The 4 Day Islay Festival Tour with Highland Explorers

PR invite // All thoughts and opinions are, of course, my own. 

It’s always a pleasure to visit Islay and I was thrilled when I got the question to go on a tour with Highland Explorer Tours to capture some promotional photography for their brand new 4 day Islay Festival Tour.

Since I’ve never been to Islay during the Feis Ile it was really fun to see this spectacle in real life and get an idea of how it all works.

If you love reading about Islay, you can find all my previous Islay posts and my Islay Guide here.


For the upcoming 4 Day Islay Whisky Tours, which is on the 11th August and 15th September I also have an exclusive 10% off code for you if you are keen to book which is whiskygirl10

These tours are not during the festival but have a similar itinerary, which you can read more about on the website.

Day 1 – The Journey to Islay

We left Edinburgh at 07.00 from the Edinburgh Bus Station, an hour earlier than expected since Calmac Ferries had moved our time up. The ferries can be a bit unreliable so it’s good to be able to be quite flexible with timings for yours that rely on these. On this first part of the journey our guide Rich did a great job of keeping everyone awake and entertained with historic anecdotes and interesting facts.


Our first stop of the day was in Luss, where you can walk down to the water of Loch Lomond, get a coffee or tea and just have a little look around this quaint village. If you are ever just driving past, a lunch at the Loch Lomond Arms is quite a nice one as well.

Rest and Be Thankful Viewpoint

Our journey continued and from Luss it route starts getting scenic. We did another shorter stop at the Rest and be Thankful Viewpoint which is a great spot for some photos with the beautiful valley below. As you can tell from the photos I was already in a really good mood.


Me and Cody had brought sandwiches for the bus journey so didn’t need to go for lunch in Inverarie where we did a longer stop. I can however recommend Brambles if you’re ever visiting and want some food or a tea or coffee -I’d especially recommend their bacon and maple syrup French toast! Instead we opted to see the Inverarie Castle, which I’ve never seen up close before, and also to go for an ice cream in the sun from the sweet shop. There’s some lovely benches by the water where you can sit and admire the view.

After our stop at Inverarie we headed straight for the ferry at Kinnacraig to get over to Islay. The ferry journey is about two hours and is another good opportunity for a hot beverage, or even a whisky if you’re feeling keen.

Charlotte Street No 1

Once we arrived on the island we drove to Port Ellen, via Bowmore where we had another stop for dinner (but more on Bowmore later) and our hotel Charlotte Street No 1. This is a lovely place to stay as it’s clean, doesn’t look worn down in any way and our room had a lovely view out front which faces the water. This could be an excellent spot to go swimming if you are interested in that as the water on this side generally is quite calm and safe. The hotel offered a good breakfast with a variety of options (I would perhaps stay away from the scrambled eggs that were a bit dry) but there was a big bowl of fresh fruit and berries, toast, full Scottish, porridge and cereal so lots to choose from. Port Ellen is also a lovely spot to stay if you have a designated driver, as you can either walk all the way to Ardbeg Distillery or take the bus here and walk back towards Port Ellen as you can do Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig all on this walk without anyone having to drive. It’s about 30-40 minutes walk between each distillery but worth taking your time as there’s a couple of spots you might want to stay longer – like seeing the castle ruins by Lagavulin which gives you a brilliant view of the distillery. And soon you will also have Port Ellen distillery here!

When we arrived in Port Ellen we called the restaurant Seasalt and ordered food for pick up that we could just collect and have at the hotel as we were quite tired and also suspected it would be quite busy most places due to the festival. I could definitely recommend eating at Seasalt if you’re looking for a restaurant in Port Ellen. There’s also a Coop grocery shop in Port Ellen.

Day 2 – Ardbeg Distillery, Lagavulin Distillery, Laphroaig Distillery & Kilchoman Distillery Open Day

Our second day on the island was a full on distillery day, which I don’t think any of us minded. Just remember to drink loads of water to stay hydrated in between drams!


First stop of the day was at Ardbeg, which is one of my personal favourites. We had a proper distillery tour booked in and got to try three different whiskies during the tour. I really liked this set up rather than doing all the tasting at the end because it feels quite special having a dram on the pier and by the wash backs. Definitely a tour I would recommend as it’s beautifully located by the water as well, there’s a good restaurant/café and the team here is so lovely. One day I’d love to come back and do Ardbeg’s Festival Day as it’s probably the one I’d pick if I could only pick one.


On the way back we stopped by Lagavulin for a look around the shop and bar. As a change I went for a cocktail called Smoke & Roast – made with Lagavulin Distillers Edition, Galliano Ristretto Liqueur, Briottet chestnut Liqueur – which was really tasty! The Peat & Plum Highball was also really refreshing and a good shout on a hot day.


Another shorter stop was made at Laphroaig where they were offering up samples of the festival release in the shop. Unfortunately the bar was closed but at least we got a look around the shop and the grounds. All the distilleries on this coast are right by the water, so it’s lovely to just see them.


Today was Kilchoman Festival Day – each distillery has their own day of festivities – so in the afternoon we headed over to take part in this. When you arrive you get a glass with a lanyard and tokens for drams. What I really liked about Kilchoman was that they were serving different drams in various locations of the distillery so it was truly an open day and you could walk into the malting floors where one dram waited, to the still room for another and then by the warehouse for the third. In the courtyard the band The Rolling Drones were playing and we kept running into them as they pretty much played at each of the distillery open days. They were very good and brought such good vibes!

For lunch we had some burgers that were being sold as we unfortunately missed out on the Cullen Skink that Kilchoman is known for and there was also a bar for cocktails from the guys at The Malt Rooms in Inverness who were excellent. They had Kilchoman twists to a Margarita, Espresso Martini and a Dark & Stormy and they were all great! I love when you do a whisky twist on any cocktails no matter what the base spirit usually is.

Dinner at Bowmore Hotel

After a long and fun day of whisky we stopped by the Bowmore Hotel on the way back to Port Ellen for dinner. For dinners on the tour you might need cash as some restaurants like Lucci’s at Bowmore Hotel but there’s a cash machine both in Bowmore and Port Ellen. Our driver took orders from everyone the day prior on the bus and you can choose if you’d like starter, main or dessert or a combination, so you just needed to order drinks and wait for the food. Lucci’s also has an amazing whisky bar and focuses on Islay whiskies only so if there’s something special you want to try then this might be the place for it.

Day 3 – Mull of Oa, Bowmore Distillery, Bruichladdich Distillery & Bunnahabhain Distillery Open Day

For our second day on the island we had a whisky free morning before the open day at Bunnahabhain waited in the afternoon.

Mull of Oa & The American Monument

Last time I was on Islay we visited the Mull of Oa for the first time but didn’t have enough time to go to the American Monument so I was really happy that it was on the itinerary for the trip. It’s such a beautiful setting with dramatic cliffs – so do be careful and don’t go to close to the edge! – but I’d definitely recommend a little morning or afternoon trip here. There’s a designated parking area and then you walk the remainder of the way to the monument which is a slight inclined walk all the way but nothing too tricky. There’s also a circular path which will take you back to the parking area rather than just walk the same path back and we saw both cows and sheep along the way.


Since we had some extra time on our way to Kilchoman we stopped by Bowmore again to check out the distillery shop and bar. We also nipped up to The Munchie Box for a cup of tea and cake which was lovely after the walk by the monument.


Another stop was made as Bruichladdich Distillery near Port Charlotte for another look around the shop and they also sell drams in the shop if there’s something you’d like to try. Bruichladdich has a brilliant gin if that’s more your thing and I actually bought my only festival bottle here: The Laddie Valinch!


In the afternoon the open day at Bunnahabhain awaited. This is definitely one of the most beautiful locations, especially on a good day, as you have a view over the entire bay and across to Jura and the Paps of Jura. At Kilchoman we were able to park at the distillery, but for Bunnahabhain you have to park in a field further up the road and go by shuttle down to the distillery. It was no problem at all on the way there, but on the way back we ended up waiting for quite a long while as the shuttle only took a few people at one time and it was only one minibus running. Remember your midgie spray and sun protection in case you get stuck in the sun like us.

For Bunnahabhain you also got some tokens and could choose from trying the 12 Year Old or Toiteach a Dha. They had a variety of food stalls from oysters to pizza and burger. However they didn’t accept card payment so we were very happy that we’d taken out cash for the dinner or we wouldn’t have been able to buy anything. The oysters were brilliant and I’d definitely recommend trying a lot of seafood on Islay as it tends to be really good! Bunnahabhain was also offering a variety of activities but we decided to take it easy and just enjoy the atmosphere, however I do think it was possible to book some things on the day although some tastings and happenings were sold out in advance. Bunnahabhain also has a great shop where you can buy minis, midis or full size bottles of their single casks so perfect if you fancy trying a smaller size of something. The Rolling Drones were also back playing music and The Rhythm and Booze Project also played some tunes throughout the day. It was such a stunning day and I really wish we could’ve booked the boat trips as they looked amazing – and apparently they also saw dolphins!

Dinner at Bridgend Hotel

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at Bridgend Hotel for dinner. Bridgend Hotel feels like a more slightly higher end dining spot and food is a little bit on the expensive side but it was a really enjoyable meal and if you are celebrating something this could be a nice spot to book a table!

Day 4 – The Journey back to Edinburgh

An early morning start took us to the ferry back to the mainland where we headed north this time to see some sights on the way back to Edinburgh.

Standing Stones, Cairns & Hill Forts

Our first few stops on the way were to see the standing stones and cairns at Temple Wood and the Dunadd Hill Fort in Kilmartin Glen. On a sunny day like the one we had it was really nice to see these curious places and learn a bit more about the history of them. It’s also quite the scenic drive in this area of Scotland and everything was so green and lush!


We made our lunch stop in Oban where we opted for a fish and chips so we could sit out in the sun, followed by a lovely gelato from Gelato Burger. Next time I’ll definitely try and head down the pier to try the fresh seafood which seemed to be very popular with the others. We also admired this massive yacht that you can see in the photos and also had time for a quick look around the shop and bar at Oban Distillery which sits right in the city centre.

Glen Coe

One of our last stops for the day was to admire the lovely views of Glen Coe. The drive through the valley is so dramatic and lovely

Overall this was a brilliant trip and has definitely opened my eyes to bus tours around Scotland! It’s such a fun way to see new places without having to worry about driving, ferry fees, tickets etc and we learned so much on the way from what our guide told us about. Our group was also so lovely so it was great to meet them all. And if you’re thinking of visiting Islay, this really is a good experience without anyone having to be the designated driver which so often can be a bit tricky for us whisky enthusiasts!

I already can’t wait to be back on Islay.

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Check out my Instagram @swedishwhiskygirl or @scandinavianabroad to see even more photos and follow along on future adventures.

2 Responses

  1. Loved reading this! I’ve been to a bunch of these distilleries over the years during the islay jazz festival and for wee whisky holidays. But this was such a vibrant piece, great tips, thoughtful advice and beautiful pictures. Glad you had such a fun time. Definitely going to try and make it over during the feis next year ☀️

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting! Islay is such a lovely place and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to experience it during the festival. Do you have any favourite distilleries on the island? ☺️

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Moa Nilsson

Adventurous Swede with a fondness for castles, snow and vintagesque experiences.

Scandinavian Abroad

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