Scotland’s national animal is not a conventional choice. In fact it’s entirely fictional, yet incredibly popular - it’s the unicorn. Traditionally, national animals are representations of the spirit of a country, and Scotland is no different. America has the eagle, a symbol of freedom. England has the lion, an illustration of strength. And Italy has the wolf, an emblem of pack-like solidarity. So why is Scotland’s national animal the unicorn? You may associate unicorns with sparkly children’s parties and rainbow backpacks. But the unicorn has been around for a very long time. They were once revered above any other animal, especially in Scottish history.
Read through our guide to discover the answers to some of your burning questions. You can even find out where you can see unicorns on a Rabbie’s tour.
Scotland chose the unicorn as its national animal as they’re associated with purity, strength and power. Pretty admirable qualities, don’t you think?
They’re also proud and untamable – two words many people would use to describe Scots throughout history.
Since the 15th century, many monarchs of Scotland have used the unicorn in their coat of arms. Kings favoured the mythical beast because they considered it to be the best representation of power.
In fact, unicorns were believed to be so strong that only Kings and virgin maidens could keep them captive. Kings were able to do this due to their divine right to rule. Virgins were considered as pure and innocent as the unicorns themselves.
The British coat of arms depicts a unicorn and a lion flanking a shield. The lion is the national animal of England, and the unicorn represents Scotland’s national animal; both of which are part of the British empire. It’s said that the lion is the unicorn’s arch-nemesis. Moreover, the unicorn is undefeatable.
Did Scotland coincidently choose one of the only animals able to defeat England’s national animal? Considering the centuries-old feuding between the two countries, we think not.
No one has proven the existence of the Scottish national animal. But recent fossil discoveries may indicate that a form of unicorn may have lived hundreds of thousands of years ago. However, they were not the pearly white horses with wings and horns that you may be used to imagining.
Popular beliefs, among the general public in a time gone by, was perpetuated by rhinoceros and narwhal horns showing up in strange places. People were better with their imagination than scientific inquiry back then. But this was enough to convince them that these horned beasts roamed the land.
We still think if you were to ask any of your nieces or nephews, their answer to ‘did unicorns ever exist?’ would be a firm ‘yes!’
The Scottish national animal has awed people for over 3,000 years. In today's society, there’s continued enjoyment and popularity with no sign of the mythical creature falling out of favour. In fact, the unicorn has been mentioned in two of the world’s oldest and most prominent religious books: The Bible and the Quran. For a while, the unicorn was even used as a symbol for Jesus Christ.
Yes, National Unicorn Day is a thing - it’s celebrated on 9th April in a variety of ways.
While many people are happy to simply don their favourite sparkly horned headband, Scotland has been known to take a more reverent approach. It’s their national animal after all. On Unicorn Day in 2017, artist Woody Fox created a seven-foot sculpture of a unicorn made from willow for Crawick Multiverse in Dumfries and Galloway.
But don’t worry, there’s still an element of whimsy to the day. In 2019, the folk at Stirling Castle even tracked down a unicorn for the children to pet. This made the day extra special and reaffirmed the strength of having this magical creature as the national animal of Scotland.
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Finding Scotland’s national animal may be easier than you think. To get an up-close view of the unicorn in all its glory, you may want to consider visiting the following locations:
- Stirling Castle, Stirling - Statues, tapestries and coats of arms throughout the castle
- Delgatie Castle, Aberdeenshire - Statues flanking the entrance
- The Stables at Cromarty on The Black Isle - A life-sized model unicorn can be found within the stables of this Highland peninsula.
- St Andrews University, St Andrews - Stonemasonry flanking doorways
- Springburn Park, Glasgow - The Doulton Unicorn pillar
- Shilling Brewing Co, Glasgow - There is a unicorn mural
- 62 Union Row, Aberdeen - There is a Bordalo II Unicorn mural
- Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh - On the gates outside of Holyrood
It’s also rumoured that the notorious Duke of Wellington Statue in Glasgow, often spotted with a single traffic cone on its head, is sometimes adorned with a second traffic cone to transform his humble horse into Scotland’s national animal.
Yes, you can see statues of Scotland’s national animal, the unicorn, on several of our 1 day tours from Edinburgh, where we explore charming villages such as Jedburgh, Melrose and Falkland. You may also notice that the Mercat Cross in many Scottish villages and cities depicts a regal unicorn, which you may spot on a tour too.
Scotland’s castles also liberally use the unicorn in stonemasonry, tapestries and furniture. It’s splashed about so often in Stirling Castle, it’s hard to walk ten paces without spotting the Scottish national animal. Embark on our 1-day tour to Loch Lomond National Park, Kelpies and Stirling Castle and you can enter the royal palace to view the beautiful tapestry inspired by the Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn.
The HMS Unicorn is a ship which resides in the Port of Dundee, on the east coast of Scotland. It was launched in 1824 and is one of the six oldest ships in existence in the world. What makes this ship magical? The majestic unicorn figurehead at its prow, of course! It’s a symbol of the Scots’ navy. Since then many Scottish naval ships have used the same name over the years.
The unicorn’s horn, also known as an alicorn, was believed to have many healing properties. This was particularly true in the 17th century. Many apothecaries would claim to stock powdered unicorn horn (which was usually walrus ivory or rhino horn). Recipes that included the Scottish national animal’s horns were said to cure a range of illnesses such as boils and the plague. Only the wealthy could afford alicorn; as unicorns were so ‘rare,’ even a pinch of its powder was incredibly expensive to purchase.
Yes, there is a unicorn theme park. It’s located in the Philippines.
Unicorns tend to inspire unbridled enthusiasm and even slightly obsessive adoration… to the point where unicorn fans in the Philippines dedicated an entire coastal theme park to these beautiful beasts. Inflatable Island in Subic features its very own unicornzilla; a massive inflatable unicorn which carries 20 people. So if you’re after magic and sunshine, it’s a pretty sweet deal.
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The unicorn and the kelpie are integral to Scottish folklore. They both are horse-like, with subtle differences. A unicorn is land-based with a single horn upon its head. A kelpie is an evil water spirit which haunts Scotland’s lochs. While it usually takes on the shape of a horse, the kelpie can also pose as a human.
The best place to see kelpies is in Falkirk, where Andy Scott’s giant metal sculptures meet Scotland’s dramatic skyline. The Rabbie’s 1-day tour to Loch Lomond National Park, Kelpies and Stirling Castle (departing from Edinburgh) stops in at this incredible monument.
The most instagrammable locations in Edinburgh to spot the Scottish national animal include:
- The Thistle Chapel, St Giles Cathedral.
- Mercat Cross, Edinburgh Old Town.
- Above the fireplace in the royal palace at Edinburgh Castle.
- Holyrood Palace Gates & the entrance to the Queen’s Gallery.
- Mason’s Pillars, The Meadows.
- Mural on the corner of Leith Walk and Albert Street.
If you’re more of a foodie instagrammer, head to Cuckoo’s Bakery or Bibi’s Bakery in Edinburgh. Both amazing bakeries sometimes have colourful window displays of unicorn cakes and cupcakes – yum!
Are you an Outlander Fan? Both our Outlander 1-day and 4-day tours stop at an abundance of sites featuring Scotland’s national animal. At Linlithgow Palace you’ll find the unicorn woven into the ornate, ancient fountain in the central courtyard. In the quaint villages of Falkland and Culross you can pose with the iconic unicorn statue in the centre of both towns.
Want to know more about other iconic animals? Highland Cows are both adorable and incredibly hardy. But how do they see through all that hair? Find out more with our handy guide.. You can also stay in the know with all things Scotland, our new tours and departure destinations by signing up to our newsletter. What are you waiting for?