If you dream of sipping an aged whisky with views of the verdant Scottish highlands—read on.
Is it just us, or does a sip of single-malt Scotch whisky make you long for misty glens and mysterious sea lochs? While Scottish single malts can be found in most bars anywhere, it’s only in Scotland that you can feel the visceral quality of “uisge betha” (oosh-ka bay-ah)—Gaelic for “water of life.”
Scottish scenery infuses single malt Scotch, with amber-toned burns pouring water into distilling methods that have been preserved across centuries, their skill a source of national pride. Now is an exciting time to take that trip: net-zero distilleries are crafting sustainable single malts, women-led affairs looking to modernize the industry, and traditional names reviving historic locales.
The five whisky regions of Campbeltown, Highlands, Islay/Islands, Lowlands, and Speyside together contain over 130 active whisky distilleries, so come along as we locate the most scenic destinations to help you plan your next dram with a view.
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WHERE: Northeast Scotland
Stretching from the Tolkein-esque Great Glen in the west to the white beaches of the Moray coast in the east, Speyside is ideal for whisky novices. From Edinburgh, you drive via the A9 through the Cairngorms National Park—a highway known, unsurprisingly, for its scenery—arriving after four hours in the valley of the River Spey. It has the highest concentration of whisky distilleries in the world—around 60 in total, which is why it is home to The Malt Whisky Trail.
There are nine stops, the most famous including Glenfiddich and Balvenie in the so-called “malt whisky capital of the world” in Dufftown. They’re known for their long-preserved tradition but are embracing the contemporary. In Aberlour, the Macallan Distillery proudly occupies a new £140 million “Cathedral of Whisky,” which mirrors the shape of the landscape of the Elchies Estate above the River Spey in waves of glass and wood.
WHERE: The Highlands
With a turreted castle, hazy mountains, and rumors of a monster in its Loch Ness, Inverness is a fairytale setting. Straddling Speyside and the Highlands, it’s also a great base for sampling an A to Z of whiskies. From the central belt of Scotland, you head north into the Cairngorms National Park, where you pass the award-winning Dalwhinnie Distillery, the highest and coldest in Scotland, which serves up drams with artisan whisky chocolates created by Highland chocolatier Ian Burnett.
An hour further north lies Inverness. In 2022, it welcomed its first new whisky distillery in 40 years: hydro-powered Uilebheist (from the Gaelic for monster), producing whisky and beer. The nearest must-tour, pure-whisky distilleries are Tomatin, in the sweeping Monadhliath Mountains, where you can bottle your own whisky straight from the cask, and Glen Ord, on the fishing-village-speckled Black Isle peninsula. Don’t miss The Malt Room, in the city center, serving over 100 single malts in a sultry setting of dark wood.
Isle of Skye
WHERE: West Coast of Scotland
From craggy shorelines to the spiky Cuillin Ridge, Skye wows even if you don’t go for its lively whisky scene—but do. Start with tradition at Talisker, on Loch Harport, recently revamped but still one of 16 distilleries in Scotland to use “worm tubs” during condensing. For new whisky—it’s in full production since 2017—visit Insta-perfect Torabheig, in a farmstead on the Sleat Peninsula, then head 30 minutes north to multiple times “Whisky Bar of the Year,” Seumas’ Bar, in Sligachan Hotel. From here, strike out island hopping and whisky drinking to the Isles of Harris and Jura, which feature Skye on the Hebridean Whisky Trail, or book a bespoke introduction with Skye Distillery Tours, who will take you 25 minutes east to Isle of Raasay Distillery—it created an unprecedented buzz when its launch was announced in 2017. Skye is the second largest and most accessible of Scotland’s islands, thanks to a bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh, five hours north of Glasgow.
WHERE: Scotland's Kintyre Peninsula
Arriving in harborside Campbeltown on the narrow Kintyre peninsula, connected to Scotland’s west coast by a tiny isthmus, you feel you’ve reached the ends of the earth – it’s 140 miles, but three hours from Glasgow. It’s gorgeous and a must-see for whisky buffs, with its single malts, characterized as peaty and sweet, regarded by many as the best in Scotland.
Three distilleries (out of 30 in its heyday) remain, including the oldest family-owned distillery in Scotland—Springbank, founded in 1828 and now in the hands of the fifth generation of the Mitchell family. Over at Glen Scotia, the malts are light and fragrant, while it’s worth touring Glengyle, which opened in 1872, closed in 1925, and now operating again after a 79-year hiatus. It produces the award-winning Kilkerran Single Malt, of which 650 casks are matured annually. Don’t leave before a dram at the lochside Ardshiel Hotel, whose bar has a whisky list currently numbering 700.
WHERE: Inner Hebrides of Scotland
The most southerly of the Inner Hebrides, Islay—an easy 45 minutes by plane from Glasgow—is a whisky paradise. Its nine distilleries, renowned for their smokey single malts, include Laphroaig, the only distiller to carry the royal warrant, Lagavulin, which started distilling in 1742, and Ardbeg, in a rocky cove – a setting many illicit farm distilleries hid in during the 17th century. They feature on the Three Distilleries Pathway, where you can savor the mild climate and rugged coast along three miles between Port Ellen and Ardbeg.
Go too to Kilchoman (one of two distilleries on the island to malt barley on-site); the snazzy new visitor center at Caol Ila, which produces one of the four core spirits for Johnnie Walker; as well as the island’s oldest distillery, Bowmore (est. 1779), and its newest, Ardnahoe (2018). To taste peat-free malts to some of the most heavily peated whisky in the world, tour Bruichladdich, which is committed to net-zero distillation by 2025.
Isle of Arran
WHERE: Firth of Clyde, Scotland
Dubbed “Scotland in miniature” for its south-north contrast between sandy beaches and jagged Highlands-like peaks, Arran will also surprise whisky connoisseurs. It’s handy for daytrippers, via the 50-minute CalMac ferry crossing from Ardrossan (an hour from Glasgow by train), with two distilleries to tour. Lochranza (north end) and Lagg (south end) date from 1995 and 2019, respectively, though the villages have been producing whisky, legally and not, for centuries.
Lochranza, at the head of a sea loch, sources its granite-cleansed water from wild Glen Easan behind the distillery, and its 10-year-old Single Malt is a multi-award-winner. Lagg has just launched its trio of inaugural releases, each batch limited to 10,000 bottles and matured in different cask types. Because the scenery that connects the two distilleries is superb – think a “sleeping warrior” skyline and narrow coastal roads–a fun way to explore is with Mog about, in a colossal 4×4 Mercedes Unimog 16, on a chauffeured whisky tour.
WHERE: The Highlands
Straddling the Highland Boundary Fault, Perthshire, an hour north of Edinburgh, is, for Sir Walter Scott, “the fairest spot in the northern kingdom.” Its craggy drama is arranged between the wilds of Rannoch Moor and the light-bathed Trossachs hills, but whisky enthusiasts will adore the quaintness between Pitlochry and Crieff. Here you’ll find Scotland’s smallest (and probably most picture-perfect) distillery—Edradour—where single malts are handmade in tiny stills, overseen by a team of three.
There’s Scotland’s oldest distillery, too: Glenturret, from 1763, which is the most visited distillation site in the country (its single malt is one of the main ingredients in The Famous Grouse blend). It’s a quick hop to Blair Athol, which has the world’s only bar made from an old mash tun, and from here, it’s minutes to The Grandtully Hotel by Ballintaggart: rooms come with whisky-scented toiletries, and you’ll find “press for whisky” bells in the bar and library.
The Kingdom of Fife
WHERE: The Lowlands
This regal fiefdom, an hour north of Edinburgh on the pretty east coast, is the ancestral home of Scottish monarchs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has the oldest connections to whisky in Scotland – most notably in 15th-century Lindores Abbey, now a stylishly renovated, glass-fronted whisky distillery, which is connected to the earliest written reference to Scotch whisky in 1494.
These days, its barley-based single malt takes water from the same borehole used by the monks more than 500 years ago. In old-world farmsteadings at Kingsbarns Distillery, between St. Andrews and Crail, you can sample small-batch Wemyss malts. And if you can, don’t leave Scotland without driving 60 miles north of Fife to its namesake: The Fife Arms, home to one of the world’s best whisky bars, Bertie’s. Its whisky ambassador Katy Fennema runs experiences such as tastings on a Scottish hillside.
WHERE: The Lowlands
Glasgow’s Clyde shipping trade put Scottish whisky on the global map, but by the 21st century, only one distillery remained in the city. In 2014, whisky made a comeback with the reopening of The Glasgow Distillery Company and its 1770 single malt. It’s not open for tours, so instead venture to The Clydeside Distillery, a striking structure within the former Pumphouse building, which controlled the passage of ships carrying whisky– now renovated to the tune of multi-millions–close to the Glenlee tall ship and the fantastic Riverside Museum. Clydeside’s single malt, from 2021, has the delicate palate typical of Lowlands whisky and can be sampled on an interactive tour. Ten miles out of Glasgow, with train connections, is Auchentoschan, where tours show how Scotland’s only triple-distilled single malt is made. Prefer to hot-foot it to the best whisky bars? Book a whisky tour of the ravishing west end with Once Upon a Whisky–suitable for both novices and whisky geeks.
Dumfries & Galloway
WHERE: The Lowlands
Dumfries and Galloway might not come to mind as a whisky hotspot: it’s more famous as the home of the UK’s first Dark Sky Park in Galloway Forest; southern Scotland’s highest peak, Merrick (2,770 feet); and the “Scottish Riviera” along the Solway Firth. But think again. The hub is lively Dumfries, two hours south of Glasgow on the A74, an old haunt of Robert Burns, who hung out at The Globe Inn.
With its impressive whisky collection, it’s a good place to start. Then head 30 minutes southeast to the historic port of Annan, where Annandale Distillery is producing lowlands single malt for the first time since 1918–its first release single cask single malt whisky is highly sought after. For state-of-the-art surroundings, go to the new visitor center at iconic Bladnoch Distillery in mountain-encircled Newton Stewart: on tours, you can use the production team’s equipment to analyze the malted barley, wash, and spirit.