This post is part of a paid partnership with Visit Falkirk who invited me to explore the region and write about my experience.
If, like me, you are a bit guilty of only gravitating towards The Kelpies or The Falkirk Wheel on trips to the Falkirk area, you are missing out on much of the fascinating history and outdoor activities that the region has to offer.
Recently I spent 2 days expanding my horizons and explorations to include the historic heart of the town and the surrounding green spaces. I made many surprising discoveries along the way and my perception of Falkirk has drastically changed. For example, did you know that Falkirk won Britain's best walking neighbourhood award, partly due to having 383 miles of well-maintained and signposted paths? The number of walking and cycling options definitely came as a surprise to me.
Less than an hour from Glasgow and Edinburgh, it makes an ideal day trip from either city, although after reading this blog post I hope you might be inspired to spend a bit longer there. However, if you do only have one day, I've put together an itinerary that covers the best of Falkirk imho!
If you are planning a trip with your furry companion, you might want to check out my guide listing dog friendly things to do in Falkirk.
Here are my recommended things to do if you only have 1 day to explore Falkirk
STOP 1 - CALLENDAR HOUSE AND PARK
This is a superb starting point for any trip to the area as it reveals Falkirk's many historical layers and gives you a deeper appreciation of the places you will visit later in the day.
The exhibition at Callendar House was much bigger than I anticipated and I had only set an hour aside which is enough if you don't spend too long in each room, but if you have the time, you might want to add on another 30 minutes.
From medieval beginnings to Roman invasion and industrial expansion, every significant period of local history has a dedicated space - and the best thing? It is free to visit which is brilliant as it is a real gem. It feels more like a museum and there is lots and lots to see!
The exhibition is located inside Callendar House, a 14th century mansion house set in beautiful parkland. As you follow the displays, you also pass through the Georgian kitchen which might be familiar to Outlander fans as it was used as the Duke of Sandringham's House in Season 2.
Outlander Fan? Then you might also want to check out these local filming locations -
Visit the Film on Forth website for more film and TV locations in the area
When I absorbed as much history as I could handle, I grabbed a takeaway coffee from the shop and followed one of the paths around the park which gave me a nice morning boost before my next stop.
Discover more - In the park you will also find ornamental gardens, a small loch, a family mausoleum and sections of the Antonine Wall.
STOP 2 - FALKIRK TOWN CENTRE HERITAGE TRAIL
After reading about Falkirk's history I was keen to physically explore some of the places associated with the events that I had learned about. A great way to do this is on the Falkirk Town Heritage Trail that links 25 points of interest around the town centre. Look out for blue information plaques, engravings on paving stones or follow the suggested routes on the Visit Falkirk website.
I started at the Falkirk Steeple which towers 140 ft over the town and is actually the third tolbooth to have occupied the site. The current building dates to 1814 although the top had to be replaced in 1927 after it was struck by lightning. Today the steeple has been taken over as a visitor attraction with an exhibition on the lower levels and the opening of two cells which formed the town jail on upper levels. This is another free attraction which I would class as a must-visit in the town.
Another highlight on the heritage trail is Falkirk Old Parish Church and the surrounding graveyard with some significant tombs including that of Sir John de Graeme, who fought alongside William Wallace in many battles and died fighting by his side in 1298 at the Battle of Falkirk. There are also tombs for those killed in 1746 at the Battle of Falkirk Muir, the largest of all the battles fought during the four Jacobite uprisings.
I'll be honest, I'd never thought about the origins of the name Falkirk until I visited here. An earlier church on the site of Falkirk Trinity Church known as Faw Kirk, meaning speckled church, is thought to have given rise to the town's name - every day is a school day!
I didn't have time to follow all of the trail so I'd love to go back and complete the it next time. Falkirk town centre is also packed with shops, restaurants etc so you might want to linger a bit longer.
Discover more - Keep an eye on the Society of John De Graeme website for tours of Falkirk Old Parish Church
STOP 3 - LUNCH AT THE CORNER CAFE
This cute and popular cafe in Falkirk town centre is an ideal spot for a casual lunch and conveniently located just a short walk from both the steeple and the church.
I ordered a toastie on gluten free bread (GF options were readily available) and it arrived served with a lovely fresh salad. Simple but delicious food.
That was enough eating for me but I did notice a counter of yummy looking cakes so you could treat yourself and walk it off at the next stop if you feel tempted! Dogs are also welcome in the cafe.
STOP 4 - CALLENDAR ESTATE
This was my first visit to Callendar Estate and I had a hard time choosing which walking trail to follow as they all sounded appealing. In the end, I opted for the circular 'Local History Trail' as it was only 1.5 miles which fitted in with my time schedule and sounded like a route that would be particularly rewarding.
I made a good choice as the walk took me through woodland full of birdsong, past open fields and numerous points of interest. Regular marker posts not only made the trail easy to follow, they also had little information boards on them detailing the history of the landscape including Charlie's Hill where according to tradition Bonnie Prince Charlie was posted during the Battle of Falkirk Muir.
This was a nice easy stroll but there are longer or shorter walks with different themes so you might want to follow another trail depending on your time and interests. My walk started and ended at The Cafe at Canada Wood and after skipping cake for lunch, I decided it was time to treat myself to a cup of tea and a chocolate flapjack.
Although the estate is just a short distance from town, it really feels like you are in the heart of the countryside and if I had a bit more time I would have sat at their outside tables and soaked up the sunshine as the cafe is located in a lovely, peaceful spot. As it was, I was booked on a boat ride and still had a short drive to get there, so I opted to enjoy my tea break on the move.
Discover more - The estate also offers mountain bike hire from Greenrig Cycles if you fancy trying some of their cycling trails or join a guided Segway tour. At The Milk Barn they produce over 40 flavours of homemade artisan ice cream from their own herd of cows which you can try in their cafe - they even have gluten free cones and ice-cream for dogs. Children will love the outdoor play area where they can try milking a cow (don't worry it's not a real one!).
STOP 5 - FALKIRK WHEEL AND ANTONINE WALL
I've been to the 115 ft high Falkirk Wheel several times and I've always been mesmerised watching the world's first and only rotating boat lift manoeuvre vessels effortlessly and silently between the Union Canal at the top and the Forth & Clyde Canal at the bottom. Not only is it a magnificent piece of engineering, it is also quite a beautiful work of art.
Those of us without our own boat are still able to experience the feeling of gliding through the air as you ascend and descend from one waterway to another on this monumental piece of machinery by joining a boat tour which is what I did next.
I don't think I could have travelled on a better day as the clear skies allowed for extensive views as we gradually edged higher and it felt more like I was flying than sitting in a boat. At the top we made our way a short distance along the Union Canal and through the Rough Castle Tunnel which was illuminated by ever-changing multi-coloured hoops of light and felt surreal but also quite cool!
During the tour there is also commentary explaining more about the design of the Falkirk Wheel and we learned some amazing facts like The Wheel was constructed from 1,200 tonnes of steel, has over 15,000 bolts and only uses the equivalent energy of 8 boiled kettles to turn. The boat trip lasted just over an hour and not only was it a great experience, it was also nice to have a wee seat after a day of walking.
Discover more - There are various water activities to try beside The Wheel, there are also bikes for hire and Segway Safaris. if you have time before or after the boat tour, take a walk from The Falkirk Wheel to Rough Castle, which is the best-preserved fort on the Antonine Wall. The Antonine Wall was built by the Romans across the narrowest part of Scotland, between the Forth and Clyde estuaries. Also look out for photo spots with sculptures on the #Wheel2Kelpies Selfie Trail.
STOP 6 - DINNER AT MACDONALD INCHYRA HOTEL
The popular restaurant at the Macdonald Inchyra Hotel is located outside of Falkirk itself but is only a short drive to the final stop at The Kelpies which makes it a good 'out of town' option. This was also my accommodation base for the night.
Their Scottish Steakhouse has been awarded an AA rosette for exceptional food and service and I must agree that the food was really tasty and the service was first class. Another bonus point to them for offering to adapt most dishes on the menu to make them gluten free for me. It meant I didn't have to compromise on my first choices which is always refreshing and appreciated.
Despite being named a steakhouse, the menu is quite diverse and specialises in Scottish produce. I went for a bit of a seafood theme with a prawn & crayfish cocktail followed by beer battered North Sea haddock with chips. I finished it off with a cheeky wee coconut rice pudding as I obviously needed to properly refuel before undertaking some more adventuring , well that is my excuse anyway!
STOP 7 - THE KELPIES
I may have mentioned once or twice before that I absolutely love The Kelpies so there really was only one destination left that I had to visit on my first day. I don't know quite why these giant horse heads have embedded themselves so deeply in my soul but I get the same goose bumps every time I wander around them, dwarfed by their colossal stainless steel contours.
At 30m high they are an impressive homage to both the heavy horses that worked along the canals and the mythical water creatures that often take the form of a horse.
On a calm and warm spring evening, I can't think of any other spot in Falkirk that I would rather sit and watch the sunset than in the company of two mystical and ethereal water beasts as they shimmered in the amber rays, giving the impression that they could come to life at any moment.
What a truly magical way to end the day.
Discover more - The Kelpies are located within The Helix which is an urban park adjacent to the Forth & Clyde Canal. The large landscaped area has a cafe, children's adventure playpark, visitor centre and it is even possible to take a guided tour inside The Kelpies. There is an extensive path network suitable for walking and cycling leading through here, including The Charlotte Dundas Heritage Trail which celebrates the world’s first practical steamboat and runs from The Kelpies to Grangemouth.
Have more time to spare? Here are my recommended things to do if you have 2 days to explore Falkirk
STOP1 - MUIRAVONSIDE COUNTRY PARK
Although Muiravonside Country Park has 170 acres of woodland and parkland to explore, I opted to spend my time there at Newpark Farm because I just couldn't resist starting my morning in the company of a bunch of cute animals - I mean, who could? Follow the path around fields with hairy Heilan' Coos, woolly sheep, pint-sized Shetland ponies, considerably larger Clydesdale horses, cheeky goats, snuffling hairy pigs, rescue donkeys and more.
This is Falkirk's only country park and a great place for kids big and small. You could easily spend half a day here if you add in some walking trails and a trip to the café or you could head to Kinneil Estate to explore some more of the area's history like I did, although I did take note of The River Avon Trail which runs through Muiravonside for a future visit.
STOP 2 - KINNEIL HOUSE & ESTATE
At Kinneil Estate my previous perception of Falkirk as a mostly urban or industrial region was firmly put behind me. After visiting Callendar Park, Callendar Estate, Muiravonside Country Park and now having arrived at another sprawling patch of woodland and greenery I was viewing the area in a whole new light. I really began to appreciate what a great part of the country this is for getting outdoors and immersing yourself in nature and open spaces.
Another thing Kinneil has in common with the other scenic locations are walking trails combining themes of history and nature, which meant I was in my element. Again, information boards covering some fascinating snippets about the history of the buildings and landscape added an extra layer of interest to my walk which started at Kinneil House, a very grand but faded 16th century mansion.
The walk from the car park to the house took me past the most enchanting wooded gorge, carpeted in pungent wild garlic, which looked like something from a fairy-tale. Before reaching the house I noticed the remains of an old cottage with an information panel explaining that it had been the workshop of James Watt. It was here that he set out to improve the designs of his steam engine.
Unfortunately, Kinneil House is only open on select days of the year which means I've not managed to view its rare renaissance wall paintings yet but there is a museum nearby where you can find out more about the house. Again, this was closed on the day I visited but it is somewhere I have added to my future 'to do' list.
Even from the outside, the mansion has a very eerie atmosphere so I was not surprised to read on one of the boards that it is said to be haunted by the ghost of a white lady. Although it was likely my imagination, I did feel like someone was watching me from behind the dusty windows!
A little further on my walk I visited the ruins of Kinneil Kirk which dates back to the 12th century. It looks out of place now sat isolated on a piece of open ground but I discovered that there had once been a large village in the surrounding field. Only the graves of villagers remain as physical evidence of the settlement.
Again this is a place that you could easily spend half a day wandering around, especially if the museum or house are open. Alternatively, you could follow my itinerary and make your way to the nearby town of Bo'ness to visit some of its highlights.
Discover more - The estate also has bike trails (hire an e-bike in Bo'ness) and audio walking guides which can be downloaded from the Falkirk Explored App. There is also Kinneil Nature Reserve close to Bo'ness harbour.
STOP 3 - BO'NESS
I have been to Bo'ness once before to see the steam railway although I've yet to take a trip on it, another thing which is on my 'to do' list - it might not surprise you to learn that my Falkirk 'to do' list was growing during this trip rather than reducing. The more places I visited, the more I discovered that sounded interesting for a future visit and in turn, the longer my list grew!
One thing I was keen to see and tick off on this trip was the replica Bridgeness Roman distance slab. The original slab dates back to approx 142 AD and is on display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. It is said to be one of the finest pieces of Roman sculpture from Britain and although I knew it was only a replica, seeing the stone in its home was quite special.
Roman history in Scotland is often overlooked but Roman invasion affected large swathes of the country and the Antonine Wall is the biggest physical legacy. The remains of the frontier can be seen at various locations across the Falkirk area, including Rough Castle which I mentioned previously in the Falkirk Wheel section. I was glad I finally got to visit the location of the marker designed to commemorate the construction of the eastern end of the wall.
Other highlights from Bo'ness include the yellow painted Dymock's Building - a merchant's house dating back to before 1650, The Hippodrome which is Scotland's first purpose-built cinema dating back to 1912 - if you have time you might want to catch a movie, and the historic harbour which has great views along the Firth of Forth and across to Fife. There are also interesting walking and cycling trails that lead from the harbour, another activity for a future date!
The town also has some nice independent shops and cafes making it a great wee stop to spend a couple of hours.
Discover more - I drove from Bo'ness to my final stop at Blackness but you could walk or cycle the 4 miles (e-bike hire available from Union Street) or walk/cycle part of the John Muir Way along the shoreline. As mentioned, you could take a scenic 10 mile return journey by steam train at the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway
STOP 4 - LUNCH AT THE COPPER KILN, RICHMOND PARK HOTEL
A great place for a relaxing lunch in Bo'ness is The Copper Kiln restaurant in the Richmond Park Hotel. The contemporary interior has a cosy and relaxing atmosphere and I had a good feel about the place as soon as I walked through the door. It was obvious a lot of thought has been put into attention to detail, from the old local photographs to the contemporary Scottish outfits worn by the staff.
I love to see businesses giving a modern nod to their Scottish roots and I was glad to see the theme continued on the menu with local produce cooked in a contemporary way and again, staff were more than accommodating when it came to adapting my choices to gluten free.
The starter of hand-dived scallops with celeriac puree and lemon butter (I left off the haggis to make it GF) was melt in the mouth and my main of coconut pork curry with lime crumb, pak choi and red onion was both satisfying and delicious.
Everything about my experience impressed me, from the décor to the food and the attentive and helpful staff. I really fancy the sound of their afternoon tea served in a lounge overlooking the Firth of Forth and as their rooms also look stunning, I definitely plan to return for an overnight break here in the future.
STOP 5 - BLACKNESS CASTLE
The final attraction on my itinerary was Blackness Castle, just 4 miles along the coast from Bo'ness. I've been here a couple of times before and it never seems any less foreboding or impressive. The 15th century castle was built as a residence and stronghold for the Crichtons, one of Scotland's most powerful families.
Over its lifetime it has been used as royal castle, a garrison fortress, a state prison and an ammunition depot. Today it is a popular tourist attraction and has starred in several movies and TV shows, including Outlander when it stood in for Fort William in series 1.
There is an entrance fee unless you hold a Historic Scotland membership, but once inside visitors are free to roam the historic ruin and as you walk along the curtain wall, you can really appreciate its defensive position on the Firth of Forth. From the exterior, the castle looks like a ship ready to set sail on the adjacent water and is often referred to as ‘the ship that never sailed’.
I always enjoy fitting a castle visit into my itineraries and there are no shortage of possibilities in Scotland, however Blackness does stand out among the many ruined castles and it seemed a fitting way to end my trip, well almost, as there was still time for dinner...
STOP 6 - DINNER AT THE LOBSTER POT
If The Lobster Pot in Blackness wasn't a working pub then I would happily move in. The colourful maritime décor on the outside is just a taster of what greets you on the inside. If you're a coastal lover like me then I've no doubt you will love this place too.
Of course, I wasn't just there to admire the buoys, lifebelts and seagulls - I was there for the food and it might not surprise you that lobsters are a specialty but after eating quite a bit of seafood over the last couple of days I opted for the daily special of gnocchi topped with fried halloumi. It was rich and moreish, just what I need to fill me up after an energy-burning 2 days.
I joked on my social media that you should go here for the food and stay for the décor but that is exactly what I did. I was so taken by the huge amount of humorous and quirky seaside pieces that I ordered a coffee just so I could linger and gaze around me a little longer. I definitely picked up some future interior design ideas for my forever home.
This is warm, welcoming and fun place to eat and drink close to Blackness Castle, I really can't think of a reason not to visit! I feel like I ended my trip on a high and The Lobster Pot ensured I left the Falkirk area with a smile firmly on my face.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN THE AREA
My itinerary was pretty diverse, covering a good range of activities and attractions but if you are looking for some different options to add to your own Falkirk itinerary then here are even more ideas -
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