Whisky is a staple of the Scottish identity. With a rich history in distillation, the small country of Scotland is home to around 125 distilleries, stretched across five regions.
Whether you’re a whisky newbie or a passionate fan, find a cheap flight to Glasgow, then let your senses run free on the whisky trail through Scotland. Though most urban areas are well-connected, this whisky trail will take you to some remote areas, so you might want to find a ride, check in to hotels along the route, and set off to discover whisky production and the bucolic surroundings. We’ve also set up a Scottish sounding playlist to keep you happy during the road trip!
The Lowlands is one of the most accessible whisky regions in the country. The grassy fields, mild climate and flat landscape make it perfect for growing barley, and whiskies from this region have a delicate, citrusy character – which might explain the affectionate nickname ‘The Lowland Ladies’.
8 miles north-west of Glasgow you will find Auchentoshan Distillery, the only distillery in Scotland to practice triple distillation, which means the whisky goes through three stills before it’s allowed to mature in oak casks. This technique adds to the smoothness, sweetness and delicacy of Auchentoshan’s single malt whisky, also known as ‘breakfast whisky’.
For all-encompassing whisky experiences, ranging from family-friendly tours to ‘Taste of Scotland’ tour, take the 30-minute car ride north-east to Edinburgh for the Scotch Whisky Experience, combining whisky with cuisine, and in-depth classes for connoisseurs. While there, visit the landmark dominating the city landscape, The Edinburgh Castle, or hike up the ancient dormant volcano Arthur’s Seat.
Located in the lush East Lothian farmland and only 15 miles from Edinburgh, the Glenkinchie Distillery specialises in light, sweet and malty whiskies with notes of lemon and cut grass. This distillery dates back to 1825 and has been rebuilt in the late 1800s as a model Victorian distillery village, featuring red-brick buildings, houses for workers and a bowling green.
Get on road and head to the western peninsula Kintyre. Though it’s a 3-hour drive from Glasgow, the road will take you through one of Scotland’s most beautiful landscape – Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.
Once a great whisky region and self-proclaimed ‘Whisky Capital of the World’, boasting 34 distilleries, Campbeltown, in southern Kintyre, currently has three operating distilleries. You might think that’s not enough to warrant it a whisky region, but the distinctive characteristics of the single malts produced here garnered a loyal following.
The oldest independent family-owned distillery in Scotland, Springbank Distillery produces three very different types of whiskies. You can pick and choose among seven tours focusing on the production process, history of the distillery and the region. For the die-hard whisky fans: you can book a tour with whisky connoisseur Frank McHardy, who will guide you through the history of the area and the whisky making process.
Glengyle’s history is entangled with Springbank’s: after a quarrel, one of the brothers running Springbank decided to start his own distillery. Thus Glengyle was born in 1872. Nowadays this distillery produces a rare single malt whisky under the name Kilkerran, which is derived from Saint Kerran who had his religious followers in this area. One of the smallest distilleries in the country, Glen Scotia still maintains some of the original setup from 1832, like the fermenters, the stillroom, and the dunnage warehouse. Enjoy some whisky in their beautiful Victorian-style shop.
Alternatively, you can visit during the Campbeltown Malts Festival, taking place annually in May. The three distilleries team up for three days of whisky tastings and dinners, masterclasses, live music and combined tours.
Take to the road again and drive up the western coast of Kintyre. Catch the ferry from Kennacraig and 2 hours later you’ll find yourself in Port Ellen, on Isle of Islay.
Islay is home to around 3000 souls and eight distilleries. It is believed that Irish monks introduced distillation techniques here as early as the 14th century. Thanks to the composed peat found here in abundant amounts and the fertile land for growing barley, Islay has become a hotspot for smoky, heavily peated whiskies.
The southern distilleries Lagavulin and Laphroaig produce powerful whiskies by using heavily peated malt and peaty water all through the production process. Located in a quiet bay, Lagavulin produces some of Scotland’s best whisky, embodying the flavours of Islay: fruity and smoky with a pinch of sea salt. Just down the road you will find Laphroaig, distilling some of the smokiest whiskies on the island. With a history that goes back two centuries, Laphroaig offers earthy whiskies of various ages, ranging from a young 10- to a very rare 25-years-old. Between March and September you can go on the ‘Water to Whisky Experience’, where you’ll cut peat together with the staff and visit the water source of the distillery.
Speyside – Highlands
Make sure you get a good night’s sleep, since this bit of the road trip includes the longest drive at around 236 miles. Departing from Campbeltown, drive up north through the region of Argyll. Stop for some fish and chips in fishing city Oban, take a small detour when you reach Fort William and visit the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a filming location for the Harry Potter movies. If you haven’t had enough of Scotland’s island paradises, stick around for a bit.
Continuing the journey north-east you will cross the Cairngorms National Park, and step into Speyside, home to around half the distilleries in Scotland. Speyside is technically a part of the Highlands and is only a denominated whisky region. It’s also the only whisky region to offer a three-day guided malt whisky trail of seven world-famous distilleries. If this sounds too extravagant, put some days aside and check out some of them on your own. In-between whisky sampling, go for some salmon fishing on the River Spey.
The tiny town of Dufftown is home to Glenfiddich, producer of the world’s most awarded single malt Scotch whisky. The tours available here will take you through the distillery’s Warehouse 1 where you can learn about the Angel’s Share, the amount of whisky evaporating through oak.
In the city of Keith lies one of the oldest distilleries in the country – Strathisla, home to Chivas Regal. The cobbled courtyard and the distinctive double pagoda towers make it arguably the most picturesque distillery in Scotland. Go on ‘The Ultimate Strathisla Experience’ and sample some of their rarest whiskies, including the 38-years-old Royal Salute Stone of Destiny.
Just a hop, skip and a jump away, and you’re in the Highlands, which territorially speaking is the biggest whisky region. Spanning from the Orkney Islands in the north to the Isle of Arran in the south, it’s difficult to commonly describe the whiskies: some are peaty, some are smoky, and some are delicate.
One and a half hours driving west from Speyside will take you to the city of Inverness. Located on the banks of River Ness, this northern city boasts great restaurants and scenic landscapes. Many come here in the hopes of spotting Nessie, the famous inhabitant of nearby Loch Ness.
Drive all the way up north along the east coast of the Northern Highlands, catch the ferry in Gills and in 60 minutes you’ll disembark on the Orkney Islands. Just a short drive up north and you’ve reached the Highland Park Distillery. The neighboring Hobbister Nature Reserve contains 4000-years-old peat that is still used in the production of their whisky. To get an in-depth understanding of the entire process opt for the ‘Specialist Tour’, where you’ll work for a day at the distillery, firing the kilns, working the floor maltings and handling the peat. Spend some days discovering this archipelago of 70 islands, brimming with diverse wildlife, sandy beaches and a fascinating history.
Slowly make your way back south towards the Cairngorms National Park and on its east side, in close proximity to the Balmoral Castle, you’ll find the Royal Lochnagar Distillery, regularly visited by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It’s easy to imagine why royals loved visiting: the picturesque Lochnagar Mountain just behind the distillery and the tranquil River Dee just a stone’s throw away, make for the perfect retreat while diving into a tasting experience.
While your road trip is coming to an end, make a final stop on your way back to Glasgow. On the banks of the Barvick Burn, visit Scotland’s oldest distillery – the Glenturret Distillery. Glenturret is the most visited distillery in Scotland: among many things, you can take a selfie with the world’s biggest whisky bottle – containing 60 gallons of The Famous Grouse.
Total road trip length: 1105 miles