Scotland’s breathtaking vistas, countless brooding castles and history full of drama and intrigue have inspired numerous authors and filmmakers to choose the country as the setting for their fictional stories. Whether you’re a fan of Scottish movies, a book lover or enjoy watching great TV shows, you could easily create an entire travel itinerary around visiting the numerous book settings and famous filming locations dotted around the country. If you are seeking the ultimate Scotland vacation that has a central theme based on books and movies set in Scotland
Harry Potter hardly needs an introduction – the books and movies set in the magical world created by J. K. Rowling have a passionate fan following around the world. J. K. Rowling wrote most of the books in the series after she moved to Edinburgh, and many locations in the Scottish capital are linked to the novels in some way. You can visit the Elephant Café where J. K. Rowling often sat writing, or go spot the many places in the city rumoured to have inspired her, including the very Hogwarts-like George Heriot’s School, the Diagon Alley-esque Victoria Street and the grave of the real-life Thomas Riddle at Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, said to have been the source of Lord Voldemort’s name.
Some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery from mountains to lochs can also be seen in the Harry Potter movies. A few of the top filming locations to visit include the Steall Falls in Glen Nevis (seen in the background during two Quidditch matches), Glen Coe (a dramatic volcanic glen featured in several of the films) and the Rannoch Moor, where the Hogwarts Express (the real-life Jacobite, a steam train that you can travel on) can be seen crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct on its way to the Hogwarts School of Withcraft and Wizardry.
Diane Gabaldon’s best-selling books set in Scotland follow the fates of the time-travelling English nurse Claire Randall and the young Highland warrior Jamie Fraser during the tragic Jacobite Rebellion in 18th century Scotland. A large number of locations of interest are featured in the novels, including Inverness, the Old Town of Edinburgh, the shores of Loch Ness, the tiny island of St Kilda and the tragic battlefield at Culloden.
Many real-life Scottish locales and castles have also stood for the fictional places in the popular TV series based on the novels. Some of the most noteworthy include Doune Castle as Castle Leoch (seat of the Clan MacKenzie), Blackness Castle as Jack Randall’s headquarters in Fort William, Linlithgow Palace as Wentworth Prison, Hopetoun House as Duke Sandringham’s residence and Midhope Castle as Lallybroch (Jamie’s home).
Game of Thrones
While Scotland may have lost the chance to be the main filming location of the HBO hit show Game of Thrones (based on George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy novel series The Song of Ice and Fire) because of a lack of studio facilities, it speaks volumes of the country’s scenic appeal that the producers had Scotland in mind when considering where to shoot the TV series. And one Scottish castle did briefly get a starring role in the early episodes of the series: Doune Castle near Stirling (the very same that portrayed Castle Leoch in Outlander) served as the first setting for Winterfell, the ancestral home of House Stark.
The BFG (The Big Friendly Giant)
The mythical majesty of the land of the giants in The BFG (2016) – a Disney film directed and produced by Steven Spielberg and based on the beloved children’s classic by Roald Dahl – was recreated with a little help from Scotland’s stunning landscape. The Isle of Skye can be spotted in several scenes in the movie as the characters pass the Quiraing, the Old Man of Storr and the Cuillin mountain range, while aerial shots of the iconic Old Man of Hoy in Orkney appear too.
Unsurprisingly, Spielberg isn’t the only director to have made use of the spectacular and other-worldly beauty of Skye: Guy Richie’s King Arthur and the Legend of the Sword (2017), Ridley Scott’s sci-fi blockbuster Prometheus (2012) and Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust (2007) based on Neil Gaiman’s best-selling fantasy novel all feature scenes shot on the island.
One of the most well-known Scottish books, Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting follows the misadventures of four heroin-addicted antiheroes in Scotland’s capital. Many iconic Edinburgh landmarks can be seen in the two Scottish movies based on Welsh’s novels – Trainspotting (1996) and its sequel T2 (2017), both directed by Danny Boyle – including Princes Street, the Scottish Parliament and Arthur’s Seat.
If you want to explore more fictional connections in Scotland’s capital, you’re spoiled for choice: Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street, Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series and Muriel Spark’s classic The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie are also set in Edinburgh, while the mysterious Roslin Chapel just outside the city is an important location in Dan Brown’s thriller The DaVinci Code as well as its 2006 movie adaptation directed by Ron Howard.
The Waverley Novels
A major celebrity in his own time, Sir Walter Scott is probably Scotland’s best-known author and his novels number among the most widely-read books set in Scotland. The Scott Monument in Edinburgh is the tallest monument in the world built in honor of an author and the Waverley station – the only train station in the world named after a book – derives its name from Scott’s first novel.
The historical novels in Scott’s Waverley series feature many interesting locations worth a visit, including the stunning Melrose Abbey (featured in The Lay of the Last Minstrel) and the site of the Old Tolbooth Prison and public execution point on Edinburgh’s High Street (featured in the Heart of Mid-Lothian). Scott also made Loch Katrine famous by using it as the setting in his poem The Lady of the Lake, and there’s an entire 92-mile hiking route (The Rob Roy Way) for those who want to walk in the footsteps of the roguish hero of Scott’s historical novel Rob Roy. View Scotland vacations here.