NEXT YEAR, Stirling will celebrate its 20th year of city status, granted by the Queen as part of her Golden Jubilee. Its royal connections stretch much further back, however.

Stirling was made a Royal Burgh from David I of Scotland in 1130 and remained so until the burgh was abolished in law in 1975. In between, it has had a central role in Scottish life, at the heart of the country and of political and royal machinations, with Robert the Bruce holding the first parliament there, at Cambuskenneth Abbey in 1326. 

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History is the bedrock that Stirling’s reputation as a superb day-trip destination is built on. That’s literal too, when you see Stirling Castle rising from the Castle Hill. A presence in the city since the early-12th century, the castle is built on a hill that is 350 million years old. The city also makes the most of our appetite for the more gruesome elements of history.

The Old Town Jail definitely shows that crime has never paid, with tales of how criminals were punished within these walls. Usually open throughout the summer months, the performers bring the past to life. Bringing the past into the present is something that few places do better than the Battle of Bannockburn Experience. Always a popular visitor destination, the adoption of digital 3D storytelling has allowed visitors to become immersed in the battle and understand how it played out under Robert the Bruce in 1324 and Scotland triumphed.

Around the visitor centre is a rolling landscape and a chance to place what you’ve just seen in context, including the spot where the Bruce raised his standard.

5 THINGS NOT TO MISS

THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY RUDE

Not only one of the oldest buildings in the city, dating from the 12th century, the Church of the Holy Rude was the place of the 1567 coronation of James VI by John Knox. It sits high on the hill and is at the centre of “royal” Stirling, just a short walk from the castle.

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PLEAN COUNTRY PARK

A country park 15 minutes’ drive from the city, Plean Country Park has masses of parkland and woodland and a large network of paths to explore – on foot, on two wheels or even on horseback. There’s a great playpark for little ones and areas to rest and have a picnic.

BLAIR DRUMMOND SAFARI PARK

A 10-minute drive from the city will find the family in the depths of the animal kingdom. Driving through the reserve mean safe face-to-face encounters with everything from camels to zebras, rhinos to deer and, of course, the kings of the park, the lions. There’s an adventure playground and cafés, too.

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THE PINEAPPLE

Worth the 20-minute drive, The Pineapple, near Falkirk, is one of Scotland’s most fascinating buildings. Originally built as a summerhouse for the Earl of Dunmore in 1761, when pineapples were incredibly exotic in Scotland, the grounds, ponds and woodland are now a great place to wander and spot wildlife.

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GARGUNNOCK

Seven miles west of the city, Gargunnock House has acres of beautifully cared-for gardens and the ever-popular walled garden as well as woodland walking trails and a doocot dating from the 18th century. Inside the house itself is a splendid stroll back in time and even a piano that is thought to have been played by Chopin.

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