9 Essential Tips for Touring Scotland
Sure, you’re making the trip to savor Scotland’s finest single-malt Scotch, but a traveler’s got to eat (and sleep), too. We’ve got your guide for where to sip, snack and stay in Glasgow, the Highlands and on the romantic island of Islay—Scotland’s top three destinations for Scotch drinkers. From a harbor-side hole-in-the-wall with sweeping loch views and fresh seafood to a night spent amidst castle ruins, these are your essential Scotland touring tips.
Get ready to say sláinte (or “good health”): You’ll have 140-plus drams to choose from at Blythswood Square Hotel in Glasgow, the perfect place to launch your Scotch-focused journey. In addition to swanky guestrooms with gleaming marble surfaces and Harris tweed touches, the hotel’s salon bar and restaurant serve classic cocktails, 20 wines by the glass and a luxurious afternoon tea experience. For £32.50, enjoy the Blasad Albannaic tea (meaning “tasty Scotland” in Gaelic). It comes with an assortment of teas, smoked venison and Angus beef sandwiches, Dundee and Madeira cakes, Scottish cheeses and raspberry cranachan (a layered trifle), topped with a glass of Moët & Chandon Champagne.
Conveniently located just 10 miles from Glasgow’s city center is the Auchentoshan Distillery. Auchentoshan utilizes a triple distilling process, which guests can learn about in a sleek visitors’ center complete with a circular bar for convivial, in-depth tastings. While the regular tour costs £6, upgrade to the Ultimate Auchentoshan Tasting Experience. For £50, you’ll sample Scotch directly from warehouse casks, taste three core whiskies and go behind the scenes for two additional drams (pulled from the distillery’s archives) in the intimate Blender’s Room.
Pictured: Shish Mahal
While Scotland’s simultaneously beloved and feared haggis—a sausage dish comprised of sheep’s liver, heart, lungs and oatmeal—is a mainstay on many menus, Glasgow is earning another reputation in the food world. It’s won the title of “Curry Capital of Britain” numerous years in a row (organized by the Federation of Specialist Restaurants). Visitors should wander the city’s West End, host to dozens of Indian restaurants, including the inviting Shish Mahal, which claims to have invented chicken tikka masala in the 1970s. After dinner, explore Glasgow’s ever-vibrant music scene. Glasgow gave rise to Belle & Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand and The Fratellis, after all. Be sure to check out Mono, a vegan café, microbrewery and music venue, and Nice ‘N’ Sleazy, a standout spot for indie music.
For a true taste of Scotland, splurge on a trip Islay, a 40-minute flight or a two-hour boat ride from Glasgow. Make your home base The Islay Hotel in Port Ellen. Besides its 13 charming rooms and beautiful harbor views, the property’s Whisky Bar is something of a Scotch library. It offers more than 100 island selections, including discontinued releases, rare bottlings and unusual vintages like the Bunnahabhain 1966. Those with musical inclinations—or who just feel empowered by the Scotch—can join the live musicians who frequently entertain at the bar.
It may be a small island, but Islay’s whiskies are big on flavor. Complex, briny and peaty, the Scotches produced by the eight distilleries here are undoubtedly original. Whether you want to plant your flag at Laphroaig (the distillery grants one square foot of Islay property to each Friends of Laphroaig society member), sample oysters and a dram at Ardbeg’s Old Kiln Café or watch barley get turned by hand—the old-fashioned way—at Bowmore, there’s something for every Scotch fan to discover.
Photo by Alexis Korman
Since Islay is dotted with fishing villages, don’t miss a chance to sample delectable local seafood. The Harbour Inn Restaurant in Bowmore has terrific views across Loch Indaal toward the Isle of Jura from its conservatory, along with dishes like sustainably farmed Gigha halibut and Loch Gruinart oysters. Did we mention it’s also home to a selection of 150 whiskies?
For an authentic Highlands experience, splurge on a night at Glenmorangie House in Tain. Set amidst the ruins of a castle, the 17th century house offers luxurious accommodations along with breathtaking views of the Moray Firth, not to mention Scottish hospitality at its finest. Room rates include afternoon tea, a dram of Glenmorangie and canapés before a four-course, traditional Scottish dinner. Bonus: You’ll wake up to a full country breakfast in the stately dining room.
Pictured: Glenmorangie Distillery
The Highlands are renowned for some of the most robust Scotches in the country, so you’ll want to make stops at the hands-on Dewar’s World of Whisky visitors’ center at the Aberfeldy Distillery in Aberfeldy. It’s jam-packed with fascinating artifacts. Later, scope the tallest stills in Scotland at the Glenmorangie Distillery. Its orange and black gift shop is the most chic in Scotland.
Just 10 miles from the Glenmorangie Distillery is The Birch Tree restaurant in Invergordon. In addition to a small, thoughtfully curated wine list of some 30-bottle selections, it boasts seasonal fare in a refined bistro setting. It offers hearty dishes like roast rump of local lamb with cannellini bean purée and goat cheese soufflé with a creamy spinach sauce. Don’t miss the restaurant’s signature dessert, sticky toffee pudding. It justifies one more wee dram before heading home.
- 2Glasgow: The Digs
- 3Glasgow: The Drinks
- 4Glasgow: The Dish
- 5Islay: The Digs
- 6Islay: The Drinks
- 7Islay: The Dish
- 8The Highlands: The Digs
- 9The Highlands: The Drinks
- 10The Highlands: The Dish