Updated 7 December 2022

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Guide to Isle of Islay Distilleries

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.

Map of Islay Distilleries

black and gold map of islay distilleries above a king size bed with black sheets and white and gold pillows

Posters and Fine Art Prints of Islay Whisky Maps | Made By Whisky Lovers For Whisky Lovers

How to Pronounce Islay

Islay is pronounced 'eye-lah'.

How To Get To Islay


There are two main ways of getting to Islay without a car; flying from Glasgow to Glenegedale (Islay Airport) or catching the 926 bus from Glasgow to Kennacraig, and then getting a ferry from there to Port Ellen or Port Askaig depending on the timetable.

Getting To Islay Without A Car

CalMac ferries are one of the most accessible and affordable ways to get to Islay from the mainland. Services run daily from Kennacraig and weekly or biweekly from Oban.

How To Get To Islay By Ferry

Public transport is the cheapest and most picturesque way of getting to Islay from Glasgow. This is what you need to know before you go.

Glasgow to Islay On Public Transport | What You Need To Know

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).

Hire Cars

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 reserve a car (make sure you book as soon as you know your travel dates as there is limited supply of vehicles to hire). 

Driving On Islay

If you are planning to drive in the Scottish Highlands and Islands (or 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 doesn't 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 are lots of 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.

Why does everyone wave on Islay?

One peculiarly Islay 'thing' is waving at your fellow motorists. Ileachs (Islay natives) all wave as they go past oncoming traffic. It seems odd initially (it is a gesture I love), but you get used to it, and it's an excellent friendly habit. Wave, Say Hello. The people of Islay are a big part of what makes the island remarkable.

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.

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 (and they stop running very early in the day too). The school timetable heavily determines the bus schedule, so many services won't run during school holidays (Saturday schedules apply during School Holidays).

For more information, see our post on Visiting Islay Without A Car | 5 Important Things To Know

Walking

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 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 undoubtedly 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 - if the sun is even slightly shining, the view of Jura and the Sound of Islay is stunning. You'll be very exposed on a rainy/windy day, and I wouldn't recommend walking in poor conditions. I hitched a lift with a couple of other visitors on the way home again, so I didn't have to walk both directions (4 miles each way). Ardnahoe is nearly half the distance (2.3 miles) and better suited if you plan to walk both directions.

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 a perfectly doable 2.6 km (Roddy and I have each done this many times). As of 2021, there is even a sealed bike/walking path between Port Charlotte and Bruichladdich, which makes life a lot easier than walking along the side of the road as we used to do!

We advocate hitch-hiking on Islay if you get stuck or run out of energy. I haven't hitched anywhere else in the world, but the Islay locals are accustomed to giving each other lifts, and your fellow travellers are generally empathetic to your plight.

statues looking up at a black and white photograph of Laphroaig distillery warehouse

Posters and Fine Art Prints of Islay Whisky Maps | Throw Pillow and Phone Covers | Made By Whisky Lovers For Whisky Lovers | Bar Art, Wall Art and Man-Cave Decor

Islay History

Islay Whisky Island Documentary

Islay Photo Gallery

Abandoned timber cottage near nerabus Islay almost totally covered in brambles

Abandoned cottage near Nerabus (between Port Charlotte and Portnahaven). Behind the cottage, in the cow field up on the hill, are the ruins of an old settlement.

Loch Ardnahoe, Islay, on the way to Bunnahabhain

Loch Ardnahoe, Islay, opposite Ardnahoe Distillery and on the way to Bunnahabhain Distillery.

Sheep grazing on the Rhinns looking towards Bowmore

Sheep grazing on the Rhinns (between Port Charlotte and Portnahaven) looking towards Bowmore

Looking across the sound from Islay to Jura paps on a pebbled beach

Looking across the sound from Islay to the Jura paps.

wide angle view sanaigmore bay islay turquoise water blue sky

Sanaigmore Bay, Islay

view of loch gorm islay from kilchoman distillery entrance

View towards Loch Gorm from the Kilchoman Distillery entrance.

Margadale River and bare trees near Bunnahabhain, Islay

Margadale River, Bunnahabhain, Islay

Islay House Servants Quarters and Maintenance Rooms

Islay House Servants Quarters and Maintenance Rooms

Kidalton cross grave stones and leaf-less tress

The Kidalton Cross at Kildalton Chapel, Islay

Carved gravestones at Kidalton Chapel Islay Scotland showing knight

Grave Stones at Kidalton Chapel, Islay

mounted deer heads and horns at islay house

Islay House Stags

Kilchoman parish church and graves

The Kilchoman Parish Church; it was built in 1827, and served a large number of Islay's community. The last service held there in 1977, and it has since deteriorated quite badly.

purple toned photograph of a river bed and dark figure walking in the background

Margadale River, Bunnahabhain, Islay (& Roddy)

Surveying distant hills at Sanaigmore Bay, Islay, Scotland.

Surveying distant hills | Sanaigmore Bay, Islay, Scotland. [Roddy MacEachern]

Bunnahabhain Distillery and the Sound of Islay, with Jura Paps in the background

Bunnahabhain Distillery and the Sound of Islay, with the Jura Paps in the background

References and Further Reading

picture of the front cover of book The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard

One of Amanda's favourite books. Around 1885, Alfred Barnard was secretary of Harper's Weekly Gazette, a journal dedicated to the wine and spirit trade. In order to provide his readers with the history and descriptions of the whisky-making process, Barnard decided to visit all distilleries in Scotland, England and Ireland. Accompanied by friends, he visited and sketched over 150 distilleries. This is a wonderful step back in time and a must have book for a whisky history geek. 

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Front cover image of the book Whiskies Galore : A Tour of Scotland's Island Distilleries by Ian Buxton

Whiskies Galore is not your average whisky book. It is not simply a catalogue of distilleries, but a story of discovery and adventure. Join Ian Buxton on a personal journey across Scotland's islands, combining his expert knowledge of whisky with his fondness for anecdote, as he provides a special treat for all who love Scotland's islands and their drams.

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Book cover of Whisky Island by Andrew Jefford

In Whisky Island, by Andrew Jefford, Islay's fascinating story is uncovered: from its history and stories of the many shipwrecks which litter its shores, to the beautiful wildlife, landscape and topography of the island revealed through intimate descriptions of the austerely beautiful and remote countryside. Interleaved through these different narrative strands comes the story of the whiskies themselves, traced from a distant past of bothies and illegal stills to present-day legality and prosperity. The flavour of each spirit is analysed and the differences between them teased out, as are the stories of the notable men and women who have played such a integral part in their creation.

This is an affiliate link: if you click this link and make a purchase we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Cover image of the book The Island Whisky Trail: Scotland's Hebridean and West Coast Malt Whisky Distilleries by Neil Wilson

Island Whisky Trail by Neil Wilson, features Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Jura, Mull, Talisker and Oban. There is also a thorough look at the major role that women played in the history of illicit distilling in the County of Argyll with maps of known sites of distilling and appendices of the distillers and where and when they lived. I found it to be a very informative read.

About the author

Amanda

Amanda is an Australian-born photographer, digital nomad and whisky lover. Her passion for travel and whisky lead her to Islay, where she fell in love with an Ileach (an Islay native). Amanda and Roddy now share their Spirited Adventures.

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