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The Isle of Islay

Updated on June 9, 2013
Bowmore, Islay's capital, seen from across Loch Indaal
Bowmore, Islay's capital, seen from across Loch Indaal

How to Get to Islay

The beautiful Isle of Islay, the ancient seat of the Lord of the Isles, is the most southerly of the Hebridean Isles and is considered by many to be the malt whisky capital of Scotland and indeed the world. The "Illeachs," as the islanders are known, are a wonderfully friendly, lyrical and embracing group of people who will generally go out of their way to make your visit as enjoyable as possible.

Islay is usually reached by ferry from the mainland port of Kennacraig, which is an approximate three hour drive from Glasgow, through some of the most picturesque scenery imaginable. There is a bus operates from Glasgow Buchanan Street Bus Station in the city centre. The service is provided by Scottish Citylink and is timed to coincide with ferry departures. If taking your car across to Islay, note that it is essential to book in advance with Caledonian MacBrayne. There is also a daily flight from Glasgow which only takes about half an hour but this deprives particularly a first time visitor of the natural beauty to be seen on the drive up and on the ferry crossing.

The ferry alternates its operation to Islay between the island ports of Port Ellen and Port Askaig. On board, there are numerous observation decks to watch the stunning scenery slip by, including the magnificent "Paps of Jura," three mountains on the neighbouring island. If you are hungry, there is a spacious canteen selling hot and cold meals and snacks, but it is advisable to eat early in the voyage if you want to maximise your choices, especially on busy crossings. There is also a small newspaper, magazine and souvenir shop and a licensed bar.

Claggan Bay, Islay

Stunning view around Claggan Bay on the Isle of Islay, Scotland
Stunning view around Claggan Bay on the Isle of Islay, Scotland

The Paps of Jura as seen from the Islay ferry

The Paps of Jura seen from the passenger ferry en route to Islay
The Paps of Jura seen from the passenger ferry en route to Islay

Islay and its Whiskies: An In-Depth Guide

When you are visiting Islay, it is a good idea to base yourself in Bowmore, the island's capital, due to both its central location and amenities. This is approximately twenty minutes to half an hour's drive away from each of the ports. The island's bus service is reasonable and reliable both for getting to Bowmore in the first instance and for making subsequent day trips and excursions. The town has several hotels and guest houses to choose from but it is essential, particularly in summer, to book in advance. It is worth splashing out one night to treat yourself to dinner at The Harbour Inn, which although expensive is unsurpassed for its selection of fresh seafood and game among many other options.

Bowmore also plays host to many other attractions and facilities. There are a number of shops to cater for all basic tastes and needs, two banks, a swimming pool, a tearoom/cafe, an Indian restaurant, a tourist information office where the staff are always very friendly and helpful and, perhaps above all for many visitors, Bowmore Distillery. Tours of the distillery operate each week day and, where possible, should be booked in advance to avoid disappointment. You will be guided through the establishment by a friendly and informative tour operator and ultimately given the opportunity to partake of a "wee dram" in the bar and function area.

The picturesque little village of Port Charlotte is across Loch Indaal from Bowmore. The Seafood Platter served in the Port Charlotte Hotel is delectable, beautifully presented and prepared, and any seafood lover's dream culinary experience. Try to get a seat in the conservatory offering beautiful views out over the loch as you enjoy your meal.

Seafood platter as served at the Port Charlotte Hotel, Islay
Seafood platter as served at the Port Charlotte Hotel, Islay

Islay's Whisky Distilleries

The other distilleries are located in one instance near Port Charlotte, three out by Port Ellen and two near Port Askaig, all of which offer tours at varying times, but take care if paying them a visit as some do require to be pre-booked.

The island also offers a wealth of other outdoor activities to locals and travellers alike. There is a golf course, clay pigeon shooting, several nature reserves and bird sanctuaries, pony trekking and, naturally, such a location provides endless opportunities for fishermen, either in fresh or salt water.


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    • profile image

      Armin 10 years ago

      Not too bad for an overview on one page. And now better with the correctly labelled image ;-)

      As you've got the picture of the beach (even though that particular one is more of a rocky beach) you might want to point out all the fabulous beaches on Islay.

      Nothing new to me for obvious reasons, but hopefully will get a few people interested in Islay.

    • cgull8m profile image

      cgull8m 10 years ago from North Carolina

      Good hub, I will keep a note of it, I would love to visit Scotland some day. Thanks.

    • Gordon Hamilton profile image

      Gordon Hamilton 10 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      I should be Armin but you are correct - it is of course Claggan Bay. That's what becomes of mis-labelled photographs!!! Hope you enjoyed the article.

    • profile image

      Armin 10 years ago

      I might be wrong, but the first picture doesn't really look like Machir Bay to me. Are you sure that's Machir Bay?