Outlander’s Sam Heughan on Actor’s Nomadism, Scotland, and His Travel Bucket List
We sat down with Sam Heughan, Scottish-born star of the epic STARZ original series Outlander on the eve of the show’s World Premiere Screening. On the agenda? His heritage, what it’s like filming in the Highlands, and what viewers can expect from the midseason premiere on Saturday.
You're Scottish. Tell us about home.
I was born in southwest Scotland, in a place called Dumfries and Galloway, which is kind of the bit that sticks out—the bit that no one really goes to. It’s a very rural area, but it was a fantastic place to grow up. I lived in sort of old castle grounds and converted stables, which sounds much more glamorous than it actually was, but I had incredible access to the outdoors, which I think is important as a child.
And then you moved to Edinburgh.
Yes, I relocated to the capital city at age 12, which was fantastic. It’s such a beautiful city—one of the best in the world, I think. There’s so much history. I love walking up Arthur’s Seat, which is this very old dormant volcano near Edinburgh Castle. On the other side, there’s the Salisbury Crags, which is this series of 150-foot-tall cliffs. If you walk down from there, there’s a small village called Duddingston, which is home to the oldest pub in Edinburgh, the Sheep Heid Inn. They’ve got a bar and restaurant, and a bowling alley in the back with these old wooden pins. It’s a fun place to go and drink beer.
Do you live in Edinburgh now?
I’m not really based anywhere at the moment, since we’ve been traveling all over. We film the show in Glasgow, which is a city I know well. I went to drama school there. It’s very different from Edinburgh—a lot more urban. There are some incredible restaurants that have just opened up, especially in an up-and-coming area called Finnieston. Crabshakk is one that does amazing seafood. They’ve got a couple of local sister restaurants that are also really good. I love to order the razor clams ceviche, because I’m a big seafood guy. They do a mean martini, as well.
What’s been your favorite location to film in Scotland?
We filmed a lot of scenes round and about this small village called Kinloch Rannoch. That’s where we shoot the standing stones—called Craigh na Dun in the show. At the center is Loch Rannoch (that’s Lake Rannoch for non-Gaelic speakers), and at the other end is a mountain called Schiehallion, which they call the mountain of the fairies. It’s this beautiful peak that looks quite iconic.
We shot there last year on my birthday, and I was very lucky to have the following day off. Everyone else was filming, but I managed to sneak off and climb up the top of the mountain. The view was just incredible. It was so dramatic; everything was still covered in snow. There’s lots of wildlife—pheasants, grouse, wild deer, sometimes you see stags. It’s just a very magical place.
What do you do in Glasgow when you’re not filming?
I love to get outdoors as much as I can. I go hill walking, mountain climbing, and do a bit of rock climbing, as well. It’s so easy to get around. You can get in the car and drive, and in 20 minutes and you’re outside of Glasgow at Loch Lomond, and from that point onward there’s countless Munros (mountains in Scotland with a height over 3,000 ft) that you can climb up. I’ve done about 20 to 30 Munros now, and this next year I can’t wait to get back and do more.
You’ve been traveling around on a big press tour. Do you have a favorite new destination?
We were in Toronto a couple of days ago, and that last time I was there was maybe 10 or 14 years ago, so I didn’t really remember much about it. I was only there for one day, but we stayed in an area called Yorkville, at the Hazelton, which is an incredible hotel. The restaurant scene is really buzzing, and the people are relaxed and friendly. I’d love to go back and spend more time there.
How do you feel about the incredible popularity of the show?
It’s really exciting. We’re very much removed from it when we’re in Scotland, which is kind of nice. And the show is only just premiered in the U.K., so people are kind of unaware of it, but that’s building now, which is great. But it’s always odd when you get on a flight to the U.S., and you see a billposter of yourself or your face on the side of a bus. It’s pretty awesome.
What can viewers expect this season?
This second half of the season is a lot darker. The momentum has carried right through. So much happens, even in the first episode. You find out a lot more about Jamie’s character—who he is, where he comes from. His relationship is tested a lot with his uncles, and also with Claire. Their relationship is very much challenged throughout the season, but it climaxes in some pretty intense episodes coming up.
Before you go, any bucket list destinations?
Wow, yea. Well, going on the theme of climbing, I would love to visit the Alps, the Himalayas, certainly Everest. I’m kind of fascinated by these men and women that climb up the highest peaks in the world—there’s a bit of a draw there—so those places are definitely on my bucket list.
Katie James is an Assistant Editor at Travel + Leisure.