As Scotland’s biggest export and national drink, whisky can be found just about everywhere, from a rural town’s most unassuming pub to a Michelin-starred restaurant in Edinburgh. The real challenge? Narrowing down where to indulge. Whisky aficionados will likely start with award-winning distilleries in Scotland’s five whisky regions—Speyside, Islay, Lowland, Highlands, and Campbeltown—where you can learn how skilled distillers transform golden barley and pure, crystal water from nearby streams and rivers and transform it into rare scotch. (The spirit can’t be called Scotch until it has aged in Scotland for at least three years.)
But that’s not the only way to experience whisky here. Explore Glasgow’s burgeoning food scene and dig into whisky-inspired dishes. Check into a 15th-century castle-turned-hotel and sit down to a tasting of rare single malts. Get creative and design your very own whisky to bring home as a souvenir. Whether you’re touring the oldest distillery in the country or cozying up at a pub, these are the best ways to partake.
1. Go to whisky heaven.
By far the largest and arguably the most famous of Scotland’s whisky regions, Speyside is home to upwards of half the country’s malt whisky distilleries. Gifted with a relatively warm, dry climate and fertile farmlands that are ideal for growing barley, as well as soft, crystal clear waters from the River Spey, this region produces some of Scotland’s lightest and sweetest malts, beloved for their smooth, complex smokiness with sweet, caramel and fruity notes. Follow along Speyside’s Malt Whisky Trail for a taste of this historic art, as you enjoy drams drawn straight from the cask at storied distilleries that turn out some of the world’s finest spirits, such as Glenlivet Distillery, founded in 1824.
2. Sip whisky in a castle.
Situated in the heart of the 15th-century castle, Dornoch Castle Hotel’s carefully curated whisky collection provides guests a personalized selection of sampling flights, specializing in old and rare bottles. Learn about the history of the malts and tasting notes as you’re guided through an award-winning selection of unique single malts. The bar’s owners are currently developing Dornoch Distillery Company, a new distillery set on the grounds of the castle.
3. Visit “Whisky Island.” Islay, Scotland
Renowned for its smoky whiskies, Isle of Islay in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland is a small place with an outsize influence on the world of whisky. It’s well worth a visit to its nine whisky distilleries, including Bowmore, one of the nation’s oldest distilleries dating back to 1779. Learn about the whisky-making process and treat yourself to a variety of tastings of the island’s famously powerful, peaty “big smokes” at Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg distilleries. While you’re there, don’t miss a meeting with Scotland’s hairy Highlands cows, a lovable (and postcard-worthy) resident of the area.
4. Savor Glasgow’s food (and whisky) scene.
A city of culinary delights, Glasgow boasts award-winning restaurants and traditional pubs around every corner. Sample rare bottles of the good stuff at storied institutions like The Pot Still and Bon Accord, drink like a local at Stravaigin, a quintessentially Scottish spot serving old-fashioned malts, and dig in at the Michelin-starred Cail Bruich, where chefs use whisky creatively in dishes like whisky-cured salmon, whisky ice cream, and tarragon-and-whisky dressing.
5. Design your own whisky. Highlands, Scotland
Often thought of as Scotland’s most beautiful distillery, Glengoyne is special for another reason—it’s the only place where you can participate in a Malt Master Session and create your very own whisky. Discover how to balance the flavors from different casks and cask-strength whiskies from the Glengoyne warehouse to make your personal perfect recipe, presented to you in a 200ml Glengoyne bottle. Afterward, take a serene hike through the Highlandss up to the estate’s waterfall and the hidden glen and relax after your hard work.
6. Have afternoon tea in Scotland’s oldest working distillery.
While Glenturret still handcrafts their malt whisky as they did more than two centuries ago, using the only remaining hand operated mash tun in Scotland, the experience you’ll have at this legendary distillery is a bit more modern. The first Scotch whisky distillery to launch a fine-dining restaurant—with French crystal house Lalique, no less—visitors can wrap up their tour with luxurious afternoon tea, a multi-course tasting menu, or a whisky tasting flight at the bar.