View Full Version : Might visit Scotland, need travel advice

01-28-2012, 14:59
Looks like I'll be flying into London on or around May 31st to attend the Queen's 60th Jubilee with my family... however I will have a couple days to myself that I am free to do whatever I want... like visit some Scotch distilleries!

With only a Thursday, Friday and Saturday available to travel Scotland, I don't expect to visit every distillery I want. But I figure it will be just enough time to stop in to Islay, Campbeltown and some other islands off the southwest coast! I think most Scotch distilleries I want to see are going to be in that area anyway. (Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Springbank mostly)

So, my question is, how does one travel from London to Scotland (and around) alone? I've heard rail prices are a bit ridiculous right now but can't think of a better method short of flying. I've also wondered if tour groups leave from England to visit distilleries but I doubt there are any doing the route I'm most interested in.

Beyond that I'm more concerned about traveling from distillery to distillery... never used a lot of public transport in my life and I have no idea what the customs are like out there so I hope someone has advice!

Also, I'm going to need 1-2 nights accommodation up there, so recommendations on where to stay are welcomed! Thanks guys.

01-28-2012, 16:53
Getting from Glasgow to Islay is approx a 6 hour trip in itself..if you got a car, slightly longer with a bus. With three days I would say Islay is out of the question. Getting from London to Scotland will consume time as well, no matter which ways of transport you choose. I would lower my ambitions a lot. Depends a lot if wednesday and sunday is scheduled to travel to Scotland and Back

Renting a car is the easiest way to get around in Scotland


02-10-2012, 13:32
Agree with mac here. The way the ferry schedule is set up, it's almost impossible to go to Islay as a day-trip from Glasgow, especially if you want to visit distilleries. You could see most of the Islay distilleries in one day if you stayed on the island. Your itinerary would be Thursday travel from London to Glasgow and Glasgow to Islay, Friday distillery tours all day, Saturday travel back to Glasgow then on to London. That doesn't really leave time for Campbeltown or any other islands.

London to Glasgow:
Air - 1 hour (plus ground transport, airport time - checkin, security, etc... probably 3 hours in all) roughly $200
Train - 4.5 hours, roughly $100 (off-peak, look for discounts)
Car - 10 hours (depending on traffic & weather & stops) $50/day

Having done all 3, and considering your schedule, I'd suggest the train. Then rent a car when you get to Glasgow. Traveling Scotland by bus is great if you're there for a couple of weeks. With only 3 days you will need maximum efficiency.

If you are going to Islay, your travel plans will all revolve around the ferry schedule. Here's a link to the ferry schedule for Islay. (http://www.calmac.co.uk/timetables/summer-timetables.htm?id=summer-islay--kennacraig-port-ellen-port-askaig-colonsay-oban.png) Kennacraig is the land side departure terminal. There are two ferries, one goes to Port Askaig (near Caol Ila) and the other one goes to Port Ellen (near Laphroaig/Lagavulin/Ardbeg). You'll need to arrive at Kennacraig at least 1/2 hour before your sailing, and Kennacraig is about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Glasgow airport.

Bowmore is half-way between the two ports. On a day trip, I'd do the southern distilleries and Bowmore. Stay at a B&B in Bowmore, since it's the only real "town" on the island.

This will be a costly few days. Check the price of the ferry - for a car and a driver it's over 110 ($175) for the return trip. Add gas, car rental, b&b, meals, distillery tour fees and it will all add up. Scotland (and the UK in general) is a very expensive place.

Look closely at your schedule and decide whether it really makes sense for you to do the whirlwind Islay distillery tour. If you have lots of money, and aren't afraid of driving in Scotland then go for it. If right hand drive and frequent, infernal roundabouts scare you, then consider alternate plans. :grin:

A much more relaxed 3 days in Scotland could be spent in Glasgow & Edinburgh, with a day trip on the train to Oban. The train ride from Glasgow to Oban is breathtaking, and the Oban distillery is a 2 minute walk from the train station. Edinburgh is a stunningly beautiful city where you can walk through centuries of history in an afternoon (again, steps from the train station). There's also the Scotch Whisky Experience (http://www.scotchwhiskyexperience.co.uk/) at the top of the Royal Mile which is easily as informative as a distillery tour.

As you may be able to tell, I've been to Scotland several times. I love it there. And every time I go, I make the same mistake of planning to pack in way too many activities. It's a place that rewards a laid-back, deliberate pace, rather than rushing and checking points off a list. The people there are friendly, funny and straightforward. And they love Americans.

Here are a few more links to help with your research. If you have any questions, or seek more advice, don't hesitate to PM me. i'd be happy to help.

Alternatives for traveling to Islay:

Islay distilleries map, with info links for each:

Places to stay on Islay:

Virgin Trains get you from London to Glasgow:
There's pretty much one train per hour from London Euston to Glasgow Central. Make sure it's non-stop for the quickest trip. Travel mid-day for cheaper fares.

The Oban distillery:
(Undiscovered Scotland is a GREAT website for tourists)

Oh ... and some of my pictures from Scotland:

02-10-2012, 22:41
Depending on your financial situation, you coould fly from London to Islay. I've seen people do that for Feis Ile, hwoever I don't know if they offer flights year around. When I used to go to Feis Ile (Islay festival) I used to leave a week before the event and stay a week after. IMO you'd be better off to concentrate on Lowland distilleries. In three days you could probably do Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie as well as Glen Turret. Another possibility would be Glen Turret, Balblair, and Edradour. Personally I like the second option better. I don't think I'd try to squeeze in more than three in the time yo have alloted, and I would give up hopes of Islay or Cambeltown. Feel free to pm me for more info if you want.

02-11-2012, 01:22
Hi Stu, I think you confuse Blair Athol and Balblair.

Your advice is very good, as there a quite a few distilleries near Glasgow - Edinburgh worth visiting

Apart from the ones you mention there is also Glengoyne which have one of the most varied and extended tour possibilities out there (check www. glengoyne.com) I haven't been there in several years so no personal experience with what they got now, but it looks exciting

Auchentoshan and Glengoyne is near Glasgow

Glenkinchie is near Edinburgh, their tour is standard but good

Edradour and Blair Athol is in Pitlochry. Between Pitlochry and the Edinburgh/Glasgow area you can also find

Glenturret (They focus mainly on Famous Grouse)


02-13-2012, 01:53
You're right as rain, Steffen, thanks for correcting me. I've been to both several times, I guess Ihad a touch of old timers disease. I have to spend my last night in Glasgow to catch my flight, but I pick up my rental car and head for Pitlochary or some other small town in the boonies as soon as my plane lands. Glengoyne and Glen Turret both have nice tours as well.

02-13-2012, 02:29
I like Glasgow, especially for the pub scene. Bon Accord, Brew Dog especially


02-13-2012, 11:28
I like Glasgow, especially for the pub scene. Bon Accord, Brew Dog especially

Agreed. And not just for the Scotch - there is a surprising amount of American Whiskey there. Last time I was in Glasgow (in December), I was able to sample Weller 19, VWFRR, Pappy 20, and a 4R single barrel that I had never seen before. All for between 4 and 7 each!

I still think the best way for a whisky lover to spend 3 days in Scotland is 1 day in Glasgow (bottle shopping and pub crawling), 1 day in Oban (highland scenery and distillery visit), and 1 day in Edinburgh (Scotch Whisky Experience and Castle/Royal Mile walk).

02-13-2012, 14:40
1 day in Glasgow (bottle shopping...)

Bottle shopping for stuff to buy and bring back stateside?

My wife and I are going to be in Scotland for three weeks a few weeks before StraightNoChaser. I've been wracking my brain (and Google) for the best ways to get bottles unavailable to me back to Wisconsin. Any of you guys giving advice about Scotland travel have any tips? I plan to (or would like to, at least) buy more than I would be able to fit in checked luggage.

The options I see:

1) Ship it back via FedEx, UPS, or other private shipper. I know certain vendors have rules and regulations for shipping alcohol. How do you make sure it gets through U.S. Customs? Signature-required (21+) packages are no problem as I have neighbors and friends who will accept packages for me.

2) Bring it with me on the flight back in checked luggage. Duty-exemption is 1 liter per person. What's the maximum allowed to go through U.S. Customs assuming I can supply enough luggage to carry it all and pay the extra duty upon re-entry to the U.S.

02-14-2012, 09:55
I found half of my answer. You can bring in an unlimited amount of alcohol for personal use. Interpretations of how much constitutes personal use are left up to your port-of-entry's State alcohol control board and the Customs officer.


I'm still searching for more information on shipping alcohol back.

02-14-2012, 10:02

I don't live in the US, so I'm not familiar with your customs regulations. If I was to do the same thing in Canada, theoretically I could bring back as much as I wanted. As long as I was prepared to pay the duties which, in Canada would bankrupt me.

As for shipping, many UK retailers will ship to the US, as long as it's legal in your state to receive alcohol. Whisky sold for export will save you paying the VAT (which is significant at 20%), though you might not enjoy the shipping charges.

Here are a few Scottish retailers that ship to the US. You can start shopping now (links are to shipping info pages, where possible):

If you decide to go shopping in Scotland and check your bottles as luggage, here are the stores you will want to check out (in this order):

Loch Fine Whiskies (http://www.lfw.co.uk/), Inveraray
Assuming you are driving, if you could only stop at one place, this would be it. Great selection, good prices, thoroughly knowledgeable staff. The drive from Glasgow to Inveraray is gorgeous. Don't forget to stop at the Rest And Be Thankful (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Glen_Croe,_viewed_from_Rest_and_Be_Thankful_( RLH)_2006-11-18.JPG) on the way (bring a miniature dram and a Glencairn glass - just one).

Royal Mile Whiskies (http://www.royalmilewhiskies.com/), High Street, Edinburgh
Probably has the largest selection in Scotland, at least in the central belt. Prices can be a bit higher due to their premium tourist location. It's a bit of a mecca for whisky purchasing in Scotland. Also carries world whiskies - last time I was there they had the full range of BTAC and Pappy (but you won't like the prices).

The Good Spirits Company (http://www.thegoodspiritsco.com/contact.html), Glasgow
The newest, great whisky shop in Scotland. Very conveniently located, run by 3 very passionate whisky lovers. Mark, one of the owners, also runs the Whisky Whisky Whisky forum (http://www.whiskywhiskywhisky.com/forum/index.php) as well as the Glasgow Whisky Festival.

Robbie's Drams (http://www.robbiesdrams.com/main.asp), Ayr
Not the biggest selection, but things tend to move a bit slower there due to their location. They will often have rare bottles long after everybody else has sold out. Last time I was there, I picked up an Ardbeg Alligator and a Conemarra Turf Mor, both of which were sold out everywhere else. They currently have Old Pulteney 21 in stock, which has been sold out since Jim Murray's 2012 Bible came out.

There are a few other shops, notably The Whisky Shop (http://www.whiskyshop.com/Contacts/StoreLocations.aspx), which has locations in most major Scottish cities. But if you hit the 4 mentioned above, you'll have been exposed to 95% of the whisky available for retail sale in Scotland. The only way to see more would be to hit up the specialty shops in London Soho.

If you are buying retail, in person, you will have to pay the VAT (the prices shown include the VAT). Most retailers can give you a VAT refund form. If you fill it out properly and drop it off at the UK airport customs office on your way home, you can get a refund for most of the tax you paid. Each retailer will keep a handling fee though, so if you can make all your purchases at the same store, you can minimize the fee. That may not be practical for you.

Oh, and be prepared that whisky is super expensive in the UK. Just like everything else there.

02-14-2012, 10:58

...tons of helpful information...

Holy crow! Thanks Smithford! I'll be sure to hit up those shops. It sounds like it will be worth the car rentals. We're otherwise planning to use the rail system to make it from city to city.

I think with this information, I may be able to limit my in-person purchases - and what I bring back in luggage - to those whiskies that I purchase at distilleries. I think I heard that some distilleries have distillery-only bottlings.

As luck would have it, my company is footing the bill for this extended trip for me and the missus. That leaves all funds for whisky, shipping costs, and duty fees. :grin:

02-14-2012, 11:08
My pleasure.

Rail will work for most cities, but you will definitely want a car to visit smaller towns. Especially if you're planning distillery visits.

As luck would have it, my company is footing the bill for this extended trip for me and the missus. That leaves all funds for whisky, shipping costs, and duty fees. :grin:
Amazing. Are they hiring? :cool:

02-14-2012, 11:38
Don't miss a Cadenhead Shop, Campbeltown or Edinburgh.

Other favorite whiskyshops :

Gordon and MacPhail in Elgin
Duncan Taylor in Huntly
Whisky Castle in Tomintoul
Whiskyshop in Dufftown


02-14-2012, 12:48
Amazing. Are they hiring? :cool:

Always. You'd have to move to the U.S., and this seems to be our motto.


02-14-2012, 15:54
LOL. I've worked in advertising for 20 years, so consequently no longer have a heart. :lol: They can have my liver. As-is. :drinking:

02-15-2012, 13:59
We're otherwise planning to use the rail system to make it from city to city.

While browsing another forum, I found a thread listing the distilleries accessible by train (http://www.whiskywhiskywhisky.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=273&t=5929). Depending on where you want to visit, you may not actually need a car. Rail in Scotland is a great way to get around, though train travel is not cheap. Timetables, journey planners, etc.. are found at Scotrail (http://www.scotrail.co.uk/).

There were a few useful threads at the other forum about whisky travel. Relevant to the original post in this thread, one guy tells about how he spent a week on Islay (http://www.whiskywhiskywhisky.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=273&t=5592) and still only got to 7 of the 8 distilleries.

06-22-2012, 08:30
Straight & Jonny - How did your trips go?

Did you visit any distilleries? Pick up any great bottles? How much did you love Scotland?

06-26-2012, 08:23
I never went :p Had to stay back here in Texas to work

06-26-2012, 17:16
Aw, damn. That's too bad.

Do try to go sometime. You'll love it. And when you go, let me know and I'll help you with your Islay plans with minimal fuss.

07-06-2012, 10:18
Straight & Jonny - How did your trips go?

Did you visit any distilleries? Pick up any great bottles? How much did you love Scotland?

My wife and I went. It was quite a trip. We traveled only by public transportation between cities, and used buses whenever possible. We even rode in a Royal Mail Post Bus on Islay, where the large-bus routes are limited. Twenty days saw us staying in the following cities and visiting the (usually) nearby distilleries.

Glasgow (Glengoyne distillery)
Inverness (Glenmorangie distillery)
Aberlour (Glenfiddich distillery) - the Spring whisky festival was going on while we were there, so we spent a good deal of time in Dufftown participating in events.
Aberdeen - only long enough to catch the ferry to Orkney
Kirkwall (Highland Park distillery)
Port Ellen (Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg distilleries)
Bowmore (Bruichladdich, Kilchoman, Coal Ila, and Bowmore distilleries)
Campbelltown (Springbank and Glengyle distilleries)

I picked a large number of small bottles ranging from 5 to 20 cl. I also picked up a few big bottles.

Ardbeg 1978
The Whisky Shop's private Glenfarclas selection - 9 years old but tastes much more mature
Valinch selection at Bruichladdich distillery

We spared no expense for the distillery tours, when available, and that turned out to be a great decision. We stood on top of wet malt in the malt kiln at Bowmore distillery for a good 20 minutes while the malt was being dried. My clothes from that day smelled like peat for the next week. Ardbeg's tour saw us try samples of Ardbeg Kildalton. Laphroaig's Water to Whisky tour was stunning. Highland Park's tour was also impressive. My wife decided she likes the Laphroaig Cairdeas 30 year old and the Highland Park 40 year old the best. I'm not sure whether I should be thrilled or dismayed at that. :bigeyes:

We toured Springbank while their whisky school was in full swing. I definitely must experience that myself while Springbank still puts it on.

For the Islay portion, I'm glad we stayed for 5 days and were there the week before Feis Ile. Being there for the festival would have been too much for our first visit. We're thinking our first Feis Ile will be in 2014. :grin: We may even hire a car for our next trip; driving on the opposite side of the road doesn't seem as daunting as I imagined it to be.

I thought I knew and understood whisky before this trip. Boy, were my eyes opened. You can know all of the facts about production and aging and you can even have enjoyed nearly every whisky available. However, until you immerse yourself in Scotland and its people, I don't think you can truly appreciate whisky as its meant to be.

07-10-2012, 15:03

Sounds like a dream whisky trip to Scotland. Amazing. You did more on this trip than I've done in 10 trips. I'm impressed, and also a bit jealous.

07-10-2012, 18:23
I thought I knew and understood whisky before this trip. Boy, were my eyes opened. You can know all of the facts about production and aging and you can even have enjoyed nearly every whisky available. However, until you immerse yourself in Scotland and its people, I don't think you can truly appreciate whisky as its meant to be.

I'm jelous. Scotch is my first love in whisky. I'd love to go and experience the people and the whisky in it's birth place. Sounds like you had a great trip/experience.