I remember when my mom first told me about the “Outlander” books. I was in college, I think, and we shared an interest in historical-fiction-with-some-fantasy-thrown-in; I had just recommended that she read “The Historian” (still one of my favorite books), and she told me that I should read “Outlander,” about a woman who time-travels 200 years through some standing stones to the mid-1700s in Scotland.
It sounded intriguing, but I didn't have time during college to invest in a series that was already 7+ books long. It wasn't until they announced a TV show based on the Diana Gabaldon books that I finally decided to read them. I was immediately hooked, and have since read all 8 of the currently published books in the series.
“Outlander” has everything I love in a series: interesting characters, a story based on real (and well-researched) history, and some romance and a little bit of magic thrown in. Plus, the early books take place in one of my favorite places in the world: Scotland!
My mom and I aren't alone in our fandom, either: the “Outlander” fan base is vast, and the TV show has only increased its numbers. It was only a matter of time, therefore, until savvy tour companies in Scotland started offering “Outlander” tours to spots featured in both the books and TV show.
One of my favorite Scottish tour companies, Highland Explorer Tours, launched Outlander tours in 2017. I couldn't go during their inaugural year since I was planning my wedding, but I vowed to take my mom on one in 2018. My sister decided to tag along, too, and we signed up for the first 3-day Outlander tour of the summer in late June.
The tour, called the Outlander & The Jacobite Legends Explorer, is a jam-packed tour that hits up several sites from both the “Outlander” books and TV show throughout the Scottish Highlands.
Outlander 3-day tour: The highlights
We saw a LOT in just 3 days, made possible partly because Scotland isn't all that big – you can cover a lot of ground in just one day.
Here were my personal highlights from the tour:
We started off with a bang, visiting a spot only a short drive outside of Edinburgh, where our tour began. Our first stop was at Midhope Castle, which stands in for Jamie Fraser's family home of Lallybroch in the “Outlander” TV series. The “castle” is instantly recognizable to anyone who's watched “Outlander.”
In reality, Midhope Castle is only one step above a ruin, however – the interior is off-limits, and the TV show only ever films outside the building and in its courtyard. This didn't really matter to any of us, however – we all still loved getting to visit this one!
Our second stop of the day was the village of Culross in Fife. In the TV show, Culross stands in for Cranesmuir, where Geillis Duncan lives and where Claire and Geillis are tried for witchcraft. You can see the market cross where a young thief has his ear nailed to the pillory in Season 1, and take a stroll through the cobbled streets, which really do make you feel like you've stepped back in time.
If you can time it right, you may also be able to visit Culross Palace. The interior rooms have been used in multiple “Outlander” scenes, and the palace gardens stood in for Claire's herb garden at Castle Leoch. (We didn't have time to go in since we opted for coffee and cake instead, but a few people from our tour did pop inside.)
My tour stopped in the Fife village of Falkland for lunch, with enough time to explore the streets that “played” 1940s Inverness in the TV series. You can see the hotel that stood in for Mrs. Baird's B&B where Frank and Claire stay on their second honeymoon, along with the Bruce Fountain where the ghostly Highlander appears in the rain to stare up at Claire through a window.
We grabbed lunch at Campbell's Coffee House, which was made into a cafe for filming of Season 1 of “Outlander,” and has just stuck with it!
Loch Ness cruise
Even though Loch Ness doesn't play a huge role in the “Outlander” series, it was still cool to have time on our tour to do a 2-hour cruise on the famous lake. We lucked out with beautiful weather, which made the cruise extra enjoyable.
We did a cruise that sailed as far as the ruins of Urquhart Castle, which has ties to the first Jacobite uprisings in Scotland in the late 1600s.
The second day of our tour was largely dedicated to visiting Culloden Battlefield, the real-life location of the Battle of Culloden in 1746 where Jacobite troops (supporters of the deposed King James) were decidedly defeated by government troops in a fierce and bloody battle. The battle features prominently in the “Outlander” story – Jamie and Claire spend two books trying to change the course of history to stop the battle from happening, and Jamie ultimately fights on Culloden Moor.
We had 3 hours at Culloden to explore the museum and exhibits, and then take a walk out on the former battlefield. For those that don't know much about this period in Scottish history, the Battle of Culloden essentially marked the end of the Highland Clans in Scotland; after the Jacobites were defeated, the British government relocated a lot of Highlanders, and banned things like the wearing of tartan and the speaking of Gaelic in order to deter future uprisings.
I'm glad that this tour allows enough time to really explore Culloden, as it's such an important site not only in the “Outlander” story, but also in Scottish history.
After Culloden, we stopped briefly at the Clava Cairns, a collection of standing stone circles and stone burial chambers not far from Inverness. This is as close as you'll get to Craigh na Dun (the standing stones Claire uses to travel through time) in real life, since Craigh na Dun is sadly not a real stone circle. (Diana Gabaldon, having never been to Scotland, completely made the stone circle up, and the TV series created an artificial stone circle to film at.)
It's suggested that the Clava Cairns might have partly inspired Craigh na Dun, though, since it's so close to Inverness and Culloden. Either way, we all took turns posing with the tallest stone, hoping that maybe one of us would turn out to be a time traveler. (But, alas, no luck.)
The last “Outlander”-related spot we visited was Doune Castle, the castle that acts as Castle Leoch (home of the MacKenzie clan) in the TV series. This real medieval castle was used quite a bit in filming – the exterior and courtyard feature in several episodes, and the castle's kitchen was re-created in a studio for all the kitchen scenes.
Here, you can take an audio tour of the castle (which also has real Jacobite ties), with certain sections narrated by “Outlander's” own Sam Heughan, who plays Jamie.
Doune Castle also featured prominently in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and was Winterfell in the pilot of “Game of Thrones.” This was the only place we stopped where I would have liked more time to explore! 45 minutes definitely was not long enough.
Those are just my personal highlights, of course. Other places this 3-day Outlander tour visits include:
- Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore (Day 1)
- Clootie Well (Day 2)
- Glencoe for some photo stops (Day 3)
- Highland Cattle (Day 3)
Now that you've read the highlights, here are a few other things you might want to know:
Who goes on a tour like this?
Obviously this tour will appeal most to “Outlander” fans who want to see spots that both inspired the “Outlander” books, and places where the popular TV series has been filmed. However, you don't HAVE to be a huge fan to enjoy this tour – my sister had only seen about 7 episodes of the show before going on this tour, and one couple in our group knew nothing at all about the series, but was interested in the Jacobite history.
If you are an “Outlander” fan, though, I guarantee that you'll enjoy this tour. Most of the places you visit are recognizable, and your guide may also show you some clips to help jog your memory along the way.
We had a fairly small tour group – just 12 – though there can be up to 29 people on these Highland Explorer tours. People were from all over Europe, the US, and Australia, and there was a wide age range in our group – proving that “Outlander” fans can be any age and come from anywhere!
Where do you stay?
On Highland Explorer tours, you'll stay in local B&Bs wherever you go. On this specific tour, we spent two nights at a B&B in Inverness. Our B&B was on a quiet street about a 10-15 minute walk from downtown, and included a good hot breakfast both mornings. I loved that we stayed in one spot for both nights, and that they could accommodate my group in a triple room.
How do you get around?
Highland Explorer Tours uses 29-seater blue buses to travel around Scotland. The seats are comfy and pretty spacious, though you usually aren't on the bus for more than 2 hours at a time before you make a stop.
Your tour guide also acts as your driver, and usually will throw in some stories and historical facts as you travel through the Highlands.
How much is it?
The 3-day Outlander tour starts at $589 per adult. This price includes 3 days of transport and guiding, 2 nights of B&B accommodation, and entry fees for Midhope Castle, Doune Castle, and Culloden Battlefield. The only things you'll have to pay extra for (beyond your meals) is entrance to the museum at Culloden (which is definitely worth the entry fee) and the optional cruise on Loch Ness (which cost us 15 GBP per person).
I think this is a pretty good price for a guided tour in Scotland, and feel like you see a lot for what you pay.
What if I don't have 3 days?
If you can't dedicate 3 full days to “Outlander,” don't worry – Highland Explorer also has a 1-day Outlander tour from Edinburgh that visits many of the same places. The 1-day tour starts at $80 per person, and visits Midhope Castle (Lallybroch), Culross (Cranesmuir), Falkland (Inverness), and Doune Castle (Castle Leoch).
This is currently Highland Explorer's #1-selling day tour!
Should I book this tour?
If you're an “Outlander” fan? Umm, yes, definitely! You'll see so many sites that you'll recognize from both the books and TV show, and will get a deeper understanding of the real history that influenced Jamie and Claire's story.
If you're NOT an “Outlander” fan, this can still be a great way to see some parts of Scotland that other guided tours simply don't visit. Like the villages in Fife and the Highland Folk Museum and even the castles. I loved that I got to visit completely new-to-me places in Scotland on this trip, even though this was my 5th visit to the country.
Would you ever want to go on a themed tour like this? If you're an “Outlander” fan, which site would you be most excited to visit?
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*Note: I was a guest of Highland Explorer Tours on this tour, but, as always, all opinions are 100% my own.