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Planning a trip - my 40th in Scotland for Scotch Tasting and Tours

I'm planning my first trip to Scotland this summer in mid-June. My goal is to travel by car or van around the Speyside and other areas with a few friends. I'd like to stay in small towns, visit distilleries, and eat local fare and drink the local beer. Any suggestions, ideas, recommendations, etc. would  be very welcome! From where to fly (into London and take a train or drive up), to where to stay and what to see. Especially any special distilleries you love and know and that have unique experiences.

Thanks!! Can't wait to see Scotland!!!


  • Bruce_BoogieBruce_Boogie Member ✭✭
    We went to Glenmorangie and Highland Park this year, but IMHO go to Islay.
    More distilleries than you can share a stick at.
    Wonderful scenery
    Everything close together
    Less crowded
    Peaty or less peaty
    Pop over to Jura ~ lovely
    You can get a bus to most distilleries so no drinking and driving
    Just a thought !!
    Bruce Boogie
    Playing the music that created teenagers
  • HorizonsHorizons Member, VisitScotland Ambassador ✭✭✭✭
    Hey @eliahu77

    From your post, I gather Speyside is your favourite region. That's a good thing due to the concentration of distilleries in that area. I have been to a few distilleries (and want to go to a few more) and here are a few notes from my visits.
    1. Edradour distillery is the best place to sample a wide variety of whiskies in 1 sitting. It's one of the few distilleries with a tasting room and some nice vintage whiskies to taste without breaking the bank.
    2. Glenlivet tour and tasting is free. Where the tour is pretty standard, their massive warehouse is a good reason to visit, it's a sight to behold. They have a small selection that can be sipped after the tour.
    3. Stay a night or two in the village of Tomintoul. Not only is it the highest village in Speyside and quite scenic, it is also home to The Whisky Castle that does tutored tastings. Also try visiting Balvenie by calling them a couple of months in advance, its on my wishlist and I've heard the best things about them.
    4. I love Islay, home to 8 distilleries and all of them are happy to do pours for tasting. A personal highlight was drinking the world's most peated whisky (Octomore) at Bruichladdich. Port Charlotte bar is awesome for craich. Ardbeg tour was pretty dope as well.
    Fly into Edinburgh instead of London, make sure you have a designated driver at all times or brave enough to stick to the bus schedules (like I did in Speyside & Islay). Do not go to the Scotch Whisky experience in Edinburgh, a waste of time if you're visiting a number of real distilleries. Please free to ask any other specific questions & I can try to help answer them :smile:

    I'm Anirudh, an Indian travel blogger who has explored a lot of Scotland by public transport. My blog. Find me on Facebook | Instagram

    Best of Scotland in 1 week itinerary (fully by public transport)

    My Scotland travels (includes EdinburghSkye, HarrisMullArranOrkneyLoch Lomond, Islay, Oban, DunoonSpeyside)

  • VisitScotlandNikkiVisitScotlandNikki Member, VisitScotland Staff
    Hi @eliahu77, that sounds like a great holiday! If you're looking to see all of your options, check out our whisky distilleries map for Speyside, which shows you all 50 distilleries, many of which are open to visit. We've got info on the distilleries and nearby attractions.

    Or, if you're visiting Speyside for whisky, Scotland's only Malt Whisky Trail is a must! This is a three day tour of eight distilleries and the Speyside Cooperage.

    Hope that helps and you enjoy your trip when it comes around in June.
  • eliahu77eliahu77 Member ✭✭
    FANTASTIC! Thank you all for the thoughts. I've been using the whiskey distilleries map - what a great resource. I'm starting to put together an itinerary and will definitely be hiring or bringing a driver (perhaps my wife who doesn't have a taste for whiskey) :smiley:
  • VisitScotlandSarahWVisitScotlandSarahW Member, Moderator, VisitScotland Staff
    edited December 2016
    Hi @eliahu77, this sounds like a wonderful trip!  Have you thought about visiting the Royal Lochnagar distillery, which is right on the doorstep of Balmoral Castle! It is a lovely small, very traditional distillery and boasts the accolade of being the only Royally approved whisky in the country!

    Nearby you have the lovely Royal Deeside villages of Ballater and Braemar which boast beautiful scenery and some quirky shops and eateries.  :)
  • MogMJMRMogMJMR Member ✭✭

    Looks like some great suggestions above!

    Something else to consider if you are in travelling in the summer months is the possibility of  visiting distilleries  by public transport from Aberdeen. (Perhaps you could even fly in to Aberdeen airport.) As the drink drive laws are very strict in Scotland, even compared to the rest of the UK.

    Some public transport/distillery trips I have done in the past are:

    Royal Lochnagar above can be reached by 201 bus from Aberdeen. (Albeit a bit of a walk from the bus)
    Glen Garioch is a more unusual one by 35 bus from Aberdeen and a very traditional whisky, made in very small quantities, to try.  A great unusual gift to take home!
    Strathisla at Keith, home of Chivas, can be reached very easily by train from Aberdeen and from Keith - in the summer months you can transfer onto the picturesque Keith and Dufftown railway /  whisky line (historic diesel or steam train) to reach the speyside distilleries at Dufftown. 

    Please note that some distilleries you need to book a tour in advanced if you are travelling as a group.

    Another option to consider is taking a tour around the distilleries with a tour guide - Karl Fisher; Duncans; Hidden Deeside and stga are all great options.

    If you are driving after all, I would recommend Glen Dronach - they will give you a drivers dram to take home! 


    Based in the Scottish Borders, Aberdeenshire has a special place in my heart.
  • eliahu77eliahu77 Member ✭✭
    edited December 2016
    Fantastic! Our party will not be drinking and driving - thank you all for the info, concern, and warnings about that. We will have a DD (probably my wife) who does not drink whiskey. If we encounter a time when everyone in the party will be drinking, I will make sure we have public, private, or personal driving accommodations. I truly appreciate and understand all of the concern around this - let's keep it safe and fun!
    @MogMJMR - are those guides people you know or recommend or companies? Karl Fisher looks like a name, but the others may be companies? That would be great for some or all of the trip.
  • MogMJMRMogMJMR Member ✭✭
    Great! Just wanted to mention the driving as many don't realise that it differs from the rest of the UK; where you could enjoy a dram if you wished and still be under the legal limit :) Have a great trip - and let us know of your favorite when you return! Karl Fisher is a professional tour guide - I have been on a few of his tours and they are very popular. ;The Aberdeen VisitScotland iCentre sells tickets for his mini coach tours or they can be booked online. online he is aberdeen - tours I had a great day on the Speyside tour a couple of years ago. Similarly; Duncan's of Scotland; again based in Aberdeen and Hidden Deeside too are great options, again professional companies who offer custom tours. Sorry I can't post you the links - I have not been a community poster long enough to be able to do this yet! Scottish Tour Guides Association is a great way to source smaller operators than those above. All listed with stga are trained to degree level and many (but not all) offer a driving service too. Hope this helps! These are all Aberdeen based but sure other community users might be able to recommend others in Scotland too - if visiting Speyside from Edinburgh perhaps something like Rabbies Tours or from Inverness maybe the iCentre their can help suggest some things if you were to contact them? If you are a Whisky Fan and looking for more Birthday gift ideas you might like to consider memberships of the Scottish Malt Whisky Society - my brother over in the USA is a member and thinks it's great. Best Wishes
    Based in the Scottish Borders, Aberdeenshire has a special place in my heart.
  • YourScotlandTourYourScotlandTour Member ✭✭✭
    edited December 2016
    Hi @eliahu77

    As a member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and a fan of whisky, I'd recommend flying into Aberdeen and hiring a car and driver, to take you and your wife to the distilleries and anywhere else you'd like to visit. It will be much less stressful for you both especially as you've said it's your first trip to Scotland, have you been somewhere that drives on the 'wrong' side of the road before, how comfortable is your wife  I know my wife hates driving when we go abroad! 

    More importantly than the logistics, do you have any specific favourite whisky or expressions from particular distilleries that you enjoy and would like to visit?
    Bespoke tours.
    Whisky, Castles and Food a speciality.
  • FofomaFofoma Member ✭✭✭
    If your wife is happy to drive and I know I wouldn't be then make sure you hire a car with an automatic gearbox not a manual one which is the standard over here. It will cost you a wee bit more but at least all your wife has to concentrate on is steering. You will be spoilt for choice with distilleries on Speyside - my husband and I always have a game of spot the distillery when we drive up there! One of my favourites is Glen Grant in Rothes - it's tour is just a wee bit different. And remember that we spell whisky without the 'e' here. 
  • HecyHecy Member ✭✭
    edited December 2016
    Visit Tomatin Distillery near Inverness. Unless you are a huge whisky fan its likely you haven't heard of them so defos give them a try if you're looking for something new! Very underrated (although getting very popular) independent distillery! Plus 1 of only 2/3 distilleries left in Scotland that has a working cooperage you can visit and see in action!  
  • eliahu77eliahu77 Member ✭✭
    THANK YOU!!! I love this site and community so much! What an amazing response and so many great suggestions - I will be following up on all these and if you have any more please let me know. I will post whatever conclusions I get to on here as well. THANK YOU!!
  • Hi Eliahu77

    I would recommend car hire to see all that this area has to offer, both Aberdeen (Dyce) and Inverness airports offer great access to this area. Dufftown, Aberlour and Keith are the towns where most distilleries are situated. I would recommend you check out each distillery online and read the different tours they offer, some can last one hour, others are in-depth and last several hours. Prices vary according to what type of experience you want. I recommend that you purchase empty bottles to take away your complimentary samples if you are driving. Near to Aberlour there is the Speyside Cooperage which is an interesting tour, watching them make the whisky barrels.  Note; it only operates Monday to Friday. Near Cardhu Distillery (Home of Johnny Walker) there is Knockando Woollen mill which has a lovely setting and a cafe. There is also Dallas Dhu distillery near Forres which has been preserved as a museum by Historic Scotland and you can see inside the disused stills.  Some distilleries shutdown for a period during the summer to allow for maintenance, if this would be a disappointment then you may wish to check before booking.

    The coastline is beautiful in this area too and I would recommend Lossiemouth, Burghead, Spey Bay, Findochty, Portknockie and Cullen for being very picturesque and the possibility of seeing the Moray Firth Dolphins.

    On June 24th, the town of Forres hosts the European Pipe Band Championships which is 
    definitely worth a visit if you are still in the area. 
  • eliahu77eliahu77 Member ✭✭
    Wonderful people on this site and in Scotland - we are coming!
    My wife and I secured our tickets and will be in Scotland in June from 10-19th, traveling North from Edinburgh by car through Pitlochry, the Cairngorms, Speyside, Elgin and ending in Inverness (we fly out from there). We are so excited and will start booking lodging today at all of our destinations. We'll have one night or so everywhere except Speyside (Craigellachie or Abelour maybe?) where we will stay 4 nights, maybe in different towns. Any suggestions of places to stay in any of those cities or towns would be super helpful.  We are trying to be budget conscious but may do one or two nights at the Craigellachie Hotel.
  • YourScotlandTourYourScotlandTour Member ✭✭✭
    edited January 2017
    You could try the Garth in Grantown-on-Spey it's pretty good on budget pricing and reasonable as far as accommodation and comfort goes :-)
    Bespoke tours.
    Whisky, Castles and Food a speciality.
  • FofomaFofoma Member ✭✭✭
    The Highlander Inn in Craigellachie is also worth looking at or my husband likes the Station Hotel in Rothes when he is on Speyside working at some of the distilleries in the area. 
  • MogMJMRMogMJMR Member ✭✭
    Admittedly 40 minutes drive from Dufftown, but the accommodation (Hostel and/or cottage) at Cullen Harbour is a great option!
    Based in the Scottish Borders, Aberdeenshire has a special place in my heart.
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