Scotland is a “booky” country. The Scots seem to love to read and to write. Since reading books set in Scotland is one of the primary ways I’m getting ready for a trip to this beautiful country, I asked some of my blogging friends to share some of their favorite Scottish books.
If you need more proof of Scotland’s literary pedigree, consider this:
- Edinburgh was the first UNESCO City of Literature
- Edinburgh plays host to the largest International Book Festival annually
- There are tours based on books set in Scotland throughout the country. We took a Harry Potter tour in Edinburgh. You can take a book lovers tour visiting the sites and haunts of Edinburgh’s literary legends: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, J.M. Barrie, Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin, J.K. Rowling and others or a literary pub tour with professional actors leading you through the city’s literary sites and pubs.
These reviews of top books set in Scotland is in no way comprehensive, but it’s a good starting point of books to read before you travel to Scotland (or while you are there). We’ve included the Scottish historical romance novels we all know and love, some of the best British crime writers, classic Scottish novels, and books by famous Scottish writers.
You’ll even find some travelogues and guidebooks at the end to help you plan your own trip to Scotland.
If you are looking for books set in Scotland for kids, scroll down on my things to do with kids in Edinburgh post.
Books Set In Scotland
Best Highlander Romance Novels
We are starting with the best Highlander romance books because they are so very popular right now. The most well known, Outlander, has even been made into a series that can be watched online. Outlander is just one series of several steamy Scottish romance novels featuring men in kilts.
The two books reviewed here considered the best Highland romance novels because they are hot and heavy, but also in the genre of Scottish historical romance – you learn something of Scottish history as you read.
By Sara Gruen
Imagine having it all until one fateful night, you disgrace yourself in front of the socialites of Philly. Unable to fight in WWII and financially cut off from his father, Ellis seeks out a solution: prove the Loch Ness Monster exists.
Hoping to regain his father’s respect, Ellis, Maddie, and their bougie friend Hank head off to the Scottish highlands in search of a myth. In the process, Maddie learns about love, social injustices, and creating a home in a foreign land. War, affairs, desperation, folklore, booze, and Hitler plague this novel.
At the Water’s Edge is the perfect historical fiction novel for readers who love WWII novels and those who are wanderlusting for Scotland. Plus, who doesn’t love a little angsty romance paired with a Nessie hunt?
Are you looking for more books set in Europe? Check out this book list of Icelandic novels.
— Christine, The Uncorked Librarian
More books to read to inspire travel
By Diana Gabaldon
I always say it’s a crime if you’re going to Scotland and you haven’t read at least the first book in the Outlander series! Wildly popular with people who visit Scotland or not, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is an incredible piece of historical fiction that will take you through the beautiful Highlands of Scotland in both post-WWII era and the 18th century.
The book follows Claire who, after just ending a horrendous and bloody WWII as a nurse, accidentally time travels through a circle of standing stones, straight into a different and just as destructive war! As you read, you learn about the events that lead to the Jacobite uprising in Scotland and eventually to the infamous battle of Cullode, which ended the way of Scottish Clan life. Gabaldon does an incredible job describing the majesty of the Highlands in a way that makes you want to jump into the page, or at least onto a plane!
From Wanderlust Crew
This Scottish time travel romance is so popular that people are flocking to Outlander filming locations. If you are asking yourself, “where is Outlander filmed?” here is a list of spots Outlander fans in Scotland must visit: Visit Scotland Outlander Film Locations.
Best Scottish Romance Novels
By Susanna Kearsley
The Shadowy Horses falls into both the categories of ghost stories and Scottish romance books. Verity Grey goes to work on an archaeological dig of a Roman campsite in the small village of Eyemouth, in the Scottish Borders. Her boss has spent his whole life searching for the resting place of the lost Ninth Roman Legion and is convinced he’s finally found it.
Grey falls for her boss and believes him when she discovers the ghost of a long-dead sentinel is guiding him. She comes to know the Sentinel and feels like he is protecting her, but from what?
Best Scottish Historical Fiction
If you like historical fiction, Scotland seems to be the place to read about.
Maybe you like your Scottish historical novels with a little less romance. I’ve got you covered. These books of historical fiction set in Scotland will teach you about Scottish history while they entertain you.
By Philip Paris
Based on fascinating true events, The Italian Chapel by Philip Paris is a heart gripping story.
During WWII, Italian prisoners of war are sent to a camp on a tiny island Lamb Holm, between Orkney Mainland and Burray. In “Camp 60” they live through hardship; not only are they forced to work hard building causeways between the islands, but they must also help on local farms. They also struggle with harsh climate conditions of Orkney. Nonetheless they forge friendships between themselves and gain respect amongst British guards on Camp and the locals.
In the group of Italian prisoners are artists and craftsmen; they come with an initiative to build a chapel, a place to worship and find peace. They quickly get permission from camp officers and begin to build in their spare time. They give it all they have; using driftwood and junk they raise a simple chapel which is then beautifully decorated by skilled painter, Domenico, who actually decides to stay and finish off the frescoes after other prisoners are already sent home after the war.
Italian Chapel is nowadays one of the most iconic landmarks of Orkney Islands in northern Scotland, treasured by local community.
Ela, Stunning Outdoors
You might also like reading a nonfiction account of the story: Orkney’s Italian Chapel: The True Story of an Icon
By Geraldine McCaughrean
Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean is based on a historic incident and set on the remote Scottish islands and sea stacks of St Kilda. Located to the west of Lewis and Harris in the Atlantic Ocean; St Kilda is now uninhabited. But until the 1930s a small community lived on Hirta, which despite having no trees, was the most habitable of the cluster of islands.
One way in which the population survived there was by sending groups of “fowlers” to the nearby sea stacks – sheer and steep-faced outcrops of rock – which are home to many birds in the summer months. The fowlers hunted birds for meat, oil and feathers that could be sold on the Scottish mainland.
McCaughrean’s historical fiction retells the story of a small group of boys and men who went on a fowling expedition to Warrior Stac in 1727 and were then stranded for nine months. They should have been picked up after a few weeks, but when the boat did not return some concluded the end of the world had come. The novel tells of the group’s struggle to survive a harsh winter through the perspective of one of the older boys, Quill. Their experiences and reactions to their eventual discovery of why they have been abandoned are moving and shocking. The novel is a middle-grade fiction for readers aged 12+, however, older readers and adults will love this book too.
Angela Stapleford, Reading Inspiration
Best Classic Scottish Fiction
Virginia Woolf has to be one of the most famous British authors, so she is included in our section on classic novels set in Scotland. Muriel Spark is another well-known British author with server books set in Scotland. Other books suitable for the title are: Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson and Whiskey Galore by Compton Mackenzie.
By Virginia Woolf
If you’re looking for a great classic novel set in Scotland, then you can’t go wrong with Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. As one of Woolf’s most notable works, this 1927 novel follows the modernist tradition that was perfected during that decade and it is noted for its unique and poignant writing style.
To the Lighthouse takes place at the summer home of the Ramsay family on Scotland’s Isle of Skye from the years between 1910-1920. The book, like many of Woolf’s novels, is not particularly plot-driven and rather concentrates on snippets of human relationships and thoughts through a unique stream of consciousness style.
Though the book is not about Scotland, the Isle of Skye provides an excellent backdrop to examining the complexities of human emotion and relationships that are explored in this iconic novel. It is an excellent book to read if you’re planning a trip to this Hebridean island or are a fan of literature by monumental female writers.
Maggie, Books Like This One
By Muriel Spark
Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher at a conservative school for girls in Edinburgh. And she is in her prime. She is chooses six girls to mold into her vision of who they should be. She takes over their intellectual lives as well as their love lives, and careers.
She is passionate in her unorthodox teaching methods, in her attraction to the married art master, Teddy Lloyd, in her affair with the bachelor music master, Gordon Lowther, and in her dedication to “The Brodie Set,” the students she selects to be her crème de la crème.
“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is Spark’s masterpiece, a novel that offers one of twentieth-century English literature’s most iconic and complex characters—a woman at once admirable and sinister, benevolent and conniving.”
By Compton Mackenzie
I picked up a copy of Whisky Galore at a used book store in Cullen, Scotland. It took a little while to get used to the dialect, but I found this book both charming and funny.
The 1947 book was inspired by the true story of the sinking of the SS Politician on a point of the Isle of Eriskay in 1941. The boat was filled with provisions, including medicine, food, and 264,000 bottles of Scotch whisky. The locals had been feeling the deprivations of the war at that point and made haste to “salvage” what they could from the boat.
The Mackenzie novel takes place on two fictional islands — Big and Little Todday. The people of the island are going a little nuts when they run out of whisky and comedy ensues. Then a ship carrying a lot of whisky to the United States, wrecks on a rock just off of one of the islands. The people ban together to salvage the whisky, hide it from authorities, and have a few big parties. I wasn’t expecting to like this book as much as I did.
There was a movie made 1949 directed by Alexander Mackendrick and one of the most enduring and loved of the Ealing comedies (for some reason it was retitled Tight Little Island in the US). Another movie was made in 2016 and we watched this version of Whisky Galore the movie when we were in Scotland. Some of it was filmed in Portsoy on the Moray Coast (even through the books is set in the Hebrides), the next town over from where we were staying and it was fun to see it. The movie is missing so much that was in the book. It was still fun to watch, but parts of it didn’t quite make sense to my three family members who hadn’t read the book.
Best Scottish Detective Series
If you are looking for a murder mystery, Scotland is the place to go, at least in a literary sense. The Peter May Lewis Trilogy has to be the best known of the Scottish detective series, although Alexander McCall Smith, with his Isabel Dalhousie series is up there, too, as Smith is one of the better known Scottish mystery writers.
The Shetland Island Mysteries by Ann Cleeves, is another murder mystery, or crime drama, series in which the Scottish landscape plays and important role.
By Peter May
Set off the north-west coast of Scotland, the islands of the Outer Hebrides are known for their white-sand beaches, wild landscapes, Gaelic traditions, Neolithic history, and island hospitality. What they’re not known as is as a hotbed of crime, other than in the bestselling series of novels by author Peter May.
His Lewis Trilogy is made up of three books – The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man, and The Chessmen – which follow Edinburgh police officer Finn Macleod as he heads back to his childhood home on the Isle of Lewis to investigate a murder.
Each story unfolds with a different mystery to solve, from a body found in a peat bog to a plane wreck submerged in a lake.
Peter May books feature a cast of island characters, but in these atmospheric and sometimes gory tales, the landscapes of the Outer Hebrides are just as much a character in the book as the people. The local tourist board has even created a special map of the island for fans to follow.
You can visit real-life locations around the township of Ness where Finn grew up or follow in his footsteps and drink a pint in McNeill’s pub, visit the Iolaire monument in Stornoway or walk across the gorgeous Uig bay in the south of the island to bring the Peter May trilogy to life.
— Lucy, On The Luce
Peter May Books in Order
By Ann Cleeves
Before it was a TV series set in Scotland, Ann Cleeves’ detective series books had Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez and his colleagues investigating murders and other crimes on the remote, northern Shetland Islands.
These Scottish crime books, and especially the Scottish TV series, will keep you on the edge of your seat while simultaneously have you longing for the wind swept islands where the take place. I have friends who are planning trips to the Shetland Islands after seeing them on the show.
The stories are dark, like a lot of Scottish detective novels, as Perez et al investigate disappearances, murders, drug trafficking, and sexual assault. The landscape adds an eeriness, but also a calm, timelessness to the stories.
Shetland Books in Order
- Raven Black
- White Nights
- Red Bones
- Blue Lightning
- Dead Water
- Thin Air
- Too Good To Be True
- Cold Earth
- Wild Fire
Best Scottish Travelogues
By Madeleine Bunting
British author, Madeleine Bunting travels to the Hebrides to explore her family history. In her search for “home,” she explores the cultural and natural history of these western islands.
“For all who have wondered how it might feel to stand face-out at the edge of home, Love of Country is a revelatory journey through one of the world’s most remote, beautiful landscapes that encourages us to think of the many identities we wear as we walk our paths, and how it is possible to belong to many places while at the same time not wholly belonging to any.”
By Peter Brown
For a more irreverent journey around Scotland, join Brown and a group of Explorer Scouts as they travel around the northern parts of Scotland.
Scotland Travel Books
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Scotland
- Rick Steves Scotland
- Lonely Planet Scotland
- Fodor’s Essential Scotland
Join the Book Club!
Don’t miss these other book reviews and suggestions perfect for both the armchair traveler and those who like to read books set in the country in which they are traveling.
- September Book Club
- Books Set in Italy
- Books Set in Croatia
- Best Books to Read While Traveling
- Books Set in Scotland