Scotland on the Silver Screen: Exploring the country’s top filming locations

Drumlanrig Castle has been a screen star in recent years, both in Outlander and most recently in Apple TVs The Buccaneers
Drumlanrig Castle has been a screen star in recent years, both in Outlander and most recently in Apple TV's The Buccaneers | © Richard Franks
Sarah Gillespie

Cinematic glens, windswept islands and remarkable architecture, both ancient and modern – Scotland seems made for the screen, so it’s no surprise that many directors have chosen this country as the setting for their projects.

V&A Dundee (opened 2018) provides a contemporary backdrop to Succession’s scheming; by contrast, the enigmatic carvings of the The Da Vinci Code’s Rosslyn Chapel were created in 1446. Some locations have had several star turns: Doune Castle, near Stirling, has featured in Monty Python, Outlander and Game of Thrones. And the new Apple TV series The Buccaneers – set in England, filmed in Scotland – leads the viewer on a tour around some of the country’s finest stately homes and gardens.

Live like Succession’s Roy family in Dundee and Gleneagles

Logan Roy, the ageing media mogul at the heart of HBO drama Succession, was born in Dundee – as was Brian Cox, the actor who plays him. In one episode, the Roy clan visits Logan’s hometown: filming locations include Magdalen Green with its ornate, cast-iron bandstand, and the V&A Dundee. Scotland’s first dedicated design museum was the scene of a lavish banquet celebrating Logan’s 50 years in the business – however, we don’t recommend recreating Kendall Roy’s cringeworthy “rap” scene!

The permanent collection at the V&A Dundee is free to visit and includes Harris Tweed couture and Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Art Nouveau oak tearoom, rebuilt using the original panels. Later in the episode, the Roys decamp to the ultra-luxe Gleneagles Hotel near Auchterarder. As well as three golf courses, Gleneagles is home to Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, Scotland’s only two-Michelin-star restaurant.

The V&A Dundee – scene of one of Kendall Roy’s many low ebbs

Relive chilling scenes from The Wicker Man at Culzean Castle

1973 cult classic The Wicker Man follows a policeman as he travels to a remote Scottish island in search of a missing girl. There, he meets the enigmatic Lord Summerisle, the ruler of the island. The exterior shots of Summerisle’s castle were filmed at the 18th-century Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, designed by star architect Robert Adam. Explore the 260-hectare estate, with its swan pond, deer park, and walled garden; leave time for a look inside the castle itself, with its masterful Oval Staircase. Feeling flush? Spend the night at the castle’s Eisenhower Suite, where President Dwight D. Eisenhower stayed several times. Most of the other filming locations were in Dumfries & Galloway: in the pretty harbour town of Kirkcudbright and nearby Anwoth, the site of the creepy “maypole” scene.

Culzean Castle has taken on a spookier feel ever since 1973

Find the “Holy Grail” of Scottish filming locations at Doune Castle

“Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” This immortal line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail was shouted by John Cleese from the ramparts of Doune Castle, near Stirling. The lush hilltop setting and excellent state of preservation of this medieval castle mean that it’s one of the most filmed in Scotland: it’s also been featured as Castle Leoch in Outlander, and as Winterfell in the pilot episode of Game of Thrones. Inside, you can borrow a pair of coconut shells to create your own homage to the knights of The Holy Grail; or just tour the labyrinth of rooms, using an audio guide narrated by the late, great Python actor Terry Jones.

The iconic ‘Insulting Frenchman’ hurled his taunts from atop Doune Castle

Crack The Da Vinci Code at Rosslyn Chapel

Of Scotland’s 15th-century Rosslyn Chapel, author Dan Brown said, “When I decided to write The Da Vinci Code, I knew that its finale would have to take place at the most mysterious and magical chapel on earth – Rosslyn.” The extraordinary stained-glass windows and interior carvings – including the vine-wrapped “Apprentice Pillar” – continue to draw crowds, almost 20 years after the film’s release (booking ahead is essential). Continue to nearby Edinburgh, itself the site of several scenes from the film. Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile and the Scottish National Gallery all formed the backdrop to Robert Langdon’s search for answers.

Can you crack the code at Rosslyn Chapel?

Emulate the lives of American socialites in The Buccaneers

Apple TV’s new series The Buccaneers follows a group of American socialites as they struggle to adjust to life in 1870s London – but the series was filmed entirely in Scotland. Locations include the peach-pink Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries & Galloway, which also starred in Outlander; and St Abb’s Head, a nature reserve in the Scottish Borders with siltstone cliffs, squawking seabirds and wildflower fields. For a truly aristocratic experience, though, visit the Arniston House estate in Midlothian, owned by the Dundas family since 1571, when Laird (Lord) George Dundas bought the land. The house was designed by William Adam (father of Robert) and is accessible only via a guided tour led by a Dundas family member.

Discover more about Scotland’s great Set Jetting locations with VisitScotland.

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