With its crystal-clear mountain waters and sweeping fields of barley, Scotland is the undisputed home of whisky and is the perfect place for any connoisseur to distill the ‘water of life’.
From North to South and across the islands, Scotland is split up into five different whisky-making regions, all of which distill their own unique version of the illustrious single malt, and offer some of the best whisky-tasting experiences available.
From distilleries found off the beaten track, to those just a short drive from the city, we’ve listed our favourite hotels on the trail of Scotland’s whisky heritage.
Speyside | Islay | Campbeltown | Highlands | Lowlands
Often described as ‘whisky heaven’, Speyside has much to offer, from historical architecture and a thriving outdoors culture to quaint country cottages and tasty home-made cuisine. Speyside is also home to The Malt Whisky Trail, the only one of its kind in the world. The trail takes in seven world-famous distilleries making up over half of Scotland’s whisky industry. There’s no greater starting point to your whisky adventure.
Stay at Cardhu House
Situated at the heart of The Malt Whisky Trail, the Cardhu Country House has six individually-designed luxury rooms named after local Speyside distilleries. The house is found a mile from the River Spey – which is famous for its salmon fishing – and is ideal for hiking or cycling through the Cairngorms and along to the Moray coast. Depending on the holiday you’re after, you can choose a room to suit your needs and mood, whether it’s the warm and cosy chestnut colours of the Tamdhu Room or the powder pink Aberlour Room.
The Glenlivet Distillery
Glenlivet Distillery | Photo by Piano Piano! (CC BY 2.0) Glenlivet Distillery | Photo by Sam Smith (CC BY 2.0)
A rich single malt, The Glenlivet can only be made in one particular spot, a single glen, in the heart of Scotland’s malt whisky-making country. The distillery runs a series of tours, including the free 45-minute Glenlivet Tour, which includes a guided tour of the distillery, a visit to one of the bonded warehouses and a dram of The Glenlivet. Other tours include nosing and tasting sessions, or walks along the Speyside smugglers trail.
Stay at The Knockomie Hotel
The Knockomie Hotel is a luxury inn situated on the outskirts of Forres and is a celebration in warm Scottish hospitality. The hotel is undertaking an on-going project to renovate each of the luxury bedrooms with its own traditional and individual theme. Many of the design ideas come from visiting guests, with French, Chinese and Swiss-themed rooms proposed. So if you’re staying there in the near future, be sure to pitch an idea and you never know, it may come to light!
One of the oldest and most beautiful distilleries in Scotland, the Strathisla Distillery is found nestled along the banks of the River Isla and is surrounded by a cobbled courtyard and picturesque buildings.
The standard tour runs every 30 minutes for a charge of £7.50. If you’re looking to do a more in-depth tour, then the Saturday afternoon Ultimate Starthisla Experience is a three hour whisky-filled affair, including a tutored tasting in the oak panelled boardroom.
Considered ‘The Queen of the Hebrides’, Islay is located just off the West Coast of Scotland. The island’s rich, peaty soil and mild climate make it perfect for whisky distilling. As of 2016, Islay lays claim to no fewer than eight distilleries.
Stay at The Lochside
The Lochside is a privately-owned boutique hotel and Scottish institution that houses one of the greatest whisky bars in the world. The bar is the perfect base from which to tour Islay’s distilleries and to broaden your knowledge of the single malts. The bespoke bar in the Whisky Lounge is home to an extensive collection of fine and rare Islay whiskies for you to try – practice makes perfect!
The hotel also boasts 12 newly-refurbished en-suite bedrooms, which offer luxury amenities and stunning views over Loch Indaal.
Bowmore, Isle of Islay
Founded in 1779, Bowmore Distillery is the first recorded distillery on Islay, as well as being one of the oldest in Scotland. Its whisky is known for its distinctive smokey flavour, which is achieved by smoking the malt in a peat-fired kiln.
The distillery offers two tours, the first being a Craftman’s Tour, which allows you to visit the legendary No.1 vaults, where you can taste some very special Bowman indeed. The second is the Distillery Tour, an essential outing if you are visiting the island and want to get a sense of how the single malt is produced.
In the Victorian age, Campbeltown was known as the whisky capital of the world. Only three distilleries have maintained production from those early days but Campbeltown still retains its excellent whisky-making reputation.
Stay at Craigard House
A warm welcome awaits you at the Mull of Kintyre, where Craigard House Hotel stands pride of place overlooking Campbeltown Loch. A recently converted Victorian mansion, the hotel boasts 13 comfortable and well-appointed rooms, many with glorious sea views. The Lochside Restaurant specialises in freshly prepared seafood and shellfish from the Kintyre waters – the perfect accompaniment to an evening of Whisky drinking.
Glen Scotia is one of the smallest whisky distilleries in Scotland, producing both peated and unpeated whisky. The site still contains many of its original design features, including the fermenters, the stillroom and the dunnage warehouse, all of which date back to the 1830’s. The distillery offers a Standard Tour for just £5 per person, or a Heritage Tour which includes a small tasting of their core product at the end. If you are looking forward to a dedicated tasting session, then there are a variety of options also available.
The Scottish Highlands are renowned for their beautiful and rugged landscapes, teaming with wildlife, from rare eagles to hordes of free-roaming deer. The region is home to many mountain ranges, including the highest mountain of the British Isles, Ben Nevis.
Stay at Gleneagles
A world famous, luxury Scottish hotel complete with award winning spa and golf resort – what more could you ask for? Set within 850 acres of Perthshire countryside, Gleneagles is the perfect retreat and is just an hour from both Edinburgh and Glasgow Airports. The 200 elegant bedrooms offer a choice of either modern or traditional interiors and the hotel also houses many designer boutiques, restaurants and a well-equipped health club.
The Famous Grouse Experience
Steeped in 250 years of history, the Glenturret Distillery is home to The Famous Grouse Experience, a unique interactive whisky experience and spiritual home of the brand. The story of the brand is as rich and absorbing as the whisky itself, with the range of tours on offer allowing visitors a unique glimpse into its iconic history. The newly-refurbished Visitors Centre comes complete with a shop, café and the chance to create your own personalized label on your favourite bottle of whisky.
Stay at the Auld Kirk Hotel
A converted Victorian church, the Auld Kirk is a comfortable and relaxed hotel run by the same team since 2006. There are just seven rooms, which allows for the staff to cater to the needs of their guests individually, be this an early breakfast or an extra towel for the dog. The breakfast is designed to set you up for a day of exploring the Cairngorms Highlands and includes as much locally-sourced produce as possible.
Royal Lochnagar Distillery
Founded in 1845, the distillery takes its name from the neighbouring mountain and boasts a royal title since Queen Victoria’s visit in 1848. After the first ever distillery tour, Queen Victoria enjoyed a dram of Lochnagar single malt Scotch whisky – reputedly she drank her whisky with claret! Today, the distillery retains much of its original character and is home to one of the six remaining traditional open-top mash tuns in Scotland. Open year round, the tours and times – which are sometime subject to change – can be found on the Royal Lochnagar website.
Dornoch Castle Hotel
Dornoch Castle is a luxury castle hotel in Dornoch, Sutherland. Each room blends historical features seamlessly with modern amenities, to leave you feeling like royalty. The Old Courtroom offers oak panelling, an Elizabethan style hand-carved four poster bed, original stone walls and a large modern bathroom featuring a whirlpool bath. Its old-world charm is made all the more charming by the award winning whisky bar downstairs, which has earned the hotel the accolade of No. 1 Rated Whisky Hotel by whiskybase.com.
The Dornoch Distillery is an exciting new prospect on the whisky landscape. The adjacent Dornoch Castle Hotel, which is owned and run by two brothers, Phil and Simon Thompson, has long since maintained the success of the castle’s well-respected whisky bar by selling discontinued bottles at a fair price. Having dreamed of starting up their own distillery, the brothers have taken the plunge and put their house on the market in order to pursue this exciting new venture. Watch this space…
Stay at the Glenisle Hotel and Bistro
First opening its doors in 1849, the Glenisle is a country hotel that has been at the heart of the charming village of Lamlash ever since. Following a refurbishment in 2008, the hotel has come to be known as a warm and ambient retreat, with stunning views over the sea to the majestic Holy Isle. The hotel’s library is the perfect places to relax with a drink in hand and warm up by the open fire.
Lochranza, Isle of Arran
A warm welcome awaits you on the Isle of Arran, which in the early 19th century hosted more than 50 illicit distilleries – all carefully hidden from the eyes of the taxman. Arran Distillery was opened in 1995 and is home to some of the purest water in all of Scotland – making it an ideal whisky-making location. The fresh water is cleansed as it passes over the granite rocks and is then softened by peat as it slowly meanders from the mountaintops into nearby Loch na Davie. The distillery’s award-winning visitor’s centre is where tourists can start their Arran whisky journey and even enjoy some tutored tastings.
Not an official geographic location, the lowlands of Scotland refers to some areas of the south of Scotland, although it’s important to note that not all of them are physically ‘low’, just as some areas that are indisputably in the highlands, such as Islay, are low-lying.
Stay at Melville Castle
Having played host to both English and Scottish royalty, including Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Victoria, a night’s stay in Melville Castle feels like stepping back in time. The hotel is a family-run business and is situated just six miles from Edinburgh city centre, making it a perfectly accessible weekend or holiday retreat. The castle’s interior pays homage to its varied and rich history and is decorated in an elegant 18th century style. Many of the hotel’s paintings and sculptures adorning the walls and hallways depict images of the rugged Scottish landscape and its wildlife.
Glenkinchie Distillery & Visitor Centre
Pencaitland, East Lothian
The picturesque Glenkinchie Distillery is located near Edinburgh, where the rolling barley fields reflect the whisky’s light and dry tones. A visit to the distillery offers whisky fans a glimpse into malting history and demonstrates how the ‘water of life’ is produced through its various stages of distilling. At the end of the tour, visitors are led into the bar for a tasting of Glenkinchie Single Malt Whisky.
Looking for more Scottish inspiration? Check out our Top ten reasons to drive the North Coast 500.