If you’ve turned on the TV recently – or your Amazon Prime – there is no way you could have made it past Outlander. While the show has only just recently launched in the UK, it taken the US by storm already and leaves German and French fans in awe for Scotland. Filmed partly on location and in studios around Scotland, it is no surprise that fans flock the country and tour companies have started providing Outlander tours to visit some of the locations. I tried one with Highland Explorer Tours – here is what to expect!
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The Highland Explorer Tours Outlander Tour (find it here) is a full-day tour leaving from Edinburgh’s Royal Mile at 8.45 am and returning around 5/5.30pm depending on traffic.
I’ve only just jumped on the Outlander fan wagon myself, but I can feel the excitement in the air, as I wait for our bus. I arrived unfashionably early, picked up my souvenir map and bus number at the ticket office and now waited, surrounded by a group of what seemed to be super-fans. Would I fit in?
Luckily, the tour is not particularly spoiler-heavy and my lacking knowledge of Outlander season 2, was no problem at all. I also let our driver-guide Yvonne know, and she took extra care not to spoil anything for me.
A quick run-through today’s itinerary makes clear – there’s a lot to see: from the home of the Mackenzie Clan, Castle Leoch, we would make our way to Geillis’ home town, Cranesmuir. We’d make it all the way to Inverness and finally swing by Jamie Fraser’s family home, Lallybroch.
Now, you might wonder, how on Earth we would attempt to visit all these places in a day tour?! Let’s just say, all is not what it seems on television!
While Outlander is primarily set in the Highlands of Scotland, most of the filming actually took place in the Kingdom of Fife, a region of Scotland just north of Edinburgh. The Inverness you know from the show, is actually not the real Inverness, but rather a small village in Fife – sorry to burst your bubble.
The good thing about this is that visiting all these set locations in a day becomes actually feasible!
Listen to ‘The Key’ – an Outlander-inspired episode on my Scotland podcast!
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Here are the places we visited on the tour:
Outlander location: Exterior shots of Castle Leoch were shot on location; the scenes in Mrs Fitz’ kitchen were shot in a studio, which was modelled after the actual interior of the castle.
Doune Castle used to be overlooked, particularly in favour of its much more famous neighbours, Stirling Castle and the William Wallace Monument. But people seem to be over the historical inaccuracy of Braveheart and prefer to dive into the world of Outlander now.
For £6 (not included in the tour) you can visit the castle, which is in very good shape. Pick up an audio guide to learn more about its history, but make sure to check out chapters 17 and onwards in particular. In these chapters Sam Heughan tells stories from shooting on location and about his preparation for the role of Jamie Fraser!
We had about one hour here, which was enough time to listen to some of the audio guide as well as walk around the castle to see it from all sides!
Outlander location: Culross stands in for Geillis’ hometown of Cranesmuir; Outlander fans should be able to recognise the town square and Mercat Cross.
Without giving away any spoilers, the quaint village of Culross was turned into Geillis’ hometown of Cranesmuir. Only, that it was too colourful, and the houses surrounding the Mercat Cross were painted different shades of grey in order to look more like a grim 18th-century village.
Luckily they pained the houses back – Outlander fan or not, you’ve got to agree, that it’s prettier this way!
Outlander location: The Palace is where Claire’s herb garden at Castle Leoch is located.
Our driver-guide Yvonne recommended checking out Culross Palace Gardens, and whether you are an Outlander fan or not, you will love this place.
I opted for a garden-only ticket (£3.50) because I wanted enough time to wander around the gardens and the village afterwards, but within the hour you get in Culross, you could easily visit the Palace as well.
The gardens climb the hill behind the Palace and stretch across multiple levels. You enter through a beautiful flower garden with several over-flowing beds. Next to it is the orchard with fruit trees and a lively chicken family. You will hear the rooster’s welcoming cock-a-doodle-doo from far away.
Climbing up the garden terraces reveals views across the Firth of Forth. On every terrace, you will find new plant species, but also sheltered benches to sit down and take it all in.
Outlander Location: Believe it or not, Falkland is Inverness, both 1940s and 1960s.
My apologies again, but at least now you won’t be disappointed if you ever find yourself in the real Inverness, looking for Mrs Baird’s Guesthouse…
We stopped here for lunch and had a little over an hour to grab a bite – I opted for the Hayloft Tearoom (vegan soup and roll available), but if you’re lucky you might score a table at Campbell’s Coffee House and Eatery, which is Campbell’s Coffee Shop in the show.
You will recognise the view from the cafe immediately, as you now look straight onto the Covenanter Hotel (Mrs. Baird’s Guesthouse) and the Bruce Fountain, from where the mysterious Highlander looks up at Claire’s room.
After lunch, I picked up a cup of coffee at Fayre Earth Gift Shop & Cafe which doubles as Farrell’s Hardware and Furniture Store (soy milk available)!
Around the village, you will find a few Outlander tributes, but also quaint souvenir shops, cafes and the most beautiful flower arrangements!
Outlander location: Exterior shots of Jamie Fraser’s family home Lallybroch.
Our final stop before Edinburgh is Lallybroch – or actually Midhope Castle, which is privately owned and unfortunately in a bit of a state. While it looks pretty as you approach it, some of the windows are actually boarded up and the courtyard behind the arch could need a good scrub. Nevertheless, true Outlander fans will have to come here for their photo op!
Highlander Explorer Tours
Highland Explorer Tours has been around since 2006 but has only just launched its Outlander tours this year. Other tours vary from 1- to 6-day tours all over Scotland, all starting from Edinburgh – from Loch Ness to Skye, St Andrews to Stirling; even Shetland is on their list and Alnwick Castle across the border in England.
Local guides show you everything you could ask for, while you can lean back and enjoy the view instead of having to drive yourself and keep to time. They have an expansive knowledge of Scottish history and can answer almost every question. Our guide Yvonne was passionate about the tour, but also about telling us the true story behind Outlander.
Highland Explorer Tours is committed to sustainable travel, and I’m particularly happy that they offer customers the option to donate £2 and match every donation. Proceedings go to Trees for Life, a charity working to restore the Caledonian Forest in the Highlands of Scotland.
Even as a newbie Outlander fan, I was really taken away by this tour. Not only was it amazing to see some of the filming locations used in the show, the tour also presented an opportunity to explore a completely different side of Scotland. Driving through the Kingdom of Fife you are completely off the beaten track and see a Scotland that most visitors will never know.
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Our driver-guide Yvonne did a fab job to weave in accurate historical accounts, for example of Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and of course the Jacobite Uprisings, while at the same time giving us our Outlander fix by telling stories about the show.
The fairly small mileage of the tour allowed for plenty of time to explore the four locations we visited – which, believe me, does not always happen when you do a day tour further up north or to the west of Scotland. I enjoyed the balance between being out and about and sitting on the bus, listening to Yvonne’s stories or her music selection.
For Outlander fans, I think this tour is an absolute must – for everybody else, this is still a great day tour if you’re interested in Scottish history, castles, gardens and quaint villages!
Are you an Outlander fan? Tell me, which location would you like to visit?