© 2015 Taylor & Francis. The limit analysis and the finite element method are powerful tools for analysing the bearing capacity of foundations. Previous research mainly focused on the foundations in uniform soils. In realistic conditions, soil properties are always varying spatially due to complex physical, chemical, and biological process in earth evolution. This paper investigates the bearing capacity and failure mechanism of footings buried at various depths in clays with spatially variable distribution of undrained shear strength using the lower bound limit analysis, the upper bound limit analysis, and the finite element analysis. Results show that the bearing capacity increases with increasing buried depths in spatially random soils, which is the same as in the uniform soils. The bearing capacity factors calculated using the finite element method, the lower bound limit analysis, and the upper bound limit analysis for a footing in spatially varied soils are all smaller than the corresponding values in uniform soils. The majority of the bearing capacity factors obtained from the finite element method is bounded by those obtained from the lower bound and the upper bound limit analysis. The shear planes show a clearly unsymmetrical manner in spatially varied soils using the three methods, which is different from the symmetrical shear plane in uniform soils.