Finlaggan is the former home of Scotland’s ‘Lord of the Isles’ which is located a few miles southwest of Port Askaig on the Isle of Islay.
Access to Finlaggan is via a wooden walkway that leads from the visitor centre to a small island where tourists will discover a number of standing stones, graves, and ruined houses.
Discover Finlaggan with this guide which features an overview and lots of useful visiting tips and advice.
|Address:||Isle of Islay,|
|Opening Hours:||Visitor centre open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 10.30-4.30|
|Admission Price:||Free. Donations requested|
|Parking:||Free car park on-site|
|Contact:||+44 (0) 1496 840 644|
|Facilities:||Visitor centre, toilets|
The Isle of Islay… Whisky. Coastlines. Wildlife.
Those are the things most people think of when they plan a visit to this picturesque island off the west coast of Scotland – distillery tours, a quick jaunt around a village or two, maybe a walk on a beach and then home again.
But there’s so much more to Islay than whisky (although the single malts it produces are nothing short of spectacular), and I think it’s a real shame that so many people obsess over the spirit and completely forget about the history and scenery that the island has to offer.
I was lucky enough to spend a full week on Islay recently and after exhausting all the distillery options in the first 48 hours I started to explore some lesser-known attractions tucked away in the more remote areas.
One of which is Finlaggan, the former stronghold of the Lord of the Isles.
You’ll find Loch Finlaggan a few miles southwest of Port Askaig at the northern end of the island.
While you wouldn’t exactly call Port Askaig a bustling metropolis it’s definitely worth exploring the area surrounding it as it’s extremely pretty, with a wild and rugged coastline and expanses of thick woodland coupled with lots of walking trails that run deep into the heart of Islay’s wilderness.
There’s also a regular ferry that takes passengers to the nearby Isle of Jura (a lovely place – check it out if you get the chance) and the three major distilleries of Bunnahabhain, Ardnahoe and Caol Ila are nearby which all offer interesting tours.
After you’ve finished with that lot I suggest you take a short detour south on the A846 and keep your eyes open for a brown tourist information sign pointing down a rather non-descript single-track road.
Follow the road a couple of miles through open fields and you’ll eventually arrive at Loch Finlaggan which is easily identifiable thanks to the visitor centre at the entrance.
There’s a small car park at the centre which is free to use but you’ll have to pay a small admission charge to get to the main attraction where you’ll find a collection of ancient gravestones, relics and buildings on a small island on the loch, all of which are related to the Lords of the Isles.
If you’ve never heard of them you might be interested to know that the Lords descend from Somerled, a 12th-century prince with a Norse and Gaelic pedigree who was allied more with Norway than Scotland.
At that time the politics of Scotland’s west coast islands were so far removed from the mainland they were regarded as being in an entirely separate kingdom from the rest of Alba (the Gaelic word for ‘country of the Scots’), and Somerled sought to expand his power far beyond the confines of the Scottish west coast.
In 1156 he successfully organised a coup against the ruling Godfrey the Black to become King of the Isles and shortly thereafter launched a bid to invade Renfrew on the mainland.
However, as was common in those days he was betrayed by his own family and was murdered by his nephew, after which the kingdom was divided up between his sons from which the powerful clans MacDougall, Donald, MacRory and MacAlister emerged.
Later years saw a lot of political upheavals, clan in-fighting, and clashes with Norway and Scotland that I won’t go into in this post, but the two small islands on Loch Finlaggan were chosen as the seat of power for the west-coast islands for the next 400 years.
History lesson over and back to the modern-day tourist attraction…
There are two small islands on the north shore of the loch – Eilean Mor and Eilean na Comhairle – but it’s the latter you’ll spend most of your time on during your visit as well as learning about the history of Finlaggan in the visitor centre.
If you would like to join a guided tour of Scotland’s lochs take a look at this selection from Get Your Guide.
1: The museum is great and has very knowledgeable (and enthusiastic) staff.
2: This historic attraction makes a nice change from Islay’s whisky distillery tours.
3: A visit to Finlaggan is a good way to explore parts of Islay that you’d probably otherwise miss.
1: The facilities are limited so take a packed lunch or head to Port Askaig’s restaurants.
2: Don’t forget to bring your spare change for the museum donation box – they rely on charity to run the place.
3: There are three whisky distilleries nearby (Bunnahabhain, Ardnahoe and Caol Ila) that are well worth a visit.
It’s obvious a lot of attention has gone into creating the displays in the visitor centre and it’s really quite interesting, but be mindful that young children are going to find it a bit of a yawn-fest.
At least there are a couple of models of Viking longships to keep them entertained while you’re reading the information boards and there are a few relics recovered from the area to look at as well, but the main event is exploring the islands.
Unlike the visitor centre which is only open March-October, the islands are open all year round and can be accessed via a wooden walkway through boggy reed beds.
It won’t take long to walk there but there’s a surprising amount of insect life to see in the summer which youngsters will no doubt find particularly fascinating.
Oh, and if you find the centre closed when you visit please leave a couple of quid in the honesty box – these guys rely on donations to maintain the site.
Once on the island you’ll be able to walk amongst the ruins of several old stone-walled buildings (not from the time of the Lords of the Isles, unfortunately) and view an interesting collection of engraved medieval gravestones.
The island isn’t that big and the landscape is a bit uninspiring in the harsh light of the day but I was lucky enough to arrive as the sun was disappearing and I’m happy to report the view really came alive in the golden hue of the setting sun.
There’s a certain goose-bumpy (is that a real word?) atmosphere to Eilean Mor which might go some way to explaining why the Lords of the Isles made it their seat of power, miles inland and far from the sea where their boats were moored.
But as atmospheric as it is, it really won’t take you long to see everything on the island, even if there are information boards dotted about at each point of interest.
To be honest, I’d plan no more than 30 minutes to an hour to see the lot, and as you’re on a wee island on a loch you can’t exactly go anywhere else other than head back to the car park once you’ve had your fill of grave slabs and cobbled-together stone walls.
But even so, I guarantee you’ll walk away having learned a few new snippets of information about Scotland’s history at Finlaggan, and to my mind it’s a fascinating glimpse into the heart of Islay that you’d otherwise miss if you just concentrated on the whisky.
If you want to learn more about this island read: The Complete Guide to Visiting The Isle of Islay
Things to do
Historic Exploration: Finlaggan is well known for its historical significance, specifically as the former stronghold of the Lords of the Isles during the 13th-15th centuries. Visitors can explore the ruins of two fortified islands – Eilean Mor and Eilean na Comhairle, which contain the remnants of ancient buildings as well as a collection of well-preserved grave slabs.
Scenic Walks Around Loch Finlaggan: The area around Loch Finlaggan is exceptionally scenic. A leisurely stroll offers panoramic views of the surrounding hills and is perfect for those seeking peace and tranquillity.
Wildlife Spotting: Finlaggan is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. The surrounding woodlands and moorland are home to a range of animals including red deer, hares, and myriad bird species. Early morning or twilight are ideal times for wildlife spotting so pack your binoculars (link to binocular reviews) and prepare for a fascinating experience.
Fishing in Loch Finlaggan: For those with a penchant for fly fishing, Loch Finlaggan won’t disappoint. Its clear waters are home to brown trout and the water is quite shallow so it’s easy to wade out towards the middle.
Visitor Centre: The Finlaggan visitor centre features a wealth of information about the Lords of the Isles and it’s a great place to find out more about the origins of Clan Donald.
Historic Power Center: Finlaggan was the administrative and ceremonial site for the Lordship of the Isles, the powerful sea-based kingdom that ruled the Hebrides and parts of mainland Scotland and Ireland from the 12th to 15th centuries.
Eilean Mòr: The Main Island: The site consists of two main islands, the larger of which, Eilean Mòr, was home to a chapel, graveyard, and several buildings that are thought to be the Lord’s residence and administrative buildings.
Eilean na Comhairle: Council Island: The smaller island, Eilean na Comhairle, was where the Council of the Isles met, a body of men who advised the Lord of the Isles.
Archaeological Goldmine: Excavations in the 1990s uncovered a wealth of artefacts from the site, including medieval pottery from as far away as Spain and the Rhineland.
The Sacred Chapel: The chapel on Eilean Mòr, dedicated to St. Finan, was a significant religious site during the Lordship’s reign. It’s believed to be the final resting place of several Lords of the Isles.
Finlaggan Trust: The site is now managed by the Finlaggan Trust, established in 1990 to preserve and make accessible this crucial part of Scottish heritage.
Things to do nearby
Bunnahabhain Distillery. Bunnahabhain, Isle of Islay PA46 7RP. 14-minute drive.
A whisky distillery that’s located on the northeast coast of the island, accessed by a single-track road. Guided tours are available.
Caol Ila Distillery. Port Askaig, Isle of Islay PA46 7RL. 10-minute drive.
One of Islay’s smallest distilleries but also one of its most popular thanks to the setting which overlooks the Isle of Jura. The distillery is open for summer tours and offers whisky-tasting experiences.
Port Askaig. Isle of Islay PA46 7RU. 8-minute drive.
A small village on the eastern coast of Islay which has a small ferry terminal that serves Jura, Colonsay and the Campbeltown Peninsula.
Ardnahoe Distillery. Ardnahoe, Port Askaig, Isle of Islay PA46 7RU. 11-minute drive.
One of the more recent distilleries on Islay. Offers guided tours, whisky-tasting experiences and a gift shop.
Dunlossit Estate. Isle of Islay PA46 7RF. 10-minute drive to Port Askaig then a 1 1/2 hour walk.
A popular walking area on Islay that is accessed via winding paths that run through gorse, woodland, a couple of lochs and grazing fields. From Port Askaig car park look for the gate that says ‘Footpath to Lily Loch’.
Frequently asked questions
How do I get to Finlaggan?
Address: Eilean Mòr in Loch Finlaggan, Isle of Islay, PA45 7QT
Directions map: Google Maps
How much does it cost to visit Finlaggan?
Visit the tickets page for the latest entry prices.
What are Finlaggan’s opening times?
Visit the opening times page for the current opening times.
What visitor facilities are there at Finlaggan?
Facilities at Finlaggan are limited. There is a car park and a visitor centre with a museum only.