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50 Historic Events in Scottish Tourism

St Ninian's Isle, Shetland

St Ninian’s Isle, Shetland

2019 marks 50 years of VisitScotland. Happy Birthday to us! So what better time to celebrate 50 years of memorable events, inspiring stories, fantastic experiences, a few firsts, a world record or two and of course, the opening of some of our favourite attractions that we still love visiting today.

We thought this would be the perfect chance to reflect on some of the most unforgettable tourism moments from 1969 – 2019.

Let’s go back in time…

2019Moat Brae House and Garden, also known as the New National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling, opens in the heart of Dumfries. Based in a Georgian townhouse, it’s an ‘enchanted land’ where JM Barrie, one of Scotland’s greatest children’s writers, played games with his friends as a small child and where Peter Pan began.

2018 – The V&A Dundee, the first V&A museum in the world outside London and the first ever dedicated design museum in Scotland, opens its doors to welcome in visitors. The museum is a creative hub, boasting world-class design features and is home to an incredible celebration of innovation and design, spread throughout spectacular galleries and exhibitions.

2017 – The Queensferry Crossing, the third bridge over the River Forth, joining the 1970s road bridge and the iconic Victorian rail bridge, opens and becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cross Scotland’s latest engineering wonder, which connects Edinburgh with Fife. At a length of 2.7 km, it’s the longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world.

The Queensferry Crossing

The Queensferry Crossing

2016 – Andy Murray defeats Milos Raonic in straight sets at Wimbledon 2016 to bring home the trophy for the second time. One of Scotland’s most notable sportspeople, his tennis journey has been one that has had us glued to the TV screen as we anxiously await the outcome. Born in Glasgow and raised in Dunblane, Murray is a truly gifted Scotsman!

2015 – The internationally-acclaimed North Coast 500 route launches and becomes one of the most beautiful coastal touring routes in the world. The route brings together just over 500 miles of stunning coastal scenery and follows the main roads along the coastal edges of the north Highlands, taking in ancient castles, glistening sandy beaches and spellbinding heritage.

2014 – The new Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre opens allowing visitors to relive one of the most infamous and decisive clashes in the First War of Scottish Independence. The experience puts you at the heart of the action with cutting-edge 3D technology. Outside, wander across the parkland and admire the restored commemorative monuments, including the iconic statue of Robert the Bruce.

2013 – The SSE Hydro opens in Glasgow, providing the city and Scotland with a brand-new entertainment venue built to accommodate world-class events. It’s taken more than two-and-a-half years to build the 45-metre tall structure, but the final result was well worth the wait.

SSE Hydro, Glasgow

SSE Hydro, Glasgow

2012 – Disney•Pixar links up with VisitScotland to create Oscar-winning animated adventure film Brave. The movie explores Scotland through the enchanting story of Merida and her family, inspired by magnificent Scottish landscapes, history and legends.

2011 – Two giant pandas arrive at Edinburgh Zoo all the way from China. The zoo’s residents, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, are the first giant pandas to live in the UK for 17 years. You can see these exotic spices and learn about where pandas live, what they eat, how much they weigh, panda cubs and much more.

2010 – This year sees the opening of the historic Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, south Ayrshire. See the world’s most important collection of Burns artefacts and works, and visit the humble cottage where he was born and raised.

2009Galloway Forest Park is officially unveiled as the UK’s first Dark Sky Park, as well as being the second to open in Europe. Spanning 777 km2 of forested glens, lochs and some of the highest hills in southern Scotland, it’s not only home to fantastic night sky peppered with stars, distant planets and streaking meteors, but also dramatic ancient woodland with an astonishing range of local wildlife.

2008 – The Antonine Wall, part of the ancient Roman lines near Falkirk, is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Stretching right across the country, from Clyde to Forth, it was once the most northern frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain. Today it offers great walking routes surrounded by nature where you can explore traces of ramparts, steep ditches, and the remains of forts and bathhouses.

2007St Andrew’s Day is designated as a bank holiday in Scotland for the first time, under the St Andrew’s Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act 2007. Join our lively programme of events and festivals celebrating the patron saint of Scotland and our national day, with dancing, music, food and drink, and more.

2006 – The Scottish crossbill is confirmed as a unique species. Endemic to the Caledonian forests of Scotland, the Scottish crossbill was confirmed as a unique species on the basis of having a distinctive bird song, as well as the fact that its young inherited their bill size from their parents. Plan your birdwatching trip to Scotland now.

2005 – The Gaelic Language Act is passed, securing status of Scottish Gaelic as an official language of Scotland. Why not try to master a few useful Gaelic phrases? It’s easier than you might think and you never know when it will come in handy! You can then put your newly-gained skill to practice when you next venture out to the Scottish Highlands – even if it’s only to charm local native speakers.

2004 – Arbroath Smokies attain Protected Geographical Indication under the EU’s Protected Food Name Scheme, meaning that the dish can only be officially produced within a five-mile radius of Arbroath. These salted and dried haddocks are smoked over a beech-wood fire and have, like the Champagne area of France, EU-protected status. Try them and you’re guaranteed to have your taste buds tingling!

2003 – The Cairngorms National Park is officially opened by the great, great granddaughter of John Muir, founder of the National Park movement. Twice the size of the Lake District, it covers a large part of the eastern Highlands and west Aberdeenshire and is the largest in the UK.

Loch Morlich, Cairngorms National Park

Loch Morlich, Cairngorms National Park

2002 – Just one year earlier, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs is also designated as a National Park, making it the first in Scotland. At the heart of the park is Loch Lomond itself. You won’t find a bigger loch or lake in the whole of Britain and you’ll have a hard time finding a more beautiful one, too. Unplug, unwind and seize the day by having an adventure against some awe-inspiring scenery.

2001New Lanark is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is an exceptional example of a purpose-built 18th century cotton spinning mill village which has been beautifully restored as a living community. Renowned as a beauty spot, it’s set in a sublime Scottish landscape alongside the picturesque River Clyde and surrounded by native woodlands. If you ever fancied travelling back in time, this is a place for you!

2000Inverness is granted city status and becomes Scotland’s fifth city. Nestled in the midst of the beautiful Scottish Highlands, Inverness is a bustling modern hub with a thriving culture, amazing shopping and an excellent range of places to eat out. Meander through the old and new towns exploring historically important locations, chill out by the River Ness, get a cultural fix at the city’s fantastic galleries and museums and experience the buzzing events scene.

1999 – The first Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival is held, showcasing produce from the region’s distilleries. This is one of the most popular whisky festivals in Scotland, and is full of special events, behind-the-scenes distillery tours, whisky and food pairings, sensory experiences, ceilidhs and whisky-themed walks.

1998 – The Royal Yacht Britannia opens to the public. After having been decommissioned in 1997 after a 44-year service life, this magnificent ship – now berthed in Leith Docks, Edinburgh – carried the Queen and the Royal Family on 968 official voyages in almost every part of the globe, and has played host to some of the most famous people in the world.

1997 – The book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is published by Bloomsbury. Looking around the Scottish countryside, with its rolling hills and mass expanse of greenery, it’s no wonder why the Edinburgh-based author JK Rowling created a world filled with witchcraft and wizardry. From the Hogwarts train to filming locations, tour the best places every Harry Potter fan must visit.

1996 – A casket, thought to contain Robert the Bruce’s heart, is excavated at Melrose Abbey in the Scottish Borders. To this day Bruce’s heart is believed to be still buried there, after it returned from the Holy Land and the crusades. Visit to uncover the fascinating tale of Robert the Bruce, see a marker stone over the spot at the abbey where his heart has been laid to rest, and see why Melrose Abbey is often referred to as one of Scotland’s most beautiful buildings. Why not explore the Outlaw King Film Map for more places to explore?

1995 – The film Braveheart is released starring Mel Gibson as William Wallace.  Scale the 246 steps of the National Wallace Monument and be rewarded with some spectacular views across Stirling and the Trossachs. See the mighty Wallace Sword and learn about how the Battle of Stirling Bridge, 1297, was fought and won.

The Wallace Monument

The Wallace Monument

1994Edinburgh Festival Theatre opens on Nicholson Street. Formerly known as the Empire Palace Theatre, the Nicholson Street gem is one of the venues at the heart of the Edinburgh International Festival. Start planning your trip to the Edinburgh Festivals with our eBook.

1993 – The Monarch’s course at Gleneagles opened for play. It is now called the PGA Centenary course, and this year the iconic course will welcome the biggest event in women’s golf from 9 – 13 September, The Solheim Cup 2019.

1992 – The Gaelic language soap opera Machair hit our screens.  Set and filmed on the Isle of Lewis and written by author Peter May, the series showcased life on the Outer Hebrides.

1991Outlander, the first book in a series of romantic novels set in Scotland, was published by author Diana Gabaldon. The book series is now a hugely successful TV show, filmed in many places around Scotland, from dramatic castles to stately homes and breathtaking landscapes. Discover Outlander filming locations.

1990 – The amazing Glasgow Royal Concert Hall hosts its first-ever live performance. A UNESCO City of Music, this is one of Glasgow’s top venues, and is a space which has seen epic performances from the likes of Johnny Cash and Van Morrison to Ray LaMontagne and Debbie Harry. Check out what’s on in Glasgow.

1989 – The Nevis Range opens to the public. Set in Fort William, Nevis Range is an all year-round destination offering a unique mountain experience. This award-winning resort in the ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK’ attracts sightseers, skiers, snowboarders, mountain bikers, climbers, birdwatchers, paragliders and more.

1988 – The Proclaimers release their second studio album Sunshine on Leith album with lead single I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). The Scottish music duo hail from Leith in Edinburgh, an area of the city which has recently been named one of the world’s coolest neighbourhoods. Their phenomenally popular stage hit Sunshine on Leith was adapted in 2013 by Dexter Fletcher into a tender-hearted and funny film.

1987 – A major sonar exploration of Loch Ness proves inconclusive about the whereabouts of ‘Nessie’.  A week-long operation involving 24 boats called ‘Operation Deepscan’ searched Loch Ness high and low for the Loch Ness Monster, but no evidence was found. Clearly she was feeling shy that week.

1986St Kilda becomes the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Scotland.  This isolated archipelago of volcanic islands lies 40 miles to the west of the Outer Hebrides. It is the most important sea bird breeding station in north west Europe.

1985Mercat Tours do their first walking tour of Edinburgh’s Old Town. Explore the mysterious parts of the city with their ‘Ghosts and Ghouls Tour’ and ‘Secrets of the Royal Mile’, which have been part of Mercat offering since they started. Find more haunted places in Scotland.

1984 – The Queen opens the Kylesku Bridge in Sutherland, replacing a long-running boat service.  The bridge is located within the North West Highlands Geopark on the North Coast 500 driving route, close to Eas a’Chual Aluinn – Britain’s tallest waterfall.

1983 – The film Local Hero is released, directed by Bill Forsyth. The picturesque village of Pennan, near Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire, made an appearance in the film. Take a selfie in the red phone box and stop by the Pennan Inn for a delicious pub meal. Discover more day trips from Aberdeen.

1982Mackintosh’s Hill House in Helensburgh is acquired by the National Trust for Scotland. This architectural masterpiece by Charles Rennie Mackintosh is a unique building, boasting interiors and collection designed in the then up-and-coming architect Mackintosh and his wife Margaret in the famous ‘Glasgow style’.

1981 – The romantic comedy film Gregory’s Girl and historic drama Chariots of Fire are released this year. Scotland’s jaw-dropping scenery continues to provide the backdrop for many amazing Scottish films.  Learn more about TV and film locations in Scotland.

1980 – The West Highland Way opens as the first of Scotland’s official long-distance routes. Stretching 96 miles north from Milngavie on the northern edge of Glasgow to Fort William, the route is a challenging yet exhilarating journey. Looking for your first walking challenge? Find more long-distance walks for beginners.

Walkers on Conic Hill, Stirling

Walkers on Conic Hill, Stirling

1979 – The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness is established. Awaken your creativity with a visit to one of the UK’s most impressive collections of 20th century British art. The Piers Art Centre hosts local and international exhibitions which are free to browse and also displays a wide range of local arts and crafts.

1978 – The Strathspey Railway opens to visitors. This restored steam train carries passengers between Aviemore, Boat of Garten and Broomhill on the banks of the River Spey – a truly spectacular route. See the majestic Cairngorm mountains from the comfort of a plush carriage while you tuck into afternoon tea on board the train, or hop off to spot amazing wildlife at local RSPB reserve.

1977 – The first ever St Magnus Festival of the Arts is held on Orkney. The mid-summer arts festival is now one of the highlights of Scotland’s cultural calendar, with venues including the intimate Italian Chapel and the grand St Magnus Cathedral welcoming classical orchestras and talented performers from around the world.

1976 – Scotland experiences a sweltering heatwave. The summer of 1976 saw some three months of unwavering heat and some of the hottest days on record with temperatures reaching 32°C for 15 consecutive days. Simply glorious! When the sun shines, why not get out and explore one of Scotland’s beautiful beaches?

1975 – Dougal Haston (a Scottish mountaineer) is in the first group to summit Mount Everest by the south west face; their climb was a milestone in Himalayan climbing. If you’re not quite ready for Everest, why not climb a Munro? These Scottish peaks measure a lofty 914 m (3,000 ft) high and promise spectacular panoramic views for miles around.

1974 – Local postman and lighthouse keeper Calum MacLeod personally completes the construction of ‘Calum’s Road’ on the Isle of Raasay, a wee isle just east of Skye, taking 10 years to construct the two-mile track. As the last man left in northern Raasay, he single-handedly constructed the road hoping that new generations of people would return to the north end of the island.

1973 – We say hello to CalMac, a ferry company formed by a merger of the Caledonian Steam Packet Co. and David MacBrayne & Co. This one of Scotland’s largest transport operators, serving 28 routes to the Clyde and Hebridean islands and peninsulas. Why not plan an island hopping adventure?

1972 – American astronaut Neil Armstrong becomes the first Freeman of Langholm in Dumfries & Galloway. Why, you may wonder. The reason is simple: the town claimed Armstrong as one of their own. And he accepted. Langholm is the traditional seat of Clan Armstrong, making it Armstrong’s ancestral home. Learn how we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing (1969) in Scotland.

1971 – BBC Scotland television begins a serialisation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Sunset Song. The author Lewis Grassic Gibbon, born James Leslie Mitchell, was strongly influenced by his life in the Mearns area of Aberdeenshire and wrote this classic novel based on his experiences in rural Scotland. Read more about Scotland in Literature.

1970 – Scotland hosts The British Commonwealth Games for the first time. The IX Games were held in Edinburgh and will be remembered for a number of firsts, but most importantly because Scotland won 25 medals including six gold, four of which were in athletics – a feat which has not been matched since. Find more sporting events in Scotland.

1969 – Culzean Castle becomes Scotland’s first Country Park. Hanging on a cliff face on the Ayrshire coast, Culzean Castle & Country Park offers gardens, beaches, woods, and trails for miles around that the whole family will love exploring.

Uncover more historic attractions, locations, and fascinating things to see and do across Scotland.