top of page

“Ancestral Tourism” and the Outlander effect

Blackness Castle, Scotland

“These visitors wish to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors “

A recent post on this blog shared examples of historic preservation influenced by the association of historic buildings with celebrities and pop culture. Rose Hall on Jamaica is a popular tourist attraction in large part for its association with the late singer Johnny Cash; the mid-century modern architecture of Columbus, Indiana—with many buildings designed by some of the world’s most famous mid-century modern architects—has gained renewed interest as the subject of a new feature film; and some current Hollywood celebrities have taken to restoring some of the grand houses of past Hollywood icons. In recent years, heritage tourism has received a big boost from the popularity of historical dramas on television; shows such as Downton Abbey, set at the Highclere Castle in England, and Outlander, which utilizes to great effect historic sites across Scotland, have led to dramatic increases in tourism.

Outlander—the popular time-travel drama appearing on the Starz network (now in its 3rd season)—centers around its heroine, Claire Randall, who is transported by to 18th-century Scotland where she falls in love with Highlander Jamie Fraser. Throughout the series, those familiar with Scotland’s heritage will recognize Doune Castle, the historic Highland village of Newtonmore, the historic landscape of Rothiemurchus Forest, and Blackness Castle on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, which was a stand-in for Fort William in the TV series (the 2016 photo of Blackness Castle above by Andrew Shiva is shared here under CC BY-SA 4.0).

Scotland has long been a favorite tourist destination for Americans, particularly given how many Americans can trace their ancestral roots to Scotland. And the rise in popularity of DNA-testing services that provide scientific data on genetic relations has led to a boom in “ancestral tourism” as well. It is not only important to learn where you are from; it is becoming increasingly popular to visit one’s ancestral homeland as well. The popularity of Outlander has led to a significant increase in American tourism to Scotland, whether one has or only wishes they have ancestral ties to the country. The result is record numbers of American tourists and a boon to the Scottish economy and heritage tourism industry.


Outlander and other film and TV hits bring record numbers of US tourists to Scotland

By Keith Weir

The Sunday Post

November 13, 2017


ScotRail has launched an Outlander train travel pass for fans of hit show

By Magdalene Dadlziel

Glasgow Live

November 25, 2017

bottom of page