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Top 5 Speyside Distilleries With Impressive Visitor Centres

It might be hard to believe, but not everyone we travel with will be as excited to visit a distillery as we are! I adore mash tuns and stills and will happily look at them all day. Beautiful, glorious stills!! But that's me, and it might even be you, but probably not everyone travelling with you. 

It's definitely not Roddy - having worked at a distillery for 11 years, he doesn't get quite as excited to visit them as I do. He also doesn't feel the need to tour every distillery. He'll happily do one or two, but after a while, he longs for a comfy chair and a quiet tasting, especially overlooking an epic landscape, which is what a great visitors centre can offer. Respite. A break from the potential monotony of one more distillery tour. Somewhere to take a moment and savour the offerings while you get one more photo of a spirit safe. 

For many distilleries, the visitor centre is just a waiting area for tours and a gift shop. But not these distilleries. The following distilleries take the visitor centre experience to a whole new level.

The Macallan Estate

We have to put The Macallan Estate in first place for Most Impressive Visitor Centre after they underwent a spectacular £140million refurbishment in 2018 (see video below). The Macallan Estate Visitor Centre offers an extensive array of whisky experiences including:

  • Elchies Brasserie (fine dining at its finest) which offers menus to highlight Scotland's amazing fresh produce, with the option of matched whisky and wine pairings. Advanced bookings are essential.  Elchies Brasserie is open for lunch Thursday to Sunday, 12 noon til 4:00 pm with the last sitting at 2:30 pm.
  • The Macallan Estate Bar is more like a library, filled with the archives of Macallan whisky.  An 18m high curved whisky wall showcases 840 Macallan whiskies, many of which are available to taste, including a few very old and rare ones. The Macallan Bar overlooks the Macallan Estate and Easter Elchies House (original distillery house). The Macallan Estate Bar also serves a fabulous selection of whisky cocktails. The bar is for person aged over 18 years only.
  • The Boutique (gift shop) is open to the general public without a prior booking, though only on Saturdays and Sundays.

If you'd like to just have a look around The Macallan Estate, but not do a tour (or you haven't been able to book one), the Estate gates open on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30 am and the distillery/visitor centre doors open at 9:45 am. The gates close between 5 and 5:30 pm. Tours cannot be booked on the day (online advanced bookings are essential). Lunch at the Brasserie must also be booked in advance. The Macallan Bar, Boutique and Easter Elchies House (external) are accessible without a booking. The Macallan Estate is closed from mid-December to the end of January each year.

The new Macallan distillery is a spectacular achievement in design and engineering and is unlike any other distillery we've visited. The distillery is integrated with the visitor experience, all under one roof in an open-plan layout of epic proportions.

All guest areas within The Macallan Estate Distillery are wheelchair accessible, though there is a small section in the Still House that mobility scooters and electric wheelchairs will be unable to pass through. There is a lift for mobility access to all levels, and four disabled parking spaces. Flooring within the production area is grated which assistance dogs may find uncomfortable. See the Macallan's tour terms and conditions page for further accessibility details.

If you're travelling with children the Macallan is not the best distillery to visit as much of the distillery experience is for over 18s only. For a list of distilleries that are suitable for children, see our guide to 50 Distillery Tours In Scotland Your Kids Can Actually Go On.

The Macallan Distillery 2023 Opening Hours

  • From Saturday 28th January 2023 until 30th April 2023 The Macallan are open for pre-booked experiences from Thursday to Sunday.  
  • Opening hours for May 2023 onwards are not yet available

The Macallan Tours

  • The Macallan Discovery Experiences are available at 10 am and 11 am on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Due to the limited number of tours available, and the limited numbers permitted on a tour - maximum six (6) persons per tour - bookings should be made as soon as you know your travel dates. Tours of The Macallan generally book out weeks in advance. This expertly led 2.5 hour experience commences with The Macallan roast coffee and scones, followed by an initiation into The Macallan's heritage and 'acorn to glass' distillery process, followed by a sampling of The Macallan whiskies, first in the Cave Priveé for a tutored tasting, before ending up in the Macallan Bar. £50.00 per person. Advanced bookings are essential.
  • The Macallan Mastery Experiences are available at 12 noon on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A four hour in-depth deep dive into Macallan with a matched-wine dining experience at Elchies Brasserie followed by a carefully curated tutored tasting of The Macallan in Cave Priveé before heading onto a whisky flight tasting in the Macallan Bar. You even get a commemorative glass to take home. If you can afford it, this should be an experience to remember. £250.00.00 per person. Advanced bookings are essential.

Cardhu Distillery

Cardhu Distillery is the Speyside home of Johnnie Walker - and as one of Diageo's flagship distilleries (along with Caol Ila,Clynelish and Glenkinchie), an impressive visitor experience awaits you. Tours are highly immersive experiences and use a combination of light, media, music, sensory moments and special effects.

Cardhu Distillery consulted Euan's guide on their redevelopment and have accessible parking, bathrooms and accessible tasting areas. Due to the age of the distillery itself, distillery tours are only partially accessible to those with mobility impairment as there are some stairs in the still house, but the Spirit Safe and Spirit Stills are visible from an accessible viewing area if stairs are not your thing. Please note that the sensory experience is highly immersive and uses a combination of light, media, music, sensory moments and special effects that may not be suitable for all audiences, or for persons with nut allergies.

Cardhu Distillery allows children over the age of 8 years on tours (at a discounted rate).

Cardhu Distillery 2023 Opening Hours

  • January and February: Thursday to Monday (not Tuesday/Wednesday): 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • March to October: Monday to Sunday (every day): 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
  • November and December: Wednesday to Sunday: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

Cardhu Flavour Journey - Full Sensory Tour and Tasting

A guided journey through Cardhu’s fascinating founding by two generations of resolute women. Your full-sensory tour culminates in a tutored tasting of three whiskies and a highball cocktail in the Cardhu Tasting Kitchen. £19 per person and approximately 90 minutes duration. Online advanced bookings for the Cardhu Flavour Journey Tour and Tasting are recommended.

Note: Cardhu Distillery is closed for tours most of October due to maintenance (silent season), however Flavour Journey Tastings are still available in the visitor's centre.

Guess Dhu Tour and Tasting Challenge

A guided full-sensory tour of the distillery coupled with a "Guess the Dhu" tasting experience - if you love a challenge and enjoy matching your flavour perceptions against others’, this is the experience for you. This optional nosing and tasting finish to the Cardhu Flavour Journey invites you to test your senses in a mystery whisky challenge in the Cardhu Collection Room. Correctly identify the whiskies, and you’ll earn a spot in Cardhu's Guess Dhu Hall of Fame. £22 per person and approximately 90 minutes duration. Online advanced bookings for the Cardhu Guess Dhu Tour and Tasting Challenge are recommended as this tour runs only once a day.

Note: Cardhu Distillery is closed for tours most of October due to maintenance (silent season), however tastings are still available in the visitor's centre.

The Cairn Distillery

The newest distillery to open in the Speyside region and the first distillery in the Cairngorms National Park for many decades, The Cairn distillery opened in 2022 and is a very shiny new operation with impressive views of the surrounding hills.

While the stills may have only just been switched on, there is a decent amount of whisky to taste on site as the owners of The Cairn Distillery are none other than Independent Bottlers Gordon and MacPhail. Not many distilleries commence life with aged whiskies (from other distilleries) readily available to sample and purchase: the CRN57° range is available in 12YO, 18YO, 25YO, 30YO, 57YO (!) and 70YO (!!). The Cairn Distillery is open year round, but due to their location in the Cairngorms, they may close at short notice in the winter months if the weather is too wild. On-site cafe/bistro - The Gathering - stocks local produce and whisky inspired fare.

The Cairn Explorer Experience

The Explorer Experience at The Cairn Distillery includes a tour of the distillery and two tastings of CRN57 blended malts: the 12 Year Old, and 18 year Old£25 per person and approximately 60 minutes duration. The Explorer Tour is available Tuesday to Saturday hourly from 9:30 am to 2:30pm. Online advanced bookings for the Explorer Experience are recommended.

The Cairn Adventurer Experience

The Adventurer Experience is the Explorer guided distillery tour, and three drams of CRN57 blended malts: the 12 Year Old, 18 year Old and the 25 year old in the top floor tasting lounge, before heading on to a selection of tapas in the Gathering bistro£60 per person and approximately 90 minutes duration. The Adventurer Tour is available Tuesday to Saturday hourly from 9:30 am to 2:30pm. Online advanced bookings for the Adventurer Experience are recommended.

The Glenlivet Distillery

While the history of Glenlivet Distillery extends as long as the history of legal distilling in Speyside, the distillery you visit today is a modern distillery, rebuilt in 2010. The visitor centre is warm and inviting and includes an indoor barley field, a purpose-built bar full of Glenlivet whiskies available by the dram (including some old and rare), whisky cocktails, bar snacks, and comfy couches beside an open fireplace.

Tasting Experiences are available in the specially designed sample room.

There is level access and lifts in the visitor centre & warehouses, but the production areas are only partially wheelchair accessible (stairs). The still house has a viewing platform for people with limited mobility. The Speyside Room (interactive tour) uses a combination of audio-visual aids, including sound, lighting and elements of fast-motion media that may not be suitable for all audiences.

Tours and Tasting Experiences are only available for persons aged 18 years and over. For a list of distilleries that are suitable for children, see our guide to 50 Distillery Tours In Scotland Your Kids Can Actually Go On.

Glenlivet Distillery 2023 Opening Hours

  • 05 January to 03 March: Monday to Friday: 10:00 am to 4:00pm
  • 07 March to 28 October: Tuesday to Saturday: 10:00 am to 5:00pm
  • 31 October to 01 December: Tuesday to Saturday: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • 04 December to 22 December: Monday to Friday: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

Glenlivet The Original Distillery Tour

Guided tour explaining how The Glenlivet became the original Speyside distillery, including an immersive visual experince in the Speyside and Process Room where you will meet the individuals who are integral to The Glenlivet today from the local farming community to the cask management team. Followed by a visit to Warehouse 1, and a tutored tasting of three (3) Glenlivet whiskies: The Glenlivet 12 year old, 15 year old and a Distillery Exclusive edition. £20.00 per person and approximately 90 minutes duration. Online advanced bookings are highly recommended as The Glenlivet is a very popular distillery and there are only twelve (12) persons permitted on each tour. Over 18s only.

Glenlivet Single Cask Tasting

Tutored tasting of four (4) Glenlivet exclusive single cask editions from the Distillery Reserve Collection. £40.00 per person and approximately 60 minutes duration. Online advanced bookings are highly recommended as The Glenlivet is a very popular distillery and there are only ten (1) persons permitted on each tasting. Over 18s only.

The Glenlivet Archives Tasting

Start your experience in bonded Warehouse No. 3, where you will learn of The Glenlivet's finely tuned processes for cask selection and warehousing, followed by a guided tasting in one of Glenlivet's private tasting rooms, enjoying The Glenlivet’s oldest and rarest whiskies including The Glenlivet XXV, The Glenlivet 30 Year Old Cellar Collection and a dram from one of the Glenlivet archives. Available at 2.30pm Friday andSaturday (March to October) this tour must be booked in advance. Alternate times for group bookings can be arranged by emailing theglenlivet.admin@pernod-ricard.com. £100.00 per person and approximately 120 minutes duration. Over 18s only.

Glen Grant Distillery

While Glen Grant Distillery is well worth a visit to tour the distillery, it isn't the visitor centre that's the most impressive, but the Glen Grant Estate gardens. The Glen Grant Garden (The Major's Garden) is 22 acres of parkland with a diverse mix of plants from The Major's (James Grant Jrs) adventures around the world - he was a keen hunter and often travelled to Africa and abroad - he established the garden in 1886. If you find yourself in the scenic gorge, keep an eye out for The Major's private whisky safe, hidden in The Den. The Major was also responsible for the unusually shaped (tall and slender) stills and purifiers installed in 1872.

Glen Grant is the best option for visiting a distillery in Speyside with children, as not only are they welcome on-site, but tours are free for those under 18 years old.

The visitors centre is wheelchair accessible, as is most of the gardens, but the distillery production areas are old buildings with multiple stairs.

Glen Grant Distillery Opening Hours

  • November to March: Monday to Saturday (closed Sunday): 9.30 am – 3.30 pm
  • April to October: Monday to Saturday: 9.30 am – 4:00 pm and Sunday: 11:00 am – 4:00 pm

Glen Grant Distillery Tour

Guided tour of Glen Grant Distillery followed by a tasting of two (2) Glen Grant whiskies. £7.50 per person and approximately 40 minutes duration (40 minutes for the tour, tasting as long as you like, with access to the gardens afterwards) Advanced bookings are essential however online bookings are not available. To book contact The Glen Grant Visitor Centre on (+44) (0)1340 832 118 or email visitorcentre@glengrant.com

Full List of Distilleries You Can Visit in Speyside Scotland

Best Speyside Whisky Distillery Tours – Travel Guide

Best Places To Stay When Visiting Speyside Scotland

Best Places To Stay In Speyside Scotland Near Distilleries

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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