Scotland’s stunning landscapes and rich history have long served as inspiration for filmmakers, countless authors and storytellers. Perhaps one of Edinburgh’s most iconic tales revolves around Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus, which has become deeply intertwined with the city’s identity and cultural landscape over the years.

The BBC is bringing it to the small screen, having transformed the best-selling novels by Ian Rankin into a series, premiering on 17 May 2024, with much of the filming having taken place in Edinburgh.

In Rebus – with Ian Rankin onboard as an executive producer – John Rebus (played by Outlander star Richard Rankin) is portrayed as a younger Detective Sergeant. Amidst Edinburgh’s dramatic cityscape, Rebus finds himself entangled in a brutal criminal feud that becomes deeply personal.

See also: 11 Reasons Why You Need To Visit Scotland

Rebus, FIRST LOOK, John Rebus (RICHARD RANKIN), Eleventh Hour Films, Mark Mainz

Ian Rankin, author of the series, comments on what makes Rebus chime with people:

“Rebus is dark, brooding and slightly dangerous and edgy. He’s someone people would like to meet for a short time. The books allow them to meet him for a short time, but I don’t think you’d want to hang out for too long. I mean, if he bumped into me, I’m sure we wouldn’t have much of a conversation before he got bored of me and wandered off. He’d be much more interested in the drink than he would be in the person who was talking to him.

“I think he also feels real to people, partly because he inhabits what is more or less a real city. He drinks in real bars, he worked in a real police station, he lives in a real street. You can actually trace his peregrinations around the city. Fans do come to the city looking for Rebus’s Edinburgh, and it’s there waiting for them.”

Ian Rankin, author

Embark on a journey through the key filming locations and some of the spots associated with this renowned character, tracing his footsteps along the way.

Key Edinburgh filming locations that appear in Rebus:

Grassmarket and Victoria Street 

The historic Grassmarket area of Edinburgh makes for the perfect filming spot for the new series. Its atmospheric cobbles, twisting streets, and hidden closes create the perfect backdrop for the gritty mysteries unravelled by Inspector Rebus. This location ties seamlessly to Rebus’s character, reflecting the complex layers of Edinburgh’s history and its present-day urban life. Once a site of public executions and open-air marketplaces, the Grassmarket has evolved into a vibrant hub, allowing for exploring independent shops, charming cafes, and centuries-old pubs.   It also has great views of Edinburgh Castle. Victoria Street is home to various bars and restaurants, as well as some independently owned shops including John Kay’s Book Shop (perfect for stocking up on some Ian Rankin classics). 

The Mound 

This spectacular filming location is a steep hill connecting Edinburgh’s old and new towns, offering stunning views of the cityscape, Edinburgh Castle, and Princes Street Gardens. Visitors often enjoy strolling along The Mound to soak in the city’s rich history, admire its elegant architecture, and appreciate the picturesque surroundings.

This filming location resonates deeply with Rebus by mirroring the detective’s complex character and his perpetual navigation of Edinburgh’s shifting landscapes, both physically and metaphorically.

National Library of Scotland 

The National Library of Scotland provides an atmosphere of intrigue and history, making it the ideal setting for the new BBC Rebus series. With its rich architectural heritage and a vast collection of literary works, the library authentically reflects the essence of Ian Rankin’s detective novels. The labyrinthine corridors and shadowy corners evoke a sense of mystery and suspense, echoing the complexities of Rebus and his cases.

The research archive at the National Library of Scotland spans back to the 17th century, showcasing an impressive array of treasures for visitors to delve into, such as maps, manuscripts, and rare historical documents. An interesting fact is that Ian Rankin donated his entire archive to the library.

George Heriot’s School  

Dating back to 1621, this school stands out for its remarkable Renaissance architecture. It features prominently in the series as the school attended by Rebus’s daughter, Sammy. It remains an active school and is therefore inaccessible to visitors, however the views of the exterior are breathtaking. For the best perspective, head to Greyfriars Kirkyard. From this atmospheric graveyard, enjoy the magnificent sight of the school’s intricate turrets, sandstone frontage, and Renaissance allure.

The Oxford Bar  

The Oxford Bar or the ‘Ox’ as it’s also known, is probably one of the most iconic locations Rebus spent his time and is also used as a filming location for the new BBC Rebus adaptation. In interviews, Rankin revealed that during his postgraduate years, he shared a flat with a student who worked part-time as a barman at the Ox. He noted that the pub’s small and secluded nature perfectly mirrors the hidden, Jekyll and Hyde aspect of contemporary Edinburgh, often overlooked by tourists. 

A must-visit for Rebus enthusiasts, stepping inside allows one to envision Rebus himself, seated in a corner, deep in thought as he tackles one of his cases.

Scotland’s scenic beauty has not only served as an ideal backdrop for TV and film productions but has also inspired the creative imaginations of numerous authors over the years. For those seeking to conclude their journey with a touch of literary inspiration, take a look at some of the locations mentioned in the Rebus books.

Rebus will launch on Friday 17 May. All episodes will be available on BBC iPlayer from 6 am, with episode one airing on BBC Scotland on Friday 17 May at 10 pm and on BBC One on Saturday 18 May at 9:25 pm.

Other key locations for extending a visit to Edinburgh, as mentioned in the Rebus books:

Edinburgh’s skyline: the Castle, Princes Street & the Dugald Stewart Monument in the foreground

National Museum of Scotland

In ‘The Falls’, the twelfth Rebus story, a small coffin containing a doll is discovered at the murder victim’s apartment. These dolls, rooted in historical fact, are still on display at the National Museum of Scotland. The collection of mysterious wooden dolls was discovered in the 1860s when a group of boys ventured to the slopes of Arthur’s Seat in search of rabbits.

The Real Mary King’s Close

The location is featured in ‘Mortal Causes’ and is set during the Edinburgh Festival. The novel starts with the unsettling discovery of a victim within the confines of Mary King’s Close. Nearby, visitors will discover a tribute to Ian Rankin’s literary contributions – his Edinburgh Award handprints. Situated just outside the City Chambers on the bustling High Street, these handprints serve as a symbol of recognition for Rankin’s enduring impact on the city’s cultural landscape.

Richard Rankin, set to portray John Rebus, shares his thoughts on the novels:

“Ian Rankin’s books have got such an enormous fan base. Whenever the series comes up people are always very excited about the prospect of seeing one of their most beloved detectives come back to the screen. Ian Rankin has sold over thirty million copies of Rebus and it’s been translated into at least 36 languages so it’s an absolute privilege to have been given the honour of bringing Rebus to life again.”

Richard Rankin, actor

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Eleanna is the founder of A Curious Compass and has been blogging since 2013. Her mixed ethnic background has made her curious about the world from a young age. Since her first solo trip at 18, she has visited and lived in many places, like London, Sao Paulo, Paris, and Toronto. Her mission is to inspire people to travel the world in style and get to know the soul of each destination.

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