is home to sculptor Andy Scott's extraordinary The Kelpies, two horse heads forged in steel, 85 and 98 feet high respectively. The largest works of art in Scotland, they sit at the center of the park, their beautiful heads framed against the Ochil Hills behind. The sculptures pay homage to Falkirk's industrial past; the heads are modeled on Clydesdales, the huge draft horses that hauled barges along the canals before the advent of the railways. A special guided tour (book online for convenience) gives you an insight into the area's past and takes you inside the sculptures. There's also a visitor center with a café and gift shop.

    A9 and Falkirk Road, Falkirk, Falkirk, FK2 9EE, Scotland
    01324-590600

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Park free; sculpture tour £7.50
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  • 14. Trossachs National Park

    Scotland's first national park, designated in 2002, the Trossachs were first discovered and developed as an area for Victorian tourists and visitors. It was Queen...

    Scotland's first national park, designated in 2002, the Trossachs were first discovered and developed as an area for Victorian tourists and visitors. It was Queen Victoria's fascination with the novels of Sir Walter Scott that stimulated an interest in the brooding glens and lochs of the area, as well as the healing qualities of its waters. The park sits on a geological fault that divides the fertile lowlands from the highlands and its hills and mountains, 21 of which are more than 3,000 feet (and known as "Munros"). For hikers there are woodland valleys for pleasant and leisurely walks, long-distance footpaths like the West Highland and Rob Roy Ways for more determined walkers, and mountains like the demanding Cobbler and Ben Lomond, as well as shorter hikes on hills surrounding scenic lochs. For cyclists there are exciting routes, and for the nature lover there are many varieties of birds and animals in this protected habitat---capercaillie, golden eagles, red deer, and beavers among them. As the number of visitors has grown, lochside diners and charming country hotels have also multiplied.

    Perth and Kinross, Scotland
  • 15. Antonine Wall

    West of Falkirk, Bonnybridge is home to the most extensive remains of the Antonine Wall, a 37-mile-long Roman earthwork fortification that marked the northernmost limit...

    West of Falkirk, Bonnybridge is home to the most extensive remains of the Antonine Wall, a 37-mile-long Roman earthwork fortification that marked the northernmost limit of the Roman Empire. Built around AD 140 as a defense against the warlike Picts of the north, it was abandoned some 20 years later. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the wall was the site of a famous battle in 1298, when William Wallace was defeated by the English. Notable sections of the wall can also be seen in other towns, including Tamfourhill, Callendar Park, Kinneil Estate, and Bridgeness. To get to the Bonnybridge section from Falkirk, take the A803 west. You can download a walking map of the wall from www.visitfalkirk.com.

    Off A803, Bonnybridge, Falkirk, Scotland

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 16. Balquhidder Glen

    A 20-minute drive from Callander, through the Pass of Leny and beyond Strathyre, the lovely Balquhidder Glen (pronounced bal-kwidd-er) is a typical Highland glen, with...

    A 20-minute drive from Callander, through the Pass of Leny and beyond Strathyre, the lovely Balquhidder Glen (pronounced bal-kwidd-er) is a typical Highland glen, with a flat-bottom, U-shaped profile, indicating it was formed by prehistoric glaciers. This was MacGregor country, the most famous of whom was Rob Roy MacGregor, the Jacobite hero who is buried in the churchyard here. It is also walkers country, and several walkers routes pass through here. Gentler walks will take you to Kirkton Glen, past Monachyle Mhor, after the road ends. From there the view opens toward the mountain country around Ben More, where the hardier, well-equipped hillwalker may prefer to go.

    Balquhidder, Stirling, Scotland
  • 17. Beatrix Potter Exhibition and Garden

    The interactive exhibition, specifically designed for children, celebrates the life and work of this much-beloved children's writer who, for many years, spent her family holidays...

    The interactive exhibition, specifically designed for children, celebrates the life and work of this much-beloved children's writer who, for many years, spent her family holidays in the area. You're free to walk around the enchanting garden where you can peep into the homes of Peter Rabbit and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, her best-known characters. The visitors center has a well-stocked shop and a small café serving breakfast, lunch, and coffee and cake. The garden is a mile south of Dunkeld, in Birnam.

    Station Road, Birnam, Perth and Kinross, PH8 0DS, Scotland
    01350-727674

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £3 exhibition, garden free
  • 18. Birnam Wood

    In Shakespeare's Macbeth, the future king meets three witches who prophesy his downfall "when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane." They were right. The trees of...

    In Shakespeare's Macbeth, the future king meets three witches who prophesy his downfall "when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane." They were right. The trees of the once dense wood camouflaged the besieging armies approaching Macbeth's castle at Dunsinane. The Birnam Oak (now sustained by crutches) and the Birnam Sycamore are all that remain of the once great wood, though perhaps not as Macbeth knew it in the 11th century.

    Birnam, Dunkeld, Perth and Kinross, PH8 0BL, Scotland

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 19. Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park

    As unlikely as it might seem in this gentle valley, the Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park is the place to see sea lions bobbing...

    As unlikely as it might seem in this gentle valley, the Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park is the place to see sea lions bobbing their heads above the water or monkeys swinging from the branches. Take a footbridge to Lemur Land or watch hawks and falcons in the Birds of Prey exhibit. Beware the llamas, who are more bad-tempered than they may appear. The spacious drive-through enclosure brings you close to rhinos, antelopes, camels, and lions. Look out for the monkeys there too (might be best to keep your windows closed). There are also rides, slides, and an adventure playground for the kids, as well as some fairground rides that cost extra.

    Blair Drummond, Doune, Stirling, FK9 4UR, Scotland
    01786-841456

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: £16.50, Closed Nov.--Feb
  • 20. Callendar House

    Near the town center, this grand country house gives you a glimpse of a wealthy family's daily life in the early 1800s. In the kitchen,...

    Near the town center, this grand country house gives you a glimpse of a wealthy family's daily life in the early 1800s. In the kitchen, local guides explain cooking in the early 19th century and may even offer you a sample. Entry is through an impressive wooden hallway, and the first-floor morning and drawing rooms are the grandest in the region. There are exhibits on the Romans and the Antonine Wall, as well as on the history of Falkirk. The second floor is a gallery space and houses the town's archives. You can relax in the grand tearoom before you move on to the beautiful grounds of Callendar Park, which has activities year-round. The house is something of a secret, but it's well worth a visit.

    off Callendar Road, Falkirk, Falkirk, FK1 1YR, Scotland
    013244-503770

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed Tues.

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