Scotland’s dramatic scenery and ancient architecture have long played the starring role in many movies and TV productions. It was in 1949 that the classic film “Whisky Galore”, used the stunning backdrop of the Western Isles to bring the romance of island life to the silver screen.
More recently the popular “Outlander” led to a surge in Scottish movie tourism. The series successfully showcased the beauty of Scotland and its spectacular historic buildings to a worldwide audience.
If you feel like experiencing some of these unique locations for yourself, then here are a few suggestions to get you started. This is a monster of a post so we’ve created a handy table of contents that will allow you to move around the post more easily! Click on it below:
The Harry Potter Movies (2001 – 2011)
It is probably fair to say that the series of Harry Potter movies require little introduction. But if you haven’t read the books or seen the movies, they feature the adventures of a boy wizard who attends Hogwarts school of magic.
Given the very fact that J K Rowling wrote the seven Harry Potter books while living in Edinburgh, it’s perhaps only natural that a great deal of inspiration comes from Scotland’s landmarks and landscapes. As a result, the movies feature some spectacular Scottish locations, some real and some in part fictional.
Map of Harry Potter Filming Locations in Scotland
Here’s a handy map that shows you at a glance all the Harry Potter filming locations which we’re going to cover below. Simply click into the map for more information on each location.
The most obvious place to start is with the incredible and iconic architecture of the Glenfinnan rail Viaduct. It’s hard to forget the image of the Hogwarts Express steam train crossing the ancient stone viaduct. I’m sure you will remember the Dementors searching the train for Sirius Black in the Prisoner of Azkaban. Or maybe you recall Ron and Harry flying the little blue Ford Anglia over the viaduct in The Chamber of Secrets. You can actually see one of the cars used in the filming at the Bo’ness motor museum near Edinburgh.
Although the Hogwarts express is a fictional train, it is possible to ride the Jacobite steam train which has more than a passing resemblance to the one shown in the movie. The train leaves from Fort William and terminates in Mallaig, the journey is nothing short of spectacular and is highly recommended. The train does of course cross the viaduct so you get to feel like Harry Potter for the day. If you are planning to visit the 500-metre-long viaduct, to watch the steam train passing over, my advice would be to get there early as parking can be an issue.
It’s also worth mentioning that the viaduct is incredibly close to the jaw dropping beauty of Loch Sheil, a place popular with tourists long before Harry Potter. If you are trying to place it in one of the movies, it makes an appearance in the Chamber of Secrets in the scene with Hedwig.
Not far from Glen Coe and deep in the Scottish wilderness is the brutal beauty of Rannoch Moor. The moor mostly consists of a desolate peat bog interspersed with tiny lochs – but don’t let this put you off, it has a special scenic quality. This location was chosen to film the scene in the Deathly Hallows where the Death Eaters stop and then enter the Hogwarts Express looking for the boy wizard.
To get here the easy way, take the Jacobite Steam train or the more budget friendly option of the West Highland train line. Otherwise prepare for a serious a hiking trip!
The closest town to the waterfall is Fort William – a handy place to stop over with a good selection of shops and accommodation available. Steall Falls are an impressive sight with a drop of over 100 metres and Ben Nevis in the background (the UK’s tallest mountain). If you would like to get close to the Falls, then prepare for a bit of a hike – it takes around 30 minutes.
The towering Falls feature in many of the Harry Potter movies and are usually cast as a fitting background for the high energy Quidditch matches. In “The Goblet of Fire” for example, you’ll notice the imposing water fall during the Triwizard Tournament.
Glen Etive, in the Argyll and Bute area, has been made famous in the movie Skyfall (it’s where 007 returns home to and the location of the fictional Skyfall House). The Glen includes Loch Etive, a beautiful sea loch which is reminiscent of a small Norwegian fjord. The Glen is popular with walkers who enjoy the amazing views, while kayakers can often be seen exploring the 30-mile-long loch. It’s best to get here by car and takes about 3hrs from Edinburgh and 2hrs from Glasgow.
When it comes the Harry Potter movies, watch “The Deathly Hallows” as the lake shown is Loch Etive. Harry, Ron and Hermione set up camp here and land in the water following the spectacular Dragon ride.
The Glen Coe area is a movie location that comes up time and time again. As you’ll find out later in this post, it was used in Mary Queen of Scots and The Outlaw King, and there is a very good reason for this: it’s Scottish wilderness at its best. Situated between Fort William and Glasgow, it’s accessible by car and bus, but there is unfortunately no train station. As for Glen Coe itself, well it’s all about natural beauty, although there is a small town of the same name with a cosy little folk museum and visitors centre.
Now cast your mind back to the Prisoner of Azkaban, and if you remember Hagrid’s hut and his wonderful pumpkin patch, then you will recognise the Glen Coe scenery. You might also recall the scene when Hermione punched Draco in the face – it happened here.
Formed around 10,000 years ago, this remote freshwater loch is the deepest in the British Isles with a maximum depth of over 300 metres. It’s located in the Lochaber area close to Fort William and like Loch Ness, it has its very own monster called Morag. It’s possible to drive around part of the loch but if you wish to get a bit closer, walk from Morar Station to Tarbet and then get the boat back to Mallaig.
The loch is used in many of the Harry Potter movies and is best known as the lake in front of Hogwarts.
Black Rock Gorge
This 1.5 km long gorge is carved from red sandstone by the fast running stream at the base. It’s 35 metres deep and a narrow wound in the rock. The gorge is located in the highlands – the nearest town is Evanton, which is about 30 minutes’ drive north from Inverness. Once you arrive, wander across the small wooden bridge for a great view to the bottom and enjoy a lovely walk through the woods. Local legend suggests that a noble woman was once lured to her death here by a strange man thought to be the devil, but don’t let this myth put you off.
This very distinctive natural form appears in the Goblet of Fire and back in 2014, the crew filmed here for almost 2 weeks. You’ll recognise the gorge from the scene where Harry battles with the dragon and he ends up trying to take refuge here.
Whisky Galore (1949 & 2016)
Based on a true story, a ship laden with 50,000 cases of whisky runs aground off the tiny Scottish Island of Eriskay much to the delight of the locals who obviously decide to fill their boots, until the Customs and Excise man arrives and puts a spanner in the works.
Much of the filming of the 1949 version took place on the picture-perfect Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. The beaches are glorious with fine pale sand and crystal-clear turquoise water – turn up the temperature and you could be in the Caribbean.
My favourite place is the southern beach of Vatersay Bay which consists of half a mile of white sand and shallow water. Water sports are big on the island, with surfing, kayaking and paddle boarding all being available through specialist adventure companies.
The classic comedy was remade in 2016, with a cast that includes Gregor Fisher (aka Rab C Nesbitt), Eddie Izzard and James Cosmo who also starred in the original Braveheart. This time, multiple locations all over Scotland were used to represent the Eriskay coast. Starting in southern Scotland, the rocky cliffs at St Abbs Head on the Berwickshire coast, then onto St Monans Parish Church in Fife. Heading West we see Ardeer beach in Ayrshire and finally in the North, the lovely Aberdeenshire fishing village of Portsoy. Click here to watch the 2016 version.
James Bond Skyfall (2012)
The James Bond movie “Skyfall” starring Daniel Craig uses Scotland’s dramatic scenery to great effect. The most memorable scene is when Mr Bond visits his childhood home known as Sky Fall House, in his classic Aston Martin DB6. This is also the part of the movie when Dame Judi Dench’s character M dies in a spectacular helicopter battle.
Glen Etive + Glen Coe
Fictional Skyfall House is in the very real Glen Etive, part of the jaw droppingly beautiful Glencoe mountain wilderness. This is a stunning place to visit anytime of the year… a bit of rain and mist just adds to the experience. Access to the Glen is by a wild dead-end single-track road, which is all part of the fun. There is a signpost shortly after the Glencoe ski area when travelling North.
If you are visiting in winter or autumn, it’s extremely likely that you will meet the friendly wild deer that wander around looking for food. The Glen features a picturesque rocky stream that flows into a stunning Loch, which reflects the nearby heather covered mountains. Or snow-covered, if you are lucky. Public transport is not an option, so renting a car is a good idea www.rentalcars.com or why not rent a classic convertible sportscar.
Outlaw King (2018)
This movie is based on the fascinating life of the Scottish warrior, Robert the Bruce, and follows his rise to King of Scotland in 1306. During this time, Scotland was at war with England, resulting in many bloody battles being waged across the country. Once again, Scotland came up with the goods for the movie makers dishing up some superb backdrops.
The locations are in and around the central belt, so it’s possible to visit them in a day with a minimal amount of driving.
Outlaw King Filming Locations
As you can see in the map below, the filming locations for Outlaw King were predominantly in the Central Belt.
Glasgow Cathedral and University
Starting off in Glasgow, where both the city’s Cathedral and University were used in a couple of key scenes. You might recognise the distinctive architecture of the 12th century Cathedral in the scenes that immediately follow the murder of John Comyn in its crypt.
When you watched King Edward II practising archery on the lawn, it was amongst the ornate cloisters and gothic architecture of Glasgow University. I suspect you may also remember King Edward II with the swan at the medieval banquet, it was filmed here too.
It’s about a 25-minute drive north from Glasgow to Mugdock. The castle is located in Mugdock Country Park and is now in ruins but it was once the stronghold of Clan Graham in the 13th century.
For the movie, a complete medieval settlement was constructed in the castle ground to allow scenes to be shot in an authentic village. The temporary site included stables for horses and 10 traditionally thatched buildings.
About a 50 minutes’ drive East from Mugdock, is the famous Linlithgow Place, where Mary Queen of Scots was born. Although in Outlaw King, the Palace is used as Scone where Robert was crowned king. The grand palace is now ruinous but there is still loads to explore and it’s even possible to climb some of the impressive spiral staircases. It’s also set in a lovely park which includes a loch and there’s a small visitor centre for children. It makes a great day trip from Edinburgh – check out this post for further details.
Just a short 10 minute drive from Linlithgow is Blackness castle. This distinctive castle is no stranger to the silver screen as it features heavily in the world-famous TV series Outlander. It looks a little like a giant stone boat and sits right next to the Firth of Forth which adds to the nautical feel. At one point in the movie, an actress is suspended high up over the edge of the castle walls in a rusty iron cage.
Now back in the car again for a 25-minute road trip that includes the architectural wonder that is the new Forth Road Bridge. After arriving in the Kingdom of Fife, head for the town of Dunfermline and its ancient abbey, where Robert the Bruce is buried in real life. It is perhaps no surprise that the abbey features in the movie, although it was in fact used to represent Westminster. Top highlights for me are the impressive stained-glass windows, the ornate stone columns and the ghostly cast of Robert the Bruce’s skull which is straight out of a horror movie.
Craigmillar castle is located about a 40 minute drive from Dunfermline to Edinburgh. As a contrast to the previous Palace, this castle stronghold doesn’t require a great deal of imagination to picture how it once was… it’s a fascinating place to visit. And it’s obvious why Craigmillar was chosen as one of the main locations in the film. Look closely and you will notice it features both as the Bruce family castle and as Kildrummy castle, where the Bruce clan enter looking for safety.
Mary Queen of Scots (2019)
The fascinating life story of Mary Queen of Scots is deservedly popular throughout the world. The tale of a strong female heroin, born in Scotland, sent to France as a young child, returned to Scotland to rule as a young lady, married the wrong person, took on the formidable misogynist John Knox, became implicated in a murder, spent 19 years incarcerated, got her head chopped off by her cousin. What’s not to love?
The glamorous 2019 movie was filmed on location in Scotland so there are plenty of impressive places to visit for fans. Choose from a trip to a stunning wind-swept beach to an historic castle, or just admire the beautiful Scottish landscape.
If you are staying in Edinburgh or Glasgow it might be an idea to start your day in Aberdeen as there is plenty of accommodation choice in the city.
Starting off in the beautiful North of Scotland, head to the ancient Poldullie Bridge in Strathdon. The elegant 70-foot-long stone bridge was originally constructed around 1715 to cross the meandering river Don. In the movie this is where the ambush of Mary takes place, cows are used as a blockade and a bloody fight scene then develops.
About an hour’s drive from Strathdon the Cairngorm mountain range needs little introduction, it’s the closest that Scotland gets to the Alps with its little ski resort of Aviemore. It’s a touristy area all year round and is always popular with walkers looking to explore the Scottish wilderness. It is for this reason that the team behind the movie chose to show Mary riding on horse back through the dramatic countryside.
A great deal of filming was completed on the 45,000-acre Glen Feshie Estate which can be visited even though it’s privately owned. There is also the possibility to stay there and if you are very fortunate, you might see a golden eagle. www.glenfeshie.scot
It’s a 2-hour drive if you’re heading directly from the Cairngorms to Glencoe, so pack some snacks as well as a camera. Glencoe must be the most famous Glen in Scotland, with its breath-taking mix of wild volcanic mountains and dramatic valleys, simply spectacular scenery. It also features in Harry Potter and James Bond.
In the Mary Queen of Scots movie, it provides the perfect back drop for the iconic image of the young queen and her husband Lord Darnley, riding horses through the wild Scottish countryside.
It’s around a 2-hour drive from Glencoe to Blackness passing by the stunning Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
Even though Mary was born and spent her early years at nearby Linlithgow Palace, Blackness castle is used in the movie for this period of her life. The impressive walled courtyard features heavily in the movie. This unique fortress was constructed in the 15th century on the banks of the Forth Estuary and has been a popular film location in recent years.
The castle is managed by Historic Environment Scotland and is open to the public throughout the year. There is a small shop, a picnic area and a quiz that our kids enjoyed.
Sea Cliff Beach
If you are leaving from Blackness, expect to be in the car for about an hour before you arrive at this destination. Sea Cliff beach is just a few miles from the gorgeous seaside town of North Berwick, which our family agrees is a must see.
This picture-perfect sandy beach sits within an old estate which boasts a ruined mansion, a ruined castle and views to the distinctive island of Bass Rock.
This beach is steeped in history. Towards the southern end is a rock formation known as the Scoughall Rocks, where a group of pagans once lit fires to attract ships onto the nearby rocks. Continue walking south and hidden in the trees are the ruins of Sea Cliff House, constructed in 1750, but burnt to the ground in 1907 and never restored. There was also once small village on the headland but all that remains now are ruins of Auldhame Castle. Much more impressive is the dramatic outline of the ruinous Tantallon Castle, which looks great viewed from the beach. I also recommend exploring the brilliant little harbour cut deep into the stone.
You will be familiar with Sea Cliff beach in the movie from the scene when Mary returns to Scotland by boat from France. This beach also features in the Outlaw King movie made by Netflix.
Palace of Holyrood
Although the Palace of Holyrood doesn’t feature in the movie, for any fan of the Mary Queen of Scots story, the Royal pile is essential. In the Palace you can visit her bedroom, enter the room where her friend and secretary David Rizzio was murdered. Also, on display are a collection of Mary’s jewellery and embroidery, which she completed during her long prison sentence in London.
The Cloud Atlas (2012)
Based on the book of the same name The Cloud Atlas is a Fantasy film that spans different time periods and different worlds. Starring Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent and Halle Berry in multiple plots, it explores the relationship between actions in the past, present and future. It’s a movie of substance and has the sort of plot that you think about long after the titles roll.
Glasgow City Centre & University
Various streets around Blythswood Square, including Montrose Street and Douglas Street were used to represent the streets of a 1970s San Francisco. The most memorable scene sees Halle Berry involved in a car chase featuring some classic American vehicles whilst being pursued by the assassin Bill Smoke.
Glasgow University cloisters double up as a Cambridge University in a scene with the character Rufus Sixsmith and the Premier Inn hotel on George street becomes a San Francisco apartment block.
Scott Monument & The City Chambers (Edinburgh)
The spectacular gothic architecture of the Scott Monument on Princes Street in Edinburgh features in a couple of key scenes in the movie. Most notable in the final sequence where Robert Frobisher desperately searches for Rufus Sixsmith. Head up the world-famous Royal Mile to the St Giles Cathedral and just opposite you will find the City Chambers which transforms into a hotel for the film.
Da Vinci Code (2006)
The thriller the Da Vinci Code is based on a novel by Dan Brown. Starting with a mystery murder in the Louvre in Paris the action follows the hunt for the Holy Grail across France, Italy, Malta, England and Scotland.
In the final stages of the movie the audience is transported to Rosslyn Chapel, which is 30 minutes’ drive from Edinburgh. This stunning ornate chapel dates from 1450 and detail in its interior stonework is just mind blowing. There are Masonic symbols everywhere and ceiling is thought by some, to be a Stargate to another dimension! The site has long been associated with the Knights of the Templar and the possible resting place of the Holy Grail.
Very close the Chapel and built into the cliff are the ruins of Rosslyn castle. The old gate house is the best-preserved part of the structure and is accessed over a tall stone bridge. In the movie this where Neveu and Langdon go their separate ways.
Although it doesn’t feature in the Da Vinci Code, the nearby Wallace’s Cave is an interesting place to visit. Its named after William Wallace who took part in the Battle of Rosslyn, there is a belief that he hid here along with up to 70 of his men. There also unusual Bronze Age carvings on the cliff face 50 metres from the cave entrance.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
In addition to the two castles listed below, an old copper mine near Loch Tay (Cave of Caerbannog scene) and the Dukes Pass (Tim the Enchanter scene) were also used for filming.
This imposing medieval castle dates from, 1400 when it was a stronghold for the duke of Albany. Its located close to Stirling and consists of a large high walled courtyard and a tower house. When the original filming took place, the castle was privately owned, but it’s now managed by Historic Environment Scotland, and so can be visited by the public.
In the Holy Grail it’s used as Camelot, Castle Anthrax, the Castle of Guy de Lombard and of course Swamp Castle. The entrance of the castle was used for the scene featuring the Trojan Rabbit and the back of the castle was used at the start of the movie for the French scene. Move filming was done inside including the scene with Zoot and Dingo and the wedding at Swamp castle.
Built around 1320, the castle stands in the most beautiful setting, on a tiny island within loch Laich in Argyll. It was once the property of a relation of king James IV of Scotland but following a mis guided bet, which most likely involved the consumption of too much whisky, it ended up in the hands of Clan Campbell. It was abandoned sometime around 1840 and the roof fell into disrepair, it wasn’t until 1965 when a lengthy restoration began.
The movie uses the castle to great effect in the closing scenes. Known as Castle Aargh, this was where John Cleese with his fabulous French accent makes fun of King Arthur before his army arrives.
Originally constructed in 1617 there is not a great deal left remaining of this 3 storey Tower House, but with a little imagination you can appreciate the once grandeur of the place. The castle is located within parkland near Keir House and managed by Historic Environment Scotland.
At the time of filming for the Holy Grail there were a lot more trees around the ruins. But this is where a famous historian is attacked by a knight, while explaining how King Arthur searched for the Grail.
The Wicker Man (1973)
This famous cult 1970s movie tells the story of a policeman’s visit to a Scottish island, as part of an investigation into a missing child. He soon realises that this is no ordinary island community after witnessing some very bizarre Pagan rituals involving Britt Ekland. Things really don’t go to plan and he ends up in a giant wicker cage.
This elaborate castle in Ayrshire is perched high on a cliff top with a fabulous view of a sandy beach below. The castle is now run by the National Trust and can be visited all year round.
In the movie Culzean and its gardens were used for the outside shots of Lord Summerisle’s home. The dinning room scene is also filmed here and if you visit the castle you will recognise the room and its decoration.
This 14-century castle is privately owned, but it is possible visit the nearby gardens or stay in one the estates holiday homes. If you wish to find out more then visit this website www.lochinchcastle.com. The castle is in the Dumfries and Galloway area in southern Scotland.
In the movie much of the interior of Lord Summerisle’s home is filmed here, included the courtyard, entrance hall and Livingroom scenes.
St Ninian’s Cave
This lovely pebble beach and cave is located close to the town of Whithorn in Dumfries and Galloway in southern Scotland. There is no carpark or access road next to the beach, so it’s a fun 3km walk through a wood to get there. The cave is named after St Ninian who brought Christianity to Scotland.
In the Movie this is where Lord Summerisle sends off a barrel of beer to the sea god in a ceremony and the cave is where we meet Rowan Morrison. Access to the cave is by a stone path from the beach.
Isle of Skye
This incredible Scottish Island is found on the North West coast and is a 5-hour drive from Edinburgh, since 1995 access is by bridge. The island has a diverse landscape with rugged hills and attractive fishing villages making it very popular with tourists. The island is used in the opening sequence of the movie for the shots taken from the air as Howie’s sea plane comes into land. The song the Highland Widow’s Lament plays in the background. Both the Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr dominate this scene.
The impressive Quiraing landform is part of the Trotternish Ridge, its highest point sits 543 metres above sea level. The name Quiraing comes from the Old Norse for “Round Fold” and it’s thought that this is where locals hid their cattle during brutal Viking raids.
The Old Man of Storr is also one of the features of the Trotternish Ridge and must be the most photographed views of Skye. There is a well-trodden path from the A855 near Loch Leathan that takes you up to the base of the cliffs. For the more experienced walker its possible reach the summit, although be careful on the sections with loose rock.
The gorgeous little fishing village of Plockton, with its white washed houses and palm trees is located on the West Coast of Scotland, about 4 hours’ drive north of Glasgow. Its proximity to the North Atlantic Drift means that there is a fairly mild climate, that gives the place a slightly tropical feel. It was once a busy fishing port, but now most of the economic activity is focused around tourism. The TV series Hamish Macbeth with Robert Carlyle was filmed here in the 1990s, which initially fuelled visitor numbers.
In the Wicker Man Plockton is used for the scenes of the Summerisle seafront and the harbour. If you walk around now, you may recognise some of the buildings that feature in the movie. Top spots for me are the flagpole, the pier (where Howie arrives), the causeway and harbour masters house.