When visiting Scotland, you may feel as if you’ve stepped out of the pages of a book or onto a movie set. The country’s breathtaking vistas, misty castles, and her history of intrigue have inspired authors and filmmakers to choose her as their perfect setting. 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 literary settings and film locations.
The books and movies set in the magical world created by J. K. Rowling have a passionate following around the world. J. K. Rowling wrote most of the series books after she moved to Edinburgh; many locations in the Scottish capital are linked to the novels. You can visit the Elephant Café, where J. K. Rowling often sat writing. Look for the places that inspired her such as the Hogwarts-like George Heriot’s School, the Diagon Alley-esque Victoria Street, and the grave of Thomas Riddle at Greyfriar’s Kirkyard—it was the source of Lord Voldemort’s name.
Some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery can be seen in the Harry Potter movies. A few of the top filming locations include the Steall Falls in Glen Nevis, seen in the background during two Quidditch matches; Glen Coe, a volcanic glen featured in several of the films; and the Rannoch Moor, where the Hogwarts Express (the Jacobite is a steam train you can take) crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct on its way to the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Diane Gabaldon’s best-selling Outlander books are set in Scotland, following time-traveling nurse Claire Randall and the Highland warrior, Jamie Fraser. The historic setting is the 18th century Jacobite Rebellion. Many of Scotland’s iconic locations are featured in the novels, including Inverness, Old Town Edinburgh, the shores of Loch Ness, the island of St Kilda, and Culloden battlefield.
Many Scottish locales and castles have also stood in for fictional places in the TV series, based upon 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 Jamie’s home, Lallybroch.
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 land of giants in The BFG (2016), a Disney film directed and produced by Steven Spielberg and based on the children’s classic by Roald Dahl, was recreated using Scotland’s stunning landscape. The Isle of Skye can be spotted in several scenes as the characters pass by the Quiraing, the Old Man of Storr and the Cuillin mountain range. Aerial shots of the Orkney’s Old Man of Hoy also appear.
Spielberg isn’t the only director to have used the spectacular, 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 film, Stardust (2007), based on Neil Gaiman’s best-selling fantasy, all feature scenes shot on the island.
Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting follows the misadventures of four addicted antiheroes in Scotland’s capital. Many familiar 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. Keep an eye out for Princes Street, the Scottish Parliament, and Arthur’s Seat.
The Waverley Novels
A major celebrity during his lifetime, Sir Walter Scott is one of Scotland’s best-known authors; his novels number among the most widely read books set in Scotland. The Scott Monument in Edinburgh is the tallest monument in the world that’s built to honor an author. Waverley station is the only train station in the world named after a book—Scott’s first novel.
The Waverly series features locations such as the stunning Melrose Abbey, featured in The Lay of the Last Minstrel, and the Old Tolbooth Prison on Edinburgh’s High Street, in The Heart of Midlothian. Scott’s well-loved poem, The Lady in the Lake, made Loch Katrine famous. The Rob Roy Way is a 92-mile hiking route for those who wanted to walk in the footsteps of the hero of his historical Rob Roy.
Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street, Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series and Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie are set in Edinburgh. The mysterious Roslin Chapel, just outside the city, is seen in Dan Brown’s thriller, plus the movie adaptation of, The DaVinci Code.
Feel free to ask your Destination Expert to add some literary or movie magic to your Scotland vacation!