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Although an important Scottish royal stronghold since 1130, it was not until 1975 that Stirling was granted city status. It has since become a local centre for government, retail, light industry and higher education, but with a total population well below 50 000 it is nonetheless by far the smallest city in Scotland. So small, in fact, that it is smaller than many larger towns in the country.

The city of Stirling is known as the “Gateway to the Highlands” for its strategic and easily defended position along the Highland Boundary Fault that separates the Scottish high- and lowlands. For this reason it was an important military fort from as early as Roman times until as late as the Jacobite risings in the 18th century, with many major battles for Scottish independence taking place in and around the city. Stirling Castle is the most notable remnant of the city’s turbulent history and one of the best preserved castles in Scotland. Not only was it a major military fortification, but it also served as royal residence while Scotland was an independent kingdom.

The castle is situated on a rocky crag at the head of the Stirling Old Town, which is a medieval market town that grew up by the castle over time. Today it is more or less intact, complete with architecture of different time periods and cobblestoned roads leading up to the castle. Apart from the overall atmosphere of the area, visitors uniformly appreciate the Old Town Jail, the Church of the Holy Rude and Argyll’s lodgings.

However not all of the city of Stirling’s historical remnants are found by the castle. On Abbey Craig, which is only a mile away from Stirling, stands a monument honouring the Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace. Inside are various exhibits about Wallace, and from up top there is an excellent view of the city. The real site of Wallace’s Victory at Stirling Bridge is near enough to be visited, though it should be noted that the original bridge has long since been replaced. Another site of a Scottish victory over the British, Bannockburn, is also nearby, with the Bannockburn Heritage Centre providing detailed information about the battle and those involved in it. Finally the reputedly haunted The Settle Inn and the pubs The Golden Lion and The Albion might be worth a visit, if only to see whether or not the rumours are true.

For a more general overview of the city of Stirling’s history, check out the Smith Art Gallery and Museum. Given the size of Stirling here is not much to be had in terms of shopping or entertainment. Thistle Centre and Port Street have the usual range of stores, whereas Baker Street offers basic but sufficient nightlife.