Falkirk is a town in the central belt of Scotland, traditionally in Stirlingshire but since 1996 a unitary authority, effectively a metropolis. It's industrial and in 2020 had a population of 35,590. Its name comes from "faw-kirk" which means "multi-coloured church" but that medieval building has been lost. It stands on the canal route between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and its star attraction is the Falkirk Wheel, the ingenious device that lifts boats between two canals.
The straight-line route between Edinburgh and Glasgow passes ten miles south of Falkirk, over the hills around Shotts. These are no barrier to modern vehicles so the A8 and later the M8 went that way, but you wouldn't want to struggle over them with a horse and cart. The traditional route was therefore an arc through Linlithgow and Falkirk, leaving the Forth via the Carron valley then descending the Kelvin valley via Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch to the Clyde. The road to the central Highlands also branched off at Falkirk, for Stirling, Perth and beyond. These routes have existed since prehistory, with the earliest surviving structure being the 2nd century Antonine Wall. Traders, pilgrims, armies and cattle drovers all came this way, and later so did the canal and the railways.
Falkirk grew from the 18th century when the canal made it easier to shift heavy goods, iron ore was mined locally, and coal could be made into coke to blast the ore into steel. The Carron Iron Works two miles north of town was renowned for its armaments: the "carronade" was a stubby light cannon for naval battles at close quarters. There was also the world's first oil industry a few miles east, extracting paraffin oil from shale, creating a huddle of orange spoil heaps. Also made in Falkirk are Britain's distinctive red postboxes and telephone boxes, and Dennis trucks and buses.
Traditional heavy industry waned in the 20th century but Falkirk became involved with petrochemicals: oil and gas is refined at nearby Grangemouth. Light industry and the service sector developed, and the town as centre of a metropolis has council and similar public jobs. It's also within easy commuting distance of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Edinburgh Airport (EDI) is 19 miles east. Take the tram to Haymarket then train towards Glasgow Queen Street for Falkirk.
Glasgow Airport (GLA) is 34 miles west, far side of that city. Take the airport bus to Buchanan station then the train from Queen Street towards Edinburgh for Falkirk.
- 1 Falkirk High is south edge of town but has the fastest service. Hourly trains from Edinburgh take 30 min via Haymarket, Linlithgow and Polmont, and continue west to Croy and Glasgow Queen Street, another 25 min.
- 2 Falkirk Grahamston is more central, but is on a slower loop of the Edinburgh-Glasgow line. Westbound from Edinburgh these trains run hourly via Haymarket, Edinburgh Park, Linlithgow, Polmont, Falkirk Grahamston, Camelon, Cumbernauld, Greenfauld, Gartcosh, Stepps, Robroyston, Springburn and Glasgow Queen Street. Trains also run hourly from Edinburgh via Grahamston to Camelon, Larbert, Stirling and Dunblane.
To either Falkirk station, a return from Edinburgh is about £10 and from Glasgow is £17. The minor station of Camelon might be more convenient for the west edge of town.
From Edinburgh follow M9, from Glasgow follow M80 onto M876. Cyclists can follow the canal towpath.
Buses to Falkirk are operated by First. There isn't a bus station but they mostly stop along Vicar St in town centre, ADSA a block west, and the Community Hospital half a mile southwest.
Bus X37 runs hourly from Glasgow Buchanan Station via Cumbernauld, taking 70 min to Falkirk.
Bus X38 runs from Edinburgh every 30 min via Kirkliston, Linlithgow and Polmont, taking 1 hr 45 min.
Bus 38 runs every 20 min from Stirling via Bannockburn, and Bus 16 hourly via Airth, both taking 50 min.
Bus 3 / 4 runs from Grangemouth every 10 min, and Bus 2 runs from Bo'ness via Grangemouth every 30 min.
The Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal meet at Falkirk Wheel and have good towpaths. The Union Canal is navigable to Edinburgh: there are two locks just above the Wheel but thereafter it winds along the contours. The Forth and Clyde is also navigable down the short descent to the Forth estuary at Grangemouth, and up over the ridge to the River Kelvin and down towards Glasgow. However it has locks and low bridges which require prior notice for opening; kayaks can easily portage.
Nearby Grangemouth docks are busy with freight and tanker vessels but have no passenger sailings.
Falkirk town centre is fairly small and walkable.
The Wheel is 2.5 miles west of town centre: Bus 6 runs there every 30 min, or walk along the canal towpath, which passes Falkirk High railway station. Turn east instead to enter the long spooky canal tunnel.
Taxi firms are Express (+44 1324 638000) and Five Star (+44 1324 61933). The taxi rank is on Lower Newmarket Street.
- 1 Falkirk Wheel, Lime Rd FK1 4RS. W-Su 10:00-15:30. The Forth and Clyde Canal was completed in 1790 and its eastern extension the Union Canal reached Edinburgh in 1822. The Union ascended from the Forth and Clyde by a flight of 11 locks, which took barges a whole day to traverse and drained 3500 tonnes of water per passage. It couldn't compete with the railways, fell into disrepair, and was closed and culverted in several places. It was re-opened in stages from the 1990s but the biggest challenge was the 115 ft / 35 m drop to the canal junction. The Wheel, opened in 2002, was the ingenious solution: a rotating boat lift. Boats sail out over an elegant aqueduct into a gondola, which seals then sinks as the counter-gondola rises. By Archimedes Principle, there's no weight difference between the sides, and scant loss of water. The top aqueduct leads into Roughcastle Tunnel (575 ft / 175 m), which is modern, built along with the Wheel to connect with the original Union Canal. There are two locks on the far side, then it's plain sailing. Free.
- 2 Rough Castle Fort, Tamfourhill FK1 4RR. 24 hrs. Earthwork remains of a Roman fort on the Antonine Wall, built 142 AD and garrisoned by the Nervii, a 500-strong cohort of Belgian recruits. A distinctive feature at this fort is its "lilias", pits of sharpened stakes by the gate through the wall. The deep ditch ran the length of the north side of the wall, and you can follow it for some way before it disappears under later structures. East it parallels Tamfourhill Rd, with the next fort Watling Lodge lost beneath Lock 16 of the Forth and Clyde Canal. West it heads through Seabegs Wood, where Seabegs fort has disappeared, then on towards Castle Cary on the outskirts of Cumbernauld. Free.
- 3 Bantaskine is a woodland park a mile west of town. It's the site of the 1746 Battle of Falkirk Muir, and there are plans for a visitor centre, but nothing's come of this. The Jacobites had advanced as far south as Derby then were rolled back, but they remained strong and came again, targetting Stirling. A Government relief force was trounced at the battle here, but the Jacobites failed to take advantage and the government forces re-grouped. Bonny Prince Charlie's Jacobites continued their streak of victorious retreats, and the endgame would be played at Culloden.
- 4 The Kelpies are two huge horse-head sculptures at the terminus of the Forth and Clyde Canal into the tidal river Carron. Completed in 2013, they're visible from the adjacent M9, use Jcn 1 onto A9 for a closer view. They're 98 ft (30 m) high: Kelpies were shape-shifting water creatures that might ensnare you by resembling a horse, and they also commemorate the heavy draught horses that hauled barges along the canals.
- 5 Falkirk town centre is centred on The Steeple, the 141 ft / 43 m clocktower built in classical style in 1814. This was never a church, but was a tolbooth or town jail. (Tolbooth St north side of it is said to be Britain's shortest street, but there are rival claims, eg by Wick). The High Street was the traditional A9 Edinburgh to John O'Groats road but is now pedestrianised, and M9 bypasses to the north.
- Old Parish Church or Trinity is on High St 100 yards west of the Steeple. Here stood the 7th century "Faw Kirk", but it was replaced or rebuilt in later centuries and the present building is mostly from 1811. Buried here are Sir John de Graeme and Sir John Stewart of Bonkyll, both killed at the 1298 Battle of Falkirk. Trinity is still in use as a Church of Scotland.
- Pleasance is the nondescript modern street south of Howgate Shopping Centre which was the site of Falkirk Fort on the Antonine Wall. Nothing to see here but plenty in the museums, as excavation revealed the best examples of the Romans in Scotland. Most astonishing was Scotland's earliest tartan, a black and white wool weave in the neck of a jar of Roman coins buried in 260 AD. It's become the traditional tartan of the Shepherd family and of the County of Northumberland.
- 6 Callendar House, Callendar Rd FK1 1YR, ☏ . Daily 10:00 -17:00. This began as a turretted house in the 14th century. It was the home of the well-connected Livingston family but they backed the Jacobites in 1715 and again in 1745 and paid the price. It was bought by a businessman, William Forbes, who greatly extended it in chateau-cum-baronial style. It passed to the council in 1963 and has been restored as a museum in mostly Georgian period. In the park, you can trace the line of the Antonine Wall, and there's a Doric memorial to Forbes. Free.
- Westquarter Burn at the southeast boundary of Callender Park is the probable site of the 1298 Battle of Falkirk, with the Scots led by William Wallace ranged north of the burn and the English led by Edward I south of it. Wallace had smashed the English at Stirling Bridge and raided into Northumberland, but Edward returned with a bigger army. Wallace's tactics at Falkirk were poor, his men were felled by English archery, and he could never again do more than skirmish.
- 7 Falkirk Canal Tunnel on the Union Canal is 2088 ft / 636 m, a long dark spooky passage. Enter from the north off Slamannan Road next to Falkirk High railway station. The south entrance is in a deep cutting with no immediate access to the streets above, so continue out into open country for views towards the Forth. You might as well carry on to Polmont and ride the train or bus back from there.
- California four miles southeast of town is not as sunny as the Council's publicity department makes out. Coal was mined here, and the settlement expanded around the time of the 1848-55 California Gold Rush. The pit has long closed so just take the obligatory photo of the village sign and move on, perhaps to Moscow near Ayr.
- 8 The Pineapple is an 18th century glasshouse for growing pineapples and other tropical fruit, and shaped like one. You can't go inside, but can admire the odd exterior and the grounds free. It's 4 miles north of Falkirk just beyond Airth, open daily.
- What's on? For local events listen to Central FM on 103.1 FM or read Falkirk Herald, published weekly.
- Football: 1 Falkirk FC, 4 Stadium Way, Falkirk FK2 9EE (A mile east of centre near jcn of M9 and A904). "The Bairns" play soccer in League One, the third tier in Scotland. Their home ground is Falkirk Stadium, capacity 8000.
- 2 Stenhousemuir FC play in League Two, the fourth tier, at Ochilview Park, capacity 3700.
- Queen's Park of Glasgow in 2022/23 are ground-sharing at Ochilview Park until their own stadium next to Hampden is complete.
- Canal boat trips tour the Wheel. Private boat owners can pass through free but must give prior notice, same as the other canal locks. A one-hour trip is run by Scottish Canals[dead link]: it sails from the Visitor Centre, ascends the Wheel and goes through Tamfourhill Tunnel to the basin then returns. In 2022 the fare is adult £13.50, child £8. In previous summers longer trips sailed, for instance from Ratho, making a day of it and serving a leisurely lunch. No-one offers canal barge holidays, as these waterways are too limited.
- Cinema: Cineworld is on Central Retail Park north side of town.
- Golf: Falkirk GC is two miles west by Camelon railway station. Further out are Bonnybridge GC, Falkirk Tryst GC, Glenbervie GC and Grangemouth GC. There's a Par-3 course in the park by Callendar House.
- Airth Highland Games are held on the fourth Saturday in July at The Wilderness, Airth FK8 2LN (a lot closer to main street than that address suggests). So the next are on Sat 22 July 2023.
- Howgate Shopping Centre is the most central, on High St. A block north, ASDA is open daily 07:00-22:00.
- Central Retail Park is north side of the railway through Grahamston. Tesco is open daily 06:00-00:00, and 200 yards west is Morrisons.
- Benny T's, Mary St, Laurieston FK2 9PS (a mile east of Falkirk centre). M-F 11:30-14:00 & 16:00-22:00, Sa 11:30-22:00, Su 16:00-21:00. Excellent fish and chips to eat in or takeaway.
- Sanam Tandoori, 5 Callendar Road FK1 1XS (foot of High Street). M-Sa 12:00-14:00 & 17:00-23:00, Su 17:00-23:00. Decent Indian fare, good value for money.
- Christie's, 104 Manor St FK1 1NU, ☏ . M-Sa 09:00-23:00, Su 10:00-22:00. Opened in 2021, this serves Scottish fare in tapas form, think bonzai haggis.
- Erewan Thai at 11 East Bridge St is open Tu-Th 17:00-21:00, F Sa 12:00-22:00, Su 17:00-20:00.
- Lanna Thai[dead link] by Grahamston station is open Tu-Sa 12:00-14:00, 17:00-22:00, Su 17:00-22:00.
- Chianti Restaurant, East Beancross Farm FK2 0XS (Jcn 5 of M9 opposite Premier Inn), ☏ . Daily 12:00-22:00. This Italian restaurant gets great reviews.
- Town centre pubs are Wellington Bar, The Jolly, Scotia, Carron Works (JD Wetherspoon), Aitken Bar, Tolbooth Tavern, The Wheatsheaf, The Courtyard, Cheerz, New Market Bar, Behind The Wall, High Spirits and the Railway Tavern.
- Falkirk Distillery distilled their first whisky in late 2020, so it will go on sale in the run-up to Christmas 2023.
- Rosebank Distillery closed in the 1990s, but 30-year old malts from that period are still available. The place has been rebuilt and resumes production in 2022, with the whisky on sale from late 2025.
- 1 Orchard Hotel, 2 Kerse Lane FK1 1RF, ☏ . The most central option in town, clean and well-run with decent bistro. B&B double £55.
- 2 Hotel Cladhan, Kemper Ave FK1 1UF, ☏ . Unpromising 1970s exterior, but inside is spacious, clean and comfy. B&B double £85.
- 3 Premier Lodge, West Mains Rd FK3 8YE, ☏ . Reliable chain with four other local hotels: Falkirk Central in Camelon, Larbert (jcn 2 of M876), Falkirk West in Polmont (see below) and Falkirk North at Airth (jcn 3 of M876). B&B double £80.
- Junction 5 of M9: see Polmont#Sleep for Premier Inn Falkirk West, Travelodge, OYO Metro Inn and Beancross Farm Hotel, all clustered here.
As of Feb 2022, Falkirk has 4G from all UK carriers, and you might get 5G with Three.
- Linlithgow is an attractive town and castle overlooking a loch, easily reached by bus or train.
- Bo'ness has the Bo'ness and Kinneil Steam Railway.
- Edinburgh is the splendid capital city of Scotland, 30 minutes east on the train.
- Stirling to the north is a miniature Edinburgh with its castle perched on a crag.
|Routes through Falkirk|
|Perth ← Stirling ←||NW SE||→ Linlithgow → Edinburgh|
|Glasgow ← merges with ←||W E||→ → Dunfermline (via )|