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A Guide to Whisky Distillery Tours on the Isle of Islay

Slated as the ‘Queen of the Hebrides,’ the Isle of Islay is a popular destination for whisky enthusiasts and a mecca for lovers of single malt Scotch.

The island is part of the Southern Hebrides and is situated off the west coast of Scotland, where it’s famous for its peaty, smoky whiskies, which are a result of the local peat and water used in the distillation process by distilleries such as Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Lagavulin, and Ardnahoe.

islay whisky

Islay Whisky Distillery Tours Map

Google Map of cluanach islay
  1. Ardbeg
  2. Bowmore
  3. Bruichladdich
  4. Bunnahabhain
  5. Caol Ila
  6. Kilchoman
  7. Lagavulin
  8. Laphroaig
  9. Ardnahoe

Islay Whisky Distillery Tours

All of Islay’s whisky tours offer more or less the same experience, so which ones you visit will depend on your love for the spirit. Expect to pay a minimum of £10 per person, which can rise to £60 or more depending on the number of tastings you’ll get afterwards, with the cheaper tours offering a sample from the distillery’s core range and the upper-tier tours offering additional samples from more expensive bottlings.

Tours generally last around an hour, but some distilleries like Laphroaig and Ardbeg include island walks where you’ll get to explore the surrounding landscape with a guide before grabbing a bite to eat, in addition to being shown around each stage of whisky production.

My advice here is to choose your favourite distillery and go for the most expensive tour, as you’ll gain an insight into Islay that you’ll never forget. But if you’re intending to visit other distilleries afterwards, either go for the cheapest tour or just stick to the shop and café.

You honestly won’t see anything new if you do a tour at every single distillery, and by the 3rd or 4th, you’re going to get a bit bored unless you’re a die-hard whisky fanatic. That said, if I were pushed to say what my favourite tour was, I’d have to go with Ardbeg.

They have a set-up that’s a little more polished than the other distilleries and the coastline is lovely in either direction, so you can go for a good walk afterwards, which is perfect for blowing out the cobwebs and clearing whisky-infused brains.

If you’re intending to do a whisky pilgrimage, there are four parts of the island where you’ll find the distilleries:

  • Port Ellen is on the southeast corner of the island.
  • Port Askaig is on the northeast corner of the island.
  • Port Charlotte is on the northwest corner of the island.
  • Bowmore is near the centre of the island.

All of them are easy to get to, but you’ll need a car to fully explore Islay, which makes having a drink and driving to the next site a complete no-no (there’s a zero-tolerance drink-driving policy in Scotland). However, the three most-visited distilleries of Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg are located quite close to each other, and as there’s a walkway from the town of Port Ellen to each distillery, you can easily mix a hike along Islay’s gorgeous coastline with a selection of drams along the way.

One last thing to note with all of these Islay distillery tours is that although children are permitted on most of them, you’ll find some have minimum-age restrictions, especially those that offer experiences like the tours at Bruichladdich, where you get to create your own cocktails.

Ardbeg Distillery Tour

  • Founded: 1815
  • Pronounced: Ard-beg.
  • Flavour: heavily peated. Citrus-fruit character.
  • Recommended whisky: Ardbeg Ten Year Old
  • Address: Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA42 7DU
  • Website: Ardbeg
Ardbeg Distillery Islay

Ardbeg distillery is worth a visit not only for its tours but also for The Old Kiln Café which serves generous portions of reasonably priced food. Not only that, but the distillery offers the most generous whisky samples of all the distilleries I visited on Islay, plus they give you money off gifts purchased in the shop after you’ve taken the tour.

The location of the distillery at the southern tip of the island is stunning, and there are some amazing coastal walks between Ardbeg and Ardmore, with the elevated views from Ardmore Point being one of the most memorable moments of my time on Islay. If I had a bit more (ok, a lot more) money, I’d love to go back and book a week at the distillery’s Seaview Cottage, which is a fully renovated house that used to be the manager’s home but is now a holiday rental.

The cottage overlooks the sea and features a lovely private garden, but at well over £1,000 a week, it’s a lot more expensive than the cottages you’ll find elsewhere. My recommendation? Check out Airbnb instead, as you’ll often find bargain luxury holiday homes for a fraction of the price of an equivalent hotel stay.

Bowmore Distillery Tour

  • Founded: 1779
  • Pronounced: Bow-mor
  • Flavour: light smokiness. Fruity character.
  • Recommended whisky: Bowmore 15 Year
  • Address: School St, Bowmore, Islay, PA43 7JS
  • Website: Bowmore
bowmore visitor centre islay

Bowmore is the biggest and busiest village on Islay, and it’s also the island’s administrative capital, so it has more things to do than in many of the other distillery villages. From the centre, you’ll find a few grocery shops and gift shops along with essentials like a chemist, so it’s a good place to stock up on supplies before venturing elsewhere.

Located almost in the centre of the village, the Bowmore distillery is a terrific place to visit. If your partner or kids are tired of distillery tours, they can have a splash in the 25-meter pool at the Bowmore Leisure Centre, which is just a 5-minute walk up the road.

Inside the visitor centre you’ll find a shop and a museum, but the highlight is the tasting bar upstairs, which features big, comfy chairs and an enormous window that opens up to a spectacular panorama across Loch Indaal. I splashed out on my visit and got myself a tasting tray flight, which included four drams paired with handmade chocolates, which were delicious and a great appetiser for the tour.

Perhaps the best thing about the tour was being able to try a couple of drams straight from the cask in Bowmore’s legendary No. 1 warehouse, and they’ll even fill a 100-ml bottle so you can take a sample home with you as a reminder of your visit.

Bruichladdich Distillery Tour

  • Founded: 1881
  • Pronounced: Bru-e-clad-e
  • Flavour: lightly peated. Caramel sweetness.
  • Recommended whisky: The Classic Laddie
Bruichladdich Distillery Islay

The Bruichladdich distillery is located opposite Bowmore on the other side of Loch Indaal, which is very easy to get to as you just have to follow the A847 towards the village of Port Charlotte. The distillery sits on the roadside overlooking the sea, and there’s a small area on the shore where the kids can go rooting about in rock pools if you’re hoping to get a bit of peace and quiet during the all-important whisky tasting.

One suggestion for whisky-weary partners is to drive a couple of miles down the road to Port Charlotte, which has a museum about Islay that’s full of interesting little knick-nacks and collections of artefacts from the island’s past. The displays chronicle island life over the course of the first human inhabitants 12,000 years ago to the present day.

Bruichladdich, meanwhile, is worth a visit for both whisky and gin drinkers as they produce two of Scotland’s favourite tipples: Octomore whisky and The Botanist gin. The Botanist is absolutely delicious with a healthy dash of tonic and works incredibly well in a cocktail, but it pales into insignificance against the mighty Octomore, a whisky that’s proudly touted as being the most heavily peated whisky on the market.

The tour takes you around the Victorian buildings, where you’ll discover the process of making these spirits, and just like all the other distilleries on this list, you’ll get a history lesson and a whisky tasting session afterwards.

Aside from the spirits, Bruichladdich has done an excellent job with their merchandising which is sold in the best gift shop on the island. The collection includes T-shirts, hoodies, backpacks, coats, and much more. You’re bound to find something you like, but be warned, it’s quite expensive.

Bunnahabhain Distillery Tour

  • Founded: 1881
  • Pronounced: Bun-a-hav-an
  • Flavour: unpeated—soft and fruity. Peated: heavy smokiness.
  • Recommended whisky: Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old
  • Address: Port Askaig, Isle of Islay, Argyll, A46 7RP
  • Website: Bunnahabhain
islay distillery bunnahabhain

You’ll find Bunnahabhain at the northwest end of Islay, 5 miles north of Port Askaig. It’s not the easiest distillery to find and you’ll have to navigate a narrow single-track road to get there, but the drive is stunning, and once at the end of the road you’ll find stunning views of the Isle of Jura from Bunnahabhainn Bay.

Its remoteness means that a visit to this distillery feels more like a pilgrimage than a visit to a tourist attraction, and it certainly feels less touristy than a visit to Bowmore, which is perhaps why they’ve priced the tours a few pounds cheaper than the others on this list.

Fans of this whisky will be pleased to know you can fill your own bottle from the cask in the visitor centre and even add your own label (although you can also do this at Bowmore).

There are several wallet-friendly options including a Distillery Production Tour that lasts 50 minutes for around £15 per person, as well as a Cask Strength Tour, which costs around £40 for four premium drams.

For the ultimate experience, you might like to join the most expensive tour which presents samples of some of the distillery’s most exclusive drams. I’ve heard from someone who took this tour that the whisky is nothing short of spectacular, but you’ll need deep pockets as it’s currently (as of 2024) around £275 for a 1-hour session.

Caol Ila Distillery Tour

  • Founded: 1846
  • Pronounced: cull-e-la
  • Flavour: unpeated—smooth and sweet. Peated: light smokiness.
  • Recommended whisky: Caol Ila 12 Year Old
  • Address: Port Askaig, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA46 7RL
  • Website: Caol Ila
isla distillery caol ila

Caol Ila is the nearest distillery to Port Askaig and is easily reached from a single-track road off the A846, where you’ll get fantastic views of the ‘Paps’ (mountains on the Isle of Jura) once you reach the shores of the Sound of Islay.

Although Caol Ila still produces single malts, other whisky producers use the majority of the spirit in their blends so they don’t quite have the same cult following as traditional whisky producers like Ardbeg. Even so, their single malts are absolutely delicious, if a little on the expensive side, and you’ll get the chance to sample a couple of drams on the Caol Ila tour, where you’ll also be given a complimentary Glencairn glass at the end.

I have to say that out of all the tours I did during my visit to Islay, Caol Ila had the most enthusiastic tour guides. It’s not quite as polished as some of the other tours, but it’s definitely a wee bit more enjoyable, even if some of the buildings are a bit bland in that boring, grey, 1960s office-block style.

One suggestion I’ve got for you is to combine a visit to this distillery with a ferry ride over to Jura. The journey takes less than 10 minutes, and as the ferry operates throughout the day, you can hop on and hop off at your leisure. To get there, simply head to Port Askaig and follow the signs to the ferry terminal, where you’ll also find the ticket office.

Jura is a lovely wee island that’s quite different from Islay as it’s more barren, but it’s scenic in its own way and has a whisky distillery which you’ll find in the village of Craighouse on the island’s eastern side. You can learn more about Jura here: Isle of Jura.

Kilchoman Distillery Tour

  • Founded: 2005
  • Pronounced: kil-ho-man
  • Flavour: rich and fruity smokiness.
  • Recommended whisky: Kilchoman Machir Bay
  • Address: Rockside Farm, Bruichladdich, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA49 7UT
  • Website: Kilchoman
kilchoman malting room islay

You’ll find Kilchoman on the western peninsula of Islay, midway between Machir Bay and Loch Gorm, which makes for a nice change from the usual sea-battered warehouses you’ll find elsewhere.

Although there’s not a huge amount of activity in the parish of Kilchoman, it’s located in a lovely area that’s a mix of rugged coastline, wild grassland, and fertile farmland. To make the most of a visit, I recommend a walk from Saligo Bay and along the coastline before heading back inland towards the loch and the distillery.

Kilchoman is the only farm distillery on Islay, which means they perform the entire whisky-making process on-site, from growing the barley to malting it, fermenting it, distilling it, and bottling it. It’s a whisky-making style that became a lost art once commercialization took over Scotch whisky in the 1800s, so it’s inspiring to see a team dedicated to reviving the traditional methods of whisky production.

Because Kilchoman is a new distillery, you don’t get quite the same sense of history that you do when taking tours at places like Ardbeg and Bowmore, but it’s as interesting due to the fact that you get to see the entire process, from grain to bottle, in one visit.

The tour is pretty good, as is the gift shop, which is small but has good-quality gifts, while the cafe has a great selection of home-cooked food. The Cullen Skink, in particular, is excellent (the best I’ve tasted outside of Cullen) and the coffee is delicious, plus you can get a drop of Kilchoman whisky stirred in for good measure.

Book a 4-day tour of Islay & the whisky coast

Lagavulin Distillery Tour

  • Founded: 1816
  • Pronounced: lag-a-voo-lin
  • Flavour: seaside smokiness.
  • Recommended whisky: Lagavulin 16 Year Old
  • Address: Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA42 7DZ
  • Website: Lagavulin
islay distillery lagavulin

Lagavulin distillery is located just down the road from Ardbeg in Lagavulin Bay, and it’s impossible to miss as it’s sited right on the side of the A846, and I mean that literally – the main building sits inches from the roadside. It’s not the biggest distillery on Islay by any means, but it oozes character and history.

As soon as you walk through the entrance, you’re hit with a wood-panelled corridor that looks like those 1920s-style train stations you sometimes see in the Highlands, and you can easily imagine what it must have been like 100 years ago.

From the entrance, which houses the gift shop and ticket desk, you head to a tasting room, which basically looks like an old-fashioned living room with big, comfy chairs, bookcases, and an old coal burner. On a cold and miserable day, I can’t think of a better place to sit with a warming dram in hand. There are a few samples to try, but you won’t go far wrong with a Lagavulin tasting kit which offers samples that you won’t find in the shops and is a great introduction to this historic distillery.

The tour is good and you get a complimentary nosing glass as a keepsake, as well as a discount in the shop. There’s no café at Lagavulin, but you can easily combine a visit with nearby Ardbeg which has a great café, or you can drive down the road in the opposite direction to Port Ellen, which has a decent food store.

At the end of a tour, you might like to explore the bay, which is a haven for wildlife. There’s a small ruined castle on the northern side that looks out across the sea towards the small islands of Texa in the near distance and Gigha near Jura, or you could just as easily drive to The Oa, which is a wild promontory that’s home to a windswept RSPB nature reserve.

Laphroaig Distillery Tour

  • Founded: 1815
  • Pronounced: La-froyg
  • Flavour: heavy medicinal tang.
  • Recommended whisky: Laphroaig Quarter Cask
  • Address: Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA42 7DU
  • Website: Laphroaig
laphroaig distillery isaly

Laphroaig hardly needs an introduction as it’s one of the most famous single malts in the world that’s easily up there with Glenmorangie and Macallan for cult status. Accordingly, the distillery runs some of the best tours on Islay, and you can choose from general overviews that take less than an hour to four-and-a-half-hour excursions that take you on a journey into the surrounding landscape as well as give you an in-depth look inside the distillery and warehouses.

You’ll find Laphroaig on the southern edge of Islay, overlooking a small bay with a forest backdrop halfway between Port Ellen and Lagavulin. This is one of the biggest distilleries on Islay, and it’s unusual in that it has its very own water supply at the Kilbride Reservoir as well as its own peat bog.

These two elements – peat and spring water – are what give Laphroaig whisky its medicinal taste due to the peat having a very high ratio of Sphagnum moss. You’ll see these multi-coloured living carpets of moss all over Islay, and there’s a giant plot of it on the opposite side of the road from the distillery where you can go and stake out your very own honorary square foot of land at the end of your visit.

It’s a nice touch, and it means you’ll own a piece of the distillery for years to come, plus they’ll give you a complimentary dram if you ever return to see it. In addition, they hand out free tea and coffee to anyone who doesn’t want a taste of whisky.

There’s no restaurant at Laphroaig, but then, just like at Lagavulin, you can easily head in either direction up the A846 to Ardbeg or Port Ellen if you’re after a bite to eat, and The Oa is just a few miles away if you’re looking for a nice walk along the coast. The icing on the cake is that they’re very generous with their free samples. I was given a free 5cl bottle when I arrived, as I’d previously joined their Friends of Laphroaig club, another free welcome whisky in the lounge before the tour, and another 3 tasters after!

Ardnahoe Distillery Tour

islay whisky barrels

I haven’t yet visited Ardnahoe so I’m not going to go into too much detail here, but it looks like it could become a very interesting distillery. This is a family-run business that only started operations in 2016, with the first runs of distillation in late 2018. But even though it’s such a new distillery, from what I’ve heard, they’re already making some very exciting spirits from their brand-new purpose-built buildings a few miles north of Port Askaig on Islay’s eastern side.

The location of the distillery is pretty much perfect, as they have their own water supply at Ardnahoe Loch across the road, and the stretch of coastline near the distillery offers stunning views across the Sound of Islay towards Jura. To take advantage of this, they’ve opened a restaurant with panoramic windows that provide uninterrupted views of the surrounding landscape.

An Introduction to Islay

The Isle of Islay (pronounced eye-luh) is the southernmost island in the Southern Hebrides on Scotland’s west coast, lying close to the Isle of Jura and to the west of the Campbeltown peninsula. At 239 square miles, it’s quite a big island when compared to other west-coast tourist destinations like the Isle of Tiree, but it pales in comparison to Scotland’s most-visited island, Skye, which is 639 square miles and has a population of over 10,000 people.

Islay has a much smaller population of approximately 3,200, many of whom work at the nine currently operational distilleries. The rest of the islanders work in the fishing, agriculture, and tourism sectors, the latter of which has grown significantly in recent years (admittedly as a result of the popularity of the island’s distillery tours).

Unlike the barren, windswept islands of the Outer Hebrides, Islay is home to large areas of forest, and there’s a surprising amount of wildlife to see inland. Meanwhile, the beautiful golden beaches and the quaint picture-postcard villages add to the feeling that it really is Scotland in miniature.


During a visit, you’ll find that not only are there hill ranges to climb (Beinn Bheigier rises to a point of 456 metres along an undulating ridge on the east side), but there are also lots of stunning beaches to explore, like those on the impossibly scenic Machir and Saligo bays.

The majority of the islanders live in the villages from which the distilleries take their name, and although the majority of settlements don’t have much to offer tourists other than the distilleries, the island’s largest village, Bowmore, has quite a few shops in addition to lovely walks along the shores of Loch Indaal.

If you’re not too bothered by whisky, there are plenty of other things to see and do on Islay, so you don’t need to even set foot in a distillery to have a great time. Two highlights that I recommend are the Oa Peninsula, which features incredible clifftop walks, and The Big Strand which, at 7 miles, is one of the longest beaches in Scotland.

Isle of Islay lagavulin distillery

Islay Tours

The Isle of Islay is one of the best places in Scotland to experience everything that makes the country such a magical destination for tourists. There are beautiful coastlines to walk around, incredible wildlife-watching opportunities around every corner, and, of course, some of the world’s finest whiskies to taste.

It’s certainly possible to head off in any direction and hope for the best, but it makes more sense to leave the driving to a professional tour guide who can take you to the main attractions as well as the hidden gems that only the locals know about.

While there are dozens of tour operators willing to take visitors around Islay, the pick of the bunch has to be Rabbie’s. This company specialises in small group tours using mini coaches that seat no more than 16 people, so occupants get to make new friends as they explore each new destination without feeling like they’re lost in the middle of a big crowd.


Check out the itinerary below to get a feel for what you can see on a Rabbie’s tour of Islay.

Islay & The Whisky Coast 4-day Tour

Itinerary day 1:

  1. From Edinburgh, head to the Highlands and stop at the Trossachs National Park for food.
  2. Continue through the West Highlands towards the coastal town of Oban.
  3. Take a tour around the Oban distillery and have a seafood lunch.
  4. Visit Kilmartin Glen to see the ancient standing stones.
  5. Take the evening ferry to Islay.
  6. Once on Islay, head to Bowmore for overnight accommodation.

Itinerary day 2:

  1. Take a tour of the Bowmore distillery.
  2. Visit Ardnahoe Distillery for a tour and lunch.
  3. Visit Kilchoman distillery for a tour and a whisky tasting.
  4. Return to Bowmore.

Itinerary day 3:

  1. Visit the Ardbeg distillery for a tour and lunch.
  2. Visit the Laphroaig distillery.
  3. Explore Kildaton Church and Dunyvaig Castle.
  4. Visit the Lagavulin distillery for a tour and a tasting.
  5. Return to Bowmore.

Itinerary day 4:

  1. Take the ferry back to the mainland and drive south through the Highlands.
  2. Stop at the village of Inveraray on the banks of Loch Fyne.
  3. Continue to Loch Lomond and stop for photos.
  4. Return to Edinburgh.

Book a 4-day tour of Islay & the whisky coast

Facts About Islay Whisky

First things first, not all whiskies are created equally. Scotch is unique in that it can only be called whisky (not whiskey – note the lack of the letter e) if it has been distilled in Scotland and matured in an oak barrel for at least three years, and it can only be called a single malt if it’s produced in one distillery.

This might seem a little snobby, but for purists, it’s essential to the character of what makes Scotch what it is. That’s understandable when you consider that this spirit has been made in Scotland for over 500 years and is now one of the country’s biggest earners, accounting for 70% of all food and drink exports.

While the exact origins of Scotch whisky are unknown, it’s believed that it all started on Islay when Irish monks travelled there sometime in the 13th century, but whether or not they were the first people to use peat to dry the grain (which gives Islay whisky it’s unmistakable smokiness) is unknown.

The earliest known distillery was Bowmore, which opened its doors in 1779. Laphroaig and Lagavulin, which opened their doors in 1815 and 1816, respectively, followed Bowmore a few years later. It’s amazing when you think these distilleries are still going strong today and show no sign of losing their popularity.

Peat Scotland

The smokiness in Islay whisky comes from using peat in the malting process, and the distilleries on Islay are some of the few in Scotland that still carry out this labour-intensive task in-house. As the barley grains are spread onto grids inside hot kilns, dried peat is added to the fire which creates plumes of thick smoke that infuse with the grains (think along the lines of cooking food over a wood-burning barbeque).

The grains are then milled into a coarse flour before being mixed in hot water, with the resulting liquid distilled in giant copper pots to produce whisky. That’s a very brief overview, so see this article, The Scotch Whisky Regions, for a more in-depth explanation of the process.

There are lots of other variables that make Islay whisky so distinct, including the water source and the type of barrels used during maturation (usually American ex-bourbon casks or Spanish ex-sherry casks), but even the shape of the still can make a difference to the final taste.

In fact, the process of making Islay whisky is so exact that if a copper still has to be replaced, the exact same dings and dents in the old one are knocked into the replacement! I guess it’s this attention to detail that makes Islay whisky so difficult to copy.

I’ve listed a few related posts below that you may find useful when choosing your next Islay adventure. You’ll learn a few good tips about whisky as well, so you don’t need to feel like a complete novice when you arrive on the island.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is the Isle of Islay?

Islay is the southernmost island in the Southern Hebrides on Scotland’s west coast, lying close to the Isle of Jura and to the west of the Campbeltown peninsula.

What are the whisky distilleries on Islay?

Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, and Ardnahoe.

How much do the whisky distillery tours on Islay cost?

Expect to pay a minimum of £10 per person, which will go up to £60 or more depending on the number of tastings you’ll get afterwards, with the cheaper tours offering a sample from the distillery’s core range and the upper-tier tours offering additional samples from more expensive bottlings.

Where are the whisky distilleries on Islay?

Ardbeg: Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA42 7DU
Bowmore: School St, Bowmore, Islay, PA43 7JS
Bruichladdich: Islay, Argyll, PA49 7UN
Bunnahabhain: Port Askaig, Isle of Islay, Argyll, A46 7RP
Caol Ila: Port Askaig, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA46 7RL
Kilchoman: Rockside Farm, Bruichladdich, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA49 7UT
Lagavulin: Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA42 7DZ
Laphroaig: Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA42 7DU
Ardnahoe: Port Askaig, Isle of Islay, PA46 7RN

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Craig Neil

Craig Neil is the author, photographer, admin, and pretty much everything else behind Out About Scotland. He lives near Edinburgh and spends his free time exploring Scotland and writing about his experiences. Follow him on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.