Things to See and Do on Islay: the ‘Whisky Isle’

Paula Arthur, whisky enthusiast and retail manager here at the Scotch Whisky Experience, takes us on her virtual tour of the sights, landmarks and distilleries on the whisky world’s most famous island – Islay.

Islay, without doubt, is one of my favourite places to visit – and not just because it has eight (soon to be nine) distilleries!

Now that the madness of the Islay Malt and Music Festival (‘Feis Ile’) is over for another year, it is a great time to appreciate the quieter side of the Whisky Isle.

Islay not only has great whisky to offer but a stunning variety of wildlife, food, drink and scenery to explore.

Let me take you on a tour of things to see and do on Islay…

1. Caol Ila

Approaching Port Askaig by ferry, there are stunning views (weather permitting) of the Isle of Jura as well as the rugged coastline of Islay itself. Leaving Port Askaig, look for the turning to Caol Ila distillery which overlooks the Paps of Jura. Further along the main road is the turn off to Bunnahabhain distillery – a fun drive on single track roads, with great views – including the foundations of the latest distillery being built on Islay, Ardnahoe.

2. Finlaggan

Finlaggan, the ancient home of the Lords of the Isles is along this route – plenty of history to be found here, among the ruins.

3. Bowmore

Close to Islay’s centre is Bowmore, Islay’s capital. As well as a distillery and a round church, Bowmore boasts a variety of accommodation, a swimming pool, restaurants and shops. My favourite is the local Spar for its amazing selection of whisky to buy!

Go south of Bowmore, past the airport and eventually you reach the town of Port Ellen, home of the second ferry terminal and the famous Port Ellen maltings. You can often see – and smell – the peat smoke as it drifts along the beach and town.

4. Lagavulin

This road will take you to the Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries but there are still plenty more things to see on Islay! The picturesque ruins of Dunyveag overlook Lagavulin distillery, and beyond Ardbeg there is the iconic Kildalton Cross, peaceful Aros Bay and numerous coves where seals often play among the shallows. Watch out on these roads – deer, cows and even peacocks can make unannounced appearances!

5. Aros Bay

Southwest Islay hosts the Mull of Oa – a birdwatchers’ paradise and site of the American Monument, a memorial to two shipwrecks involving American and local seafarers. If rocky coves are not to your taste, head north, past Kilchoman distillery until you run out of road. Here you will find Saligo Bay and Sanaighmore – gorgeous, wide open stretches of sand with the Atlantic rolling in: both great places to fly a kite…

7. Saligo Bay

The only distillery I haven’t mentioned is, of course Bruichladdich. Bruichladdich distillery is on the opposite side of Loch Indaal, overlooking Bowmore and is not too far from the Islay Ales brewery and the Loch Gruinart bird sanctuary.

This island of Islay truly has something for everyone, whisky lover or not. Please don’t just take my word for it – go and see for yourself.

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Islay is one of the five whisky regions featured and explored on a whisky tour at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh. If you’re visiting Scotland and don’t have time to take a trip to the many whisky distilleries that sit across the country, why not take a one-hour Scotch whisky tour and tasting here in the capital city? You’ll be a whisky expert in no time…

Find out more about how Scotch whisky is made here.

Photography: © Paula Arthur / The Scotch Whisky Experience

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