Islay (pronounced eye-la), "Queen of the Hebrides", is around 20 miles by 20 miles. With its eight distilleries - Bunnahabhain, Bruichladdich, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and newly opened Kilchoman - it is easy to see why Islay is probably most famous for its whisky. Port Ellen closed its doors in 1983. In 2004, Islay's first ale brewery opened.
There are only about 3,500 people living on the island.
- Bowmore — is the island's capital
- Port Ellen — is the largest settlement (but only slightly larger than Bowmore)
Due to the influence of the Gulf Stream, the climate is mild compared to mainland Scotland with an average high of 11.6°C and an average low of 6.6°C. Wind speeds are around 19-28km per hour on average, with winter gales of up to 185km per hour. Disruption of ferry and air travel must be expected.
Islay has two ferry ports Port Ellen and Port Askaig, the ferry journey is a 2 hour 20 mins trip from the mainland, it leaves from Kennacraig, near Tarbert (Loch Fyne) on the Mull of Kintyre, which is about 2 and half hours from Glasgow by car. Caledonian MacBrayne operate the ferries and Citylink coaches connect with some ferries at Kennacraig. There are two or more trips per day, with more ferries going to Port Ellen than Port Askaig. Occasional sailings go on to Colonsay.
Islay Airport ( IATA: ILY) is a small airport on the island. Flybe offers two return flights per day from Glasgow International Airport in Glasgow (flights are operated by Loganair; British Airways also offers these flights under a codeshare agreement). There are also occasional services from Oban, operated by Hebridean Air Services.
The public bus (see Get around section) stops at the airport.
Remember to wave to other road users, whether it be vehicle drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians.
Islay Coaches are operated by B. Mundell (+44 1496 840273) on behalf of the Argyll & Bute Council. The two buses no. 450 and 451 serve the main towns and villages. There is no Sunday service.
Two companies on the island offer car hire:
- Islay Car Hire, ☎ +44 1496 810544 or mobile phone: +44 7824 665099. Cars can be taken to Jura. £197.75 (small car) or £229.95 (large car) per week (including insurance).
- D&N MacKenzies, ☎ . Located opposite Islay Airport. Cars can be delivered to the ferry terminals. From £35 per day (including insurance).
- Bicycle hire is available in Bowmore (next to the Post Office).
- Islay Cycles, Port Ellen, ☎ . From £15 per day.
Hitchhiking is easy and relatively safe on Islay.
Take a distillery tour. Even if you don't like whisky it's really interesting to learn about the distilling process and see how the distilleries have shaped island life. If you do like whisky you generally get a free taster. Most distilleries now offer advanced tours where you can taste different bottlings. All distilleries on the island offer tours, and Ardbeg and Kilchoman also have cafés. Remember to book tours in advance.
The three distilleries Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg are connected by a footpath with each other and to the nearby Port Ellen (6km one-way to Ardbeg, which is furthest away). The other distilleries are spread around the whole island.
- Ardbeg Distillery, Port Ellen, PA42 7EA, ☎ . Apr-Oct: daily 09:30-17:00. Nov-Mar: Mon-Fri 09:30-17:00, Sat-Sun closed. Visitor centre, café, and distillery tours. Tours from £5.
- Bowmore Distillery, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Apr-Sep: Mon-Sat 09:00-17:00, Sun 12:00-16:00. Oct-Mar: Mon-Fri 09:00-17:00, Sat 09:00-12:30 (tours only in Jan/Feb on Sat), Sun closed. Visitor centre and distillery tours. 12 years old Bowmore is one of the most popular Islay-Whiskies. Tours from £7.
- Bruichladdich Distillery, PA49 7UN, ☎ . Apr-Sep: daily. Oct-Mar: Mon-Sat, Sun closed. Distillery producing both whisky and gin. Tours from £5.
- Bunnahabhain Distillery, Port Askaig, PA46 7RP, ☎ . Apr-Oct: Mon-Sat 10:00-17:00, Sun 11:00-16:00. Nov-Mar: Mon-Sat 10:00-16:00, Sun 12:00-16:00. Tours from £7.
- Caol Ila Distillery, Port Askaig, Isle of Islay, PA46 7RL, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Jan-Feb: Tue-Sat 10:00-16:00, Sun-Mon closed. Mar-Oct: daily 09:00-17:00. No tours in September. 12 years old Caol Ila is one of 13 Classic Malts and owned by Diageo. If you join the Friends of the Classic Malts you get free access to the twelve Classic Malt distilleries (standard tour) including Coal Ila. Standard tour £6.
- Kilchoman Distillery, Rockside Farm, Bruichladdich, PA49 7UT, ☎ . Visitor centre and cafe: Mar-Oct: daily 09:45-17:00. Nov-Feb: Mon-Fri 09:45-17:00, Sat-Sun closed. Tours offered on the same days. Farm distillery established in 2005. Visitor centre, tours and cafe. Standard tour £6 (1h, includes two tastings), other tours from £15.
- Lagavulin Distillery, Port Ellen, PA42 7DZ, ☎ , e-mail: Lagavulin.email@example.com. No café. The 16 year old Lagavulin belongs like Caol Ila to the Classic Malts and is also owned by Diageo. If you join the Friends of the Classic Malts you get free access to the twelve Classic Malt distilleries (standard tour) including Lagavulin. Standard tour £6 (including one tasting and glass).
- Laphroaig Distillery, Port Ellen, PA42 7DU, ☎ . Shop/visitor centre: Jan-Feb: Mon-Fri 09:45-16:30, Sat-Sun closed. Mar-Oct: Mon-Sun 09:45-17:00. Nov-Dec: Mon-Sun 09:45-16:30. No cafe, but free tea and coffee from an automatic machine. Nice lounge area adjacent to the tasting bar. Join the 'Friends of Laphroaig' (for free) and get a free 50 ml bottle. Tours from £6.
- Kildalton Cross, Kildalton, Port Ellen, PA42 7EF (It's a ten minute drive from Ardbeg along the main road.). Celtic cross from 8th century AD and a church ruin.
- Finlaggan, Finlaggan Farm Road (about 6km west of Port Askaig), ☎ . Visitor centre: Apr-Oct: 10:30-16:30; Nov-Mar: closed. Entry to the island possible at all times. A historic site on an island in Loch Finlaggan. It was the seat of the Lords of the Isles and of Clan Donald. Free (donations welcome).
- The Oa ( 9.6 km south-west of Port Ellen), ☎ . Always open. A nature reserve at the southern tip of Islay. Good for birdwatching (for example the golden eagle which is most active in spring and summer). There are two trails (1.2 km and 2.5 km). It also contains the American Memorial. Free (donations welcome).
- Loch Gruinart, ☎ . Nature reserve always open. Visitor centre: daily 10:00-17:00. Another nature reserve, also good for birdwatching. There is a visitor centre (with toilets). In the reserve there are two trails, the Woodland Trail (1.5 km) and the Moorland Trail (2km). A possibility for a nice cycle route is from Uiskentuie (on the A847) along the B8017 to the visitor centre, and then north-bound to Ardnave which is about 12km one-way. Free (donations welcome).
- Museum of Islay Life, Port Charlotte, PA48 7UA, ☎ . Apr-Oct: Mon-Fri 10:30-16:30, Sat-Sun closed. Located in a former church, the museum has over 1600 items from the Mesolithic period (around 8000 BC) till 1950. £3.50.
- McTaggart Leisure Centre, School Street, Bowmore, PA43 7JS, ☎ . Mon closed. Use the swimming pool, sauna and gym.
- Kayak Wild Islay, Port Ellen, ☎ . (mobile phone)Sea kayaking around the coastline of Islay. Based in Port Ellen, but tours from other points on Islay or Jura are possible on request. Full day: £70 per person (min 2 people). Half day: £50 per person.
- You can sit on the beach at The Oa, and watch as Highland cow stroll past
- Islay Festival Feis Isle, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Held in the last week of may every year all over the island and Jura. The island gets really crowded during the festival, so book a year in advance.
- Cantilena Festival. Annual festival in July. Brings in young musicians from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
- Islay Jazz Festival. Annual event in September.
- Islay Half Marathon. Every year in August.
- Islay Ale Brewery, Islay House Square, Bridgend, PA44 7NZ, ☎ . The only brewery on Islay. Producing real ales since 2004.
- An Taigh Osda, Bruichladdich, PA49 7UN, ☎ . A small private hotel. Also offers fine dining but its small dining room means that booking is essential at weekends and during the summer months. £75-80 (double room per person per night, including breakfast).
- The Ballygrant Inn & Restaurant, Ballygrant, PA45 7QR (Halfway between Bridgend and Port Askaig), ☎ . Good home baking and evening meals. Beds £35-80 per person per night (including full Scottish breakfast).
- The Old Kiln Café, Port Ellen, PA42 7EA (at the Ardbeg distillery). Apr-Oct: daily 10:00 to 16:30 (last orders 16:00); Nov-Mar: same times, but closed Sat-Sun. The cafe at Ardbeg distillery is wonderfully rustic with some great menu choices including good soups and home baking.
- The Port Mor Centre, Port Charlotte, PA48 7UE (On the road out of Port Charlotte towards Portnahaven), ☎ +44 1496 850441 or the cafe: +44 1496 850442. Serves lunches and snacks, with a family-friendly play area outside.
- Taj Mahal, Shore Street, Bowmore. A good Indian restaurant in the centre of Bowmore. They do not serve alcohol, but you can bring your own. Only cash payment.
The following hotels and pubs also offer food:
- An Tigh Seinnse (see Drink section)
- Port Askaig Hotel (see Sleep section)
- The Port Charlotte Hotel (see Sleep section)
- White Hart Hotel (see Sleep section)
- An Tigh Seinnse, 11 Queen Street, Portnahaven, PA47 7SJ. Cosy bar and restaurant serving local food. Child friendly, although the terms of the premises licence currently mean that any children under the age of 16 are not allowed on the premises after 8pm. Dogs are not allowed inside although there are seats outside (for the better weather!) and staff are usually happy to provide a bowl of water and a biscuit for your dog.
The following hotels also offer drinks:
- Port Askaig Hotel (see Sleep section)
- The Port Charlotte Hotel (see Sleep section)
- White Hart Hotel (see Sleep section)
- The Bay Holiday Cottage, King Street, Portnahaven, PA47 7SP, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Comfortable self catering cottage overlooking picturesque Portnahaven bay. Sleeps 4-5. Normally rented from Saturday till Saturday. £415/week (high season), £295/week (low season).
- Bowmore Cottages, School Street, Bowmore, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Six cottages located at the Bowmore Distillery. Modern kitchen and up to date furniture inside and right at the centre of Bowmore and Islay. Comes with complimentary bottle of Bowmore 12 and a free tour at the distillery if you stay for a week.
- The Harbour Inn, The Square, Bowmore, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Hotel with seven rooms as well as a restaurant and a small but nice pub with good selection of whisky.
- Port Askaig Hotel, Port Askaig, PA46 7RD, ☎ . This is one of the island's oldest inns. It also has a pleasant pub which does average bar meals. There are picnic tables at the front. Between £90-120 (for two people per night, including full Scottish breakfast), add £20 per room in high season.
- White Hart Hotel, 1 Charlotte Street, Port Ellen, PA42 7DF, ☎ . This hotel has a bar and pool table - you can also take your drinks outside to the grassy area across the road. The White Hart serves bar meals.
- The Port Charlotte Hotel, Main Street, Port Charlotte, PA48 7TU, ☎ . The Port Charlotte Hotel is a lively venue which does good bar meals and often has live traditional music on Wednesday and Sunday evenings from 8:30pm onwards. There is a beer garden at the back. Even if you are not a whisky drinker, ask to see their whisky menu - a remarkable list of different bottlings from the island's distilleries. If you want to try - beware, as some of the rarer ones are as much as £50 a dram!
- Port Charlotte Youth Hostel, Port Charlotte, PA48 7TX, ☎ . Check-in: 17:00, check-out: 10:00. SYHA Hostel in old whisky warehouse in the village of Port Charlotte. An excellent conversion of the building about 15 years ago giving a 30 bed hostel with good common room facilities. Free wifi. The (well equipped) kitchen is locked between 10 am and 2 pm. The hostel has won awards for being environmentally friendly. Wildlife Centre Exhibition in the downstairs part of the building. The bus stops right outside the hostel (although there isn't a bus stop there). Bed in dorm from £18, rooms from £45.
Islay is a pretty safe place and any crime here is likely to be big news.
- Isle of Jura — A 5min ferry trip from Port Askaig lies Jura (note that the ferry terminal on Jura is 8 miles from the main village and that public transport only meets certain ferries). It has its own Jura distillery in Craigshouse and is a popular place for walks.
- Isle of Colonsay — CalMac ferries run to this island (north of Islay) on a Wednesday (summer only) and this is an enjoyable day trip.