12 recommended reads for those who dream of traveling to Scotland

We’re big fans of literary tourism around here. Books can take you places you’ll never physically visit, and can help you prepare for long-planned trips. I always love hearing that readers want to prepare for their trips by reading about the place they’re heading to, or they want to visit or revisit a destination via armchair travel.

These past 2+ years my travel has been predominantly of the armchair variety, but once upon a time, back in December 2018, Will and I headed to Wigtown, Scotland at the invitation of our friends Mel Joulwan and Dave Humphreys, who had booked The Open Book airbnb for a week and wanted to know if we would come along. Who could turn down an offer like that? Not us!

Wigtown has been Scotland’s official book town since 1998 and we all enjoyed taking advantage of the unusually large number of bookstores to visit during our stay. After Wigtown, we traveled north to continue our time together in literary Edinburgh.

It was a magical trip and it’s been on my mind since we started planning yesterday’s episode of What Should I Read Next, #331: Strong sense of summer with Mel and Dave. In that episode we reminisced about the trip a wee bit but if you want to hear more, listen to episode 219. (And definitely check out Episode 171: A podcaster, a barrister, and a joiner walk into a bookstore to hear me sit down with Wigtown bookstore owner Ruth Andersen during that same trip!)

Perhaps Scotland is on your list of future travel destinations; perhaps you have your own fond memories of a past trip there. My hope is that this list will make you even more excited about your next trip or provide an accessible and affordable means of escape via armchair travel.

To send you off on your literary adventure, I’m sharing twelve titles that I’ve read and loved or that are on my To Be Read list. There are countless books about Scotland and there’s no way to include them all here, especially not with our 2022 philosophy of shorter book lists. We’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments section!

12 books that will take you to Scotland

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Outlander

Outlander

Author:
This time-travel romance series has 9 books to date, totaling 9,381 pages, and 300+ hours on Audible. Time travel, the Scottish highlands, romance, drama...it’s easy to get swept away. As she tells it, Gabaldon intended to write a realistic historical novel, but a modern woman kept inserting herself into the story! She decided to leave her for the time being—it's hard enough to write a novel, she'd edit her out later—but would YOU edit out Claire? I didn't think so. (Heads up for open door content and graphic torture scenes.) I was so excited when book #9 hit shelves, but I still haven't read it. If you have, tell us about it in the comments! More info →
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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Author:
Set in 1930s Edinburgh, this 1961 novel story centers on a nonconformist school teacher who is dismissed after she is "betrayed" by one of her students. The Guardian calls this "a sublime miracle of wit and brevity," and ranks it #79 on their all-time list of best novels. This oft-praised Scottish classic has been on my TBR for ages (and is short enough I could finish it in an afternoon should I make up my mind to do so!) More info →
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The Winter Sea

The Winter Sea

Susanna Kearsley often does interesting things with time in her novels, and this story is no exception. Carrie McClelland is an author looking for her next story when she ventures to Northern Scotland. She settles near the ruins of Slains Castle to write, drawing inspiration from her own family history and the events of the Jacobite uprising. The writing process is like nothing she’s ever experienced before and the novel flows out of her, making her feel as if she's actually there. And then she discovers what she's writing actually happened. But how could she have possibly known? Interweaving present-day and historical storylines, Kearsley plays with genetic memory, making for a story you won't soon forget. If you love The Winter Sea and want more, pick up the sequel, The Firebird. More info →
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Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice

In this gentle and tender novel, five individuals aged 14 to 70-something, each dealing with their own painful personal tragedy, are unexpectedly brought together during the Christmas season in the Scottish countryside. They have each, for their own reasons, decided not to celebrate the holiday this year; because of painful events in their recent pasts they don't think they can bear it. But redemption is found in surprising places, and this disparate bunch of distant family, friends, and strangers finds love and redemption when they didn't dare to hope for it. I’ve made a loose habit of rereading this story at the end of every year. More info →
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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Author:
Honeyman's at times painful but ultimately feel-good debut follows Eleanor, a profoundly lonely young woman who lives a structured and orderly existence absent of even a glimmer love or friendship. But then thanks to a chance occurrence, she's drawn into the world again—decidedly against her will—in the spirit of A Man Called Ove. I revisited this before my trip to Scotland a few years ago, as it’s set in Glasgow, and I enjoyed it so for its three-dimensional characters, protagonist I could root for, wicked sense of humor, and redemptive ending. More info →
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The Diary of a Bookseller

The Diary of a Bookseller

Author:
I spent part of December 2018 in Bythell's own bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland so of course I had to read this before I went. This is Bythell's actual year-long diary of his days at the helm of The Bookshop, complete with daily customer count and till totals. But the real focus is on the customers: Bythell documents the unusual, eccentric, and often irksome behavior he witnesses every day in his shop. I got a kick out of seeing the Kindle Bythell shot and wall-mounted in person. More info →
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44 Scotland Street

44 Scotland Street

I started this serialized novel on the plane ride to Scotland and finished it in Edinburgh. (And then, in a delightful coincidence, the sparse bookshelf in our airbnb held the sequel!) This series is about the neighbors who live at the eponymous address in Edinburgh's New Town, and was originally written as a weekday column in The Scotsman over a six-month period. The newspaper asked for stories short enough for commuters to read on the train, which is why the novel consists of one hundred short chapters. I found myself googling all sorts of locations in Edinburgh and beyond to discover if they truly existed and to catch a glimpse of the city's streets and landmarks for myself. (For the curious: Scotland Street is a real street in the New Town but 44 Scotland Street is not a real address.) This was delightful travel reading: I loved being able to read about a location and then see it with my own eyes! More info →
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The Lost Queen

The Lost Queen

Author:
The titular "lost queen" is Languoreth, a real sixth century Scottish queen whose twin brother inspired the legend of Merlin. In this historical fantasy, Pike grounds her story in the real places and peoples of ancient Scotland, while leveraging the freedom of fiction to craft an engrossing story about a fascinating protagonist. I loved following Languoreth from girlhood onward as she experiences love, loss, and the increasing weight of responsibility. The evocative setting made for a moody and escapist reading experience in which ancient magic, complex politics, and clashing religions all conspire to create an intriguing and high-stakes story. Audiophile alert: this historical fantasy works well on audio; I especially appreciated hearing the pronunciation of the Ancient Scottish names and places, as read by Toni Frutin. More info →
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Quiet Neighbours

Quiet Neighbours

I couldn't resist picking up this bookish mystery because it's set in a Wigtown bookstore (and I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much if I didn't have that strong personal connection). When former librarian Jude needs an escape from her life, she flees to the small village she visited the previous summer and becomes assistant to the kind owner of Lowland Glen Books. After securing a temporary home in the gravedigger’s cottage, Jude discovers the previous inhabitant’s troubling marginalia, which might be connected to an old mystery that not everyone wants to solve. The plot defies belief, but the Scotland setting and deliciously creepy atmosphere made this a worthwhile read for me. More info →
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A Duke by Default: Reluctant Royals

A Duke by Default: Reluctant Royals

Author:
The second book in Cole’s Reluctant Royals series follows NYC socialite Portia to Edinburgh where she’s about to apprentice with grumpy swordmaker Tavish. She’s ready for a fresh start but things don’t go smoothly—and that’s before she accidentally discovers Tav is the secret son of a duke. According to the MMD team members who put this on my radar, Tav and Portia’s dynamic makes for some laugh out loud moments with chemistry aplenty. There’s great ADHD rep, plus Cole shines at depicting friendship in this contemporary romance series. You don’t have to read the first book about Portia’s best friend Ledi first—this stands alone just fine—but you’ll probably want to. (Open door.) More info →
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The Blackhouse

The Blackhouse

Author:
My friend Mel read this while we were in Scotland, and described it as a dark police procedural with MAJOR content warnings but with a detective so compelling that she tore through it. I'm a scaredy cat in my reading life, but the setting on the isolated Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides almost convinces me to give it a shot! Edinburgh detective Fin Macleod grew up on the isolated isle and couldn't wait to leave it behind forever, but he's called back to the hardscrabble Scottish community to investigate a brutal murder. Everyone in the tight-knit community knows everyone else's business, yet no one knows—or will say—who might be responsible for the crime. The one thing the detective knows is that something sinister lurks beneath the surface, as the investigation brings Fin dangerously close to the past he tried to leave behind. More info →
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City of Ghosts

City of Ghosts

Author:
Schwab’s middle grade ghost story is a fun and gently spooky tale set in Edinburgh. Cass’s parents are professional ghost hunters who travel to the city to film their TV show about haunted cities. What nobody knows is that Cass has paranormal abilities herself—ever since a near-death experience the year before, Cass has been able to see ghosts, including her best friend Jacob. Once she arrives in Edinburgh, Cass befriends a girl who not only sees ghosts but also helps send them permanently beyond the Veil—and it's not long before the girls have attracted the attention of an evil spirit who means them harm. I read this book before I visited Scotland and I most enjoyed learning about underground Edinburgh, something I had zero knowledge of before. More info →
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Which books set in Scotland have you read and loved? Tell us in comments!

P.S. Here are 130 recommended reads for those traveling to New York City65 recommended reads for those traveling to England (or who want to!)20 recommended reads for those who dream of traveling to Iceland, and 15 recommended reads for those who dream of traveling to Paris.

12 books for those who dream of traveling to Scotland

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59 comments

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  1. Adrienne says:

    My dad is from Scotland, and I have family, including an aunt and several cousins, who live on the Isle of Lewis, so The Black House is definitely going on my TBR list!

    I’ve read several of these, and currently I’m between books 4 and 5 of the Outlander series. I also have the Prequel to The Winter Sea, The Vanished Days, on my TBR shelf.

    Happy Reading!

    • loribeth says:

      Yes! I am a huge D.E. Stevenson fan — she was Scottish (a distant cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson), and many of her novels are fully or partly set in Scotland. “Winter & Rough Weather” is also known as “Shoulder the Sky.” It’s the third in a trilogy that begins with “Vittoria Cottage” and “Music in the Hills.”

      My personal DES favourite (also set in Scotland) is one of her earlier novels, “The Baker’s Daughter” (also known as “Miss Bun the Baker’s Daughter”).

  2. Jennifer Beaubien says:

    Thank you for the recommendations! We are booked at the Open Book in May 2024, for our 25th wedding anniversary 🙂 Look forward to reading lots of Scotland based books before that.

  3. Katie says:

    Now I know these books are not fiction but they are definitely about Scotland! I have “read” (I listened to them) and they are fantastic!! The Clanlands and The Clanlands Almanac by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish (the guys who play characters in Outlander)!

  4. Haley Wofford says:

    I went to Scotland in 2018 and loved every minute (I need to go back now that I know I have Scottish heritage). I took Carole Lawrence’s Edinburgh Twilight with me and I recommend it.

  5. Jana Griner says:

    Hold Back the Tide by Melinda Salisbury! Very creepy and sad and culturally eye-opening about certain things.

    The Loch Ness Punster by Kate Klise from the 43 Old Cemetery Road series. Sadly, this was the last book of the series. Such a fun book series for all ages!

    I’m currently reading The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser and it takes place in Scotland.

  6. Kim Wilbanks says:

    Two of my favorite series set in Scotland are by Christian Author Liz Curtis Higgs. The Lowlands of Scotland series is basically a retelling of the Biblical story of Jacob set in 18th century Scotland. The Here Burns My Candle Series is a retelling of the Biblical story of Ruth in 18th century Edinburgh. I read that series once before I visited Edinburgh and then again afterwards. It is such an old city, it was easy to visualize the story.

  7. Maggie says:

    I also recommend “Once their were Wolves”. A fictional story set in Scotland about reintroducing wolves to their Native Highland home.

    • tracey says:

      Agreed! And Ms. Colgan has written a few others set in Scotland. Colgan books usually top my summer reading list.

  8. Meghan says:

    I highly recommend you check out books from the Scottish Renaissance (early/mid 20th century) – Sunset Song (Lewis Grassic Gibbon – this is often named the favourite book of Scotland!), Gowk Storm (Nancy Morrison), and Quarry Wood (Nan Shepherd, who is on Scottish £5 notes) are favourites of mine. For modern Scottish authors, James Robertson is a must – And the Land Lay Still is incredible.

  9. Allison Byrd says:

    I’m currently reading The Hunting Party, by Lucy Foley, set in Scotland, and I’m really enjoying the smart writing and atmospheric qualities of the storytelling.

  10. Caroline says:

    Anything by Nichole Van is wonderful! She has enjoyable
    Characters and witty dialogue. A very fun summer read, every one! And all are located in Scotland!

  11. Susan E Doherty says:

    I loved Winter Solstice and I just finished The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan. It was light and sweet.

  12. Emma says:

    I knew Outlander would make the list!! And with it I sigh. I’ve never read a more American book about Scotland. It’s a fun read, but not really very, uh, Scottish at all. So, as a Sassenach myself, I’d be booting it off this list.
    I’d recommend looking at Scottish crime noir. It’s such a big genre, and so well written.

  13. Melanie says:

    Well this is timely, I leave for Scotland this weekend! I read The Winter Sea a few years ago, and while it’s a bit too romance-y for my normal taste, it does have a strong sense of place and is a contributing factor to why Scotland made it to the top of my travel bucket list.

  14. Laura McCracken says:

    Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart is a beautifully written book set in Glasgow. The story is heartbreaking (definitely not a light read) but compelling. Shuggie is a young boy dealing with difficult life circumstances, and Stuart tells his story with compassion and authenticity. The Scottish dialect was one of my favorite parts of the book. If you want a book that will give you all the feels, this is it!

    • Debbie says:

      strongly agree , was kind of surprised it wasn’t on the list, but it was a hard book although absolutely an amazing book

  15. patricia says:

    I’ve already read several on your list and agree. I’d also like to suggest M.C. Beaton’s Hamish McBeth series about a village cop of intelligence but absolutely no ambition beyond solving crime in his wee corner of Scotland. Delightful characters.

    PS I’m cruising around the British Isles in July so will take some of these books on kindle with me.

    • Janice Cunning says:

      I used to watch the Hamish McBeth tv series. I loved the dog wee Jock. I have never read the books. I didn’t even realize it was based on a book series.

  16. Jessica says:

    I really enjoyed At The Waters Edge by Sara Gruen. It takes place at Loch Ness, as three friends are attempting to prove Nessie is real.

  17. Sarah says:

    I’m 2/3 of the way through The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan and loving it! I woke up dreaming of traveling to Scotland and then saw this post – how delightful:)

  18. tracey says:

    As an Outlander fan, I can tell you book 9 is more of the same. If you’re a fan you’ll like it. I kind of wish Ms. Gabaldon will never stop writing them. After the thousands of pages and countless hours I have spent with her characters, they are like real people to me.

  19. Suzanne H says:

    I loved Eleanor Oliphant. Although it has been several years since I read it I would say yes it evokes Scotland. Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series takes me to the Shetland Islands in a vivid way. And I would be remiss if I did not recommend Ian Rankin’s Rebus series. The detective series is set in Edinburgh and I definitely feel I am right there with him.

  20. Laure says:

    I recently read little Wing by Freya North. Part of the story is located in the Outer Hebrides and it definitely has a strong sense of place.

  21. Mary Hawkins says:

    The trilogy of The Black House, The Lewis Man and The Chess Men by PeterMay are among my favourite books ever! Of course you also need to read Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series and Vera. The Shetland books are sooo much better than the tv series but the reverse is true, to me, for Zvera.

  22. Mary Hawkins says:

    Yes! Shuggie Bain and Douglas Stuart’s new book Young Mungo…grittier and even better than Shuggie!

  23. Sarah says:

    A lot of Samantha Young’s books are set in Scotland and really give the idea of being there. They’re romances but the atmosphere she creates is always really nice and I’ve read so many of her books that I really want to visit Scotland. Highly recommend her for romance readers! Much Ado About You is a great one to start with.

    • Amanda says:

      I was coming to the comments to suggest the On Dublin Street series! So glad to find another Samantha Young fan.

  24. Ann says:

    I’m happy you included the Alexander McCall Smith series on the list! I’ve been a fan of his for several years. When I travelled to Edinburgh in 2014, I wandered the streets in Newtown looking for his characters.
    Thanks for the other recommendations!

  25. WordTrix says:

    The first book I ever read that was set in Scotland was THE WITCH OF THE GLENS by Sally Watson. I read it at least three times while in middle school.

    Paige Shelton has a Scottish Bookshop cozy mystery series, first of which is THE CRACKED SPINE.

  26. Guest says:

    Oh, I absolutely love this list and literary tourism – please do more of these!!! I’ve read several of these and am adding the others (except the thrillers, not my cup of tea) to my TBR! Jenny Colgan always makes me want to move to Scotland so I’d add most of her books to this list. 😉 I was reading Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island when my husband and I traveled to Scotland for a week and though it isn’t about Scotland, it was fun to sit in a cafe and laugh out loud.

  27. Mary K says:

    I don’t know a book to recommend, but I would recommend an empty suitcase to bring all your new books home in! Wow, hope you enjoy the visit and find lots of great books/bargains!

  28. Donna Mannon says:

    I lived in Scotland for 3 years in the mid 1970s and have been back twice. I could go back every year and still not be satisfied. A beautiful country with such wonderful people. I read Winter Solstice almost every year at Christmas. Such a lovely read! And reading Alexander McCall Smith’s books set in Edinburg is like walking the streets of that amazing city! Go if you can but definitely reads the books mentioned!

  29. NICOLE HARDY says:

    I recently enjoyed The Dog Share by Fiona Gibson, mainly set on a Scottish island. Light and uplifting.

  30. Suzy says:

    You didn’t include one of Melissa Joulwan’s favorite books about Scotland, To the Hilt, by Dick Francis! Now, THERE’S a hero to fall in love with…

  31. Adrien K says:

    Love this list!
    If you’re into historical mysteries, try the Lady Darby Mysteries by Anna Lee Huber! The series takes place all over Scotland, from Edinburgh to the borderlands and of course the Highlands.

  32. Kirsten says:

    After listening to a recent episode of WSIRN I ended up reading Robert MacFarlane’s “The Old Ways”. While not specifically about Scotland quite a number of the earlier chapter are about paths he walks (and sails) in Scotland. They are incredibly evocative. I have to say, this book is now one of my favourite books of all time. I told my husband that the podcast had found me the book I didn’t know I was searching for. Roy McMillan narrates the audiobook and is absolutely fantastic. I will now be listening to everything he narrates. (Sorry, slightly off topic there, but I’ve been wanting to mention him since I listened to the book and even went to last year’s post about favourite audiobook narrators to check if he was on there – he’s not! But it felt too far in the past to add a comment).

    • Corinne says:

      Thank you for this recommendation, Kirsten. It sounds right up my alley!

      You may enjoy the Scotland Outdoors podcast by BBC Radio Scotland; it lets me vicariously spend time outside in Scotland from far away Canada.

      • Kirsten says:

        Thank you, Corinne, I will definitely have a listen to that!! I’m in Australia, so vicarious travel is a must!

  33. Shanna says:

    The timing on this post couldn’t have been better, as my daughter was just accepted yesterday at the University of Edinburgh, so I’ll be going over a lot! I’ll plan a trip to Wigtown on one of our visits 🙂

  34. Isabelle Campeau says:

    I am currently re-reading the Lady Darby Mystery series by Anna Lee Huber as I wait my turn for my reading app to give me access to her latest title, A Perilous Perspective, the tenth title in the series. Several books take place in various settings in Scotland: the Highlands, the Scottish Borders, Edinburgh to name a few.
    A must-read series if you enjoy getting to know a cast of endearing characters, complex human relationships, armchair travelling, intriguing historical mysteries, and learning more about some of the social issues in Scotland, England, and Ireland in the early 1830’s.

  35. Terri T. says:

    I adore The Winter Sea but nothing made me want to visit Glasgow more than Kevin Hearne’s new Ink & Sigil series.

  36. john leake says:

    Aye, move to Scotland, all yell yea,
    life, fine swell, Scot morning rolls, why
    nae dwell on bonnie Skye with rowies rife
    hj

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