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It’s November, and Winter is Coming. Whether or not you are an Outlander, Game of Thrones, or even Harry Potter fan, the idea of cozying up in the village tavern next to a roaring fire with a warm drink, and casting your gaze upon a towering stone castle as it’s dusted with fresh snow, definitely feels seasonally appropriate as we head into the holidays.
And if you are a fan of one of those epically popular TV and movie franchises, or if you’re more of a Braveheart or even Monty Python fan, it’s always fun to see in real life where some of your favorite characters have set foot, and where some of the most pivotal scenes have been filmed. Plus, there’s definitely a reason why some of the most cinematic landscapes have been filmed in Scotland (whether or not the show or movie even took place there!): because Scotland, and especially its Highlands, are as picturesque as it gets when it comes to rolling hills and medieval castles.
Not only is Scotland breathtakingly beautiful, but it’s also rich in history and tradition, as well. Long before award winning films and shows were set in Scotland, the country was made forever famous by one of Shakespeare’s most renowned plays known by many (especially the superstitious among us) as simply, The Scottish Play (yes, I am one of those superstitious people who won’t dare say the play’s name, or even write it, because that Scottish Magic is nothing to play around with y’all).
Speaking of Scottish Magic, travel to the storied country exploded after the first season of the hugely popular Starz show, Outlander, in 2014, based on the book series of the same name. Outlander features time-travel magic, and those who watch know there is magic to be found in the beauty and chemistry of the lead power couple, Claire and Jamie. Visitors from across the globe have traveled to Scotland, channeling their inner Claire or Jamie, hoping to feel the Highland winds on their face while wrapped in the arms of their beloved. And if you’re an Outlander fan (honestly, who isn’t?), you’re in the right place, since this month’s Inspiring Itinerary features major landmarks throughout Scotland, including many key locations critical to Claire and Jamie’s story.
This November, while there are for sure times to escape the cold to somewhere tropical, there are also times to lean in to the crisp, cold air of winter, the coziness of curling up next to a fire, and the solace of the snow, so let’s away to Scotland, friends, the Highlands await!
Although the heroine of Outlander, our dear Claire, arrived in the Highlands by magically dropping 200 years through some ancient stones, you’ll be taking more of the scenic route to get there. In order to experience more of the beauty that the Northern areas of the UK have to offer, you’ll arrive in Manchester, England’s second largest city, famous for its industrious roots and rich culture.
You’ll be leaving by rail tomorrow, but if you want to experience some of the city’s history, head to Heaton Hall, the mansion in the middle of Heaton Park, where you’ll discover how the 18-century upper class English lived (and see how the other side lived to find out why the Highlanders who found Claire were suspect of the lady Sassenach).
A journey through the UK is hardly complete without at least one train ride, so this morning, you’ll travel by rail from Manchester to Penrith, an historic market town where you’ll meet your expert guide, who will lead you into the Lake District National Park. As you make your way along the shores of Ullswater, known by many as England’s most beautiful lake, you’ll have time to stop for a visit to the Aira Force Waterfalls, and later another stop will bring you to the Castlerigg Standing Stones, where you’ll likely start to feel that tingling sensation of Magic in the air.
Towards the end of the day, you’ll arrive in the charming town of Keswick, where you’ll get to explore the town and settle in for the night. The drive from Manchester through the Lake District that will eventually lead you up through Edinburgh and the Highlands would have been a beautiful choice for Claire and Frank to take as they drove off on their second honeymoon at the start of the series!
Today you’ll have the full day to explore the Lakes District, including the southern shores of Ullswater as you make your way to Lake Windermere. There you’ll have the option to experience British Lake Life by taking a boat ride around Lake Windermere, or you can enjoy the view from the shore as you hike the surrounding area. You’ll continue on to the village of Hawkshead, where the famed poet William Wordsworth spent part of his life, and where you’ll have free time to take in the quaint village before heading back to Keswick for the night.
If you haven’t already realized why Scotland and other nearby Northern parts of the United Kingdom are so popular among cinematographers, today’s sights full of dramatic landscapes will definitely make it very clear. After breakfast, your guide will pick you up to embark on your day through the mountains, including driving through the Whinlatter Pass and the Honister Mountain Pass, and following along the shores of Crummock Water, Buttermere, and Derwent Water, one lake being more breathtaking than the next.
Along the way, you’ll stop for provisions in Borrowdale, where you’ll think you’re standing in a movie set because it’s almost too quaint to be real. Then, you’ll head North to the border, and officially cross into Scotland, where your first stop will be in a town called Biggar, a royal burgh since 1415, before arriving in Edinburgh!
While Edinburgh is fascinating in its own right as the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is also where you will really cross over, or should I say pass through the stones, into Outlander territory. With a full free day in Edinburgh, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the locations of several Outlander scenes.
To start, not to be missed for any visitors, Outlander fans or not (but seriously, who’s not?), is the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Situated at the end of the Royal Mile and dating back to the 1500s, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, is famous in its own right as being the official residence of the ruling monarch (currently King Charles) when he visits Scotland. Several State Apartments and rooms used by the Royal Family for entertaining are available to be toured, as well as the apartment once used by Mary, Queen of Scots!
Outlander fans will remember that Bonnie Prince Charlie once stayed at Holyroodhouse, and had Jamie and Claire in attendance for some of his parties in the Gallery, which is also open to visitors. While there, it’s also worth visiting the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, because they are magnificent, and though may not have been featured on the show, they are definitely reminiscent of other ruins used as locations.
And while you’re on the Royal Mile, you might as well swing by the Bakehouse Close, which is very close to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and was used in Outlander as Carfax Close, where the print shop of Alexander Malcolm (Jamie) was located in Season 3. You can even walk up the outside staircase and imagine you are walking toward the love of your life after being separated for twenty years (and also a few hundred, if you count the whole time travel thing).
Edinburgh is an incredible city, and certainly worth visiting even without Outlander locations to seek out, with plenty to see and do. Some other attractions you might want to check out during your day in Edinburgh are Edinburgh Castle (and the One O’Clock Gun there, though be ready, it’s loud), Calton Hill, and Grassmarket, a medieval market square, especially as you get hungry for dinner, since it’s filled with restaurants, pubs and shops. Of course, Edinburgh has plentiful museums, and flourishing gardens, and so much more to see, so just decide what you’d like to prioritize, and enjoy your day in Scotland’s capital!
Outlander fans, rejoice! Today is the day you head out into the Highlands and get up close and personal with some of the show’s most recognizable locations. Leaving from Edinburgh with your expert guide, your first stop will be none other than Midhope Castle, better known to Outlander fans as Jamie’s family home, Lallybroch. Here you can take pictures of the castle from every angle and walk through the same archway Jamie and Claire passed under countless times throughout the series. Although the interior of the castle is not open to visitors, you will have plenty of time to explore the exterior and the grounds.
Next, it’s off to the quaint village of Culross, which was used in Outlander as the town of Cranesmuir, which is no wonder, because as soon as you step foot in the charming village, you’ll feel like you really did fall through some stones to a few hundred years in the past. The cobblestone streets and painted houses transport you back in time, even without stones, though perhaps not without a little Magic. As you explore, don’t overlook the gardens of Culross Palace, where you may find an herb garden looking suspiciously close to Claire’s.
Lallybroch and Cranesmuir, and the day isn’t even over! Your next stop will be in Falkland, which you’ll recognize from the pilot episode, though in the show, Falkland was used as 1940’s Inverness, since today’s Inverness is a bit more built up than it would have been just after World War II. This again, makes it feel as if you’re walking back in time when you walk the streets of Falkland, where you’ll see the Bruce Fountain (the place that Frank saw “someone” looking up at Claire through a window, who we all know was Jamie), and where you’ll recognize The Covenanter Hotel, which was used as Mrs. Baird’s Guesthouses, Claire and Frank’s choice of accommodation for their second honeymoon.
From Falkland, it’s off into the true Highlands you’ll go, stopping at the Newtonmore Highland Folk Museum, where 18-century Highland-life is illuminated through replicas of turf-roof crofts. This historical site will bring you back to the scenes that took place in the MacKenzie clan villages when Claire went with Dougal MacKenzie and others (including Jamie, of course) to collect rent from the villagers. Maybe it’s because so much of Scotland’s landscapes and architecture have survived from ancient times through the present day, but you will not be able to shake the feeling of truly having traveled back in time, especially after all the places you visited today.
You’ll head into the real Inverness for the evening, where you’ll cozy up into a traditional pub to recount the adventures of the day, before retiring to your hotel, where’you’ll be sleeping for the next few nights.
If yesterday was all adventure and excitement, today is more Magic and remembrance. Your journey begins with a visit to the mysterious cemetery and standing stones known as Clava Cairns. Though there are a few places throughout Scotland to find the mysterious circles of standing stones (remember the Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis that inspired the circle of stones in the Disney film Brave, from the Disney Locations in Real Life Blog?), Clava Cairns is believed to be part of the inspiration for Craigh na Dun, because of its proximity to Inverness (since Claire and Frank were “staying in Inverness” for their second honeymoon and didn’t have to journey very far to find the stones). It is difficult to walk around a place like Clava Cairns and not feel some Magic around you. You may not have “actually” traveled through time a la Claire, but your journey through Scotland thus far has hopefully at least made you feel as if you were in another time on more than one occasion between the cobblestone streets, thatched roofs, and now these mysterious stones of Clava Cairns.
Once you’re done wondering if maybe you did slip through time a bit yourself, you’ll be on to your next location, the Culloden Battlefield. The mere mention of it makes the heart heavy, and rightly so, as it marks the end of the Jacobite Rising, and the beginning of the persecution of the Highlander way of life. Although Jamie and Claire bid each other farewell not far from here when Jamie went off to fight, the real tragedy is the thousands who lost their lives fighting to defend their land and way of life on the Culloden Battlefield. Some time in the Visitor’s Center is highly recommended to understand more about the history of the solemn ground you walk on when you visit Culloden Battlefield. Pictures are allowed, but of course remember to be respectful for those who perished fighting for their cause, as that is the real reason to visit a place like this.
After the Battlefield, you’ll continue on through the Fraser Clan Lands, stopping at the tomb of Lord Lovat, a member of the Jacobite Rising who is represented as Jamie’s grandfather in the series. Then you’ll head back to Inverness for the evening once again, and rest up for tomorrow’s adventures!
Today will once again be filled with Magic, mystery and great storytelling, which will probably feel much needed after the emotional heaviness of yesterday. You’ll head out of Inverness to the glorious Glen Affric, filled with some of Scotland’s most beautiful mountains, forests and lochs.
Then, of course, no visit to Scotland would be complete without a visit to Loch Ness, where you can try your luck at spotting the storied sea monster, Nessie, swimming in the mysterious waters. The real (in more ways than one) attraction at Loch Ness, though, is Urquhart Castle, standing proudly on the shores of the Loch, as it has for over a thousand years. You’ll have time to explore all around the castle, taking in the Scottish Highlands in one of their most quintessential locations.
From Loch Ness, you’ll travel through the Great Glen on your way to Glenfinnan, yet another Bucket List Location for Film lovers. Glenfinnan is home to a monument commemorating the beginning of the Jacobite Rising, and loyalty of the Jacobites to Bonnie Prince Charlie, but perhaps more recognizable is the Jacobite Steam Train Railway Line that runs through Loch Shiel. Film and book lovers of all ages will likely instantly identify one section of the rail line as the arched bridge the Hogwarts Express runs on in the Harry Potter movies.
After getting your fill of pictures (maybe a train will even make an appearance and give you a perfect photo!), you’ll be off towards Fort William, where you’ll spend the night before heading back into Outlander territory tomorrow.
As hard as it is to believe after all the beauty you’ve already seen in Scotland, you’ll begin your day driving through Glencoe, known as one of Scotland’s most gorgeous landscapes. The lush countrysides and rugged mountains of Scotland truly never get old, no matter how many Glens you’ve driven through.
This drive will lead you to the famed Duone Castle, at once recognizable as Castle Leoch, residence of Colum MacKenzie and his clan. Though the castle is only a ruin, and doesn’t look inside the way it does in the series, you’ll still be able to explore the grounds, and imagine what Claire felt like riding into the foreboding castle with no idea where she was or what her future would bring (though of course she quickly figured out that she did, in fact, know what the future would bring, a blessing and a curse in itself).
Next, you’ll continue on to Linlithgow Castle, another historically famous castle (and again for connections for Mary, Queen of Scots), and one that is featured in Outlander not as a castle, but as a prison, Wentworth Prison. If you remember the scene that took place there (who could forget?), you may be iffy about even taking a photo of the place. Just focus on the historical part and snap the photo to prove you were there, that’s my advice.
Finally, you’ll head to Blackness Castle, known to Outlander fans as Fort William, or the headquarters of Black Jack Randall. Here you are free to explore the fortress-like structure, and walk along the rocky shore next to it. As this is your last Outlander location spot, you’ll head back to Edinburgh for your last night. Of course a celebratory last-night dinner is in order while you’re there!
With your Outlander tour and journey through Scotland and the Lakes District complete, you’ll sadly be headed home today, though hopefully with some Magical memories walking in the footsteps of not only your favorite characters, but also famous historical figures, as well. As with any great series (of the show or book variety), the adventure is never really over, it’s just to be continued in the next season, and so it is with travel. As you leave the rolling hills of the Highlands, know it’s not forever, it’s just until your next adventure, wherever that may be!
NOTE: It’s important to note that filming of the Outlander series is still underway, and very well may be for the next few years as long as the show goes on. Therefore, certain locations may have limited access due to filming (though how exciting would it be to know that our beloved Outlander characters are actually right there next to the castle you’re visiting, from a distance, if they’re filming. It might be understandably disappointing not to get up close and personal with one of the castles, but it might also be just as thrilling to be there while it’s happening!).
Ready to Plan?
If you are ready to plan The Perfect Highlands Adventure in Scotland, Outlander-Style, contact your Love of the Magic Travel Agent today. And of course, whether you are the world’s biggest Outlander fan, or someone who’s never seen the show and you’re just looking for a Grand Adventure in the Scottish Highlands, your LOTMV Travel Agent will work with you to create the unique experience you’re looking for.
Looking for more of our Inspiring Itinerary series?
So far, we have:
February – The Perfect Hawaiian Vacation
A new Inspiring Itinerary comes out each month!
And don’t forget to check out our New Blog Series: Jamie’s Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s, where our favorite Travel Planning Aficionado shares her wealth of knowledge and experiences about traveling the world!
Ready to plan The Perfect Highlands Adventure in Scotland? Contact your Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor today or email hello@LOTMV.com