“Gateway to The Highlands”, Stirling is one of Scotland’s most historic cities. It used to be one of the only connections to the Scottish highlands and has had a significant history of battles for Scottish independence. Its castle, Stirling Castle, is a royal residence much like the English Castle in Windsor.

Stirling is the embodiment of the quaint, old-world cities you often see in movies. Rolling hills, a castle at the top, cobblestone paths, old-style buildings, verdant green trees and grasses, and a beautiful river (River Forth) running through it, Stirling is definitely a place to study in if you want a quiet, scenic semester. If you’re looking for a more New York/London type feel, I caution you against studying abroad in Stirling (though this change of pace would not disappoint). So, get your stomach ready for pounds upon pounds of haggis, your eyes for men in kilts and your ears for the sweet sound of bagpipes!

Photo credit: Nigel's Europe & beyond.

Study in Stirling if you’re less a city type and more a nature type. If ever there were a manifestation of nature and those charming, picturesque towns, Stirling would be it. Though Stirling does contain a retail-minded section of the city, its Old Town is the reason for its appeal.

Stirling Castle

One of the best-preserved castles in Scotland, Stirling Castle boasts a Great Hall, Palace and Royal Chapel. In olden times, possession of Stirling Castle meant control of Scotland. Stirling Castle should definitely be a point of destination while studying abroad in Stirling, and there are cheaper concession tickets for students. Be sure not to go during the summertime, or else it just becomes another tourist trap (due to the high volume of people) and loses its medieval charm.

Wallace Monument

Get your fill of Scottish pride by going to the monument celebrating the General, William Wallace, who led the Scottish to victory over the English. The inside holds different displays on the Battle of Stirling Bridge and various other important Scottish people. Wallace Monument also provides a discount for students, and gives a fantastic view over Stirling at the top.

Stirling Old Town Jail and Old Town

Following in the theme of buildings and monuments, the Stirling Old Town jail is a great place to visit as well. Serving as a jail during Victorian times, it now holds performances of actors portraying the difficulties of Victorian Prison Life. This one gives a concession price for students as well. Your trip to the Jail should include a general tour of the entire Old Town: take a trip back to the 15th-17th centuries by visiting Mar’s Wark, a Renaissance Town House, The Church of Holy Rude, the town’s parish church for 600 years and the Beheading Stone, currently encased in iron bars to prevent contemporary use.

Smith Art Gallery and Museum

With your obligatory museum visit in every country, the Smith Art Gallery and Museum fills this requirement. Admission is actually free here, and it houses a small art gallery, local museum and popular café. Things of note, it retains the oldest football and oldest curling stone, both dating from the 16th century.

The Scottish Highlands

Probably the thing Scotland is most famous for, the Scottish Highlands is nature at its most beautiful and finest. It’s a breathtaking region filled with battlefields, ancient monuments, beautiful beaches, famous lakes and verdant glens. I would recommend doing the highlands over Spring Break as a day or two is definitely not enough to comb through the entirety, or even just get a feel, of the Highlands. If there were only one thing you could do in Scotland, this would be it.

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Because Scotland is on the Pound, Stirling (and the rest of the UK really) can get a bit pricey. I recommend going to the Supermarkets (Tesco for one) and cooking your own food. It will save you a lot of money that can be otherwise spent on sightseeing and Scottish souvenirs.

In terms of money, cash is always handy to keep on you, but your credit or debit card will work as well. Because Scotland is English speaking (albeit it with a heavy, Shrek-like accent), there should be little worry with using your debit or credit cards because communication will be easier to sort out problems.

Culture Shock and Support

Because Scotland is English speaking, the culture shock should be less of a problem than in other non-English speaking countries. However, it is still a bit a ways from America, and sometimes the Scottish can be hard to follow. As such, be sure to pick a problem that caters to American students, so that you can be well informed of the cultural differences and avoid making a faux pas.

However, remember that you have your fellow students! If you’re missing the long hours of studying and the obnoxiously loud people back in the US, well, then you’re weird. On a more serious note, talk to your fellow peers! If you’re experiencing some homesickness, there is every chance that they are as well. Don’t be embarrassed if you need to talk to someone about home, it is completely normal and who knows, you may become even closer friends!

Insider Tips

The great part about Stirling is that everything is in reasonably walking distance. That means less money spent on transportation! The William Wallace is a pub right below the Wallace Monument that offers great traditional pub food, a popular quiz night on Thursdays, and karaoke on Saturdays. Best of all, if you’re trying to get away from all your American peers, this pub is very popular among Scottish students due to the proximity to the university. All in all, a great place to meet Scottish locals.

Contributed by Albert Ji


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