- 1. Whisky distilleries
- 2. ‘Is this the best whisky bar in the world?’
- 3. Unique places to stay for whisky lovers
- 4. The Glenturret: a Michelin-starred distillery
- 5. Edinburgh: ‘soaked in the whisky industry’
- 6. The Scotch Whisky Experience, Edinburgh
- 7. Johnnie Walker Princes Street, Edinburgh
- 8. Kinloch Lodge whisky package, Isle of Skye
- 9. Rabbie’s whisky tours of Scotland: Islay and the Whisky Coast
- 10. The Glasshouse Hotel whisky experience, Edinburgh
- 11. Gleneagles launches ‘Pursuits’ whisky range
- 12. New distilleries opening in 2023
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There is only one country in the world where whisky fans should go to toast “the water of life”. And that, of course, is Scotland – the “home of whisky”.
Scotch has become a huge part of Scotland’s identity and is also a major driver for tourism. With its five whisky regions – Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside – offering their own distinct style and flavour, as well as its cities, towns and stunning countryside, there’s so many places to explore on a Scottish whisky trip.
From distilleries and visitor attractions to dedicated bars and tours, we pick out some of the best experiences and places in Scotland for whisky lovers.
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1. Whisky distilleries
Did you know that Scotland is home to more than 140 malt and grain distilleries? This makes it the “greatest concentration of whisky production in the world”, said the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). No matter which distillery you choose to visit, “you can expect great Scotch whisky, a warm Scottish welcome, and a fabulous day out”.
The abundance of distilleries in Scotland is “heaven for whisky lovers”, but it can also be “a challenge when you’re on the road and trying to keep track of them all”, said Wandering Spirits Global. The distillery tour planning and travel tips website has put together a superb and very handy interactive Scotland whisky distillery map, above. Wandering Spirits Global notes that black pins show distilleries not open to the public; distilleries with green pins are open to the public; orange pins by appointment only; and yellow pins are under construction and not currently open to the public.
2. ‘Is this the best whisky bar in the world?’
Bertie’s Bar at The Fife Arms in Braemar is a bit of a “misnomer”, said Millie Milliken on Master of Malt. “Because there isn’t actually a bar.” What you will find is 365 whiskies lining the walls of this “seriously plush space” giving off “the vibe of being a library of booze”. Opened in 2021, Bertie’s Bar is a “dram-lover’s dream come true”, said Alice Lascelles in the FT. “Is this the best whisky bar in the world?”
Based in “the heart of one of the “biggest whisky producing regions”, The Highlander Inn in Craigellachie, Speyside, is “more of an institution than a bar”, said Sean Murphy in The Scotsman. Boasting a collection of more than 400 different whiskies “it is a must see.”
“Topping the list in terms of its range”, The Quaich Bar at the Craigellachie Hotel has a “whopping” 1,000 bottles of whisky to choose from and “specialises in global single malts”, said Milliken. “This is one you want to have on your Instagram feed.”
The Pot Still in Glasgow offers a menu with more than 800 whiskies and hosts private tastings in the bar. The Pot Still has had “a few name changes along the way”, but since the latter half of the 19th century people have been enjoying a whisky here, said VisitScotland. It’s another of the most Instagrammable whisky bars to be found in the country.
On Edinburgh’s Rose Street, The Black Cat is the spot for “unpretentious whisky drinking”, said Milliken. With a “whisky-laden bar”, it does a “good job of mixing the classics with new and limited bottlings”.
3. Unique places to stay for whisky lovers
Located in the heart of Speyside, Rothes Glen offers the “ultimate Highlands experience”, an exclusive-use castle that sleeps up to 30 guests, said Robert Jackman on Spears. It was designed by the famous whisky architect Charles Chree Doig and “at the top of it all” sits the whisky observatory – an “exceptional private space to sample the best offerings from the nearby distilleries”.
History and whisky “go hand in hand”, but they’re “even closer bedfellows” at Dornoch Castle, said Peter Ranscombe in Decanter. With rooms in the castle itself and in surrounding cottages, this is an “ideal hideaway” for a whisky break.
It’s “no surprise” that a boutique hotel named after an “internationally famous distillery” should be a great place to drink whisky, said The Luxury Editor. Found in a “remote nook” of the Highlands overlooking the Moray Firth, the Glenmorangie House provides “beautiful surroundings in which to enjoy a few drams”. The entire house “pays homage to the drink”, and with just nine bedrooms, “a stay here feels very exclusive”.
4. The Glenturret: a Michelin-starred distillery
Established in 1763, The Glenturret in Perthshire is Scotland’s oldest working distillery, said Forbes. It is also the “world’s first Michelin star whisky distillery”. “Intimate” restaurant Lalique “mixes the luxury with the everyday”, said the Michelin Guide, both in its “surroundings” as well as in its dishes, “with the likes of tattie scone served alongside Highland Wagyu and caviar”.
The Glenturret offers tours where visitors will be guided through the distillery and the whisky-making process before enjoying a tasting from the distillery’s core whisky range.
5. Edinburgh: ‘soaked in the whisky industry’
Edinburgh has an amazing history which is “soaked in the whisky industry”, said Jason Thomson on VisitScotland.com. And there’s plenty to drink in for whisky lovers, literally.
Bars and pubs
The city is “exceptionally well served” by whisky bars, said Forever Edinbugh. From the “winding streets” of the Old Town to “cosmopolitan” Leith, “you’re never far away from a great bar to enjoy a dram”. Top whisky bars to visit include Usquabae in the West End, which is “crammed” with more than 400 whiskies, and The Albanach on the Royal Mile, which has a “fantastic selection” of more than 220 malts and blends.
Chef Rick Stein once called The Canny Man’s the “best pub in the world” – and “it’s hard to argue with that”, said Time Out. The pub in Morningside has a menu of more than 240 malt whiskies and visitors have the option to buy a range of whisky flights. The best place in the city to “round off a day of whisky sampling” is The Devil’s Advocate, said VisitScotland. “Tucked away” just off the Royal Mile, there’s 300 whiskies from all over the world and the staff “can make a mean cocktail”.
Tours and tastings
Should you be spending a weekend in Edinburgh, then save some time to go on a whisky tour or tasting. The Edinburgh Whisky Trail offers a guided walking tour through New Town, Old Town and Southside of the city, where guests can visit unique bars and venues. Holyrood Distillery offers tours, tastings and a whisky and beer festival, while The Dome has a whisky experience in collaboration with The Macallan and I.J. Mellis Cheesemongers.
6. The Scotch Whisky Experience, Edinburgh
One must-visit place in Edinburgh is The Scotch Whisky Experience, located by the castle at the top of the Royal Mile. It’s recommended that you book a gold tour as not only do you spend time learning about how Scotch is made, but you also get to sample four delicious whiskies.
The five-star experience also has its own restaurant and whisky bar on the lower-ground floor, said Forever Edinburgh. At the Amber Restaurant & Whisky Bar, the food offering is “a highlight”. Visitors can enjoy a “delicious Scottish tapas” or a full three-course meal, while sampling some drams, of course.
7. Johnnie Walker Princes Street, Edinburgh
Another top whisky attraction in Scotland’s capital is Johnnie Walker Princes Street. Spread over eight floors, this visitor experience is “solid proof that Scotch whisky tourism is on the rise”, said Prestige magazine. Located in the heart of the city, this is the “centrepiece” of Diageo’s £185m investment in Scotch whisky tourism in Scotland, and the “largest single investment of its kind ever seen”. Set over 6,640 square metres, the visitor centre uses “world-first technology to reimagine the traditional whisky tour experience”.
As well many whisky experiences, Johnnie Walker Princes Street also features retail areas, a unique underground cellar and rooftop bars.
8. Kinloch Lodge whisky package, Isle of Skye
For half a century, the “tiny, remote, eccentric” Kinloch Lodge has been among the “best-loved of Scottish hotels”, said Condé Nast Traveler. Located on the Isle of Skye, this is a place that is “as grand as all get-out”, but feels “totally down to earth, in a setting of surpassing natural beauty”.
To mark the 200th anniversary of the Excise Act, whisky’s so-called “Year Zero”, Kinloch Lodge has introduced a new package stay dedicated to whisky. It costs from £850 per person based on two sharing and includes three nights’ half-board accommodation. Guests will also get to enjoy a special Torabhaig cocktail on arrival, dinners, hearty Scottish breakfasts, countryside walks, a picnic basket, tutored whisky tasting and a tour of Torabhaig Distillery, Skye’s newest distillery.
9. Rabbie’s whisky tours of Scotland: Islay and the Whisky Coast
Coach tour operator Rabbie’s has various small group whisky tours of Scotland, departing from locations such as Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen and Glasgow. One highlight is the four-day Islay and the Whisky Coast tour, which departs from the capital. The journey goes through the mountainous landscapes of the western Highlands to the distillery in Oban, where guests can sample whisky that has been perfected over 200 years.
Next, travel to the Isle of Islay to be guided around one of Scotland’s oldest and finest distilleries – Bowmore – to enjoy a tour before arriving at the modern Ardnahoe Distillery. At both, admire the craftmanship, passion, and spirit that goes into each drop of whisky.
Ride up to a remote stretch of Islay where Bruichladdich distillery awaits. Scotland’s most famous whiskies – Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg – follow. Taste whiskies that are intensely flavoured and rich, all while visiting Islay’s historical sites like the ruins of Kildalton Church and Dunyvaig Castle. Price from £425 per person for departures from June 2023.
10. The Glasshouse Hotel whisky experience, Edinburgh
Located in central Edinburgh, the five-star Glasshouse Hotel has a whisky experience package that’s available throughout 2023. The package includes overnight accommodation with breakfast for two guests, the 90-minute Johnnie Walker Journey of Flavours tour including three whisky long drinks, and a whisky amenity in the room.
The boutique city centre property serves itself to guests as a “perfect blend of heritage and modernity with a whisky twist”, said Joshua King in Scotland on Sunday Travel. One of the most popular spots at the hotel is “The Snug”, an intimate hideaway offering access to almost 160 Scotch whisky varieties. There are also 17 luxurious suites all named after local whisky distilleries or regions.
Rates at The Glasshouse Hotel including the whisky experience package start from approximately £485 per room, per night (rates subject to change and availability).
11. Gleneagles launches ‘Pursuits’ whisky range
The world-renowned Gleneagles hotel has launched “Pursuits”, its own limited-edition single malt Scotch whisky range. The five-star luxury resort in Perth has sourced exceptional casks from four distinguished Scottish whisky distilleries to provide enthusiasts with the opportunity to own these single malt whiskies, each unique in its own right and limited to one cask per expression.
The series is named after and inspired by four popular countryside activities offered at the estate – fishing, falconry, shooting and horse riding – and all four expressions were bottled in December 2022. The bottles are individually hand-engraved, numbered and available for purchase at the hotel’s Still Room for £1,200.
12. New distilleries opening in 2023
There are two notable new whisky distilleries scheduled to open this summer in Scotland: The Port of Leith Distillery in Edinburgh and ili distillery on Islay. “Rising up from the waterfront” beside the Royal Yacht Britannia, the “impressive” Port of Leith Distillery will be Scotland’s “first vertical distillery”, said the World Whisky Day website. With a target capacity of 200,000 litres per year, iii will be the “smallest of Islay’s many whisky distilleries”, but it has “pretty big ambitions” and aims to be “highly sustainable and carbon-neutral from the outset”.
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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.