Scotland is ready for its close-up. The photogenic corner of the world has become a favorite of location scouts because its diverse landscapes, picturesque towns and urban centers are the perfect backdrop for nearly any film.
Scotland is ready for its close-up. The photogenic corner of the world has become a favorite of location scouts, because its diverse landscapes, picturesque towns, and urban centers are the perfect backdrop for nearly any film. The proof of that is in the films that have been shot in the country from period dramas to animated features to science fiction favorites making good use of Scotland’s rugged mountains, lush greenery, sandy beaches and rolling hills.
We put together 11 breathtaking locations in Scotland that have been featured in iconic films and TV programs below. Read the list, and enter here for a chance to win a trip to Scotland to see them with your own eyes!
Glen Etive, Skyfall
The spectacular Scottish Highlands location of Glen Etive and the wider Glen Coe area were used as the setting for James Bond's ancestral home in the 2012 film Skyfall. In the film, when 007 and his boss, M, need a safe place to hole up and wait for a fearsome rival, they head to the Bond family estate, Skyfall, set in the breathtaking landscape of Glen Etive. Along the way, the spy parks his Aston Martin on the side of the road to survey the glen’s deep valley, the meandering River Etive, and the rugged terrain carved out by glaciers centuries ago. The choice of Glen Etive was a homage to Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, whose family owned Dalness Lodge in the glen, according to the BBC, which stood in for the Bond family homestead in the film. It’s the perfect place for a leisurely drive on vacation, Aston Martin optional.
Other movies featuring Scotland's most famous glen include Mel Gibson's Braveheart (1995) and Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935).
Glenfinnan Viaduct, the Harry Potter films
Harry Potter learns that he isn’t merely a muggle, but a young wizard, when he is invited to attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. To start his new school and his new life, Harry must simply hop aboard the Hogwarts Express bound for the secret wizarding school in the Highlands of Scotland. In the Harry Potter films, the Hogwarts Express can be spotted on its journey north zipping over the stunning 21-arched Glenfinnan Viaduct, which spans 1,000 feet, carrying the train cars 100 feet above ground to the Glenfinnan Station. Visitors hoping to re-create the scene, can hop aboard the Jacobite steam train which runs from Glenfinnan to Fort William or Mallaig in the summer months. Bring your own butter beer and chocolate frogs.
Royal Burgh of Culross, Outlander
In Diana Gabaldon’s books, nurse Claire Randall (played by Caitriona Balfe) falls through a magical portal in 1940s Inverness and finds herself in 1743 Scotland. There she’s married off to clansman Jamie Fraser and embarks on a fraught, dangerous and passion-filled adventure through the Scottish Highlands. To walk in Claire’s footsteps, visit the Royal Burgh of Culross, a village that is one of the most well-preserved examples of a 17th/18th-century town in Scotland. In the series, Culross stood in for the village of Cranesmuir where Claire got to know her new surroundings, meeting her friend Geillis Duncan and helping save the life of a young thief. The village’s Culross Palace garden also appeared in the series, standing in for Castle Leoch’s herb garden.
If you’re hoping to travel back in time to find your own Jamie Fraser, though, it’s not in Culross. Instead, head to the standing stones location at Kinloch Rannoch, which stood in as the magical site Craigh na Dun.
Linlithgow Palace, Outlaw King
This Netflix saga follows Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) as he fights to regain control of Scotland after being made an outlaw by the King of England for taking the Scottish Crown. The film reportedly tried to film in locations where the action actually took place some 500 years ago, including Linlithgow Palace, the residence of the kings of Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries. The ruins of the great royal palace sit alongside Linlithgow Loch, and today visitors can see the great hall where generations of Stewart kings and queens feasted, the chapel where they prayed, the site where Mary Queen of Scots was born, and stroll through the cobblestoned courtyard where Robert the Bruce — and Chris Pine — once walked.
Doune Castle, Monty Python and the Holy Grail
When the Monty Python crew set out in search of the Holy Grail for their 1975 film, they had a hilarious script, a bunch of coconuts, knit chainmail, and a few thousand dollars from investors like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Elton John. Because their budget was small, and according to director Terry Gilliam, the National Trust wouldn’t let them film anywhere else, they distilled down the set of their medieval film to pretty much one location — Scotland’s Doune Castle. The castle dates back to the 14th century, when it was built on the banks of the River Teith for the son of King Robert II. Doune stood in for almost every castle seen in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, including Castle Anthrax, Camelot (with the Knights of the Round Table meeting in Doune’s Great Hall) and Guy de Lombard’s castle, where a French guard taunts the knights from the castle wall, declaring, “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries!”
Now, visitors can take an audio tour narrated by Monty Python’s Terry Jones and practice yelling their own insults from the castle wall.
Rosslyn Chapel, The Da Vinci Code
Before Dan Brown even finished writing his gripping thriller The Da Vinci Code, he already knew where the ending had to be set — Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel, which he called “the most mysterious and magical chapel on earth.” When Ron Howard adapted the mystery, he sent stars Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou to the chapel for the film’s exciting finale. Rosslyn Chapel was founded in 1446 as a place of worship and is filled with ornate stonework that covers almost every surface. The carvings are filled with little green men, intricate plants, Masonic imagery, mysterious symbols, eight-pointed stars, the “dance of death,” even a face that is claimed to be the death mask of Robert the Bruce. The curious carvings have inspired countless theories over the years and, of course, also inspired one famous author.
Ardverikie Estate, The Crown
At the end of every summer, Queen Elizabeth II heads north to the Scottish Highlands for a long holiday at Balmoral Castle, the British royal family’s country estate. Naturally, the family vacation spot was included in The Crown, Netflix’s series that documents life of the young Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy). However, Balmoral Castle wasn’t available when the series was shooting, so the crew substituted Ardverikie Estate, a nearly as spectacular 19th century home set in the bucolic Scottish Highlands. Ardverikie was the ancestral home of the Macpherson Clan, which eventually became the hunting lodge of Sir John William Ramsden, at the time the sixth-richest man in England, who added to the home’s already impressive acreage. Now it’s a stunning private estate set amid thousands of acres of private land all of which is available for holidays, events and, of course, standing in for Balmoral Castle when necessary.
Dunnottar Castle, Brave
Pixar’s feature Brave may be animated, but the artists behind the film were inspired by real-life settings after visiting Scotland. When originally dreaming up the film, the animators envisioned the DunBroch family castle in the Highlands. Then they saw Dunnottar Castle outside of Aberdeenshire, set above the sea on a rocky outcropping perfect for fending off invaders, which is why the castle, which dates back to the 3rd century, could survive for so many years. As visitors take in the breathtaking views, it’s hard not to imagine feeling invincible in this clifftop fortress. The castle’s impenetrability also helped save the Scottish Crown Jewels from destruction. The real-life castle inspired Pixar’s artists to rethink Merida’s home, putting her castle on the sea, impervious to everything.
Isle of Harris, 2001: A Space Odyssey
While Stanley Kubrick's epic 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, was meant to be set on Jupiter, location scouts found an easier stand-in: Scotland’s Isle of Harris. The largest island in the Outer Hebrides is known for its diverse landscapes, from the snow-capped Harris Hills to exquisite sandy beaches to the strange lunar-like landscape of Loch Airigh in the south. There, the terrain is made up of anorthosite, a rock similar to that found on the moon. (If you haven’t heard of it, go ahead and ask HAL 9000.)
Danny Boyle opened his 1996 film Trainspotting with a wild foot chase set to Iggy Pop’s raucous “Lust for Life” as actors Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner hoofed it down Edinburgh’s Princes Street. It was a fun scene that gave locals an inside joke to laugh at, however, because the film, while ostensibly set in the grittier side of Edinburgh, mostly used locations in Glasgow, according to The Guardian. Many of the scenes were filmed in an old cigarette factory, but several real Glasgow locations made it into the film, too. There was the bar now known as the Kelbourne Saint Tavern, Cafe D’Jaconelli, the favorite ice cream shop of Spud and Renton; and the George Hotel where London drug kingpin holed up.
Aberdeenshire, Mary Queen of Scots
If you are making a film about Mary, Queen of Scots you naturally have to film on location in Scotland. According to the BBC, Josie Rourke’s period drama about warring cousins and monarchs, played by Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, opted to shoot some of the action in Strathdon in Aberdeenshire. Aberdeenshire is the perfect place to travel back to the 15th century as it’s chock-full of a whopping 263 castles — reportedly more castles, castle ruins and historic manor houses per acre than anywhere else in the British Isles. Aberdeenshire is home to Balmoral Castle, Dunottar Castle, and the pink Craigievar Castle, which just may be the prototype for the ones shown in Walt Disney’s fairy tales.
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