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Scottish Island Adventures Podcast​

Itinerary #5: Islay


The west coast island of Islay, pronounced eye-la, is a haven for whisky lovers, culture vultures, and those seeking an escape into nature - truly, there is something for everyone.  

Boasting an impressive selection of working whisky distilleries, this small Hebridean isle packs a global punch being home to some of the most iconic whisky brands in the world. That's not all... there's gin and rum in production, too.  

Islay is affectionately named the 'Queen of the Hebrides' - an ode to her lush green landscape, and mild climate. This is an island to be explored and savoured. Rolling hills, sweeping beach vistas, and a wealth of local wildlife make Islay the perfect destination for those looking to get away from it all. 

Whether you are looking to soak up the island culture and history, food and drinks, or a place to enjoy the outdoors and get closer to nature, you'll find it here... 

From campsites to boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts and a luxury golf resort, there is accommodationto suit every need, stay and budget. Check out Explore Islay and Jura for lots of options. 

Kilnaughton Bay - Islay


For the whisky lovers...

Famed for producing world famous peated whisky, Islay is home to nine working distilleries and brand homes, all with their own unique personalities, character and flavour profile. Visitors are treated to world class taste experiences and invited to learn about the craftmanship of making whisky or uisge beatha in Gaelic which translates to 'water of life'. If visiting towards the end of May, you will be treated to the annual  Feis Ile - Islay's celebrated Festival of Whisky and Music - where each of the island distilleries host an open day, wrapped by other exciting community fringe events run by the Feis Ile Committee. During the 10-day festival you will find booking accommodation, distillery experiences and ferries well in advance crucial, although this is also recommended for other times of the year. For those without a designated driver in tow, a Taxi is a good option and should be booked in advance too (weeks or days, not hours). Here's a list of distilleries to add to your 'to do' list from north to south of the island. 

World class whisky from Islay

North Islay (closest to Port Askaig Ferry Terminal


Bowmore & The Rhinns (Central to both Port Askaig and Port Ellen Ferry Terminals) 


South Islay (closest to Port Ellen Ferry Terminal) 


For the nature enthusiasts... 

If it's wildlife you've come for, this island certainly isn't short of friendly locals to admire. From sun-worshipping seals and energetic dolphins to majestic stags and migratory geese, Islay is home to a diverse array of wild marine and land animals. And boasting not one but two significant reserve sites - Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve t and  The Oa Nature Reserve - Islay offers the perfect protected Hebridean habitat for birds, wildlife, flora and fauna. You can enjoy the hiking trails at both reserve sites - check out the RSPB website for more details. 

If you'd like to get up close and personal to some coastal wildlife, you'll want to check out Islay Sea Adventures , who offer unforgettable boat trips to fit every need. Be sure to book in advance especially during peak season, when tours are in high demand. 

Geese on Islay


For the culture and history enthusiasts... 

Islay is an island steeped in cultural and historical significance with lots of interesting sites to appreciate and explore. Its rich tapestry unfolds through sites like the ancient ruins of Finlaggan, once a medieval seat of the Lord of the Isles, providing a window into Islay's political heritage. Another notable relic is the Kildalton Cross, a 2.7 meter intricately carved Celtic cross that stands as a prominent historical and artistic point of interest, dating back to the late 8th century. Visitors can also delve into the island's past at the Museum of Islay Life, where artifacts shed light on the island's maritime history and traditional way of life. The Museum of Islay Life is a charity organisation run by a board of trustees, who, since 1977, have built the impressive collection that can be enjoyed and explored by visitors today, offering the unique opportunity to unravel the stories woven into island life over time. You'll find the Museum in the picturesque village of Port Charlotte and can visit during the high season (Easter - September/October).    

Kildalton Cross - Islay


For those looking to relax and unwind

You're never far away from a white sandy beach on Islay, we can promise you that. Home to some of the west coast's most beautiful beaches, Islay boasts a seven mile stretch affectionately named the 'Big Strand' located beside the pristine Machrie Hotel and Golf Resort . While you're there, why not enjoy the driving range and a spot of lunch in the award-winning restaurant? You can also book spa treatments if you're looking for the 5-star treatment. The perfect combination to help de-stress. 

Other noteworthy beaches to enjoy and explore include Machir Bay (known locally as Kilchoman Beach and handily situated a stone's throw from Kilchoman Distillery and cafe), Saligo and Killinallan on the western 'Rhinns' of Islay. Seek out the new Oyster Shed restaurant near Gruinart, recently launched by the family behind the award-winning Islay Oysters - you'll not be sorry you stopped by. 

If you're visiting the south of the island, add Kilnaughton Bay, Carraig Fhada Lighthouse and the Singing Sands to your 'to do' list. Situated just outside the picturesque port village Port Ellen, these peaceful beaches are the perfect tonic for ridding your mind of hustle and bustle.  

The Machrie


Getting to Islay 

You can catch the ferry to Islay from Kennacraig on Kintyre, landing at Port Ellen (2 hours 20 minutes) or Port Askaig (from 1 hour 55 minutes). It's best to book your travel online and in advance, and when you do, you'll receive an eTicket direct to your email inbox - ready to board.   

When booking travel to/from Islay online, please select the port you plan to travel to/from - either Port Ellen or Port Askaig. If your booking is for a return journey, and you are selecting different Islay ports for each leg, please use the 'multi-Island' booking feature, shown when prompted to select the ticket type you'd like. This feature can be used to bundle multiple journeys and will allow you to make a return booking with travel through different Islay ports. 

MV Finlaggan 2

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