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There’s no finer place to take a crash course in Scotland’s bloody history than this compact university city. The magnificently-sited, and thoughtfully conserved, castle which stands atop a plug of volcanic rock made it the key to holding Scotland during Anglo-Scottish wars, and a substantial core of the medieval and Renaissance buildings of this royal burgh remain. The Castle – probably Scotland’s most interesting - is the must-see sight, but other aspects of history are explored at the gloriously Gothic National Wallace Monument, which commemorates William (Braveheart) Wallace, and at the Bannockburn Heritage Centre, close to the site of the battle in 1314 which guaranteed Scotland’s survival as a nation, and which is about to be comprehensively revamped ahead of the battle’s 700th anniversary. A large student population gives the place a youthful vibe, and it’s a short distance from the superb scenery of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Note also that Corrieri’s is one of the country’s finest family-run Italian cafés. En route you can take in the engineering innovation that is Falkirk Wheel – a rotating boat lift that transports boats between two different canals.