Two decades ago, visiting Scotland’s distilleries was mostly the pastime of die-hard whisky enthusiasts, who’d often just turn up at the door and ask to see the manager, or else the ‘coach tour’ crowd, who’d pop by, do a quick walk round, taste a dram with a piece of shortbread, and exit via the gift shop. Given that many of Scotland’s most popular rural areas have a limited number of places to stay, visitors to distilleries would often simply book wherever was available – or whichever hotel fit their budget. At that time, there was only a handful of what might be considered ‘luxury’ hotels in Scotland, and not all of these had whisky bars or even more than a couple of bottles on their shelves.
How things have changed. Boom time for the Scotch whisky industry has brought with it not just premiumisation of packaging – boxes, bottles, labels, and the like – but something of a revolution to whisky experiences. Whereas the visitors of old might have baulked at spending more than £5 per head for a tour and a tasting, whisky tours now often start from around £25, and the sky really is the limit when it comes to pricing of the most exclusive experiences offering behind-the-scenes access and samples of the oldest and rarest whiskies.
In response to this, many hotels have upped their game accordingly – and not just when it comes to expanding and improving their own whisky bars. Partnerships with distilleries and collaborative experiences that bring together the best of Scottish food, drink, and travel are now par for the course at the best hotels.
If a slice of the high life appeals, and a trip around Scotland beckons, look no further than the hotels on these pages. At each, you will be promised a unique experience, superlative dining, plenty of great whiskies to taste, and, most importantly, proximity to some of Scotland’s best-loved distilleries.
Nestled in the heart of Edinburgh, at the head of Princes Street, there are few more iconic locations to stay than The Balmoral Hotel. Known for offering true five-star luxury in the Scottish capital, its rooms and suites are sure to suit even the most well-heeled international visitors, by virtue of its ownership by Rocco Forte Hotels.
For the whisky lover, though, it’s SCOTCH at The Balmoral that offers the most appeal. Designed by Olga Polizzi and launched in 2013, this snug whisky bar is located just off the main reception and offers around 500 whiskies to suit all tastes, while knowledgeable staff are on hand to make recommendations. The team make regular trips to distilleries and, being now somewhat ‘in with the bricks’ of the Scotch whisky industry, it’s not uncommon to find product launches or industry events taking place there. Tailored ‘whisky journeys’ are offered that can help guide whisky explorers through different flavour profiles, and, for experienced whisky lovers, a collection of old and rare bottles dating as far back as the 1950s has been curated in collaboration with independent family whisky company Gordon & MacPhail.
Regular visitors to Edinburgh may wish to consider putting their name on the waiting list to join The Balmoral’s exclusive Scotch Club, which was launched in partnership with The Macallan. The club offers 35 personalised whisky ‘keeps’, in which members can store their very own complimentary bottle of The Macallan 18 Years Old Double Cask. During each 12-month membership period, members also gain access to priority booking and room discounts, a complimentary whisky tasting for two people, special member pricing on subsequent bottles to store in the keep, and other benefits related to staying at the hotel.
A short distance away, attractions such as Johnnie Walker Princes Street, the Scotch Whisky Experience, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and a number of local distilleries will ensure visitors aren’t short of whisky-flavoured diversions during their stay.
Local distilleries to visit: Holyrood, Glenkinchie, Port of Leith (Coming Soon), Bonnington (Not yet open to the public.)
Nearest airport: Edinburgh
Price per night: From around £445
Isle of Raasay, Inner Hebrides
One of the Isle of Raasay’s most distinctive landmarks, the Victorian edifice of Borodale House actually adjoins the Isle of Raasay Distillery, making it the only location in Scotland where you can spend the night in the same building in which whisky is made. Originally designed in the 1800s by Alexander Ross, the house was beautifully restored to perfectly integrate the old with the new. Now offering six well-appointed en-suite rooms and spectacular views across the Sound of Raasay to Skye’s Cuillin mountains, Borodale House can be booked by the room or outright for group visits of up to 12 people.
The dining room offers unrivalled views and is undoubtedly one of Scotland’s most romantic locations. When it’s time to dine, a new resident-only restaurant serves up locally sourced ingredients, or a quick ferry to Skye opens up the chance to experience some of Scotland’s most famous dining experiences, at the likes of Kinloch Lodge and The Three Chimneys. In fact, in 2022 Raasay Distillery partnered with The Three Chimneys to offer a sumptuous whisky-pairing dinner experience, a collaboration it’s hoped will return for 2023.
Once a Raasay Distillery tour and tasting has been completed, and Skye’s two malt distilleries – Talisker and Torabhaig – have been toured, the island still has much to offer in the way of walks, activities, and island tours. Though peat heads are wont to go to Islay, a trip to Raasay and Skye is not to be overlooked by those with a taste for the smoky stuff. And for the juniper inclined, a glass of Isle of Raasay Gin, also distilled on-site, will never be far away.
Local distilleries to visit: Isle of Raasay, Talisker, Torabhaig
Nearest airport: Inverness
Price per night: From around £150
The Fife Arms has been a Braemar landmark since the 19th century. Its scale is a testament to the popularity of the region spurred by the favour Queen Victoria gave to the area, by virtue of the nearby Royal residence of Balmoral Castle. After years of sliding into decrepitude, it was rescued by its current owners and restored to its former glory before reopening in 2018.
No expense was spared inside or out, and every item in the hotel has a story to tell. In fact, it feels more akin to a live-in gallery, with more than 16,000 individual items of art hanging on its walls, perched on shelves, and even affixed to its ceilings. The result is a unique Scottish aesthetic rivalled by no other property in the nation.
But the Fife Arms isn’t just a hotel for an art lover. Located close to Royal Lochnagar Distillery, a visit to the home of the local ‘Crown-approved’ single malt is sure to be on the schedule of anyone staying a few nights, but it’s Bertie’s bar that will turn whisky lovers’ heads. Opened in 2021 and named to honour Queen Victoria’s eldest son, King Edward VII – known as ‘Bertie’ – the whisky selection was curated in partnership with former Whisky Magazine editor, author, and expert Dave Broom, and the luxurious wood-panelled interiors are some of the most spectacular to be found anywhere in Scotland.
The 400 whiskies on offer are grouped by flavour profile to allow whisky newcomers to navigate easily, and the experienced, passionate, knowledgeable team offer fully personalised service to meet guests’ needs – whether they’re just after a wee nightcap, or a once-in-a-lifetime taste of some of Scotland’s oldest and rarest drams.
Local distilleries to visit: Royal Lochnagar
Nearest airport: Dyce (Aberdeen)
Price per night: From around £550
Dubbed Scotland’s ‘glorious playground for all generations’, the world-famous Gleneagles Hotel is an obvious pick for this list – though perhaps not solely for the reasons one might expect. Owned by the drinks giant Diageo until quite recently, one could indeed find a Johnnie Walker Blue Label-themed bar and a few nods to its whisky distiller parent company around the place in years gone by. Since changing hands, Johnnie has been told to take a walk, but significant investment in the hotel and its grounds made the place look better than it has done in years, as the interior designers have properly leaned into the estate’s Art Deco heritage.
Known for its laid-back approach to luxury, Gleneagles is, at its core, a place built around relaxation and recreation. Whether that means golf on one of its three championship courses, a spa day, or a hike on the surrounding estate, there’s something to suit all tastes. For the whisky lover and gourmand, the dark and intimate American Bar offers some of the best cocktails in Scotland – many made with whisky – and the Century Bar has a respectable whisky list and an enthusiastic team to serve them. Dining at the two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, or in the buzzing Strathearn Restaurant, where guests will often don formalwear to eat while serenaded by the live piano player, are experiences not to be missed.
However, it’s the hotel’s partnership with the Glenturret Distillery in Crieff, located about 20 minutes away by car, that should make whisky lovers sit up and take note. A private tour of Scotland’s oldest working distillery, dinner in its superb Michelin-starred Glenturret Lalique Restaurant paired with excellent wines, a dram or two of The Glenturret single malt, a Davidoff Winston Churchill Late Hour cigar on its terrace, and then back in a taxi to bed at Gleneagles must surely rank as one of the most relaxing and luxurious experiences available in Scotland today.
What’s more, a visit to the Gleneagles whisky shop can furnish a memento on the way out: a bottle of co-branded The Glenturret x Gleneagles single malt, which is now on its second edition (five are planned). Just 750 bottles of the 2022 release, an 11-year-old priced at £105, were available exclusively at the hotel, and a similar format is expected for 2023. It’s becoming something of a collector’s item, so be sure to pick one up if given the chance.
Local distilleries to visit: Tullibardine, Glenturret, Strathearn, Deanston, Aberfeldy
Nearest airport: Edinburgh
Price per night: From around £500
Tain, Easter Ross
Located a short drive from its namesake distillery, Glenmorangie House recently underwent a significant refurbishment in collaboration with ‘interior storymakers’ Russel Sage Studio, and the upgrade has transformed it into what the team there call a ‘sensory playground’. With rooms themed around Glenmorangie’s range of whiskies and interior elements incorporating materials such as oak and copper, visitors are promised the opportunity to enjoy local food, try stargazing, learn about beekeeping at the distillery’s hives, forage for cocktail ingredients in the Walled Garden, play croquet on the lawn, walk deserted beaches, and, of course, taste a few of Glenmorangie’s light, fruity, and elegant single malts.
Partnerships with Royal Dornoch and Tain Golf are sure to satisfy those looking to indulge in Scotland’s national sport, but it’s the themed whisky experiences that will delight lovers of Scotland’s national drink. Recently, a special ‘Tale of the Forest’ package saw guests invited to indulge in a two-night stay inspired by the experimental whisky, released in 2022, that was smoked with forest botanicals.
The trip included afternoon tea on arrival, a botanical cocktail mixology session, a falconry display, visits to the Glenmorangie Distillery and surrounding Scottish woodland, forest-inspired tapas dining on the first night with a light lunch on Saturday, a four-course gourmet dinner on the second night with paired wines, a tasting of Glenmorangie A Tale of the Forest, and a bottle of the same to take home. At £1,200 per room, based on two people sharing, the experience offered great value, and it can only be hoped that similar whisky-themed packages will become regular fixtures.
Local distilleries to visit: Glenmorangie, Balblair, Dornoch, Dalmore, Glen Ord, Ardross, GlenWyvis, Brora, Clynelish
Nearest airport: Inverness
Price per night: From £430
Isle of Islay, Inner Hebrides
The Machrie is hard to miss when driving from Port Ellen to Bowmore, and perhaps for this reason it was one of Islay’s most favoured places to relax for many years, before falling into disrepair. Thankfully, it was resurrected by hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray and significantly expanded during a comprehensive refurbishment that saw it transformed into one of the country’s most attractive hotels. The Machrie now offers the most polished hotel experience on the island, and it has become a regular haunt for whisky lovers looking for a touch of luxury, Islay style. Boasting a golf course, spa, restaurant, cinema, and gift shop, one could happily while away an entire trip to the island without ever stepping off The Machrie's grounds – though with many of Scotland’s best-loved distilleries on the doorstep, anyone who did that would be missing out.
Led by general manager Ed Richardson, whose résumé includes a number of luxury golf resorts and hotels, The Machrie has gone from strength to strength – recently attracting executive chef Calum Hall to take the reins at the hotel’s restaurant, named ‘18’ because it overlooks the golf course’s 18th hole. A passionate advocate for the finest Scottish – and, of course, Islay – produce, Chef Hall has launched an ‘essence of Islay’ tasting menu that showcases the very best that the island has to offer. Expect ingredients ranging from seafood to game, along with a fine range of gins, beers, and whiskies from Islay and beyond.
Of course, the hotel can offer transfers to and from Islay airport, and the team can arrange tours and tastings at all of the island’s whisky distilleries – not to mention the three local gin houses (Nerabus and The Botanist on Islay, and Lussa on Jura), and the brewery responsible for Islay Ales.
Of particular note is the Ben Hogan Duplex Suite – which is essentially a self-contained, one-bedroom apartment, with near-floor-to-ceiling windows boasting spectacular views across Islay’s wild landscape. The spa, which has two rooms offering treatments using the organic Scottish beauty brand Ishga, is well worth a look. Undoubtedly one of the most romantic locations for whisky-loving couples to stay, The Machrie is now not only one of Scotland’s best whisky hotels, but one of the nation’s best overall.
Local distilleries to visit: Ardbeg, Bowmore, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Bunnahabhain, Ardnahoe, Bruichladdich, Kilchoman
Nearest airport: Islay
Price per night: From around £200
Hidden away in the rolling Aberdeenshire countryside, Meldrum House is a hotel with two faces – at once a historic and traditional country house, and a contemporary hotel with all the mod-cons. The manor dates back to a tower house built in 1236 (parts of its stonework are still visible in the Cave Bar), and the 18-hole golf course is known for its inventive use of water and bunkers. Dining in either its Pineapple Grill & Seafood restaurant (which holds two AA rosettes), 1236 at the Cave Bar, the private dining domes, or the luxury-focused Titan Sky Bar offers cuisine to suit a range of tastes, and all of the gastronomic experiences are led by the same award-winning executive chef, Alan Clarke.
Whisky lovers should look out for periodic whisky dining experiences, which bring together overnight stays, dining in the Titan Sky Bar, and tastings of old and rare whisky hosted by brand ambassadors. Most recently, a collaboration with Yamazaki gave visitors the chance to try the highly sought-after Tsukuriwake Selection 2022, which comprises the Yamazaki Puncheon, Spanish Oak, Peated Malt, and Japanese Oak expressions. Before the tasting, diners enjoyed a sumptuous Japanese-Scottish fusion-themed meal created by Chef Clarke, which incorporated many Japanese and local ingredients. Collaborations with local independent whisky company Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky also appear on the roster, and the Cave Bar itself (which offers more than 120 drams) has been awarded Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky Bar of the Year global title.
The hotel’s proximity to Glen Garioch Distillery makes it the ideal base from which to visit this hidden gem, which recently resurrected its floor maltings and reintroduced direct firing of its wash still. Be sure to book in for the ‘Legends of the Garioch’ tour, which explores the heart of the valley of the Garioch. Uniquely, the tour takes visitors beyond the distillery gates and into the surrounding countryside, where tales are told of the area’s history, local delicacies are sampled, and drams are enjoyed. The tour concludes back at Meldrum House with lunch in 1236 at the Cave Bar, which makes this experience easy to incorporate into a stay.
Local distilleries to visit: Glen Garioch, GlenDronach
Nearest airport: Dyce (Aberdeen)
Price per night: From around £150
And if you'd like to explore both London and Speyside...
The Londoner x Glenfiddich
Leicester Square, London
If budget is of no object and a flying trip to Speyside is in order, look no further than the unique experience now on offer at The Londoner Hotel: The Glenfiddich Time Series Experience. The adventure begins with an overnight stay in one of The Londoner’s corner suites and dinner at its restaurant, Whitcomb’s, with a postprandial dram of Glenfiddich 50 Years Old Simultaneous Time in the hotel’s speakeasy-style whisky bar.
The next day brings a flight to Speyside, a VIP tour at Glenfiddich, dinner and drinks at the nearby Dowan’s Hotel (an excellent choice if visiting Speyside), and an overnight stay at the distillery’s own accommodation, The Malt Kiln. After breakfast, it’s back to the airport for the journey home. Quite unlike any other whisky hotel experience on offer to date, this experience is strictly limited to set dates and is based on two guests sharing a room. Truly, there’s no better way for jet-setters to taste some of Speyside’s oldest and rarest single malts in style.
Price for the experience: £5,000 (for two people sharing)