By Nathalie De Grandmont
Discover the traditions and legendary landscapes of Scotland by following in the footsteps of the characters of TV’s Outlander, from the Highlands to the castle that fans of the show know as Lallybroche.
You don’t need time travel to explore the locations and experience the ambience of Outlander, the popular TV series based on Diana Gabaldon’s books. Traditions, people, and landscapes that are equally inspiring await you across the country, especially in the Highlands.
The incredible Glen Coe valley, seen in the show’s opening credits, captivates hikers. It’s not surprising that it’s known as the Outdoor Capital of the United Kingdom. The most popular excursions from Inverness will take you to the famous Loch Ness, the mysterious 13th-century castle Eilean Donan, which sits on an island, and the Torridon Hills, whose rugged beauty is even more spectacular in the fall, when their colours are reflected on the shimmering surface of the region’s lakes and rivers.
Not far from Inverness, you can walk the battlefield of Culloden, where an English defeat of the Scots supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) on April 16, 1746, ended the Jacobite Rising. A museum and cinema put visitors in the midst of this historical event, which led to the banning of the wearing of tartan and the end of traditional life in the Highlands. Nearby is the circular chamber tomb of Clava Cairns, a Bronze Age cemetery and Outlander filming location.
Edinburgh and Glasgow
Outlander has been a boon to Scottish tourism, to the point that bagpipers in tourist areas often play the theme song, which was inspired by the 19th-century Scottish folk tune “The Skye Boat Song,” the lyrics of which tell of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape after Culloden. In Edinburgh, you can almost hear the tune accompanying you along the castle walls as you overlook the entire city. It seems to follow you down the Royal Mile, the city’s most famous artery, and up to the Canongate Tolbooth clock, where you can take Bakehouse Close to reach the print shop of one of Outlander’s main characters, Jamie Fraser. Strolling these medieval alleyways is almost like travelling back in time.
That sense of time travel lingers as you explore the neighbouring streets, Whitehouse Close (which fans of the series will recognize), the Museum of Edinburgh (a free museum where you can hear a number of anecdotes from the 18th century), and the National Museum of Scotland (which dedicates several galleries to Jacobite history). Meanwhile, the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Edinburgh Castle will lead you in the footsteps of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Mary Stuart (Mary, Queen of Scots).
You can cap off your visit with a foray into the world of Scotch whisky, the national beverage, at Scotch Whisky Experience, a one-of-a-kind restaurant-boutique. An interactive tour provides an education in how whisky is made, and tastings let you explore various flavours. The facility is home to the largest collection of Scotch whisky in the world, and the restaurant’s menu suggests whisky pairings.
An hour from Edinburgh, Glasgow also has a lot to offer visitors. Amid a cultural revival, Scotland’s largest city—and the United Kingdom’s third-largest—features new galleries of modern art, plus a wide variety of shops, parks, and contemporary murals. Here, the Outlander team was inspired by the city’s must-sees. Wander around Kelvingrove Park and through the quadrangles of the University of Glasgow before visiting the elegant City Chambers on George Square. Then, between purchases in the pedestrian streets (at House of Fraser department store, perhaps?), you can visit the Glasgow Necropolis, a fascinating Victorian cemetery, and the medieval Glasgow Cathedral. Built in 1197, it’s dedicated to St. Mungo, the city’s patron saint.
For happy hour, drop by Tennent’s Wellpark Brewery, a Glasgow institution. While you’re visiting the brewery’s new museum space, you’ll come face to face with Sam Heughan (the actor who plays Jamie) embodying co-founder Hugh Tennent in a memorable ad campaign.
Cranesmuir and Lallybroch
Outlander’s Lallybroch Castle is actually a privately owned property—the 16th-century Midhope Castle, near Edinburgh—and access is reserved for a few guided tours such as Outlander Adventure, offered by Rabbies Tours. Covering five filming locations, this tour also lets you admire the Scottish countryside and hear lots of stories about local culture and history.
Our first discovery on the tour is the fictional village of Cranesmuir, in fact the medieval village of Culross, “which was home to real witch trials,” our guide explains. It’s a sheer delight to come upon Cranesmuir’s hanging gardens, fountain, and charming medieval houses. The photogenic village is now protected by the government.
Not long after, we pass through the outer walls of Blackness Castle, perched on the banks of the Firth of Forth. With its ship’s silhouette and its high, austere 15th-century walls, it’s instantly recognizable as Outlander’s Fort William.
And at long last, we arrive at Lallybroch. Like characters from the series, we find ourselves on a tree-lined drive strolling towards the Fraser family’s famous fief. You can’t visit the building itself, but it’s very tempting to pose for a photo in the courtyard or under the entrance arch. As you daydream on the steps of Lallybroch, you may find yourself imagining that one of the characters will appear on the porch. And who knows? Scotland is home to many unexplained mysteries!
If You Go…
Getting there: Air Transat offers flights to Glasgow (connecting in Toronto) and many direct flights to London (airtransat.com).
Where to stay: Fraser Suites, in Glasgow, offers comfortable flats conveniently located near George Square (frasershospitality.com).
Good to know: If you visit a few castles and historic sites, Historic Environment Scotland’s seven-day Explorer Pass soon pays for itself (historicenvironment.scot).
To start planning: visitscotland.com
With thanks to Air Transat, Visit Scotland, and Glasgow Life.
Photo: Nathalie De Grandmont