A whisky tour of Scotland: best whisky experiences and distilleries

 Rabbie’s whisky tours of Scotland.
Rabbie’s whisky tours of Scotland.

What better place to toast "the water of life" than in the "home of whisky"?

Scotch is a central part of Scotland's identity and also a major tourism driver for the country. With five whisky regions – Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside – that each offer a distinct style and flavour, as well as historic cities and towns and stunning countryside, Scotland is bursting with attractions for whisky fans.

From distilleries to dedicated bars and tours, here are some of the must-try experiences and destinations.

Whisky distilleries

With more than 140 malt and grain distilleries, Scotland offers the "greatest concentration of whisky production in the world", said the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). No matter which distillery you 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", said Wandering Spirits Global, but can present "a challenge when you’re on the road and trying to keep track of them all".

The distillery tour planning website has helped whisky lovers rise to that challenge, however, by creating a handy interactive Scotland whisky distillery map. 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.

Two new whisky distilleries are scheduled to open this summer, in Port Ellen on the isle of Islay, and on the Ardgowan estate near Inverkip, 30 miles west of Glasgow.

The Port Ellen distillery was originally founded in 1825 but shut in 1983, after which the remaining whisky in the warehouse "gained a cult following", said Whisky Advocate. Now, following a $44 million investment by Diageo, the distillery is set to reopen this year, with a visitor centre also on site, and the first new whiskies are due for release by 2031.

The Ardgowan distillery is likely to follow a similar timeline, with an expected first bottling in 2030. The "state-of-the-art facility will be carbon-negative", according to the site, and will initially produce "just under 265,000 gallons of malt whisky per year, with the potential to double that in the future".

Best bars

Bertie's Bar at The Fife Arms, in the Aberdeenshire village of Braemar, "has redefined how we talk about whisky", said Kirk Miller on InsideHook. The bar, which opened in 2021, is home to a "library" of nearly 500 bottles of whisky from around the world, and you can order the spirit "based on food flavour, a favourite song or even another spirit you like".

In the Scottish capital, whisky fans should check out the Tipsy Midgie Whisky and Gin Drinkery on St Leonards Hill, which "has the biggest whisky collection in Edinburgh", The National reported, and which was named Whisky Bar of the Year last September at the Scottish Bar and Pub Awards. Owner Colin Hinds likes to "keep 800 [bottles] open",and "his personal collection stretches to thousands".

Located on Edinburgh's Rose Street, The Black Cat is another great place to enjoy a dram or two. With more than 200 whiskies on offer, as well as local beers, this laid-back bar does a "good job of mixing the classics with new and limited bottlings”, said Master of Malt's Millie Milliken, and is "the spot for unpretentious whisky drinking".

Whisky worshippers should also head to the Moray village of Aberlour to check out the 120-year-old Quaich Bar at the Craigellachie Hotel, a  "whisky temple with over 1,000 single malts on offer", said Stinson Carter in Maxim. Here, you can expect to be "surrounded by Scotch lovers from all over the world", who flock to try out Scotland's best whisky offerings.

In Glasgow, The Pot Still offers a menu with more than 800 whiskies and hosts private tastings in the bar. "With around 400 bottles on the shelf, friendly staff and great service", this is "Without a doubt" one of the city's best bars for whisky, said The Herald.

Experiences and tours

There may be "no greater symbol of whisky's bounce-back", said Chitra Ramaswamy in The Guardian, than Johnnie Walker Princes Street in Edinburgh, an experience  "housed across eight floors of a magnificent art deco building on Scotland’s main shopping street". Offering whisky experiences, retail areas, a unique underground cellar and rooftop bars, the attraction is the result of a "whopping" £185 million investment by Diageo, "scotch's biggest player", in its Scottish operations, and has welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors from countries worldwide since opening in 2021.

For whisky experiences outside of the capital, a wide range of tours are available, departing from locations including Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen and Glasgow. One highlight is Rabbie's four-day Islay and the Whisky Coast tour, departing from Edinburgh, which takes in  the mountainous landscapes of the western Highlands and the distillery in Oban, followed by a ride up to a remote stretch of Islay where Bruichladdich distillery awaits. Scotland’s most famous whiskies – Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg – follow.

Places to stay

Opened in November 2023, Linn House on the banks of the River Isla in Speyside, in the northeast of Scotland, is "perfect for whisky lovers", said The Scottish Sun. Along with "glorious countryside" and "traditional Scottish hospitality and fine dining", the hotel has a "curated whisky library" and is owned by Chivas Brothers, makers of the Chivas Regal, Glenlivet and Royal Salute malts and blends,  which has "spearheaded the project in response to the growing demand for luxury whisky experiences".

In Edinburgh, The Balmoral Hotel is another "prime location" for "whisky obsessives", wrote Christopher Friedmann for Wine Enthusiast. More than 500 varieties of whisky are "secreted within the establishment's hand-crafted, oak-panelled whisky cabinet", and the hotel also has "kilted" Whisky Ambassadors who can share their knowledge at a "tailored tasting".

For the "ultimate Scottish Highlands hotel for whisky lovers", said Country Living, try Glenmorangie House in Tain. "As the name suggests", this "charming" hotel is near the Glenmorangie distillery and was "originally owned by the whisky producers themselves". Along with an acclaimed restaurant, the inn offers "beautiful surroundings in which to enjoy a few drams", said The Luxury Editor, and "the entire house pays homage to the drink".