Lonely Planet review for Old Town
Below the castle, the steep Old Town has a remarkably different feel to modern Stirling, its cobblestone streets packed with 15th- to 17th-century architectural gems. Its growth began when Stirling became a royal burgh (about 1124), and in the 15th and 16th centuries rich merchants built their houses here.
Stirling has the best surviving town wall in Scotland. It was built around 1547 when Henry VIII of England began the 'Rough Wooing' – attacking the town in order to force Mary, Queen of Scots to marry his son so the two kingdoms could be united. The wall can be explored on the Back Walk, which follows the line of the wall from Dumbarton Rd to the castle. You pass the town cemeteries (check out the Star Pyramid, an outsized affirmation of Reformation values dating from 1863), then the path continues around the back of the castle to Gowan Hill, where you can see the Beheading Stone, now encased in iron bars to prevent contemporary use.
Mar's Wark, on Castle Wynd at the head of the Old Town, is the ornate facade of a Renaissance town house commissioned in 1569 by the wealthy Earl of Mar, regent of Scotland during James VI's minority.
The Church of the Holy Rude has been the town's parish church for 600 years and James VI was crowned here in 1567. The nave and tower date from 1456, and the church has one of the few surviving medieval open-timber roofs. Stunning stained-glass windows and huge stone pillars create a powerful effect.
Behind the church is Cowane's Hospital, built as an almshouse in 1637 by the merchant John Cowane. The high vaulted hall was much modified in the 19th century.
The Mercat Cross, in Broad St, is topped with a unicorn (known as 'The Puggie') and was once surrounded by a bustling market. Nearby is the Tolbooth, built in 1705 as the town's administrative centre and renovated in 2001 to become an arts venue.
The Old Town Jail is a great one for kids, as actors take you through the complex, portraying a cast of characters who illustrate the hardships of Victorian prison life in innovative, entertaining style.