If you’re looking for a good excursion from Edinburgh in Scotland, Falkirk is a great choice. This city is located only half an hour away from the capital and has plenty of fantastic attractions, including the world’s largest equestrian statues and the only rotating boat lift in the world, not to mention a few filming locations from Outlander as well as the most unique folly in Scotland. Here’s a guide on how to spend 48 hours in Falkirk.
Getting to Falkirk from Edinburgh
Falkirk is located roughly 20 miles west of Edinburgh, about halfway to Glasgow. You can drive there in about half an hour on the M9 highway. Just make sure you get off the highway at Exit 5. I’ve missed the exit several times, thinking there’s an exit at the next big roundabout, but there isn’t and then it’s an 11-mile detour to backtrack.
If you don’t have your own or a hired car, you can take the bus or train to Falkirk. There is usually a train that runs from Edinburgh to Falkirk in under half an hour. Just before I went in August 2020, the railway was damaged by flooding and the service was temporarily unavailable. Otherwise, it’s the fastest and cheapest way to get to Falkirk.
The other option is the X38 bus, which will take you straight from Princes Street in Edinburgh’s New Town to the center of Falkirk in a little over an hour and a half. If you’re going straight from Edinburgh Airport to Falkirk (as I did), then get the 909 bus and jump off in Grangemouth, which is about 20 minutes away by foot from the center of Falkirk.
Where to Stay in Falkirk
Falkirk doesn’t have the largest variety of accommodations to stay at. When there are events in town, such as a concert at the Falkirk Stadium, everything is fully booked. There also aren’t any hostels or budget accommodations in town at this time. The cheapest hotels start at around £30 ($39) a night.
SGE Leapark Hotel
My hotel was actually in Grangemouth, the town just on the other side of the highway from Falkirk. The SGE Hotel Group is a family-run chain of five hotels around Scotland. Just like the hotels in Edinburgh, SGE Leapark Hotel is built into an old stone building, but with nice, modern amenities. I was spoiled with a large executive room. There was a large space with a desk where I could catch up on my work, and a raised portion of the room where the bed was. The bathroom was quite large, especially by UK standards. I found the bed very soft and comfortable, and the WiFi was not bad.
I didn’t actually get a chance to eat in the hotel’s restaurant just due to time restrictions. Usually, that’s where breakfast would also be served, but due to the world events of 2020, breakfast is in a separate dining room. You have to tell them when you plan to eat breakfast, but otherwise, there weren’t really any restrictions. Breakfast options included a big Scottish breakfast, a smaller breakfast, a vegetarian option, eggs benedict, or a breakfast sandwich. On the side were optional toast, porridge, coffee, tea, and orange juice.
Dunmore Pineapple House
The Dunmore Pineapple is one of the most unusual structures in Scotland. It’s a folly (a decorative structure on one’s property that doesn’t usually serve a purpose) in the shape of a 46-foot tall pineapple. The pineapple sits atop a garden wall that contains two gardeners cottages. The best part is that you can rent out the cottages. They sleep four and cost as little as £500 ($650) for 4 days. The website advertises them for as little as £264 for 4 nights, but the cheaper times must already be fully booked for the next year.
While not significantly cheaper, another option is to stay at an Airbnb. There are about 90 properties around Falkirk and Grangemouth, starting at about £24 ($30) per night. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, use this link to claim up to £40 off your first stay.
Great Restaurants and Cafes in Falkirk
The town of Falkirk only has about 35,000 residents, but there are still plenty of restaurants and cafes to choose from, particularly in the city center. There are also a few gems out in the suburbs if you know where to look. While I’m sure I could write an entire book about the different places to eat in Falkirk, here are the couple that I had a chance to visit during my 48 hours there.
The first cafe I visited in Falkirk was Pots Cafe, the brainchild of Nicky Don. Located just a minute away from the Falkirk Steeple in the center of town, it’s a good place to head to if you want something convenient…or if you’re looking for fantastically good food. On the recommendation of Nicky, I had the haggis, chili and cheese toastie, served with salad, coleslaw and chips. As far as toasties go, it was one of the best I’ve ever had! Surprisingly spicy by Scottish standards, it was a really nice use of their fresh haggis from a local butcher.
If you’re not looking for a big meal, the drinks and cakes are also fantastic. All the cakes are homemade by Nicky and change daily. I had the raspberry cheesecake, with a chai latte on the side. The latte was delicious, especially as it was made from chai powder and not a teabag as some cafes do. The cheesecake was simply perfect. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, they have a large menu just for you.
Arnotdale House Cafe
The Arnotdale House Cafe opened in September 2019 in Dollar Park. The cafe and house are managed by the Cyrenians charity organization. Per their website, “Cyrenians serves those on the edge, working with people at risk of becoming homeless and supporting them to transform their lives by beginning with their story, helping them believe that they can change their lives, and walking with them as they lead their own transformation.”
The cafe serves homemade food using locally-sourced ingredients. Some of their vegetables come from the Dollar Park garden, and they plan to eventually source all their produce from their own garden. The menu isn’t big, but the dishes are fantastic.
Their signature dish is the Stornaway stack – something I’d somehow never had in all my years living in Scotland. It uses Stornoway black pudding – a blood sausage from the Western Isles of Scotland. The stack is bread, Stornoway black pudding, a large portobello mushroom and a poached egg, topped with crispy bacon bits. It was delicious! The Stornoway black pudding is much better than the generic black pudding that many cafes in Scotland will serve.
I also had a stack of salmon pancakes on the side, just because they looked so good. I would never have considered topping fluffy American pancakes with cream cheese, smoked salmon and capers, but it turned out to be a really good combination. Add in a ginger beer on the side and the lunch was perfect.
The Lobster Pot
If you make it out to Blackness Castle, you’ve got to stop at the Lobster Pot. This quirky pub has some really fantastic decorations, all put together by the owner. I didn’t actually have any space in my stomach for another meal after my massive lunch at the Arnotdale House Cafe, but I did get a small snack of potato wedges while I waited for my bus back to Edinburgh.
One thing to know about the pubs and taverns in Scotland is that, contrary to what you would find in the USA, they usually serve the best food in town. Their ingredients are often sourced from local butchers and farmers, and the chefs are really creative. Considering how busy the place was in such a small village (and the castle was closed that day), I’m assuming the quality of their food was quite good. If you’re not hungry, at least stop by and see the awesome decorations inside and out.
Things to Do in Falkirk
There are a surprising number of attractions to see in the urban region of Falkirk, which is why I consider the town seriously underrated. Some of the attractions are better known than others, but I found that there’s actually far more to see than you can comfortably squeeze into 48 hours.
The Kelpies and Helix Park
In 2013, the Kelpies were constructed as a tribute to the steel industry of Falkirk, as well as the importance of the canal system in Scotland. Located at the beginning of the Forth and Clyde Canal where it branches off the River Carron about a mile and a half away from the Firth of Forth, these two massive steel horse statues tower 100 feet in the air. The Kelpies are also representative of mythical kelpies – water spirits in Scotland which often take the form of a horse.
The Kelpies are part of the Helix eco-park. The Helix opened in 2013 as the center of 17 miles of trails that connect 16 neighborhoods in Falkirk. The Helix has a large play area for kids, a lake and the Plaza Cafe.
The Kelpies were completed in 2014 with a visitor center to accommodate 300,000 visitors a year; it saw over a million in the first year after its opening! If you’re hungry, you can grab a snack from the visitor cafe or one of the food carts outside, or a pizza from The Horsebox on the other side of the statues.
If you’ve seen the Kelpies as you drive by on the nearby highway, you should know that you really can’t appreciate them unless you stand beneath. They’re a lot bigger than they look from the highway. I’d also recommend going at night when they’re lit up with colors, which is easier to do in the winter as sunset in the summer is around 11 at night! The Kelpies themselves are free to visit, but you have to pay for parking…r you can park by the Helix which is only about five minutes away.
One attraction you probably won’t visit in Falkirk unless it’s a special occasion is Falkirk Stadium. Built for football matches in 2006, it holds nearly 8,000 people. Although relatively small, it’s a decent music venue. The biggest music venue in Edinburgh – Usher Hall – only holds 2,200 people. As such, most people head to Glasgow to see their favorite concerts.
Recently, bands have started performing at Falkirk Stadium, which is only half the distance to Glasgow from Edinburgh. This year, The Killers were supposed to perform, but they were postponed until 2021 due to world events. On the other hand, if you’re into football (as I am), you could watch a match at the stadium.
An interesting feature of the stadium is the electric vehicle charging hub. With 26 stations, it’s the largest charging hub in Scotland. There is a huge push to reduce carbon emissions in Scotland and make it a greener country with renewable energy. Electric vehicles play a big part in that. Large charging centers like the one at Falkirk Stadium are being installed along the major highways of Scotland. The Scottish government has planned to phase out the need for new petrol and diesel cars by 2032, and will even give you an interest-free loan up to £35,000 ($45,000) for the purchase of an electric vehicle.
The Falkirk Wheel
The Falkirk Wheel has been on my list of places to visit for years, but somehow I only made it there this year. As the only rotating boat lift in the world, it’s a really unique and fascinating attraction. Built in 2002, the lift can take a flat-bottomed canal boat from the Forth and Clyde Canal up 86 feet to join the Union Canal which leads to Edinburgh. From the wheel, the Union Canal goes through a tunnel and then up two locks before maintaining the same level (no more locks) all the way to its terminus in Edinburgh.
The Falkirk Wheel is quite a marvel of engineering. The mechanism uses the power of eight electric tea kettles to rotate two boat-carrying gondolas each weighing 250 tons! You can take an hour boat tour up the lift to the first of the locks on the Union Canal and back down for £13.50 ($17.50). I highly recommend the tour, as the guide continuously gives you information about the Falkirk Wheel, the construction of the canals, what you can see around Falkirk from the top of the wheel, etc.
If you have a bit more time, walk out to Rough Castle and the remains of the Antonine Wall, one of Scotland’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Antonine Wall was the wall built 12 years after Hadrian’s Wall to keep the Scottish out of Britannia (what the Romans called England). It takes about half an hour to walk from the Falkirk Wheel to Rough Castle. Due to a tight schedule, I didn’t actually make it out there myself. I’ve been told there’s not much to see of the two-thousand-year-old fort, but I still like visiting all the UNESCO sites that I can. I’ll get out there the next time I’m in Falkirk.
The Dunmore Pineapple
I’ve seen some really unusual buildings in my travels. The Dunmore Pineapple is definitely one of the strangest. In 1493, Christopher Columbus brought the first pineapples over to Europe from Guadaloupe. At that time, they were extremely rare and valuable commodities. In 1761, John Murray built a greenhouse on his estate by the Firth of Forth to grow pineapples. Shortly afterward, he sailed across the Atlantic to become the last Colonial Governor of Vermont. Sometime after his return to Scotland, he added the concrete pineapple structure atop the greenhouse.
The Dunmore Pineapple is considered to be a folly. In Scotland, a folly is a decorative structure on one’s property that doesn’t really serve any purpose. There are towers and strange structures all over the UK that classify as follies, but I think the Pineapple is the most unique. It’s free to explore the gardens around the pineapple. If you want to see inside the structure, you can rent out the garden cottage beneath the pineapple for the weekend, which sleeps four.
Check out my article on the Dunmore Pineapple for directions on how to get there (it’s not that easy to find), what there is to do around the pineapple, and how to rent it for the weekend.
One of the most popular attractions in Falkirk is the Callander House. The house dates back to the 1300s, although it started out as a simple stone tower house. Over the past seven centuries, the house has expanded into a gorgeous Georgian estate. Many notable figures have stayed at the house, including Mary, Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and Queen Victoria.
The Callendar House has three permanent exhibits full of panels and displays – The Story of the Callendar House, The Antonine Wall: Rome’s Northern Frontier, and Falkirk: Crucible of Revolution. The Georgian Kitchen is also a permanent attraction where you can see the original equipment, ovens and fireplace. A guide dressed in character will show you around, provide information on the history of the kitchen, and give you some samples of the original food they used to serve (although that last is temporarily suspended due to current world events). There are other additional temporary exhibits in the galleries of the house which change from time to time.
Just like the Kelpies, the Callendar House is free to visit. At this time, you have to book in your slot in advance. You could rush through the house in about 45 minutes, but I’d recommend spending a couple hours to really take in all the information. You can also spend a few hours exploring the grounds and woodland trails, which include the Forbes Mausoleum, another section of the remnants of the Antonine Wall, and Callendar Lake.
If you can’t make it to Falkirk in the near future, feel free to check out my virtual tour of the Callendar House.
Dollar Park is where you’ll find the aforementioned Arnotdale House Cafe, but the cafe isn’t all there is to the park. Behind Arnotdale House is a large community garden where volunteers and the homeless can help out, although there are also experienced gardeners to help maintain and supervise things, including one of only two floral clocks in Scotland (the other being in the Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh).
Before the other popular attractions in Falkirk opened, such as the Kelpies and Falkirk Wheel, the Dollar Park was a hub for the local community and visitors. Since the Cyrenians have been helping out, the park has been revitalized, with renovations to the playground, tennis courts and the house itself. Even the local bridge club returned to the park after nearly 50 years away.
If you have the time, Dollar Park is a nice place to relax a bit, grab a bite to eat and enjoy the flowers.
The castle was built in the 15th century in a crucial defensive position on the Firth of Forth, protecting the nearly Linlithgow Palace which was one of the Scottish monarch’s residences at that time. The castle has the shape of a ship about to sail into the Firth of Forth, with three towers nicknamed Stern, Mast and Stem. Considerable defensive improvements have been made over the centuries, including reinforcing the walls to up to 15 feet thick in some places! The entrance to the castle is one of the most advanced kill chambers (known as a caponier) for its day in Scotland. As such, the castle was recently used as an ammunition depot before it was turned over to Historic Scotland.
The castle grounds are free to explore. If you want to enter the castle and also walk out on the pier (which has the best views of the castle and is protected by one of the last draw bridges to be constructed in the UK), admission is only £6 ($7.75). To get to Blackness Castle from Falkirk or Edinburgh, take the train to Linlithgow Palace and then the F49 bus to Blackness. There’s also the C19 bus which will take you straight from Blackness to Princes Street in Edinburgh’s New Town.
The Perfect 48 Hour Itinerary for Falkirk
When I first considered spending 48 hours in Falkirk, I didn’t think there were enough attractions to fill up two days. Now that I’ve done it, I can say that two days isn’t really enough time, especially if you want to explore the outdoors around the Falkirk Wheel, Dunmore Pineapple and Callendar House. Without any additional exploration and sticking to a tight schedule, everything above can be completed in two days.
I went to the Kelpies and Helix, Falkirk Stadium, Falkirk Wheel, and Dunmore Pineapple on my first day, and then Callendar House, Dollar Park and Blackness Castle on my second day, but that’s mostly because Callendar House was still closed on my first day. It might be a better idea to visit the Callendar House on the same day as the rest of the attractions around the center of Falkirk (Kelpies, Wheel and Dollar Park) and then get to the Dunmore Pineapple and Blackness Castle on the second day. That would also give you some time to explore Linlithgow Palace on the way to Blackness.
As some tips, aim to visit Callendar House in the morning before it gets busy, and the Kelpies in the evening to get the best lighting for photos (and free parking). The last boat tour at the Falkirk Wheel is at 3 p.m., so make sure to take that into account with your schedule. While I’d highly recommend visiting both Pots Cafe and Arnotdale House Cafe, it might be hard to work them into your schedule if you’re going to be out at the castle and palace on the second day.
As to a budget, considering there are no hostels in Falkirk, expect to spend at least £60 ($75) a day between accommodations, food, transport and the few paid attractions. If you’re really on a budget, you can consider getting a hostel in Edinburgh or Stirling and commuting each day to Falkirk, but that wouldn’t technically be a full 48 hours in Falkirk.
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