Scotland is a land of enchantment. Few countries give off an aura of awe the way that Scotland does. Walk atop the footsteps of old through wild stories of intrigue, pristine wilderness, and challenging history. What better way to take it all in than with a few wee drams of Scotch? Here, it’s possible to sip on a breathtaking distilled spirit, not far from where ancient battles once took place.
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Navigating the countryside of the United Kingdom by car can be both an invigorating and relaxing experience. We highly recommend driving, or hiring private transportation so you have the flexibility to travel at your own pace. If you’re arriving in Scotland by plane, Edinburgh and Glasgow airports are the largest and offer direct flights from several major US hubs. If you’re already in Europe, flights are also available into Aberdeen, Glasgow Prestwick, and Inverness. You can check current flight deals into any of these airports here.
Once you’ve decided what region(s) in Scotland you’d like to visit, consider renting a car from Sixt or EuropeCar to get around. Browse other rental company options here. If you’re driving, be sure not to over-indulge and stay within the legal limit of alcohol consumption.
Alternatively, consider booking a day or multi-day guided tour or private driver around Scotland. We include several highly-rated tours and experiences you can book throughout this guide.
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What is Scotch Whisky?
When you begin traveling around Scotland and drinking whisky, one of the first things you’re going to learn is that there isn’t just one type. In fact, there are 5 different classifications of Scotch Whisky. These include single malt Scotch, blended malt Scotch, single grain Scotch, blended grain Scotch and blended Scotch. Each version is produced using different ingredients and techniques, but we’ll leave those details to the distilleries themselves as not to spoil anything.
As mentioned earlier, there are 5 different Scotch-producing regions around Scotland. These include the Highlands, the Lowlands, Speyside, Campbeltown and Islay. Each region offers visitors a different travel experience along with different styles and flavors of whisky to try. The distilleries mentioned below provide high-quality visitation options in each area. There is no right or wrong way to go about exploring Scotland, but perhaps the locations we mention below will give you a starting point.
1. Glenmorangie House – Taste & Stay
- Region / District: Northern Highlands
- Founded: 1843
- Popular Among Guests: Service, Remoteness, Scenery, Accommodation
Our first recommendation on the list combines the opportunity to try a variety of Scotch whiskies and the ability to stay on the property of a famous producer — Glenmorangie. If you’re into Scotch, you’ve probably seen the brand name around the top shelves of your favorite bars and local liquor stores.
There are quite literally, very few distilleries that offer accommodation in Scotland. The Glenmorangie House is a boutique accommodation near the distillery situated within the Highlands region, in north-central Scotland just north of Inverness. Far removed from the hustle and bustle of a busy city, you’ll have a chance to experience a true taste of Scottish hospitality in an intimate and historic setting. Aside from whisky tastings and tours, you’ll be able to enjoy rounds of golf, exquisite cuisine, service, stargazing opportunities, and much more.
2. Isle of Raasay Distillery – Taste & Stay
- Region / District: Western Highlands
- Founded: 2014
- Popular Among Guests: Decor, Great Tours, Cocktails, Chocolate Pairings, Scenery, Luxury, Proximity to Isle of Skye
Also located within the Highlands region of Scotland is Raasay Distillery and Hotel. This gorgeous property is actually the only location in the entire country where guests can stay in a building that also produces whisky. While Raasay is within the boundaries of the Highlands region, it’s on the west coast of Scotland, just north of the Isle of Skye, a popular and beautiful destination for international travelers.
From the distillery tour to the service offered by the staff, everything at Raasay speaks to a bespoke experience. The views are incredible and the whisky is better. Be sure to schedule a quick 25-minute ferry ride to the Isle of Skye during your visit.
- Region / District: Islay
- Founded: 1815
- Popular Among Guests: Whisky Quality, Service, History, Friendly, Informative Tours
Laphroaig fans and newcomers alike will be thrilled to know that the company has once again opened its doors to visitors. This producer is well-known in the whisky world as producing one of the smokiest styles out there.
Located in Scotland’s smallest whisky-producing region, you’ll ig in the Southwest corner of the country within the district of Islay. Customers frequently rave about not only the quality of spirit being made here, but also the warmth of the staff on site. If you’re looking to visit a distillery on Islay, Laphroaig should not be missed to discover one of the truest expressions of malt whiskey.
NOTE: Social distancing and safety precautions are being observed at most distilleries. Be sure to reserve your tasting or tour experiences ahead of time.
4. Glenkinchie Distillery
- Region / District: Lowlands
- Founded: 1837
- Popular Among Guests: Beautiful Grounds, Nice Bar Setting, Great Whiskies, Tour Variety, Museum
If you’re staying in Edinburgh, Glenkinchie provides an accessible opportunity to visit a very high-quality Lowlands producer. In fact, it’s one of only 6 producers residing in the Lowlands district. Guests frequently rave about the beautiful grounds, and the property is also home to a malt whisky museum. They offer several experiences designed to tickle all 5 of your senses that go above and beyond your typical Scotch tour, immersing you in the experience. Glenkinchie is a must-visit for a day trip outside of Edinburgh for Scotch enthusiasts.
You can access the property via shuttle bus from the Edinburgh city center, rent a car or choose a day tour that includes Glenkinchie as part of the route.
5. Glen Scotia Distillery
- Region / District: Campbeltown
- Founded: 1832
- Popular Among Guests: Unique, Historic, Great Whiskies, Honey
For the ambitious and curious spirits traveler, Glen Scotia is the last of just 3 distilleries still open within the whisky-producing district of Campbeltown. Though production volume has grown since its humble founding in 1832, Glen Scotia prides itself on crafting whisky with a sense of place. The facility itself has not changed much over the past couple of centuries, and its curators put forth every effort to maintain its historic buildings and maritime essence. They also create more than just whisky these days, with two beehives out in the courtyard another form of liquid gold flows on this property.
6. Glenfarclas Distillery
- Region / District: Speyside
- Founded: 1836
- Popular Among Guests: Family Owned, Beautiful Setting, Great Tours, Friendly Staff, Free Tours
For a boutique visitation and tasting experience, consider visiting Glenfarclas in Speyside. They are one of the few family-run operations still active in the district. Recently re-opened for visitation in July, 2021, Glenfarclas runs rampant with hospitality and prides itself on being one of the first Scotch distilleries to open its doors to visitors back in 1973.
Glenfarclas is ideal for guests who are passionate about learning about the history of whisky production through one family’s eyes. Note that the facility is rather old, and a complete tour involves climbing a few sets of stairs. Currently, their classic tour is available to visitors at no cost, but reservations should be made by contacting [email protected].
7. Highland Park
- Region / District: North Highlands (Orkney)
- Founded: 1798
- Popular Among Guests: Historic, Beautiful Setting, Landscape, Great Service, Friendly Staff, Great Whiskies, Unique
If you’re a history buff, especially if you’re into Viking history, then Highland Park is worth a visit. Said to have been conquered by the Vikings as early as 800AD, the Isle of Orkey where Highland Park resides has been under the influence of the Norse for centuries. There’s a good chance that the folks you encounter on the property are of Viking descent, but we’ll let the staff get into more detail on that.
This distillery is worth a visit simply for the excuse to visit the far North of Scotland. There is a profound sense of beauty emitted by the ruggedness of the landscape. A vibe that we’ve found to be incomparable to other locations around the country. No other Scotch distillery can be found North of Highland Park, and should you choose to take the journey, it’s also worth stopping by Old Pulteney Distillery on your way up. Another producer that prides itself on being intimately connected with a maritime influence.
8. Blair Athol
- Region / District: Eastern Highlands
- Founded: 1798
- Popular Among Guests: Beautiful Grounds, Unique, Great Service, Tour Quality, Tour Variety
Blair Athol is one of those distilleries that people visit just for the ambiance. From the friendliness of the staff to the beautiful aesthetics of the grounds, you don’t need to be a whisky lover to have a great time here. Located at “The Gateway to the Scottish Highlands,” in the beautiful and historic town of Pitlochry, guests can choose from a range of tour offerings. Whether you’re new to whisky or consider yourself to be an aficionado, get your palate wet with their signature tour, or step your game up with the Manager’s Tasting to try some of their older, more rare whiskies, in some cases straight from the cask.
9. Dewar’s Aberfeldy
- Region / District: Highlands
- Founded: 1896
- Popular Among Guests: Beautiful Grounds, Unique, Great Service, Tour Quality, Tour Variety
While quality whisky production is important to us, one aspect we like to highlight when we recommend a place to visit on Winetraveler is the setting. Dewar’s Aberfeldy hits the mark on both fronts. It’s also not too far from the aforementioned Blair Athol. Located in the countryside on the outskirts of Aberfeldy — one of our favorite picturesque towns in all of Scotland — you can find Dewar’s quaintly propped up against the Pitilie Burn river.
A variety of tours are offered here, ranging from the more high-level Aberfeldy Tour, the Cask Tasting Tour to the Connoisseur Tour, depending how ambitious you’re feeling on any given day. Whichever you choose, be sure to leave some time during your day to explore the countryside of Perthshire, which offerings scenery that is nothing short of magical.
10. The McCallan Estate
- Region / District: Speyside
- Founded: 1824
- Popular Among Guests: Architecture, Luxury, Iconic
Any discerning whisky enthusiast is familiar with McCallan. It’s perhaps the most iconic Scotch whisky you can try, and the property itself is just as impressive. Even those who aren’t whisky fans visit the McCallan property just to marvel at its architecture. Inside and out, the scale and attention to detail put into this recently refurbished estate is mind-boggling. This is no longer the quaint distillery it once was 70 years ago.
Visiting McCallan offers a more upscale, corporate experience. The Elchies Brasserie is available to book a luxurious Scottish dining experience in Speyside. Alternatively, you can spend time at the estate bar, which offers opportunities to taste some of their rarest bottles dating back 70 years. The interior is beautifully designed and its circular structure provides unmatched views of the surrounding Speyside region at elevation. Tours of the distillery, the estate, and even fishing experiences are also available to visitors depending on availability.
NOTE: McCallan is not open year-round. You can find visitation dates below. It is highly recommended that you book your visit in advance as they cannot guarantee walk-in space.
- 2nd July – 29th August 2021 – Friday, Saturday and Sunday only
- 4th September – 12th December 2021 – Saturday and Sunday only
- 15th January-11th December 2022 – Saturday and Sunday only
If you’d prefer to explore Scotland in a guided fashion, or simply would prefer to hire a driver, Winetraveler recommends a number of highly-rated companies that are oftentimes willing to tailor an experience, day trip or complete itinerary to according to your preferences. Here are some of our top choices below:
Our favorite way to explore Scotland and have flexibility is to simply hire a local Scot and be driven around. Work with Chauffeur Cars Scotland to tailor a trip to your preference for whatever duration of time you choose to stay in country. Or, take a one-day guided trip with Highland Private Tours.
If you’re planning on staying in Edinburgh and using it as a home base and you’d like to experience Islay, definitely consider booking a 4-day trip with Scottish Routes Limited. This is the perfect option for those who don’t want to handle the logistics of planning a trip to Scotland themselves. Plus, it’s one of the most highly-rated companies in the business. Distillery stops include but aren’t limited to Lagavulin, Laphroaig, and Ardbeg. A three-night hotel stay is included either at the Bowmore House or Freewinds on Islay, plus breakfast each morning. You’ll be guided by a local, and drinks are included. Note the tour/transportation portion of this trip is not private. You’ll be traveling with a small group.
Take a day trip off the beaten path with Highland Premium Travel and explore the nooks and crannies of Northern Scotland. This is a small (in some cases private), guided experience led by a local that leaves from Inverness and includes all transport. Visit locations including Loch Fleet Nature Reserve and Dornoch. You’ll end your day trip exploring Glenmorangie Distillery.
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