Best books and movies about Scotland: What to read and watch before your trip

Ok, so I had wanted to do something like this for some time. This is the first of a series of pieces called “The Geek DreamPacker” where I will be featuring books and films inspired by the countries I visited. For this first article, I will be talking about the best books and movies about Scotland.

Whenever I am travelling to a new country, I like to surround myself with some stories that took place there. It makes the site much more interesting and it also inspires me to go to some of the locations that the characters visit in the book or movie. I tried to leave out of the most common ones and give you guys some not-so-typical suggestions (with some exceptions, of course). So, don’t forget to let me know which books and movies about Scotland you like the most!

*This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a small commission. I only recommend products I believe in and I have tried myself.

Books about Scotland

1. Candles in the Woods – Alexandra Manners

books and movies about Scotland
I know it looks old and weird, but it’s fantastic!

I promise you, you won’t find this one in any other list of books and movies about Scotland. This is a very weird book that I found hidden in my mum’s old bookshelf, but I immediately fell in love with it! Candles in the Woods is a dark mystery with a bit of romance that takes place in the Scottish Highlands.

Summary: Helen Comyn grew up a servant’s child on the Grant family’s estate. However, she never expected that she would become an important heiress and return to Gallowmerry as a lady. Helen adopts a new identity to be accepted by the Grants as an equal, but she quickly realises that there is something mysterious lurking among the place. Lucy, the youngest daughter, seems to be cursed by her past. She is a grown woman, but, somehow, still acts like a young child. Lennox, the renegade son, is dangerously attractive but so is Duan, the heir of Gallowmerry who is tormented by the war and almost in the verge of craziness. Also, there seems to be the ghost of a child cursing the place and driving the inhabitants mad.

This book has a bit of Jane Austen classic charm, with much more palpable sexual tension (and some subtly steamy scenes) and a bit of a supernatural flair. It is also a short and addictive book that can be read in a just one evening (especially with some wine included).

2. Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart– Mathias Malzieu

books and movies about Scotland
It is sweet, quirky and a bit magical

If there is something I love about Mathias Malzieu is how he seems to be writing a children’s book, but he is actually delivering something darker and deeper.

Summary: Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart seems like a fairy tale at the beginning. Jack was born with a frozen heart, so a midwife replaced it with a cuckoo clock. He can live a normal life as long as he doesn’t touch the hands of the clock, he manages his temper and he never falls in love. Obviously, as in any good story, he breaks all of the rules and decides to travel half of Europe in search of a mysterious singer. I am not going to spoil the end, but it gives a pretty good look at the complicated human nature. Also, since Malzieu is random like that, the story features some characters like George Méliès and Jack the Ripper, because… Why not? Also, the first part of the book takes place in Edinburgh and then they move to Andalusia.

This is a quick, quirky, funny book that also has a great soundtrack, because its writer is in a band and composed some songs inspired by it that were then included in a film adaptation.


3. The White Mare – Jules Watson

books and movies about Scotland
The main character was one of my first literary crushes.

This is another one of my unusual favourite books. If you like historical fiction, war stories and just a bit of romance, this should be a must-read. The author is not Scottish, she is actually Australian, but we do not discriminate. She writes about Scottish culture, so there is no reason not to include her in our list of books and movies about Scotland.

Summary: The White Mare takes place during the Roman invasion of Alba (now Scotland) where governor Agricola has decided to send troops to the north of the island. Rhiann is a Scottish priestess that has been forced into a marriage with Eremon, a fugitive Irish prince that arrived to Rhiann’s village after a shipwreck. They form a military alliance to defend the tribe against the Romans, but they need the help of the rest of Alba’s clans so they travel around the country to search for allies.

This book provides a lot of historical information about the conquest of Alba, but it also has drama, mystery and (I must confess I love this) a bit of magic and Celtic mythology. It is a big book, so if you like to binge-read, this is your chance. At the beginning I thought it was just one volume, but then I discovered it is actually a trilogy, so it will keep you occupied for a couple of weeks (or days, if you are obsessive, like me).

4. Outlander – Diana Gabaldon

books and movies about Scotland
Historical fiction + romance + time travel = win

When I was doing some research, almost everyone agreed that I should include Outlander among the best books and movies about Scotland. It is hard to classify Outlander in a single genre. Some people say it is historical fiction, some others that it is Science fiction, there are the occasional critics that argue it is just a romance novel, but I like to think it is a mix of all of these.

Summary: Claire Randall is a nurse that worked in the Second World War. She and her husband decide to take a holiday in Inverness and she ends up travelling back to the past when she touches a stone circle hidden in the woods. Now she finds herself in 1776, at he verge of the Jacobite rebellion, and she has to find her way back to her own time. However, during her journey, Claire becomes an involuntary guest of clan McKenzie, where she is held captive because she is suspected to be an English spy. There she meets Jamie Fraser and… Well, everything starts to complicate a little bit.

This is an easy to read book, but it is also big and has 7 sequels, so it requires a bit of a commitment. Nevertheless, it has really relatable, flawed characters, lots of history, time travel, steamy explicit sex scenes and plenty of nail-biting moments. I haven’t finished the entire series, but I love carrying this book when I am travelling. I never get bored.

Movies about Scotland

1. Not another happy ending

books and movies about Scotland
They have great outfits!

This is not a common title when you are talking about books and movies about Scotland. I found this movie during a weekend that I decided to become a twenty-something grannie and stay in all night. I love Karen Gillian, so I decided to give it a got and I was really pleased with my choice.

Summary: Basically, Jane Lockhart is an aspiring writer with a miserable life that has a manuscript no one wants to publish. One day, a tiny publishing house decides to give her a chance. surprisingly, the book turns out to be a big success. Jane is finally happy, she is famous, she has a new boyfriend… And she needs to write another one to finish her contract. But there is a small problem: Jane cannot write when she is happy, so her desperate editor decides to make her life miserable again in order to get her to finish the second book.

This is an indie, sweet, comical and slightly romantic film perfect when you want to watch something light, but not mainstream. It has a good cast and amazing costume design. What else can you ask?

2. Harry Potter

books and movies about Scotland
Can you believe they were once this young? Do you feel as old as I do?.

I know, I said I tried to look for not-so-typical options, but it seemed wrong not to include Harry Potter in a post of books and movies about Scotland. I debated a lot trying to decide if I should include it in the books’ list as well, but in the end, I think you can appreciate the beauty of Scotland in the movies better than in the books. The plot is a different story, though.

Summary: Do I really need to do this? I don’t think there’s someone out there who doesn’t know what Harry Potter is about. But just in case, we are talking about the kid with glasses that does magic and tries to defeat a noseless guy.

Although I love the saga, I do think that not all of the movies are great. However, The Prisoner of Azkaban has amazing shots of the Scottish landscape. Also, the Deathly Hallows part 1 and 2 also feature some really interesting locations (not all in Scotland, though). I will leave it opt to you, but you can always tell me in the comments which of the eight films is your favourite.

3. Outlander

books and movies about Scotland
I almost posted a picture with a shirtless Jamie… Almost.

I feel like I am cheating because I also included the book. But, unlike many other adaptations, I think the producers did an amazing job with Outlander!

Summary: The story is the same; a Second World War nurse goes to a Scottish stone circle and travels back to 1776. This is the time when the Jacobites want to rebel against the English government. However, although the book has more details, the show was put together brilliantly and it really manages to keep you glued to your telly. The Scottish locations are breath-taking, the rhythm is great and the visual incentive is not so bad either (Catriona Balfe and Sam Heughan are both easy on the eye). My mum and I barely slept when we were watching it for several days!

Some people call it “a feminist take on Game of Thrones”, although I wouldn’t agree completely with that statement. It does have political plots, war and nudity, as well as a female perspective. But overall I think the angle is different from GoT. Equally enjoyable, though. It has a few Emmys nominations and there are several seasons out by now, so it is perfect for binge-watching!

4. Filth

books and movies about Scotland
I really love those British’s Christmas paper crowns.

My boyfriend thought my list was kind of girly and since I did not want to include Trainspotting, he suggested Filth instead. According to Conor, Filth shows a loosely exaggerated view of real Scotland. Drugs violence sex and sheer mental behaviour in 90 minutes. Plus James McCavoy. But that’s just me.

Summary: A corrupt police officer, with sociopathic traits and an alcohol and drug addiction is to investigate the murder of a Japanese exchange student. The case could win him a promotion to become a Detective Inspector, so he has to ruin the chances for his colleagues. However, the case triggers some deep emotional turmoil and he starts loosing the grip of reality.

This is definitely a denser, more complicated film. The story is from Irvine Welsh, the same guy from Trainspotting. This way you get an idea about the vibe of the movie. The cinematography is amazing and it depicts a different side of Scotland. Darker, but still super interesting!

No, sorry, I won’t include Braveheart. There are many books and movies about Scotland, so we can get by without it.

What did you think about my list? And, more importantly, which are some of your favourite books and movies about Scotland? Don’t forget to mention it in the comments and let me know if you have read/watched some of my suggestions!

I guess I’ll see you on the road.


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57 comments on “Best books and movies about Scotland: What to read and watch before your trip

  1. I love posts about travel and reading! Lots of great books to read and films to watch about Scotland! I love the Outlander TV series too – makes me want to go to Skye!

  2. This is a great and very inspiring list! I don’t read as much fiction as I’d like to, so this has given me some much needed help! I’ve heard so many good things about Outlander, the series, so it’s nice to know there’s actually a book! I’ll definitely add this to my list.

  3. Outlander just had to make the list 🙂 The hubby and I also read and watch before going places. It’s always fun to immerse yourself before you get there. I had the White Mare on my must-read list already, now I’m moving it to the top as my next book 🙂

  4. I love reading and watching things about a place before I get there! This list is awesome, and I’ll definitely be referencing it again if I ever head back to Scotland 🙂

  5. I’ve been only to Edinburgh! Yet to explore the highlands which is, I believe, the essence of Scotland… Hope I’ll get a chance in future!
    That said, I’m not a big reader, esp., I don’t read fiction! Left that long back! Wouldn’t mind watching a couple movies though. Gonna check out Outlander movie soon…

  6. I am not much of a reader to be honest but I read Harry Potter of course, when I then was in Scotland I got some flashbacks. It is such a great added value!

  7. Sad that I used to be such a reader, and I’m not anymore. This list has inspired me. I do like to research the history of the places I visit, but I hadn’t thought about finding books or movies about the country. Outlander is one I may read even if I’m not traveling to Scotland soon!

  8. I’m clearly not as well read as I thought as I’d never heard of any of these. I do think books can inspire us to visit places but likewise places can inspire us to read more books, when I was in Cambodia I started reading loads of books about the area as I wanted to understand it better

    1. I think you would love the Highlands, Diana =) They are so magical! Candles in the Woods is a book I would recommend blindly. If you get the chance, it is worth the read. Regarding HP, I get it haha, when it comes to the series you either love them or not so much. Luckily there are many other films about Scotland. Thanks for reading!
      Dann Castillo recently posted…Best books and movies about Scotland: What to read and watch before your tripMy Profile

  9. This is such a wonderful idea! I hadn’t really thought, but this makes perfect sense. Really gets you in the mood for your visit. I’ve been meaning to pick up Outlander actually…

  10. To be honest I don’t think I have ever read a book with the action happening in Scotland and if I have seen a movie I probably didn’t identify it, except for Trainspotting. I don’t think I have seen Not another happy ending and it sounds like a movie that I would love to watch. The plot is interesting as in real life not many people can actually write when they are happy, can they? All the big masterpieces have been written when the authors were sad. 🙂

  11. I do exactly the same thing! I always read books (fictional or not) on the countries I’m about to visit. Makes it a bit fun visiting the destinations talked about in the books!

  12. Scotland is one of my favourite countries in the world. But unfortunately I haven’t read many books or watched many movies on this beautiful part of the world. I loved Outlander and Braveheart.

  13. There is a great film called Angel’s Share which is directed by Ken Loach and is descibed as Scotland’s answer to the Full Monty. I’m a big Outlander fan but The Writers’ Museum just at the top of the Royal Mile is a really nice place to visit to get a feel for classic Scottish fiction and poetry.

    1. Hey, Lorna! I just saw the trailer and it looks great! I am definitely going to have a look this weekend. Looks fun and very Scottish too! I loved the Writer’s Museum! I spent there longer than I intended, but the place was so charming that consumed most of my day. You are right, you really get a feel of true Scottish fiction. It is also free! Loved that part too. Thanks for the recommendation!
      Dann Castillo recently posted…Everything you need to know before visiting Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and The Golden Circle:My Profile

  14. Girl, you make a book/movies list and you win me over! And when you started the first one saying it’s weird, doneze, I’m bought hahaha Scotland has been in my bucket list for ages and recently my mom has said she also wants to go, so we might be planning to go next year or so! Thanks for the tips and also great blog, Dann!

    1. Hahaha, thanks, Juliana! What can I say? I’m weird, I like weird things. Also, I need more people to read that book so I can have someone to talk to 😛 On a not-so-selfish note, I think you would love Scotland! It’s super charming and full of oldie book shops! If you do go, let me know if you liked it! Thanks for reading!
      Dann Castillo recently posted…Everything you need to know before visiting Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and The Golden Circle:My Profile

  15. Big fan of Outlander and some of the locations are magical.

    One of my favourite films is Sunshine on Leith. Another great way to get a fix of Edinburgh (even though I only live in Perth).

    My other half would say Highlander is one of his top films. For me the scenery and soundtrack is spot on. However, the story leaves a lot to be desired (in my opinion).

    1. Oh my, just checked the trailer for Sunshine on Leith and it looks super cool! It is indeed a great portrait of Edinburgh (for what I saw on the scenes). I’m definitely adding this to my to-watch list =D I think Perth is an amazing place! I just passed by it while I was travelling around Scotland, but I really regret I did not stay longer. I think Highlander is definitely a classic. I do agree the story has its faults, but it is still enjoyable. Thanks for the recommendations, Melanie!
      Dann Castillo recently posted…Everything you need to know before visiting Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and The Golden Circle:My Profile

  16. Anyone who’s interested in Scotland would find this list extremely helpful. Personally, I would check out everything on the list since I really find Scotland a nice place to visit someday. Thank for sharing!

  17. I lived in Scotland for nearly 10 years and found Outlander (after moving down to Yorkshire a few years ago) via the tv series on amazon prime, that was before I read the books. I am just totally and shamelessly obsessed by it 🙂 heading back up to the highlands this summer and cannot wait !

    1. Yay! Then you can get my obsession as well! I haven’t read the last book yet because I don’t want it to finish haha, but at least we are going to enjoy the TV series for a while. I am sure you will love the Highlands even more now. I passes through some of the locations they used while I visited last year and I became a complete fangirl. Beware of the stone circles 😛
      Dann Castillo recently posted…Everything you need to know before visiting Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and The Golden Circle:My Profile

  18. This was fun to read as I got to go to Scotland, but have only read Outlander.

    Have you read The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley? I was only able to read it on my Kindle, but it is a wonderful historical romance and time travel novel set on the eastern coast near Aberdeen.
    Thank you for your fun blog!

  19. I’m lucky enough to live in the Highlands now so find this an interesting list. I definitely would have included The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on the film choices though and maybe some Ian Rankin in the book list. And don’t forget the 007 movie Skyfall when you are driving through Glen Coe – you can just imagine Daniel Craig sitting next to you!

    1. It’s amazing that you live in the Highlands! I am a bit jealous 😛 You know, I actually have a couple of Ian Ranking books on my shelf, but I haven’t had the chance to read them, so I was afraid to include them as suggestions since I don’t have an opinion yet. But as soon as I finish them, I’ll add them to the article =) And you are right, Skyfall had amazing scenes in Scotland too. Thanks for the suggestions!
      Dann Castillo recently posted…Everything you need to know before visiting Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and The Golden Circle:My Profile

    2. I was thinking of the same movie, and I have read most, if not all, of Ian Rankin’s books to get an insider’s look at Edinburgh where my daughter has been living with her husband for the last few years. Reading those books has given me a much better feel for the city and I’m quite comfortable getting around whenever I visit.

  20. I love books, I love films, and Scotland might be one of my next destinations so this is just the right kind of reading material. I think a lot of UK films often get overlooked because of the mighty Hollywood, but the local industry is amazing and they do churn out some really good films. I really want to watch Not Another Happy Ending now, sounds interesting.

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