This is one of four stories about what to drink, eat and do and where to stay on the Scottish island of Islay. Want to know all the tips? Liquor.com's Everything Guide to Visiting Islay has you covered.
While most people make their way to Islay to visit distilleries, there’s plenty of other ways to fill the days on Islay. For starters, there are a few sites that tell rich and colorful stories of the island’s ancient Gaelic and Norse societies. Plus, there’s a huge variety of hikes and strolls, not to mention flat roads for biking. Whether you fancy beach, birds, farm, woodlands or ruins, there’s enough to keep your Instagram feed rolling at a steady clip. Add to that a tiny brewery and mighty centuries-old woolen mill, and you might even forget about the distilleries—for a few minutes, at least.
It can seem that Islay is an isolated paradise, but it’s only one (albeit the biggest) island in the Hebrides, and there are plenty of distilleries scattered throughout. The closest is Jura, home to the eponymous whisky since 1810. It’s also home to about 200 people, one pub and 5,000 deer. Getting there from Islay is a snap: A passenger ferry that leaves from Port Askaig on Islay’s east coast runs every 30 to 60 minutes between 7.30 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. It takes just minutes to speed across the rushing Sound of Islay, a half-mile-wide stretch that offers jaw-dropping views of both islands—reason enough to drop $4 and just hang on the boat for a round-trip.
Power move: The distillery isn’t within walking distance of Jura’s port, so you’ll need a car to visit. It costs $20 to bring a car on the ferry round-trip, and that includes passenger fees.
World-class local single-malt scotches are a dime a dozen on Islay. Local beers, however, are a little tougher to come by. But rest assured, the ultra-discrete two-room Islay Ales Brewery, located in an old estate property, turns out a wide variety of beers, including real ales and holiday releases, that are sold at bars and restaurants throughout the island. Tour the site and sample the wares in the cozy tasting room.
Power move: Because this is a mighty small operation, sometimes only a bare-bones crew will be on the job on any given day. So it’s critical you call ahead for tours.
Islay House Square, Bridgend
+44 (0)1496 810 014
It’s not easy to get to the birthplace of a great scotch. But the silkiness and complexity of Ardbeg Uigeadail is worth the trip to the loch high above the hills of Ardbeg. And if you’d like to see the titular whirlpool that inspired the Best Islay Single Malt Scotch at the 2017 World Whiskies Awards, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, you can do that, too.
To get to the Islay Woollen Mill, you cross a stone bridge under a forest canopy like something out of a Hans Christian Andersen tale. The Old World ambiance continues inside the creaky workshop, which was established in 1550 and stands as Britain’s oldest working mill. It’s mesmerizing to watch the craftsmen weave tartan patterns and tweeds on giant looms the same way they did centuries ago. The shop sells an epic selection of the mill’s hats, blankets, jackets, scarves and more. It also produces exclusive tweeds for Huntsman & Sons, a bespoke tailor on tony Savile Row in London.
Power move: The mill might be Islay’s closest link to Hollywood, having produced custom tweed for several films, most famously Braveheart and Rob Roy. Ask a staffer about their encounters with the stars.
+44 (0)1496 810 563
From beaches, seaside vistas, wildflowers and woods to the adorable and abundant sheep and Highland cattle, Islay is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Instagram-able moments. That’s to say nothing of the 100-plus species of birds that call Islay home. (That number creeps up to about 120 during peak migration.) Take it all in with a hike anywhere from one mile, like a woodland walk to a lookout tower on the old Islay estate near the village of Bridgend, to a seven-mile trek across rough ground and sand dunes that starts at Kintra Farm, a camping ground on the west coast. The views of the ruins are just gravy.
Power move: The Islay and Jura Tourism Marketing Group publishes Islay Walks, a spiral-bound book that guides you on 25 hikes. Pick it up in one of the shops in Bowmore.
Several of the distilleries on Islay are more than two centuries old, but hard-core history buffs will be best served with a visit to Finlaggan, a loch containing two small islands and ancient ruins. Finlaggan was the nerve center of the Lords of the Isles in the 14th and 15th centuries, but archeological finds show evidence of settlements as early as 600. Today, there’s access to the larger island by walkway or boat. Stroll the ruins and check out the remains of regal old buildings and the various majestic gravestones, many of which feature detailed effigies.
Power move: Visitors are welcome year-round, but take note that the site is preserved by the Finlaggan Trust, which runs an information center and micro-museum from April through October.
Finlaggan Trust, The Cottage, Ballygrant
+44 (0)1496 840 644