Over Easter Weekend, my boyfriend and I headed to Islay with another couple to escape London and explore the Scottish countryside.
Islay is the fifth largest island in Scotland – home to many of the famous Scottish Whiskey brands as the island due to its climate. Only a few thousand people call the island home. I have to admit, before this trip, I had no idea where Islay was or why anyone would want to visit.
During our 4 day stay on the island, we toured several distilleries, ate an abundance of delicious food, and were forced to detach from our day-to-day as none of us had cellphone service on the island. From learning the intricacies of whiskey making to meeting locals at a bar in Port Ellen, we enjoyed every minute of our stay on the island!
Day 1 – Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Dinner in Port Ellen
We toured Lagavulin and Ardbeg our first day. I enjoyed the tour at Lagavulin more than Ardeg, partially because we ended up with a private tour (the others who had signed up never showed up) and the atmosphere at Ardbeg was more commercial. That said, the boys ended up enjoying the whiskey at Ardbeg more.
For dinner, we drove into Bowmore and had dinner at The Harbour Inn. The view was breath-taking, sitting a stone’s throw away from the ocean. The food also fantastic! I had to stop my boyfriend from trying to lick the plate.
Day Two – Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Tartan Woolen Mill & Dinner at The Islay Hotel
On day two, after a bit of a lazy morning, we headed to Laphroaig and Caol Ila. Laphroaig is the most commercialised of the, distilleries, having the largest gift shop and tour options. At Coal Ila, we opted for the taster tour called “Cask Strength Experience (£25), which includes a tour of the distillery and tasting 6, 12, 22, and 30 year old whiskies.
Pro tip: You can book the distillery tours on the websites or in person. Note – the majority of the tours are first come, first serve.
In between the tours, we stopped at the Islay Woolen Mill to see the old mill machines and buy some tartan. I bought a dark gray throw for 75 pounds.
For dinner, we headed back to Port Ellen for dinner at The Islay Hotel. The restaurant ended up being fully-booked, so we ate at the bar. The menu has several options from fish and chips to salmon and scallops.
Day Three – Island Walks & Seafood Dinner at the AirBnB
On our last full day on Islay, we headed to two spots for photos. The first was close to Emerivale. We drove into Emerivale and stayed along the coast until we reached a little parking lot.
The second is close to Ballinabay. We parked the car next to a farm house and walked through the pastures to the coast line for some breath-taking views.
After walking up an appetite, we drove back to the AirBnB for dinner. We ordered seafood from the Seafood Shack the night before. I don’t have the direct phone number, but if you walk into any of the hotels or local shops, and mention the Seafood Shack, they’ll be able to get you in contact with the fisherman. The guy goes out almost daily and will deliver the catch straight to your door! We ended up with fresh crab and lobster from which the boys made crab chowder and tomato lobster pasta. Yum!
How to Get There
The closest airport is Glasgow. From Glasgow, we rented a car to drive to Kennacraig (about a 2-2.5 hour drive depending on traffic). From Kennacraig, we took the ferry to Port Askaig. We pit stopped in Inverary for lunch at the Samphire. We left bursting at the seams and the girl’s just a tad tipsy from the wine & cider.
While having a car isn’t necessary for getting around the island, we found it very convenient as we arrived quick late and had luggage. That said, if you are going during the summer, pack light and consider biking around. We stumbled upon several biking groups as we drove around.
Pro-Tip: Book your ferry ahead of time! During peak travel hours and/or peak tourism months, the ferry books up quickly, especially if you need to bring a car with you to the island.
Where to Stay
We stayed in an AirBnB close to the Ardbeg distillery on the southern part of the island. We really enjoyed being close to Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Port Ellen. The house we rented had two bedrooms, kitchen, living room, and outdoor patio. There was plenty of parking available in front of the house.
Whether you choose to stay on the southern part of the island or the northern, keep in mind the driving distance from Port Askaig to Port Ellen is about 40 minutes. If you’re doing the full distillery tour, consider staying close to Port Ellen for a few days and then heading north for the rest of your stay.
Good to Know
Cellphone Service – Very limited. Out of the four of us, the one with the best service was Three UK. O2 had very limited service on the island.
Grocery Stores – Port Ellen and Bowmore both have Co-op’s with plenty of basics and then some.
Pro Tip: If you’re staying at an AirBnB, check out the Seafood Shack and the local butcher’s shop in Bowmore. Very reasonably priced and super fresh!
Renting a Car – Plan to spend about an hour picking up and dropping off the car, especially if you rent through Green Motion. They were the cheapest option to rent with during Easter. Note – If renting through them, the driver needs to pay with a credit card AND have a valid license. I was unable to pay with my credit card as my boyfriend was driving. They wouldn’t release the car unless we used his card. We ended up having to pay a daily fee for using his debit card.
Have any other tips for Islay? Share below!