A visit to Stirling Castle is an essential part of any visit to central Scotland. Visitors will find that in addition to the obvious historical reasons to visit, there is also a small collection of excellent shops and two cafes in highly atmospheric surroundings.
On passing through the main gate you will see the ticket office in a converted hay store to your left across the Guardroom Square. Next door is the castle's Courtyard Gift Shop, offering a wide range of goods.
Having obtained your ticket you pass through the inner gate, to be presented with the immediate temptation of the Unicorn Cafe. The entrance is to your right and the cafe's seating is housed in converted casemates: vaulted chambers set deep within the thick artillery-proof walls of the Outer Defences.
On days when Scotland's weather is being kind you can sit on the terrace on top of the cafe, with truly spectacular views to the north east past the Wallace Monument to the Ochil Hills. There is also a smaller cafe on the west side of the Great Hall looking out onto the Inner Close.
The castle's second shop is found in the Main Guard House in the Outer Close. To reach this you pass through the Forework Gatehouse and head to your right, away from the more obvious attractions of the Great Hall and the Palace. Here you will find the Palace Gift Shop selling a wide range of books, gifts, whisky and exclusive items relating to the Palace with themes based on the tapestries and the Stirling Heads.
Meanwhile, back on the Castle Esplanade is the Clan & Craft Gift Shop which showcases the products of artisans from around the country. A wide range of items are on sale, ranging from Scottish ceramics to cashmere scarves and from lambswool serapes to hand made jewellery.
No-one will come to Stirling Castle primarily for the shopping opportunities: but it's good to see a small collection of relevant and well run shops meeting visitors' needs here. It's also nice to know that there's a means of addressing the hunger and thirst very likely to arise during a tour round this very large and utterly fascinating castle.