Ten top places to see Celtic and Pictish carvings in Scotland - things to do in Scotland

01 January 2021
The Govan Stones, courtesy Archaeology Scotland
Our guide to ten of the best places in Scotland to see Celtic and Pictish carvings.

1 Barochan Cross
One of only three surviving free-standing carved crosses (shown right) from the early medieval kingdom of Strathclyde. The Barochan Cross dates to 900-1100AD and is decorated on each of its four sides with images including a warrior, a man with a drinking horn and two animals. The cross originally stood beside Barochan Mill but was moved to Paisley Abbey in 1981, where it still stands.

Paisley Abbey, Abbey Close, Paisley PA1 1JG; tel: 0141 889 7654; website.

2 Govan Stones
A collection of 31 early medieval stones carved between the ninth and eleventh centuries. The collection (pictured above) includes five hogback stones, carved crosses and cross shafts and the Govan Sarcophagus, the only one of its kind carved from solid stone in pre-Norman Britain. The stones have recently been the subject of a major redisplay and interpretation project.

Govan Old Church, 866 Govan Road, Glasgow G51 3UU; website. Open 1 April to 31 October, 1pm - 4pm.

3 Groam House Museum
A centre for Pictish and Celtic art with a display which focuses on fifteen carved Pictish stones found in the area. The museum’s centrepiece is the Rosemarkie cross slab which is carved with Pictish symbols and Christian crosses.

High Street, Rosemarkie, Rosshire IV10 8UF; tel: 01381 620961; website.

4 Kildalton High Cross
Kildalton High Cross (pictured left) is Scotland’s only surviving complete Celtic cross (and the only Celtic cross still in its original position) can be found next to the church at Kildalton. It was carved c800AD and includes a Biblical scene of the Virgin and Child, as well as carved animals and bosses. The cross stands 2.65 metres high with a span of 1.32 metres.

Kildalton, Isle of Islay PA42 7EF; website.

5 National Museum of Scotland
The museum’s Celtic  art artefacts are held within its Scottish History and Archaeology collections. A highlight is the Hilton of Cadboll stone which was carved c800AD in Ross & Cromarty. The huge standstone block is carved with Pictish symbols and an intriguing hunting scene.

National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh EH1 1JF; tel: 0300 123 6789; website.

6 Orkney Museum
Orkney Museum in Kirkwall tells the story of Orkney from prehistoric times through to the present day and is home to Celtic carvings which have been found on the Orkney islands over the centuries.

Orkney Museum, Tankerness House, Kirkwall, Orkney KW15 1DH; tel: 01856 873535; website.

7 St Andrews Cathedral Museum
The museum attached to the medieval St Andrews Cathedral is home to a fine collection of medieval sculpture, including carved stones and the St Andrews Sarcophagus (pictured right), an eighth century Pictish sculpture which was recovered in the 1830s during excavations at the cathedral. Among the surviving carvings on the monument are a hunter, a hunting dog and a lion.


St Andrews Cathedral Museum, The Pends, St Andrews KY16 9QL; tel: 01334 472563; website.

8 St Vigeans Sculptured Stones
An important collection of Pictish carved stones which are housed in the Angus village of St Vigeans, once a centre of religious pilgrimage. The 38 carved stones once stood on the church mound to proclaim Christian messages through vivid carvings in an age long before books were widely available. 

Among the highlights of the collection are the Drosten Stone (pictured left), an early ninth century cross slab carved in Latin and Pictish.

St Vigeans Sculptured Stones, St Vigeans DD11 4RB; tel: 01241 878756. Open by appointment only and on selected open days. For dates see the website.

9 Tarbat Discovery Centre
A museum, learning and activity centre which aims to preserve the heritage of the Tarbat peninsula, the location of the only Pictish monastic settlement excavated in Scotland to date. The centre houses artefacts recovered during excavations in the area, including carved stones.

Tarbat Discovery Centre, Tarbatness Road, Portmahomack, Tain, Rosshire IV20 1YA; tel: 01862 871351; website.

10 Timespan Museum
An award-winning museum which tells the story of Sutherland’s history, through arfefacts relating to life thousands of years ago. The accompanying exhibition explores the life of the Picts, and the carved stones they created in the Sutherland region.

Timespan Museum, Dunrobin Street, Helmsdale, Sutherland KW8 6JA; tel: 01431 821327; website.


Read on for more suggestions, thanks to our social media followers Alan Whiteford and Dougie Kinnear.

11 Nigg Old Church

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An eighth-century Pictish cross-slab which has been described as 'one of Scotland's greatest art treasures'. The beautiful, detailed carvings include a unique representation of monks Paul and Anthony receiving bread in the desert, as well as beautiful spirals and snakes.

Nigg Old Church, Nigg, Ross & Cromarty; website.

12. St Serf's Church, Dunning

The Dupplin Cross is a ninth-century Pictish carving which was re-erected at St Serf's Church for better presevation in 2002. The cross is prized for its carved figures and unique recording of the name of a Pictish king.

St Serf's Church, Tron Square, Dunning PH2 0RG; website.

Images: Govan Stones © Archaeology Scotland