Whether you’re traveling to Scotland soon or just dreaming about seeing the Highlands, reading is the best cure for wanderlust. If you prefer the classics, you may want to begin with the most famous Scottish writers, like Robert Louis Stevenson or Sir Walter Scott. For those who prefer historical fiction, the Outlander series has convinced many readers to add Scotland to their bucket list! No matter your favorite genre, this lineup has a book on Scotland for everyone. Keep reading for the 30 books best books about Scotland, including classics, historical fiction, mystery, travel, and history books.
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Table of Contents
Classic books about Scotland
Lanark by Alasdair Gray
“You suffer from the oldest delusion in politics. You think you can change the world by talking to a leader. Leaders are the effects, not the causes of changes.”
Alasdair Gray is one of the most famous names in Scottish fiction. In particular, he’s known for multiple award-winning novels and collections of short stories and poetry. So, we’ll start this list with one of his best works, which is also one of the most influential Scottish novels of the 20th century. Lanark begins with a man waking up on a train with no memory of how he got there. Throughout the novel, Gray combines realism and dystopian surrealism as he paints a picture of his hometown: Glasgow. If you like stories that play with linearity, you’ll love this one.
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
“There are two things that men should never weary of, goodness and humility; we get none too much of them in this rough world among cold, proud people.”
Kidnapped follows 17-year-old David Balfour after a series of misfortunes. First, his parents die, and he ends up traveling to stay with his paranoid uncle, Ebenezer. Then, Ebenezer sells David into slavery to keep the family estate to himself. Luckily, things begin to improve for David with the help of a new friend: Alan Breck Stewart. Since Alan happens to be a fugitive Jacobite, these two are eventually able to make an epic escape to the Scottish Highlands. As you can imagine, this is an interesting place to be in 1751–just a few years after the Jacobite rising. From start to finish, Kidnapped is an enthralling tale of adventure. Plus, it has a sequel!
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
“What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”
This novel was published in 1927 and is often listed as one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century. In Part 1, we’re introduced to the Ramsay family, who are visiting their summer home on the Isle of Skye. You’ll find that this novel is mainly written as certain characters’ thoughts instead of much outward dialogue or action. As a general theme, To the Lighthouse contemplates life, the passing of time, and the complexity of human relationships. This Virginia Woolf novel is definitely considered a classic for a reason!
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
“To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.”
Miss Brodie is an unorthodox teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh in the 1930s. As you may have guessed from the title, she’s also in her prime. One day, Miss Brodie decides to choose six elite students to become her mentees. From that moment, the girls become known as “the Brodie set.” Throughout the novel, we see how Miss Brodie’s influence follows these impressionable girls through life. Plus, in a twist of events, one of the mentees will eventually betray Miss Brodie, ruining her teaching career.
Waverley by Sir Walter Scott
“There is no better antidote against entertaining too high an opinion of others than having an excellent one of ourselves at the very same time.”
Sir Walter Scott may be most famous for his poetry, but did you know that he also wrote prose? In fact, Waverley (also called Tis Sixty Years Since) was his debut novel, which he chose to publish anonymously in 1814. In this historical novel, readers follow the story of Edward Waverley, an English soldier during the Jacobite rising of 1745. Although he’s an army officer, certain events test his loyalty to the crown, ultimately leading to his involvement with the Scottish cause. Waverley–as well as the other books in the Waverley series–were some of the most widely read novels in Europe at the time of their publication.
Historical fiction set in Scotland
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Outlander is one of the best-known romance books set in Scotland. The series is a fun blend of historical romance and science fiction (time travel). Claire Randall, a nurse in 1945, walks through a standing stone and is transported back in time to 1743. She finds herself completely out of place in the Scottish Highlands, while the country is on the brink of a rebellion. Love, rich historical detail, and action-packed scenes will capture any reader and make you want to continue the series! In fact, it’s so popular that Starz adapted it into a hit TV show.
Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George
In this historical fiction read, Margaret George tells the tale of one of the most intriguing figures in Scottish history: Mary, Queen of Scots. If you aren’t familiar with Mary, she became the Queen of Scots when she was only six days old. As a child, she was sent to France to be raised in a safe place, and she became the Queen of France at sixteen. Eventually, she returns to Scotland and attempts to claim her throne, but her position leads to tragic consequences. Although this is a bit longer of a read, it’s worth the time to see Mary come to life in its pages. Especially for those who enjoyed the TV show Reign, you’ll love reading this novel!
Corrag by Susan Fletcher
Based on a true event–the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692–this novel follows Corrag, a woman condemned for her involvement in the slaughter and accused of being a witch. While awaiting her death, she agrees to share her version of events with Charles Leslie, an Irish Jacobite. The vivid descriptions and beautiful writing make Corrag a heroine that readers won’t soon forget. Please note that Corrag has two alternate titles: The Highland Witch and Witch Light. If you’re looking for a historical fiction novel that combines a strong female protagonist and the Scottish Highlands, this book is a perfect choice.
The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
The Game of Kings is the first book in the Lymond Chronicles series by Dorothy Dunnett. It introduces us to the mysterious Lymond, a young man of many talents who has unfortunately been exiled from Scotland. Nonetheless, he chooses to return home with a mission that is slowly revealed to the readers. Interestingly, the story takes place as conflict brews between Scotland and England in 1547, while Mary Queen of Scots is just a young child. There are a total of six books in the Lymond Chronicles series, so this novel is ideal if you’d like to invest time in a longer series.
The Lost Queen by Signe Pike
Fans of Outlander, Camelot, and the Game of Thrones series will love The Lost Queen. Our heroine in this novel, Languoreth, is the twin sister of Lailoken, the man who inspired the legend of Merlin. Although she falls in love with a warrior, Languoreth is already promised to wed Rhydderch, the son of a Christian king. Set in 6th-century Scotland, we find the country full of superstition and clinging to tradition while Christianity is on the rise. Moreover, Pike released a sequel in 2020 called The Forgotten Kingdom, which continues Languoreth’s story.
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
In this novel, readers follow two protagonists in a dual timeline: Carrie McClelland, a modern-day American author, and Sophia Paterson, Carrie’s ancestor who lived at Slains Castle in the early 1700s. We meet Carrie as she’s on the search for inspiration for a new novel. After impulsively stopping by Slains Castle in Cruden Bay, she finds herself captivated by the ruins. While Carrie rapidly works on her novel, something strange begins to happen: she finds out that the events she’s dreaming and writing about may be more fact than fiction. This intriguing story explores a lesser-known part of Jacobite history, all while considering the theory of genetic memory.
In Freedom’s Cause: A Story of Wallace and Bruce by G.A. Henty
For Braveheart fans, this quick read about William Wallace and Robert Bruce will be right up your alley. Set in the late 13th/early 14th century in Scotland, readers follow a fictional character named Archibald “Archie” Forbes. Archie begins his journey by joining William Wallace’s forces at the young age of 16. After Wallace is captured by the British, Archie continues to fight against English tyranny alongside Robert Bruce. I would suggest this book to anyone who loves both Scottish history and adventure novels (there are also undertones of romance).
Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine
Women of the Dunes is an exciting tale that weaves together three timelines: a Norsewoman in the 9th century, a servant girl in the 19th century, and a modern-day archeologist, Libby. The story slowly ties each of these women together as Libby works on a dig in Scotland, where her great-great-grandmother once lived. You can tell that Maine has done a considerable amount of research by the way she describes each time period. I definitely recommend picking up this historical fiction novel if you love legends, archeology, and mystery.
Highland Raven by Melanie Karsak
Highland Raven is the first book in a four-part historical fantasy romance series. For fans of Outlander, you’ll love following Gruoch (also called Corbie), a young woman from the MacAlpin royal line. After her father’s untimely death, she’s sent away to learn ancient magic and the ways of the old gods. Essentially, this story is a captivating re-telling of Shakespeares’s Macbeth. However, this time, we see the events from Lady Macbeth’s perspective before she was even called Lady Macbeth. Additionally, there are some paranormal elements thrown into the story!
At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
It’s 1945, and as Hitler wreaks devastation across Europe, Maddie and Ellis Hyde and their friend Hank travel to Scotland to hunt the Loch Ness monster. Although all three characters start off as spoiled twenty-somethings, Maddie eventually experiences a wake-up call. As she begins to discover her husband’s dark secrets, the novel becomes really suspenseful. The descriptions of Scotland and the charming local characters make this book worth a read, even if the main characters can come off as unlikeable.
Mystery books set in Scotland
The Blackhouse by Peter May
Readers will tear through this suspense thriller, starring Edinburgh Finlay Macleod as he investigates a murder on the Isle of Lewis. Although Fin was raised on the island, he hasn’t been back since he left to go to University. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t realize that the crime he’s investigating ties into his own childhood. In fact, the man who was murdered was actually the bully at Fin’s high school. The smashing success of The Blackhouse led May to write two additional novels in the series: The Lewis Man and The Chessmen.
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
Raven Black is the first novel in the eight-part Shetland Island series by Ann Cleves. As you might guess from the series name, this book takes place in remote Shetland, Scotland. The mystery in this novel begins when the strangled body of a local teenager is found in a field. Circumstantial evidence implicates Magnus Tait, a mentally disabled outcast. Nonetheless, the detectives on the case soon find clues that point them in another direction. Cleeves tells the story from multiple POVs, including DI Jimmy Perez and the potential suspects. Most readers say they couldn’t predict the ending with the many twists and turns in Raven Black! ITV Studios also developed this Scottish book series into a crime drama television show called Shetland.
Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin
Knots and Crosses is the first book in the Inspector Rebus series, most of which take place in and around Edinburgh. The protagonist is, of course, Detective Inspector John Rebus, a respected Edinburgh cop. In this novel, a serial killer is on the loose in the city, murdering multiple women. As he jumps into investigating the murders, Rebus begins to receive strange letters with cryptic messages. Why is Rebus receiving these letters, and how is the murderer linked to it all? You’ll have to read to find out! This book series is so popular that ITV adapted it into a four-season British TV show called Rebus, which aired from 2000-2007.
44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
Welcome to 44 Scotland Street, where readers are introduced to the vivid residents who call this building home. Eventually, these characters come together to solve a mystery involving a painting. While this novel does incorporate elements of mystery, it’s mainly about getting to know the enjoyable characters that McCall creates. For example, you’ll meet a student, an anthropologist, an art dealer, a narcissist roommate, an overbearing mother, and more. Originally published in The Scotsman over a series of six months, you can’t get much more Scottish than this!
Travel books on Scotland (non-fiction)
Findings by Kathleen Jamie
Findings is one of the best travel books about Scotland. In this publication, Jamie, a Scottish poet, provides readers with a soothing collection of essays to introduce us to her home country. Especially if you want to travel to Scotland but haven’t had the chance yet, this book will help you feel like you’re really there! Jamie transports readers all over the country–from the busy streets in Edinburgh to the quiet Inner and Outer Hebrides. If you enjoy this book, you can continue on to its sequel: Sightlines.
Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting
Journalist Madeleine Bunting heads to Scotland’s Hebrides to capture the essence of these islands over the course of six years. During her adventures, Bunting describes the history, folklore, and religion of this diverse archipelago, tying in its importance to Scotland as well as to Britain as a whole. She chooses seven of these islands to focus on: four of which are Inner Inner Hebrides islands, and three are about Outer Hebrides islands. If you’d like to learn about the land, places, and people of the British Isles, this is definitely a good choice for you.
The Living Mountain is a wonderful example of nature writing, as Nan Shepherd meditates on different facets of the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland. This book is a relatively short read (about 100 pages). However, Shepherd provides remarkable depth from her many trips and explorations through this region. Your journey through this book will require a bit of focus to follow all of her descriptions. However, many readers love the detail paid to the mountains as well as the seasons, weather, and the plants, animals, and humans who inhabit this space.
Rebus’s Scotland by Ian Rankin
We previously recommended Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series for those who love mystery novels. Well, if you’ve read and enjoyed the Inspector Rebus novels, you’ll love reading about the real places that inspired the series’s events. While the Rebus novels are focused on fictional mysteries, this book is more of a guided tour around Scotland. Specifically, you’ll notice how much Rebus’ character is connected to Rankin and his experiences. Plus, the author describes Edinburgh and Fife in a way that will convince you to plan a vacation to Scotland.
The Scottish Bothy Bible by Geoff Allan
If you’re looking for one of the best-kept Scottish travel tips, you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of The Scottish Bothy Bible. If you haven’t heard of a “bothy” before, it’s a small hut or cottage that provides basic shelter and is free for anyone to use. What makes bothies in Scotland particularly interesting is that the country has a whole network of these accommodations surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes. So, even if you don’t plan to stay in a bothy, you’ll want to flip through this book to see the stunning photography.
The Hidden Ways: Scotland’s Forgotten Roads by Alistair Moffat
In this travelogue, Moffat takes the reader through ten historically significant walks through Scotland. These hidden gems include the River Road, the Invasion Road, the Road to Heaven, the Great North Road, the Road to Ruin, the Green Roads, the Herring Road, the Rail Road, the Summer Roads, and the Road Block. From the Romans all the way to World War II, we learn how these “lost routes” tie into Scottish history. You can tell that one of Moffat’s main goals is to convince the reader to get out and explore!
Scottish history books
The Highland Clans by Alistair Moffat
The Highland Clans is one of the best books on Scotland history, tracing the famous clans and their origins back through time. Moreover, Moffat helps the reader explore Highland Clan culture, religious beliefs, Gaelic, and some of the most famous battles. If you loved the TV show Outlander and would like a comprehensive guide to Highland culture, this book is a great place to start. Plus, Moffat includes a clan map and a comprehensive list of clan names!
Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser
After you’ve read the historical fiction account of Mary, Queen of Scots, you may want to give this non-fiction book a read. Although most people are familiar with Mary’s tragic end, you may not know about her earlier life, her marriages that became her undoing, and the rest of her fascinating story. Fraser writes in a way that makes her subjects truly come to life. Therefore, even if you don’t normally read non-fiction, you’ll still enjoy this book.
A History of Scotland by Neil Oliver
Archeologist, historian, and Scottish author Neil Oliver takes readers on an entertaining journey through Scotland’s history. All in all, this book makes for an enjoyable lesson on Scotland’s past and is especially informative to read before a trip. Most interestingly, Oliver takes the time to debunk some of the myths surrounding iconic moments and figures in the country’s history.
How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman
This book is a compelling read on how Scots have contributed to the modern world. History lovers will adore the detail about radical ideas that actually came out of Scotland! For example, learn about key figures in Scottish and world history, like Alexander Graham Bell, David Hume, James Watt, Adam Smith, Robert Louis Stevenson, and more.
The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places by Neil Oliver
The Story of the British Isles is Neil Oliver’s personal account of 100 special places located on these islands. He begins with the Happisburgh footprints in Norfolk, which were the oldest known hominid footprints outside of Africa. From there, Oliver jumps chronologically through time from place to place as he walks the reader through important moments in history. If you like history as well as learning how people in the present are connected to those who lived long before us, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this read!
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This post was originally written in June 2020 and has since been updated.