Scotland’s dramatic countryside has been the backdrop for a number of recent big-time TV shows for good reason. Watching them could have you heading to filming locations like the breathtaking Scottish Highlands for yourself.
And it might surprise you how easy it is to visit: Most of these key filming spots are easily accessible for travelers of all ages. You’ll find that plenty of tour groups visit them, if you don’t want to explore alone—or are hoping to meet some fellow fans.
The popular new adventure romance Outlander plays out throughout much of Scotland’s famed highlands, where you can either take a day to visit a few high spots or cover the wider territory over several days on a tour.
In general, the Scottish city of Inverness is the epicenter of the Highlands and of Outlander, with scenic locations like Culloden Battlefield and Cawdor Castle only a few miles away. A Bronze Age-tomb called Clava Cairns is the real-life version of the show’s fictional Craigh Na Dun (the studio built a replica to serve as the time-travel stones) and you can visit other ancient sites, like the Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis—time travel not guaranteed. Doune Castle is closer to Edinburgh than to Inverness, which is a four-hour train ride from Edinburgh. Most visitors fly to Inverness via London on EasyJet or British Airways.
Many of the Outlander sites are accessible by public transit, but seeing them efficiently means you’ll need to either rent a car or take a tour. You can book most car rentals and tours from Inverness, Edinburgh, or Glasgow. Viator (SmarterTravel’s sister site) offers a handful of Outlander tours for both day excursions and multi-day tours, and VisitScotland lists dozens more.
An outstanding BBC detective series, Shetland chronicles detective Jimmy Perez’ and his sidekick’s hunt for bad guys on Scotland’s rugged northernmost islands—also called The Shetland Islands. Whether it’s the main center of Lerwick, rolling inland hills, or steep cliffs over breaking waves, just about any location in the Shetlands will reflect episodes of the show. Much of the filming was done near Glasgow, but the background shots are faithful to the island’s greenery and cliffs.
Shetland is so isolated that it’s easily a several-day trip, not just a quick excursion. The primary gateway to the Shetlands is Sumburgh Airport, about 30 miles south of Lerwick, with flights from Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness on Loganair. There are also flights from nearby Bergen (Norway) and overnight ferries also operate from Aberdeen, Scotland. Once you’re in Shetland, you’ll have a choice of a handful of hotels, and you can get around on local buses. I’d recommend renting a car at least for one day, or taking tours like those searchable by city on Viator.
The delightfully light-hearted Hamish Macbeth mystery series aired in the 90s and focused on the mythical town of Lochdubh—based upon the two small coastal Scottish towns of Plockton and Kyle of Lochalsh. Although the Hamish Macbeth TV series was a lot less successful in North America than Outlander or Shetland, I heard about it myself while passing through Plockton.
The towns happen to be the terminal point of a rail line from Inverness that has been hailed as one of the most scenic rail trips in all of Britain, and the praise is justified. It hugs the coast, lochs, and rivers, and passes through rolling green hills dotted with sheep.
ScotRail operates four round-trips Monday-Saturday and two on Sunday, about two and a half hours each way, so you can visit both towns on a single-day excursion from Inverness. You might, however prefer to spend a day or two in Kyle of Lochalsh, where you can find lots of hotels, B&Bs, and restaurants. It’s also the gateway to the Isle of Skye, if you’re dreaming of seeing the Hebrides’ vast beaches.
Scottish Shows: Taggart and Rebus
Two other popular Scottish TV shows are based on oft-visited cities: Taggart in Glasgow, and Rebus in Edinburgh. Neither is current, but Rebus is rumored to be set for a much-hyped comeback. On Taggart, the Scottish accents are so thick that you might need subtitles. Both shows use the usual crime imagery of the cities’ back alleys, dark lanes, and less-visited corners.
Quite a few important movies have also been shot in Scotland. Most notable are the Harry Potter films, with several Scottish sites. And, of course, there’s the original Macbeth. See more on Scotland’s beloved film and TV sites here.
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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.