Learning about whisky is a must while visiting Scotland. Our itinerary includes 6 must see places to visit while in Speyside whisky country. Even if whisky is not your thing, this beautiful area offers more than just the scotch. Read on to discover more...
What (and where) is Speyside Whisky?
In Scotland, there are 5 legally defined regions of Whisky: Speyside, Lowland, Highland, Islay and Campbeltown. Speyside is the area surrounding the River Spey whose western edge is about 30 miles east of Inverness (see map below). It is technically a sub-region of the Highlands but it is given specific definition due to the high density of distilleries in the area.
Directions to Speyside's Whisky Country
Continuing on our Best Scotland Itinerary, it's a 2.5 hour direct drive east from Ullapool through Inverness to the town of Craigellachie which is near the geographic center of whisky country. On the drive here, check out our recommended sights off-the-beaten-path of Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve and the Balnuaran clava cairns that are worth seeing. It's also roughly a 3 hour drive due north from Edinburgh.
Our Itinerary includes these Must see places in Speyside Whisky Country
1. Whisky distillery tour
It's the greatest concentration of whisky distilleries in the world, so take your pick. BUT, book way ahead for some of the bigger named distilleries. We booked Balvenie 3 months in advance and we still had to settle for a less desirable timeslot. Balvenie does virtually all phases of the entire whisky making process in house (including the cooperage) so this is a very interesting and educational tour. Bubbly Tip: Be aware of the zero tolerance of intoxicated driving. They test in this region.
2. Drop in for a tasting and not the tour
Some of the distilleries will allow you taste right in the front store without a fee. We did this at Aberlour and Strathisla (home of Chivas Regal). So, if you're late in booking a tasting or can't find an opening that meets your schedule, just swing by these distilleries. The employees are more than happy to give you a chance to try their various whiskies. We found Strathisla very accommodating and informative in this regard.
3. Visit the gardens at the whisky estates
Tired of spirits or just not interested (gasp)? We visited the gardens at Glen Grant estate and were blown away! A must-see. See the glorious rhododendrons along Glen Grant's private path tucked away in the woods along the stream and you'll be back in serenity bliss. They have done an amazing job of taking care of the gardens and they are free to visit. We also saw the Packhorse Bridge at Glenlivet Estate quite by accident on our drive out. It's several stone arched bridges with grass growing over it with wild flowers in abundance. That was a lucky find!
4. Not interested in whisky, try gin.
There are a fair number of gin distilleries in the area. We went to Eight Lands and drove a through amazingly beautiful pastoral country to get there! They offer several spirits to taste and a tour with booking. If your not interested in a distillery, the restaurants generally offer a large selection of gins from which to choose, so sample the local or other Scottish gins when you get the chance. They're pretty tasty.
5. Interested in more Scottish Distilleries
If scotch is your thing and/or you'd like to learn more about Scotch whisky, then you won't want to miss out on these distilleries.
6. Balmoral Castle
It's a 1.25 hour drive by car from Craigellachie to Balmoral Castle, so this can be a day trip or a sight you stop at on your way into or out of whisky country. Balmoral Castle is where the Royal family vacations every August (be aware: it's not open in August). Book your timeslot in advance. You can walk the entire grounds, and there are plenty of walks on the grounds from which to choose. One that Bubbly Tourist quite enjoyed was a very pretty and sparsely used path along the river which is quite serene. You can go into the castle, but there is only one room inside the castle, the Ballroom, that's available to the public. What's interesting about the Ballroom are all the royal family pictures on display. It feels like you're somehow getting a glimpse onto their fireplace mantle with all the numerous photos throughout time.
Where to stay in Speyside
The Craigellachie Hotel is centrally located in Speyside country. It's conveniently located near 15+ distilleries including Glenfiddich, Macallan, and Balvenie. The hotel is charming and comfortable, it has the Copper Dog pub for lunch and dinner which serves excellent food, and it also includes a whisky room called the Quaich Bar with over 1,000 single malt whiskies. The hotel sits right off a walking path that takes you along the Spey river to Aberlour and Glenfiddich distilleries or to yummy Walkers Shortbread cookies HQ. It is a TripAdvisor Traveller's Choice hotel, and is also highly recommended by Bubbly Tourist.
Where to stay near Balmoral Castle
Douneside House and Health Club
Bubbly Tourist visited Balmoral Castle on the way out of whisky country prior to heading to Stonehaven for the Dunnottar Castle. So as part of our itinerary, we decided to stay at
the beautiful Douneside House and Health Club. From Balmoral Castle, it's only a 30 minute drive.
Best Scotland Itinerary Continued
Read about our itinerary's next location of Edinburgh...
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