Discovering Isle of Islay: Whisky, Wildlife, and Wonders

Islay, a Scottish island known for producing the world's best whisky, offers unique experiences for enthusiasts through distillery tours and tastings amidst raw natural landscapes.

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Isle of Islay

What you will learn in this article?

We will discuss when and where to travel. What to see on Islay. How long to spend on Islay, where to stay, and where to eat (or not eat). Useful links and a map will not be missing, so you don't have to do lengthy research on your own. I've done it for you.

Best time to go

When to fly to Scotland? It is generally warmer in summer than in winter. But this may not be the case on Islay. Therefore, I would not completely adhere to this rule. Nature is dramatic at the beginning of spring and in autumn. In August, the famous Fringe festival takes place in Edinburgh, which makes the city the center of art, but it also makes accommodation and flights more than double in price. There's no need to talk about tourists. For the island of Islay itself, the important dates for us are the closure or limitation of the operation of the visitor centers of the distilleries.

Not that they are completely closed, but they may not operate on weekends and have limited capacity during the day. Therefore, avoid winter, specifically from the beginning of November to the end of March. I consider October and April to be the ideal time. It's cold, but that will deter many people and you can enjoy the raw nature without crowds of tourists.

Transportation to Islay

Are we on the ferry yet? Not yet. We are still renting a car and heading for a three-hour journey to the port of Kennacraig. From there, the medium-sized ferry Finlaggan departs several times a day. Tickets from Calmac can be reserved at Calmac website. The last ferry departs around 6 pm and depending on the season, I recommend booking seats a month in advance. Usually, there is availability even a week in advance, but last time, we found out that there was no space for our hour, and we had to spend the night at the port.

Calmac Islay

On the ferry, you will find a buffet with great breakfasts and fish & chips, showers, and you can also buy cards. Hardy souls can spend part of the voyage on the outdoor decks. The last ferry arrives on the island at 8:00 pm.


As the island of Islay is small, it offers a narrow choice of accommodation. In practice, there are 3 options. Classic hotels that can be booked through The second option is hostels. You can squeeze into rooms with ten people. Specifically, you can use the Youth Hostel network. However, we have been using Airbnb for a long time, where renting a whole property is financially the best option. If you are traveling in a smaller group, I recommend The Old Schoolroom. Despite having almost no internet connection, it is a great place to start every day. If there are about 10 of you, then Pier House in the town of Bruichladdich. There's nothing to complain about this place. And actually, we have one more accommodation option. There are wooden pods on the south coast, such as small mobile homes that accommodate 4 people and are right by the coast. I recommend trying them if you want to try something new.

Restaurants and shopping

I'll tell you about food and shopping now, and then we'll move on to alcohol, I promise. There are about 4 shops on the island. The best of them, Coop, is in the center of the island in the town of Bowmore. You can buy everything there when it comes to food and toiletries. It is significantly more economical than dining in extra expensive and below-average restaurants on the island. Only Peatzeria in Bowmore is worth sinning over. You can buy petrol in various places in most larger towns.


Yes, it's here. Why did we come here at all? A small island 200 miles from Edinburgh. Yes, whiskey, I'm on it. About 70% of the island is made up of peat. It is a very brown soil, in other words, accumulated, partially decomposed plant material. Islay is a large peat bog, or moor. Apart from the fact that you sink into it when you walk on the peat, it can be used as fuel for heating. It burns very slowly. But when you have almost no trees on the island and you need to heat up, you burn it with soil.

This caught the attention of local distilleries and they use peat as a smoke flavoring for barley, which is used to make whiskey. The barley then tastes smoky or smoky. That's why all distilleries on Islay actually make smoky whiskey.

West Islay

I would divide the island into 3 parts. West, East, and South. Always with 3 distilleries. Bruichladdich is on the west of the island, whose history dates back to 1881, but they are not so proud of their history since the stock market crash in 1929. They were sold off among big players and were closed at one point. They will tell you there how it happened and how they reopened to produce one of the best whiskies on the island. I would spoil your tour a bit, and you won't get back those 5 pounds. But I'll tell you one thing, you can taste all their whiskey for free, and it's either because they are generous or they don't have a license to sell bottled alcohol. Both things are true, you choose which one you like more.

There are two more distilleries in the west. The former Kilchoman farm, where you will also find a restaurant, and Bowmore, in the eponymous town. Both are worth a visit, as they are only 20 minutes apart, but neither of them stands out in my memory.

Bruichladdich Islay Bruichladdich Islay Bruichladdich Islay Bruichladdich Islay Bruichladdich Islay Kilchoman Islay Kilchoman Islay Bowmore Islay

Bunnahabhain, Ardnahoe a Caol Ila

Let's move to the east now. The most remote is the strangely named Bunnahabhain distillery (pronounced Bunhaven), from where you have the best view of the beautiful Jura island, just 10 minutes away by ferry. The distillery itself looks like a shabby factory, but we're not here for that. We continue about 5 minutes down to the newly opened Ardnahoe, a beautiful and modern whiskey distillery that cannot yet sell its whiskey. The rules for selling Scottish whiskey are strict. It must mature on a barrel for at least 3 years.

On the other hand, they currently offer other Scottish whiskeys as a friendly gesture. They also offer whiskey from another distillery in the east, Caol Ila (pronounced Klaila), which is currently closed and has a new visitor center under construction.

Bunnahabhain Islay Bunnahabhain Islay Bunnahabhain Islay Ardnahoe Islay Ardnahoe Islay

Top three on Islay

Let's end the visit to Islay with the three best, largest, and most famous distilleries in the south. I probably don't need to introduce Laphroaig (pronounced Lafroig, not strangely in French Lafroa), where, in my opinion, you will find the most balanced whiskey on the island and the most interactive tour. We continue to the somewhat arrogant Ardbeg distillery and I can't forget about Lagavulin.

Laphroaig Islay Ardbeg Islay Lagavulin Islay Lagavulin Islay

It probably doesn't make sense to visit all the educational tours because after the second distillery, you will find that the production process is practically identical. You may be attracted to their history and stories. We recommend dividing the trip to Islay into 3 parts, 3 days, and visiting one distillery and 3 tastings each day. For us, we can recommend Bruichladdich, Ardnahoe, and Laphroaig.

In addition to alcohol, you can also see the beautiful and raw Scottish nature on the island. Apart from all the beauty around you, I'll give you a tip on two hidden places. Definitely visit the Finlaggan lake and if you want to try peat mining, enter Laphroaig Peat Farm on the map. There are also many treks on Islay, but you will need a map, high boots, and waterproof clothing. At the end of the trip, we headed towards Uigeadail Lake, but we only made it halfway because we got lost a few times. The terrain is also quite demanding, and a short trip can turn into an unwanted all-day trek.

Calmac Islay

Islay, a Scottish island known for producing the world's best whisky, offers unique experiences for enthusiasts through distillery tours and tastings amidst raw natural landscapes.

Useful information and links


  1. The Old Schoolroom - 55.800684, -6.210104
  2. Pier House – 55.764187, -6.361376
  3. Islay Pods – 55.633645, -6.131390


  1. Peatzeria – 55.757436, -6.286257


  1. Ferry Kennacraig – Islay
  2. Car rental Hertz
  3. Larger car rental Arnold Clark


  1. Bruichladdich – 55.766601, -6.361763
  2. Bowmore – 55.757016, -6.289302
  3. Kilchoman – 55.780634, -6.445406
  4. Bunnahabhain – 55.883472, -6.126689
  5. Ardnahoe – 55.869182, -6.117182
  6. Caol Ila – 55.854372, -6.109496
  7. Laphroaig – 55.630452, -6.151337
  8. Ardbeg – 55.640611, -6.108486
  9. Lagavulin – 55.635591, -6.125951


  1. Finlaggan loch – 55.835830, -6.171913
  2. Laphroaig Peat Farm – 55.671714, -6.237142
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