Isle of Islay Distilleries
While Jura is NOT an Islay distillery, we're including it here as it's a wee ferry journey from Port Askaig, across the sound of Islay.
Islay Whisky Distillery Map
How to Pronounce Islay
Islay - pronounced 'eye-lah' (listen to Ralfy review 793 of Laphroaig 10yo below at 1:00 mark).
How To Get To Islay
Flights To Islay (Glasgow to Islay)
One of the easiest (though definitely not the cheapest) ways of getting to Islay is to fly from Glasgow Airport.
There is only one airline operating between Glasgow and Islay - Logan Air. The ~45 minute flight can cost anything from £50 to £150 each way. Logain Air partner with British Airways, Emirates, Qatar, Turkish Airlines, KLM, Wideroe and United Airlines if you wish to book additional flights.
To assist with travel planning, Logan Air have a timetable showing all flights scheduled between Glasgow and Islay for a given period. There are between one and three flights a day, depending on the day and time of year.
Islay's airport is very small and so are the planes. There are cabin luggage restrictions: no more than 6 kg per item per person and the dimensions must not exceed 40cm x 35cm x 18cm. There are also checked luggage limits depending on the type of ticket you purchase (see Logan Air's luggage policy) with a maximum allowance of 25kg per item for Fly Flex+ travellers
As you cannot carry liquids over 100ml in the cabin, don't plan on transporting your distillery purchases back as hand luggage (unless they're minatures). You can place up to 5 litres (7 x 700 ml bottles) in your checked luggage (see Logan Air - Prohibited Items - Dangerous Goods That You Can Lawfully Carry).
Flights to Islay (Oban & Colonsay)
Hebridean Air Services offer flights on Thursdays between Islay and Oban (around £70 each way), and Islay and Colonsay (around £50 each way). For more information see the Hebridean Air Services website, and for prices and bookings see bookhebridean.co.uk. They also offer private charter services and scenic flights.
Ferries to Islay (Kennacraig to Islay)
Kennacraig to Port Ellen or Kennacraig to Port Askaig
CalMac (Caledonian MacBrayne) ferries are one of the easiest and most affordable ways of getting to Islay. Ferries depart daily from Kennacraig and arrive at either Port Ellen or Port Askaig. Tickets can be purchased via the Online Booking Portal on the CalMac website
Pedestrians do not need to book a ticket in advance - you can just show up at the Port and buy one. However, if you'd rather not wait in the queue, you can buy them online via the CalMac Booking Portal.
Return tickets are valid for one month from the date they are issued, and can be used for one return trip on the same route, within this period.
If you require assistance while boarding the ferry (e.g. reduced mobility, are travelling with young children, with a pram or a lot of luggage) please see the Passenger Assistance section on the CalMac website for further information.
Cars, Motorbikes + Motorhomes/RVs
It is highly recommended that you book your ferry ticket as far in advance as possible if you are taking your car, motorbike or motorhome on the ferry. The ferry is the main transport link between Islay and the mainland, including the main COMMERCIAL link. All that whisky produced has to leave somehow, just like all the grain/raw materials have to be delivered - and that is almost exclusively via the ferry. The summer months are particulary busy and while extra ferries often run, they just as often break down, or are booked solid, or cancelled due to inclement weather.
Book your vehicle on the ferry (arrival and departure) as soon as you know the dates. You can generally change the dates if your plans change, however, don't leave changes to the last minute as you wont be able to change if the ferry is already booked. There is almost always a 'wait list' of vehicles at the ferry terminal - they are hoping other vehicles dont show up (especially some of the trucks) and that extra spaces will become available. You can't book a place in the 'wait list' you simply have to show up (early!!) and hope for the best.
When booking your vehicle on the ferry, CalMac will ask for your vehicle registration details. If you are hiring a car/don't know which vehicle you will be using, then select the ‘registration unknown’ option. They will still ask for the make + model of the vehicle, but these are not mandatory fields and can be left blank. If you are taking a van or motorhome, you will need to at least know the length of the vehicle prior to booking your ferry ticket. If your van or motorhome has a bike rack attached to the rear, you must select the overall length of the vehicle and bike rack combined.
If the vehicle you travel with is not the vehicle you have booked, or exceeds the length you have reserved, a surcharge may be due and space may not be available on the ferry.
Driving to Kennacraig is as easy as finding the A83 (generally via the A82). The Kennacraig Ferry Terminal is roughly 2.5 hours (106 miles / 170 kilometres) from Glasgow. The journey is spectacularly beautiful from Loch Lomond, all the way through to Kennacraig. Inverary is an excellent place to stop for a coffee, an icecream, and if you need fuel, else . Lochgilphead or Tarbert are also a good place to get fuel before you catch the ferry (avoid paying fuel prices on Islay for as long as possible - they're high).
Buses to Islay (Glasgow to Kennacraig)
The 926 Campbeltown bus runs multiple times a day from Buchanan Bus Station, Glasgow to Campbeltown via the Kennacraig ferry terminal. The journey takes roughly 3 hours 15 minutes (with a short stop in Inverary for a toilet or coffee break) from Glasgow to Kennacraig. The bus schedule generally aligns with the ferry schedule and they *usually* hold the ferry if the bus is running late (make sure the driver knows you're catching the ferry as they will call ahead if they're running late). Timetables and ticket prices are available via the CityLink Scotland website. An adult ticket is around £20 one way and roughly £30 return. There is generally a discount if you book your tickets more than 2 days in advance.
If you have the time, you could catch the 926 bus to Campbeltown - spend a day or two visiting Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia Distilleries - then hop back on the bus and head to Islay (or back to Glasgow).
Travel Tips (Getting to Islay)
When travelling to the Scottish Isles, it is important to keep in mind that you are visiting small, isolated communities in one of the most erraticly weathered parts of the world. The island resources are limited; their airports are small and the ferry terminals are generally just a ticket office and a loo. In regards to the weather, Nan Shepherd describes it perfectly in The Living Mountain 'summer on the high plateau can be delectable as honey; it can also be a roaring scourge. To those who love the place, both are good, since both are part of its essential nature'. While Ms Sheperd might be referring to the Cairngorms, you'll find this essential nature highly applicable to the West Highlands and Islands - it can be sunny and glorious one moment, and a proper hurricane the next - and sometimes you can have both on either side of Islay simultaneously.
I definitely do not want to deter you from travelling to Islay (or any of the Islands) but please keep in mind that much of your journey's progress will be dependent on the weather conditions, and it can reak havoc on your travel schedule. The plane cant land at Glenegedale (Islay Airport) if its too windy or too foggy, and the ferry cant dock if the seas are too rough.
We recommend you allow an additional day or two after your trip to Islay for important interconnecting flights or to attend unmissable events, or be flexible with your schedule. I (Amanda) once had to change my flight from Glasgow to Porto, to Glasgow - Lisbon via Amserdam, as we were so delayed taking off from Islay that my initial flight had already landed in Portugal before we even got to Glasgow. We also don't recommend you try and 'do' Islay in weekend, as sometimes it can take an entire day just to get to/from the mainland.
Have travel insurance that covers the cost of your flights or accommodation if you are delayed, or be flexible with your travel arrangements. We use World Nomads as they have have great rates and a really clear policy of what is/isn't covered.
How To Get Around Islay
Islay a deceptively large island, especially when it comes to distances between the villages - they're generally too far to walk - plus there are almost no foot paths. There is a bus service, however it is infrequent and does not run on Sundays. That said, I spent two years living on Islay without a car, and you can definitely visit the distilleries without one. Hiring a car gives you the freedom to visit the whole of Islay (and it is beautiful and definitely worth a full tour), however, as driving creates some drinking issues (or drinking creates some driving issues) you may want to opt for a private car/taxi with a personal driver if you can afford it (and in a group this could be quite economical). If hiring a car, or booking a personal driver make sure you book well in advance as services are limited. If you're on a tight budget, a mixture of buses and walking will get you to most distilleries quite easily (just not on Sundays).
There are two hire car companies on Islay. You will probably find it cheaper to hire a car off the island but you'll need to consider the cost of taking it on the ferry (plus having to book the ferry ticket for the car well in advance). I've used Islay Car Hire twice and had no issues - they have an online booking portal that makes it easy to book reserve a car (make sure you book as soon as you know your travel dates).
Travel Tips (Driving On Islay)
If you are planning to drive in the Scottish Highlands and Islands (Ireland too for that matter) please watch the following film. There is nothing more frustrating to the locals (and other drivers familiar with narrow roads) than a fellow road user who doesnt understand how passing places work. Also, if you're driving a motorhome or other slow moving vehicle PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE pull over and allow other motorists to pass from time to time (it's good karma, I promise). Actually, if you're driving ANY vehicle, and there's cars behind you but not in front ... please be nice and let them pass.
And yes, while driving on Islay, you will need to watch out for sheep on the road (and the occasional deer at night). Sometimes there are cows too.
One other peculiarly Islay 'thing' (and a gesture I absolutely love) is waving at your fellow motorists. Illeach's (Islay natives) all wave to each other as they go past oncoming traffic. It seems odd at first, but you get used to it, and it's a really nice friendly habit. Wave. Say Hello. The people are a big part of what makes Islay wonderful.
Taxis & Private Cars/Mini Buses
There are a small number of taxis and private car companies on Islay. These should be booked well in advance (especially if you need an airport or ferry pick up) as there are far more travellers than there are taxis and car services.
- Islay Taxis bookings via email email@example.com or telephone +44 (0)1496 850 170. Stuart has teamed up with the Northern distilleries (Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila and Ardnahoe) to offer a special North Islay Whisky Tour which makes visiting these three distilleries a much easier experience (these are the least accessible by public transport).
- Lady of the Isles - Christine Logan bookings via email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone +44 (0) 1496 810485
- Bowmore Taxi Service (and Islay Whisky Tours) - bookings via https://www.islaywhiskytours.net/ or telephone +44 (0) 1496 810449
- Islay Taxi by LAMB - bookings via email email@example.com or telephone +44 (0) 7846 055 399 or see LAMB's Islay Taxi website
- Dougie's Islay Tours and Private Hire - bookings via email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone +44 (0) 7474 686367 or see Dougie's Islay Tours website
- Bruichladdich Taxis - bookings via email email@example.com or telephone +44 (0) 1496 850271
Public Transport (Bus)
Islay buses are infrequent and don't run on Sundays, which as both a tourist and a former resident, is a total pain in the arse. You'll need to plan your trips well if you plan on catching the bus, because if you miss one, you're in for a long wait, or worse, you're stuck (they finish EARLY). The bus schedule is heavily determined by the school timetable, and as such, many services wont run during school holidays.
Pay close attention to any symbols or markings on bus timetables (generally posted at the bus stop) as these will often indicate whether a bus only runs during school times (eg NOT on school holidays) or not on Saturdays.
Again, buses dont run on Sundays which makes getting around on the weekends without your own car really difficult.
Traveline Scotland have a useful app that will help you navigate the bus time tables, else you can click here to use their service in your browser (just type 'Islay' into the service section) or for printable PDFs click the links below.
There are two Islay bus routes, they overlap at Bridgend and Bowmore
If you're catching public transport, there's a good chance you'll probably end up doing quite a bit of walking on Islay (you'll DEFINITELY be doing a lot of waiting).
There are not many proper foot paths on Islay; if you're planning to walk to distilleries, you will find yourself on the road a lot (or just off it on the verge). That said, there is an exceptionally well made cycle/walking path from Port Ellen to Ardbeg Distillery, passing Lagavulin Distillery and Laphroaig Distillery along the way. You can certainly walk there and back again, but you can also combine walking with the public bus if you get your timing right.
I've walked from the Port Askaig road to Bunnahabhain Distillery - at the time there was no Ardnahoe Distillery - the sun was mostly shining, and the view of Jura and the Sound of Islay is STUNNING. I hitched a lift with a couple of other visitors on the way home again though. I DO advocate hitchhiking on Islay if you get stuck, or simply run out of energy. I haven't hitchhiked anywhere else in the world, but the the Islay locals are in the habit of giving eachother lifts, and your fellow travellers are generally empathetic to your plight.
Caol Ila Distillery is an easy walk from Port Askaig (or see if the bus will drop you on the main road), and Bowmore Distillery is right in the centre of Bowmore (main bus interchange).
If you're staying in Port Charlotte, then a walk to Bruichladdich Distillery (and home again) is perfectly doable (Roddy and I have each done this many a time). There is no sidewalk yet (a sealed path is currently under construction), so if you've got young children, or mobility issues, the road might be too much of a challenge. Passing motorists will generally give you a wide berth, however, they are often going fast and there are often large trucks and tractors as well, so be prepared to share a narrow road with large, fast moving traffic.