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Discover your ancestry

Culloden Battlefield

Welcome home

A journey through the land of your ancestors is one of the most enriching and life-affirming experiences you can have. To follow in the footsteps of your forebears, pay tribute to obstacles they faced, the strides they made, and share in their culture, is not just to gain a deeper understanding of who they were and the land they came from, but of the person you are.

There are many ways to trace your Scottish ancestry, but only in Scotland itself can you experience the land of your forebears and have a vacation turn into the adventure of a lifetime.

Discover your Scottish ancestry

Where to begin?

No matter where your journey in Scotland takes you, the past is never far away. Whether on a secluded isle or in the midst of a bustling city, the country’s rich history, time-honoured traditions and distinctive culture feel very much alive. Discover the unique ways you can connect with the land and spirit of your ancestors.  

Follow your roots to Scotland

The sheer wealth of genealogical resources on the web is staggering. With so much information out there, it can be difficult to know where to start. We've made things that little bit easier with our Discover your Scottish Ancestry eBook, which is available to download for free. Bring the stories, those handed down to you through the generations that propelled your visit to Scotland, to life with the help of an expert genealogist and the many archives and research facilities located throughout the country. View geneologist and tour guide Ian Walker's story below.

Highland dancers compete at the Killin Highland Games

Be immersed in the culture & land of your Scottish ancestors

Traditional food & drink

Authentic Scottish food and drink is a hearty affair which celebrates the amazing natural larder of the nation. Taste freshly caught seafood, succulent beef and game raised just a stone's throw away from your table, and, of course, haggis heaped with 'neeps and tatties' (that's 'turnips and potatoes' in Scots), all washed down with a nice wee dram of whisky.

Few spirits boast the mystique that surrounds whisky. There's a reason it's our national tipple; every dram is a distillation of Scotland. From the perfectly peaty malts of Islay to the delicate drams of the Lowlands, every distillery captures the soul, history, and heart of their local area through craftsmanship honed over centuries. In short, no visit to Scotland is complete without it.

Historical landmarks & events

Magnificent ruined castles, auld kirks, crumbling crofts, lonely battlefields and mysterious standing stones: the history of Scotland can be found all around you. But a true journey through the Scotland of your ancestors brings together the past and present – from the buzzing metropolitan cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh to far-flung islands untouched by time.

But our history isn’t only found in soil and stone. Watch an ancient Scottish custom come to life at a traditional Highland games. Dating as far back as the 11th century, you won’t find a finer expression of national pride than at one of these riveting celebrations of Highland sportsmanship, music, culture and community.

Historical landscapes and natural beauty

From heather-clad hills rolling over the horizon to glistening lochs with vast, ever-changing skies hanging overhead, the beauty of Scotland is unrivalled. Walk among the landscapes once inhabited by your forebears and see Scotland through their eyes.

  • Admire the grandeur of Scotland’s landscapes, from the towering peak of Ben Nevis to the mysterious depths of Loch Ness

Traditional Scottish music

Heart-rending Gaelic ballads, toe-tapping fiddle reels, the reverberating drone of the bagpipes; Scotland's traditional music stirs the heart and soul. From ceilidhs and Highland games to packed concert halls and pub gatherings, the melodies and rhythms played and sung today are as old as Scotland itself. 

  • Hear traditional music at a huge range of festivals and gigs including the internationally renowned Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow and the fiddling extravaganza that is the Shetland Folk Festival

Plan your adventure with our itineraries

The reality of navigating your way around Scotland in search of your origins can be a daunting prospect. Luckily for you, we have an array of itineraries and trails which show you, step by step, how you can make the most of your time in Scotland while unravelling your ancestral ties.

Do you have long-lost relatives that hail from Banffshire, or maybe you’re descended from islanders from the Outer Hebrides or as far north as Orkney and Shetland? Does aristocratic blood run through your veins or did your ancestors work downstairs at a Highland estate during the days of Queen Victoria? Are you a Glaswegian at heart or a member of clan Farquharson whose castle still stands to this day? Whatever your connection to Scotland, we have a diverse range of itineraries which are sure to pique your interest.

Join an ancestry tour with a local guide

Whether you want to tick off as many of the country’s iconic sites as possible or want to reach the croft your great-grandfather once inhabited on a remote isle, put your trip in the hands of a tour operator or professional guide. Just tell them exactly what you want to get out of your visit to Scotland and they’ll make it happen.

Experience Scotland through the eyes of your ancestors

The best way to connect with your ancestors is through their traditions, the landscape, rich history and present-day Scots. Follow paths they once took, get to know the locals, see and do the things they would have loved, and feel their presence with you every step of the way.

1. Discover some of our favourite exports

Like the Scots themselves, so many things originating in Scotland have travelled far and wide. Skilled to perfection over the centuries, the global renown of these quintessentially Scottish products is unique. Witness first-hand an exquisite craftsmanship bequeathed by generations of Scots.

Scotch whisky

The distilleries of your ancestors' day may have kept their operations a closely guarded secret. There may have even been sites of illegal activity. But today there are plenty which open their doors to visitors to reveal the meticulous process behind every drop of ‘uisge beatha’, the Gaelic name for whisky or literally, the water of life.

Tartan

This heritage print never goes out of style. As chic and practical since the days of the Jacobites, pick up a kilt, scarf or woollen jumper in your clan tartan.

  • See tartan, tweeds and cashmere being woven at Lochcarron of Selkirk in the Scottish Borders

Harris Tweed

This iconic Scottish cloth is resilient and striking as the Outer Hebrides where it is handwoven from pure virgin wool, spun and dyed by resident islanders.

  • There are three working Harris Tweed mills in the Outer Hebrides. Visit Harris Tweed and Knitwear for a live weaving demonstration

Craft beer

Scotland has been brewing beer longer than it has whisky and is in the midst of a craft beer revolution. Set down your whisky tumbler and savour one of our flavoursome home-grown brews.

Gin

Gin is Scotland’s second favourite spirit with a host of craft gin distillers and bars popping up across the country. Even historic whisky distilleries are getting in on the act.

2. Get socialising at a Scottish event

In Scotland we love nothing more than a big get-together. For thousands of years our ancestors gathered round the hearth, sharing tall tales and making merry with whisky; but they certainly never had a New Year’s Eve party on the scale of our Hogmanay celebrations. And while the local pub remains a place of tight-knit community, the magic of the Edinburgh Festivals is unlike anything they could have imagined. In the absence of your ancestors, seize the chance to mingle with your fellow Scots and experience first-hand that unique Celtic welcome and wicked sense of humour.

3. Experience luxury living in a Scottish castle

Your ancestors may not have inhabited such salubrious surroundings but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t seize the chance to stay in a castle. Vaulted ceilings, spiral staircases, romantic turrets, roaring fireplaces; for a brief spell you can live the life of a laird or lady. There are many castles which offer self-catering accommodation, the option to stay in estate lodgings, and even camping facilities, all wrapped up in Scotland’s unparalleled scenery. 

4. Make the most of travelling across Scotland

As you trace your family roots, embark on an epic voyage through mist-shrouded glens, along rugged coastlines and past haunting ruins on iconic driving routes like the North Coast 500. Travel back to the golden age of steam and ride iconic heritage railways and steam trains and watch majestic scenery unfold before your eyes. Or hop on a ferry and escape to the islands; where Gaelic endures and experience the magic of landing on Barra's Traigh Mhor, the world’s only beach airport.

5. Witness the invention of the modern world

It may seem grandiose to claim that many of the technologies and ideas that shaped the world we live in today came from a country as small as Scotland. But it is really amazing to think of just how much progress the country has made since the days of your forebears. Discover a legacy of innovation which endures to this day. From the values of the Scottish Enlightenment embodied in the graceful symmetry of Edinburgh's New Town to the defiantly avant-garde architecture of the Scottish Parliament building, to astounding feats of engineering from the Forth Bridges - including the new Queensferry Crossing - and the Falkirk Wheel. Then there are the Kelpies, a public artwork that embraces modern design to honour a bygone legend passed down through the ages.

The Kelpies at dusk, Helix Park, Falkirk
The Kelpies at dusk, Helix Park, Falkirk

Which season is best for your ancestral journey?

When ancestral voices call you, the desire to visit Scotland is impossible to ignore. The trickiest part is deciding what time of year to visit. It’s no secret that Scotland looks marvellous year-round, but read on to find out about the natural spectacles, activities and exciting events each has in store and choose the perfect season for your holiday. 

Spring

The air is still cool but the countryside is starting to come to life amid sprouting greenery and brighter days. As the frost bitten landscape begins to thaw, a rejuvenating burst of colour arrives in the form of blooming snowdrops and rhododendrons, while the remarkably punctual return of migratory birds signifies spring is finally here. The lighter days beckon the walkers, cyclists and hikers among you to forest trails, hillsides and quiet country roads, while once trickling rivers swell again with the deluge of melted mountain snow and ice, spring showers and Atlantic salmon to the delight of anglers and canoers, and golf courses welcome the return of the golf season.  

It’s not just the natural world that has a 'spring' in its step at this time of year. The towns and cities can be hives of activity playing host to all kind of events. The Glasgow International Comedy Festival kicks off in March, followed swiftly by the pagan spectacle of the Beltane Fire Festival in April, while the entire month of May is dedicated to Whisky Month.

Summer

Bonnie Scotland really comes into its own during the warmer months. Occasional inclement weather aside, the endless summer days are a time for you to get out and really explore.

In midsummer it barely gets dark save for a brief, other-worldly period of semi-darkness between dawn and dusk; the 'gloaming' as it is known or in Shetland, where the sun barely dips below the horizon, the 'Simmer dim'. This is also when life in the animal kingdom is at its most restless as creatures great and small, from pine martens to golden eagles, battle against the elements to raise future generations, and vast colonies of nesting seabirds congregate on coastal cliffs. Embrace all those hours of daylight and roam for miles of country road and coastline, whether in the car or on a leisurely tour by bike or foot, taking in dramatic glens, wonderfully secluded beaches, shimmering lochs and rivers along the way.

This is also the time of the Highland Games. From small village events to the grand Braemar Gathering presided over by the Royal Family, this sweeping spectacle of Scottish tradition is enough to make your heart burst with pride. In August, head to Edinburgh as the season reaches a crescendo as the city transforms into the world's summer arts capital. Experience six incredible festivals including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh International Festival and Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Autumn

Autumn is when Scotland is at its most colourful. Unsurprising for a country blessed with no fewer than six forest parks - nearly one fifth of the land is tree covered - and an abundance of leafy gardens and estates. Now is the prime time for leaf spotting, or 'leaf peeping' as it is commonly known in the United States. Witness the countryside dramatically transition from summertime greenery to a riot of reds, oranges and golds, setting the stage for some of Scotland's greatest wildlife sights. From huge flocks of migratory birds to the grey seal pupping season, from red stags rutting to leaping Atlantic salmon, the natural world is as thriving as ever!

It also serves as a beguiling backdrop for all kinds of outdoor pursuits and sports. Long-distance trails and lofty Munros summon walkers, climbers and pony-trekkers with crisp country air, snug bothies, and stunning scenery, while golfers can enjoy a more peaceful round at this time of year.

There are plenty of events to fill chilly days and brighten dark nights, from drinking festivals ranging from Oktoberfest in Edinburgh and Aberdeen to the Drambusters Whisky Festival, to traditional Scottish music festivals such as the Perthshire Amber Festival, the Royal National Mod and Shetland and Accordion Fiddle Festival. Party like a pagan at the Samhuinn Fire Festival and enjoy all manner of ghoulish frivolity in the land that gave birth to Halloween. On the cusp of winter, the season draws to a close with magical light festivals. The Botanic Lights, the Enchanted Forest and Woodland Light Experience are to name but a few.

Winter

There is something enchanting about Scotland in winter. Against a frost-bitten backdrop of snowy mountains, glens, forests and steel-grey lochs, a winter wonderland awaits. Head north for some winter sport action at Scotland's five ski resorts and some truly dazzling scenery. From the towering peaks of Ben Nevis to the majestic beauty of Glencoe and the Great Glen, the sight of these iconic landscapes dusted in snow is spellbinding. This is also when some extraordinary creatures emerge in their pristine winter plumage and fur coats. Close-up encounters with mountain hares, ptarmigans, red grouse and red deer are all possible in and around the Cairngorms National Park.

The night sky is also at its most spectacular and stargazers can enjoy crystal-clear visibility thanks to low temperatures. Pay a visit to Galloway Forest Park - Britain's first Dark Sky Park, Tay Forest Park and Rannoch Moor to see an unforgettable starry spectacle. Scotland is also the best place in the UK to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis. The best spots to see the Northern Lights are the Caithness coast and Shetland and Orkney from November to January.

Christmas is an extravagant affair, with cities hosting week-long festivals throughout December, culminating in Hogmanay where the whole country welcomes in the New Year with whisky, fireworks and ceilidh dancing long into the wee hours. Edinburgh is the biggest of the Hogmanay celebrations, but the Comrie Flambeaux and Stonehaven Fireballs Festival also kick-off January in spectacular style. The party spirit carries on with the Viking fire festival of Up Helly Aa in Shetland and Burns Night, when the entire nation raises a dram to our National Bard on his birthday.