The Isle of Islay is part of the Southern Hebrides and is inhabited by approx. 3200 people. Islay is famous for its eight whisky distilleries. The first written references come from St. Columba who set foot on Islay in 560ad close to Kilchiaran Bay on Islay’s Atlantic west coast. The historical significance of Islay cannot be over emphasised. It is from Finlaggan, the cradle of the Clan Donald, that much of Argyll was ruled by the Lords of the Isles. Here, in the ancient burial ground is the grave of Robert the Bruce’s grand-daughter, and there is a seasonal visitors’ cottage on-site.
Islay is more than Whisky
For many visitors the famous distilleries on Islay are the first acquaintance with this hospitable and friendly island, and many of them find out that Islay is so much more than malt whisky and become returning visitors for many years. The Isle of Islay offers the visitor a peaceful and relaxing holiday with miles of beautiful beaches, impressive bays on Islay’s Atlantic west coast and stunning views. Pony Trekking, fresh and salt water angling, shooting and stalking are all available, while walking and cycling are ideal and practical ways to explore the island. Islay is also a birdwatching paradise with more than 100 species of birds and the thousands of migrating geese who visit Islay in the winter from the Arctic. Not without reason Islay is called “The Queen of the Hebrides”. Below the seas surrounding Islay lie many wrecks which provide interesting dives for the experienced diver.
Islay boasts some quality hand craft shops which are worth visiting, such as the Persabus Pottery in Port Askaig and the Islay Woollen Mill outside Bridgend. Islay House Square in Bridgend, located in the centre of Islay, is home to Islay Ales, the Islay Quilters, Elizabeth Sykes Batics and several other interesting shops. The neighbouring Bridgend woodland is perfect for fine sheltered walks along the river Sorn, specially in springtime when the grounds are covered with bluebells.
Travel on Islay
A pleasant journey of a little over two hours will take the visitor from Kennacraig on the Kintyre peninsula to Port Ellen or Port Askaig. The two ferries are operated by Caledonian MacBrayne since the early 1970s and sail several times a day to Islay and onwards to Oban on a Wednesday. Islay has its own airport, Glenegedale, located between Port Ellen and Bowmore, and is used several times a day for scheduled flights from Glasgow. The Islay bus will take visitors all over the island running several scheduled services. Cars can be hired at D & N MacKenzie, Tel: 01496 302300, and there are several places on the island where bikes can be hired.
Islay: A tour over the island
We start the tour at Port Ellen with it’s lovely picturesque white houses all around Leodeamus Bay. Port Ellen is the second largest village on Islay and home to Port Ellen Maltings, several restaurants and shops. Opposite Kilnaughton Bay is the Oa peninsula, a remote and now deserted part of Islay where in early days 4000 people lived. Remains of old villages are the witnesses of these forgotten days. The Oa is a habitat of several rare species of birds and the Chough have their own protected are here.
Islay Whisky Tours
A popular way to discover the distilleries on Islay is with a pre-booked whisky tour of the distilleries. One of the local companies we recommend is Islay Whisky Academy
We now take a little detour and follow the coastal road to the southern Distilleries, where Laphroaig and the Friends of Laphroaig land are the first of the three famous distilleries. The second one, Lagavulin, is just one km away from Laphroaig and last but not least is the Ardbeg Distillery, home to the Old Kiln Cafe, a good place for lunch. The road passes Kildalton with it’s famous high cross and chapel, and ends just beyond Claggain Bay at Ardtalla.
A straight road runs From Port Ellen to Bowmore, also referred to as ‘the Low Road’, which means there is a High Road as well and it runs parallel to the low road. On the road to Bowmore are Islay’s airport at Glenegedale and the famous Machrie Golf Links, just behind the Big Strand, a 9km stretch of beautiful sandy beach. On entering Bowmore the first obvious buildings are some of the warehouses from Bowmore Distillery on the left, followed by the lovely and unique Bowmore Round Church, built in a circular shape so the devil couldn’t hide in the corners. Bowmore is Islay’s administrative capital and situated on the shore of Loch Indaal. Bowmore Distillery, the oldest on the island, is located in the heart of this lovely village, next to the Mactaggart Leisure Centre which comprises a superb swimming pool, sauna and fitness gym open each week from Tuesday to Sunday.
Our next village is Bridgend, the centre of Islay and home to Islay House, built by the Campbells in the 1700s and Islay House Square which hosts Islay Ales, the Islay Quilters, Elizabeth Sykes Batics and several other interesting shops. Opposite the square are the Bridgend Woods offering sheltered walks along the river Sorn.
Finlaggan and Ballygrant
We now head for Port Askaig and pass the Islay Woollen Mill, worth a stop to admire the wonderful fabrics made here. The owner will gladly show you around the place. The road continuous through fertile meadow lands passing Islay’s only Dairy farm and passes the old mining town of Ballygrant. Just outside Ballygrant is Finlaggan, home of the Lords of the Isles who once ruled the western part of Scotland and Argyll. Not far from here is a road to the left taking you to the Persabus Pottery and the Bunnahabhain Distillery. The Caol Ila distillery is located close to Port Askaig which lies on the banks of the Sound of Islay and is the second port of Islay, recently renovated to provide better facilities for both the Islay ferry and Isle of Jura ferry.
Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte
From Port Askaig it’s back to Bridgend and we now head for Bruichladdich, following the shore of Loch Indaal and the raised beaches. The shores are a feeding ground for many wading birds and offer several parking spaces to stop and enjoy Islay’s wildlife. Bruichladdich is a distillery village providing homes for the distilleries workforce. Just before Bruichladdich is a single track road heading for the Atlantic west coast with its beautiful bays such as Saligo Bay and Machir Bay. North of this road is the famous Loch Gruinart and RSPB visitor centre. Loch Gruinart is home to almost 45,000 Geese that spend the winter here and feed on the grass lands before leaving in late April.
A short and pleasant drive of 10 minutes will bring you in Port Charlotte, Islay’s most beautiful village, and home to the Islay Museum which is built in a former church building, the Islay Natural History Trust and the future home of Islay’s ninth distillery, The Port Charlotte Distillery. In the heart of this picturesque village is a road over the Rhinns of Islay towards the west coast which passes Kilchiaran Chapel, the Cultoon Stone Circle, Lossit Bay and ends at Portnahaven and Port Wemyss. Two little fishing villages, laying side by side on the most southerly part of Islay.
Islay Accommodation – Hotels – Self Catering – Bed and Breakfast
Islay Recommended Hotels
Name: The Machrie Hotel & Golf Links
Location: Port Ellen
Details: The Machrie Hotel has 47 beautifully designed rooms, suites and lodges, some with their own outdoor terraces and stunning views across the Links. The hotel offers visitors many places to meet and relax including 18, our impressive restaurant with panoramic views of the Links, as well as a PureGray Spa. www.campbellgrayhotels.com/machrie-islay-scotland/
Name: The Islay Hotel
Location: Port Ellen
Details: The Islay Hotel has thirteen bedrooms, all individually designed with spacious luxury en-suite bathrooms. All our rooms have sea views and free Wi-Fi access. The restaurant provides excellent local food, simply prepared and sensibly priced. Welcoming bar for drinks, coffee, tea and home baking. Open fires, Wi-Fi access, ground source heating. www.theislayhotel.com
Name: Bridgend Hotel
Visit scotland grading: 3star
Details: Bridgend Hotel is in the centre of the island, making it a convenient base for touring or business. There is a pleasant garden, and there are woodland walks and beaches nearby. www.bridgend-hotel.com
Recommended Islay Bed and Breakfast and Guesthouse
Name: Kentraw Farmhouse
Details: Kentraw Farmhouse has been recently refurbished and now offers luxury bed and breakfast accommodation. The surroundings are beautiful and the house is ideally located so you can truly relax and enjoy your stay on Islay. www.kentraw.com
Name: Loch Gorm House
Visit scotland grading: 5star Gold
Details: Loch Gorm House is a luxury STB 5-star Gold Bed and Breakfast Guesthouse on the beautiful Scottish island of Islay. The Guesthouse was recently refurbished and all of the rooms offer beautifully appointed accommodation, some with spectacular sea views across Loch Indaal. www.lochgormhouse.com
Name: Tarbert House
Details: Tarbert House is situated in the heart of the beautiful IslayThe buildings looking over Bowmore harbour town, Bowmore. Offering top quality bed and breakfast accommodation on Islay, you are in perfect hands. www.islaycottages.com
Name: Kilmeny Country Guest House
Visit scotland grading: 5star Gold
Details: Kilmeny Country Guest House is situated within farmland of 300 acres, lying only four miles from the ferry terminal at port Askaig and enjoying magnificent views, from its elevated position, over the Islay countryside. www.kilmeny.co.uk
Name: No1 Charlotte Street
Location: Port Ellen
Details: No1 Charlotte Street is a Bed, Breakfast & Bar in the heart of Port Ellen. Stunning scenery, public bar with pool table & sports TV & whisky lounge with open fire and an extensive gantry. Outside seating and off street parking. www.no1charlottestreet.com
Name: The Bowmore House
Details: Choose from five spacious bedrooms all with large en-suite bathrooms, relax and allow us to look after you. We can assist with your stay as much or as little as you like. Allow us to meet, greet and organise excursions for you or simply arrive, relax and feel at home. www.thebowmorehouse.co.uk
Name: Stonefield Bed and Breakfast
Details: Stonefield is a fabulous brand new (2009) property designed to a very high standard and and has three luxury en-suite rooms. It is ideally located in the centre of the Island and offers beautiful views due to its elevated position. www.stonefield-bedandbreakfast.co.uk
Name: The Troutfly
Location: Port Ellen
Details: In The Trout Fly Guest House we offer you warm Islay hospitality in the centre of Port Ellen – minutes from the ferry terminal and only three miles from our local airport. www.troutfly-islay.co.uk
Name: The Island Bear
Details: We have 3 ensuite bedrooms – two doubles and one twin/double, and a large dinning and lounge room which gives you plenty of room to enjoy your breakfast or relax in comfort after a busy day. www.islandbear.co.uk
Name: Ocean View
Location: Port Charlotte/Nerabus
Details: Ocean View is a stunning 5 bedroom house set just outside Port Charlotte in the hamlet of Nerabus. It is furnished with large bedrooms rooms with ensuite bathrooms. It boasts magnificent views across to Antrim in Ireland and The Oa and Lochindaal on Islay. www.oceanviewislay.co.uk
Name: Lyrabus Croft
Details: In a very peaceful, central location between Bridgend and Bruichladdich, at Lyrabus Croft we offer comfortable en suite rooms with uninterrupted views, Wifi, TV, Fridge etc. plus delicious breakfasts. www.lyrabuscroft.co.uk
Recommended Islay Self Catering Accommodation
Name: Orsa Islay
Details: Orsa is a recently refurbished semi detached three bedroom house in Hawthorn Lane in the heart of Bowmore, a central location ideal from which to explore the whole island. www.orsa-islay.co.uk
Name: Rowan Cottage
Location: Glenegedale – Port Ellen
Details: Rowan Cottage is a modern and spacious 3 bedroom self-catering cottage offering spectacular views and sunsets over Loch Indaal on the Isle of Islay. Situated on the High Road between Port Ellen and Bowmore, Rowan Cottage is modern, spacious and set in open moorland. It offers accommodation for up to seven people. www.rowancottageislay.com
Name: Octovullin Farmhouse
Location: Near Bridgend
Details: Octovullin, sleeps 10, is a traditional farmhouse full of character, modernised to provide very comfortable self catering holiday accommodation. Occupying a fabulous position this property overlooks Loch Skerrols in the heart of Islay, and is the perfect holiday cottage to rent to explore everything Islay has to offer. islayestates.com/octovullin-farmhouse
Name: Ardbeg Cottage
Location: Ardbeg/Callumkill Estate
Details: This 3 bedroom cottage (sleeps 5) is situated in a secluded and elevated position near the ocean within walking distance to Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig Distilleries. It offers much privacy, a cosy atmosphere, a fire place, a fully equipped kitchen (dishwasher) and a wet room with washing machine and dryer. WiFi. www.callumkill.com
Details: Situated along the shoreline of Bruichladdich, Portbahn is a modern, well insulated 3 bedroom house, sleeps 8. Within walking distance of Bruichladdich Distillery and with the pubs and restaurants of Port Charlotte not far away, it’s perfectly situated. 2 nights minimum stay off peak. 2 bathrooms, log burner, internet and large garden. www.portbahnislay.co.uk
Name: Callumkill Farmhouse
Details: Callumkill Farmhouse (sleeps 8) was built 200 years ago on the site of a chapel. The house has been renovated to a very high standard retaining original features. It is built on a ridge with breathtaking views over fields and the pagodas of Lagavulin to the sea – perfect for a quiet get away or a base for touring Islay. WiFi. www.callumkill.com
Name: Cairn Cottage
Location: Port Ellen/Kilnaughton Bay
Details: Sleeping up to 11 with beautiful sea views and plenty of living space, Cairn Cottage is the perfect environment to unwind, relax and explore the island. Available to rent year round, the house is well equipped, spacious and ideally suited for families and large groups. Pets welcome. www.myislay.co.uk
Name: Grace Cottage
Details: Welcome to Grace Cottage, which is situated up on the hill behind Bruichladdich. The house is self-catering and sleeps up to 5 people, in the 3 bedrooms. WiFi is available. www.gracecottageislay.co.uk
Name: Ineraval Farmhouse
Location: Oa Peninsula
Details: Ineraval is a two storey, 2-bedroom farmhouse situated on The Oa peninsula. It has recently been renovated to a very high standard, and is well-equipped and comfortable. It has a large well-equipped kitchen, open plan living and dining areas with wood burning stove and satellite TV, WiFi, bathroom and separate shower room. www.ineraval-farmhouse.co.uk
Name: Leodamais Big/Wee House
Location: Port Ellen
Details: Leodamais is an exclusive self catering house, home to six luxury bedroom’s split over two impressive properties – The Wee House & The Big House. The luxurious and sophisticated family friendly properties have had absolutely no expense spared in creating these elegant homes in one of the most famous locations in Scotland. www.luxuryonislay.co.uk
Details: Situated in the picturesque conservation village of Portnahaven, Hill Crest is a modern house built on the foundations of a traditional fishermans cottage. Hillcrest benefits from Ocean Views from almost all rooms. We offer Freesat TV, free WiFi Internet and MP3 docking station. The house has been renovated in 2013. www.holiday-islay.com
Name: Islay Croft Holidays
Location: Port Ellen
Details: At Balaclava, our traditional 600 acre Croft, we offer two luxurious but cosy self catering houses situated less than a mile from Port Ellen. The Old Croft House & Balaclava Croft House offer homely luxurious comfort, Light & space, privacy and stunning Islay views. Both houses can sleep up to 8 adults or 6 adults 2/4 children. www.islaycroftholidays.com
Name: The Saddlers
Details: The saddlers is a six bedroom en suite traditionally two storey house in the centre of Bowmore. Completely renovated in 2018. The house benefits from stunning views over Bowmore harbour. www.bowmorelochview.com
Name: Bayview Cottage
Details: Bayview is a charming self-catering holiday cottage overlooking Lagavulin Bay, Texa and Dunyveg castle. The 3 bedroom cottage is only 3 miles from Port Ellen and within walking distance of Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries. www.goislay.com
Name: Ladeside Cottage
Details: Ladeside is a bright, newly renovated, family cottage in School Street opposite Bowmore. Distillery The cottage offers flexible accommodation to a high specification. It sleeps 6, has a large secluded garden and offers WiFi. www.islay-ladeside.com
Islay Tourist Information
The Tourist Information Office is located at Bowmore Square next to the distillery and is a perfect place to start discovering Islay. Here you will find a comprehensive selection of books, specific Islay information and its events. Contact details, Phone: +44 (0)1496 810254 or email: [email protected]
Other Relevant Information
- Islay Ultimate Online Guide Information about the Isle of Islay, in the southern Hebrides. Includes photographs, past and present, details of popular activities on the Island, distillery listings and a selection of tourist information for visitors. Maps of the Island are also provided, together with details of wildlife, climate and Islay’s historic carved stones.
- Islay Blog The Islay Blog is a source of news, events, and background information (history, wildlife, genealogy, and so on) on the Isle of Islay.
- Islay Pictures – A Picture Blog about the Isle of Islay
- Islay Gallery – Picture Gallery from Islay
- Check if Ferry to Islay is Sailing – A good piece of advice