A Visual Tour Of Scotland in 9 Films

Michael Fassbender in'Macbeth' 2014. | © Studiocanal / Photography by Jonathan Olley
Michael Fassbender in'Macbeth' 2014. | © Studiocanal / Photography by Jonathan Olley
Photo of Tori Chalmers
9 September 2016

Scotland — with its undulating terrain, menacingly handsome glens, romantic wee isles, and ambiguous lochs, is a perfect backdrop for movies. There is nothing more liberating than standing at the foot of a magnificent Scottish mountain and absorbing its majesty. Moments such as these make us understand why writers write and why filmmakers are inspired. Welcome to Scotland. Here is a tour of this bonnie land through the magical world of film.


‘They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom’. Mel Gibson’s infamous role in Braveheart as Scottish warrior William Wallace has made a lasting imprint on minds across the globe. The first thing many ask when they meet someone from Scotland is ‘Have you seen Braveheart?’. Why not? The movie is iconic. This portrayal of the First War of Scottish Independence transports viewers on an epic, cinematic journey across some of the most stunning locations in Scotland, particularly the Highlands. The opening sequence shows Aonach Eagach in all its glory. Glen Coe, Loch Leven, Glen Nevis, and Fort William are also featured and never fail to hypnotize. The Scottish scenery in this film will even make outsiders patriotic.


Danny Boyle directed a cult classic. Trainspotting is a blood-curdling look into the gritty drug scene of the 1980s. This reality check of a film exposes a very raw side of Scotland and is less ‘heroin chic’ and more ‘real-life grunge’. Instead of the typical prosperous, touristy, ‘Miss Jean Brodie-side’ of Edinburgh, Ewan McGregor and his fellow cast members offer a glimpse through the keyhole into a shockingly real side of humanity. And, it ain’t too pretty. Although the film is set in Edinburgh, the majority of scenes were shot around Glasgow. However, viewers can catch a snippet of Princes Street as they run like blazes in the opening sequence.

The 39 Steps

Any avid film fanatic will be aware of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. This thriller was released in 1935 and stars Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. From spies to murder, this classic displays all the quintessential themes of Hitchcock’s films. Although most shots came from the studio, some of the filming did occur on location in Scotland. For instance, the Forth Road Bridge makes a guest appearance when Hannay journeys across it on the Flying Scotsman express train. Since 1964, this bridge has been connecting Edinburgh to Fife. Its impressive architecture and menacing steel beams have made it the Golden Gate of Scotland.

Local Hero

The beloved 1983 movie Local Hero teleports viewers to the fictional Scottish village of Ferness where a big Texas oil company swoops down with the hope of purchasing the land. This critically acclaimed film wonderfully portrays the life surrounding traditional Scottish fishing communities. Although so many parts of Scotland were featured, the majority of the village scenes were shot in Pennan (a wee dot on the map situated on the coast of Aberdeenshire). Additionally, the beach shots were filmed mainly at Morar and Arisaig on the west coast. Since the release of Local Hero, fans have ventured to Pennan from afar in order to see the famous red telephone box — which requires no explanation for those that have seen the movie.


Any art-house film fanatics should have a gander at Peter Mullan’s movie Neds. Set in 1970s Glasgow, this gritty thriller is as dark as it is riveting. Mullan cleverly portrays an insight into some of the — at times — gruelling rites of passages and traditions experienced by the youth culture of Scotland in the 1970s. From brawls to abuse, graffiti, tears, and social predicaments, this captivating film delves deep and personal into the lives of a working-class Scottish family, who, like everyone, all have their demons. This film offers a visual tour of Glasgow’s nooks and crannies in this exceptional coming of age film.


For many serious Bond fans, Skyfall was the best thing to happen to Daniel Craig. Before then, there were many who questioned his role as Bond. However, it is safe to say that when he jumped into that Aston Martin with M by his side and ventured off the map to his family home in Scotland, he became the real McCoy. From that iconic scene of the two standing by the car in the glens of Scotland to the shot of them in her last fleeting moments in that old Scottish chapel, it is without a shadow of a doubt that Scotland plays a leading role in this movie. For those determined to recreate that famous car shot, look no further than Glen Etive in the Highlands. No one is judging. Just try to bring the car back in one piece.


The well-received and exquisitely shot 2015 film adaptation of Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard perfectly portrays Shakespeare’s revered play and showcases the raw and mystical beauty typical to the more remote parts of Scotland. After all, any thespians will undoubtedly be aware that this serious work of art is referred to as the ‘Scottish Play’. From the dreamy Fairy Pools where Banquo was killed to the ‘Lantern of the North’ (Elgin Cathedral) where the injured Duncan was transported, Macbeth successfully shows the ruggedness and true majesty of Scotland.

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen

Trainspotting star Ewan McGregor joins Emily Blunt in the romantic film Salmon Fishing In The Yemen. McGregor plays an endearingly nerdy fish expert coerced by the confines of bureaucracy to help facilitate a salmon fishery in the Yemen. Scotland is renowned for its fresh salmon and is also considered as a prime fishing spot with its abundance of wonderful waters. The Sheikh’s country abode in the movie was filmed at the beautiful Ardverikie House. This 19th-century estate is situated in Kinloch Laggan in Inverness-shire and is actually no stranger to stardom — it was the setting for popular Scottish television show Monarch Of The Glen.

Harry Potter

It is no surprise that the world of Harry Potter was written in Scotland and emerged from the wonderful mind of widely celebrated author J.K. Rowling. From the castles and cobbled streets to old schools and rich history, Scotland is partly responsible for being the inspiration behind the global sensation of the wonderful wizarding world. The glorious Glen Coe is the setting for Hagrid’s hut, along with the bridge that leads to Hogwarts. Venture to Loch Elit and step foot on many of the places used as the glorious grounds of Hogwarts and also Dumbledore’s grave. The star of the show is the West Highland Railway Line that acts as the journey line for The Hogwarts Express. Let’s be honest — who doesn’t dream of hopping on that iconic train to Hogwarts and devouring Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans or Chocolate Frogs?

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