Islay is a place of pilgrimage for anyone that appreciates a good Malt Whisky. Islay makes whisky, and whisky makes Islay.
But there is more to the island than distilleries. Islay has some of the best beaches in Scotland, a fantastic golf course, top-class restaurants, and a history rich with folklore and tragedy.
This Tour Plan is designed so that it can be "Added On" to any of our tour plans that visit Glasgow, Edinburgh, Oban, or Arran.
Allow a minimum stay of 2 nights on Islay.
The guide contains extra day trip suggestions for several days of activities on Islay.
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Guide Updated - 24 April 2023
Approximately 1 miles / 1 Km
3 to 7 Days
Traveling to the Islay ferry -
This tour plan gives you directions to get to the Islay ferry terminal from the Starting points of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Oban, and Lochranza on the Isle of Arran.
So, for example, you could combine this tour plan with our Scenic Flexi West to East tour plan and include a visit to Islay on the way from Glasgow to Oban,
Or you could use it to go from Edinburgh to Oban via Islay, and then pick up the route directions in the Scenic Flexi West to East from Oban onwards.
Glasgow to Tarbert / Islay Ferry -
Start your road trip into the Highlands by traveling west from Glasgow to the shores of Loch Lomond. You don’t have far to drive today so you could schedule in a cruise on Loch Lomond, before heading to an excellent smokehouse where you can dine in the restaurant, or buy some Scottish delicacies for a lochside picnic.
There is a wide variety of attractions around Loch Fyne so you can occupy your day with a tour of Inveraray castle, the Duke of Argyll’s ornate home, then head into Inveraray where the actors at the Jail Museum will take pleasure in showing you just what it was like to be locked up in an 18th-century prison.
If you want to stretch your legs, you can follow our suggestion for a short, but energetic climb to a magnificent viewpoint with commanding views over Inveraray and Loch Fyne.
Continuing the very scenic coastal drive along Loch Fyne, you have options to visit a botanic garden with magnificent displays in early summer, an abandoned village where the homes have been carefully preserved, and some castle ruins with interesting histories. You can then end the day in the active fishing village of Tarbert where you might see a fresh catch being landed.
Driving Distance: ~ 60 Miles to Inveraray / ~98 miles to Tarbert
Stopover in Loch Fyne Area (Inveraray / Tarbert)
Edinburgh to Tarbert / Islay Ferry -
You start with a fast drive to Stirling where you can visit the castle and the visitor centre at Bannockburn Battlefield, which uses clever technology to bring this momentous battle to life.
Traveling west, you can break the journey with a visit to Doune Castle, which starred as “Castle Leoch” in “Outlander”. You then enter the Trossachs and we suggest a small detour to the photogenic Falls of Dochart in Killin, where there are also standing stones and a very spooky castle.
Continuing along the route of an old Cattle Drovers’ road, you arrive at Loch Awe, the longest loch in Scotland. Here, you can stop to walk to Kilchurn castle which is an impressive stronghold that guards the eastern approaches of this strategic passage to the west coast. The path to the castle is easy to miss, but our directions will ensure you find this picturesque lochside ruin.
From Loch Awe, you travel south to the charming lochside village of Inverarary with its neat streets of 18th-century houses and an ornate castle that is still home to the Duke of Argyll. nYou may wish to schedule in a journey break here before traveling down the shores of Loch Fyne to the active fishing village of Tarbert, where we suggest you rest for the night.
Driving Distance: ~150 miles (to Tarbert)
Stopover in Loch Fyne Area (Inveraray or Tarbert) .
Oban to Tarbert / Islay Ferry -
The route directions guide you along a road that we rate as one of the best scenic drives in Scotland. History fans will enjoy the ancient standing stones and burial chambers of Kilmartin Glen. At the Iron Age remains of Dunadd Fort, you can truly walk in the footsteps of kings when you stand on the “Stone of Fealty” where the monarchs of Dalriada were crowned.
After KIlmartin Glen, you arrive at the shores of Loch Fyne for a drive south to the Mull of Kintyre and the active fishing village of Tarbert.
We suggest that you schedule a lunch stop in Tarbert before heading the short distance to the Islay ferry terminal at Kennacraig, but you may prefer to schedule in an overnight stop in Tarbert in order to have time for a more relaxed day of exploring this quiet corner of Scotland.
Driving Distance ~56 miles
Stopover in Loch Fyne area or take an afternoon ferry crossing to Islay.
Arran to Islay -
If you are using our Island Explorer or Island Adventure tour plan, you might wish to include a visit to Islay in between your travels between Arran and Oban. So, we have provided details of how to get from Lochranza on Arran via the Claonaig ferry to Islay.
This is a very short drive, but if you have time to kill before boarding the Islay ferry, you could fit in a visit to nearby Skipness Castle which guards the Kilbrannan Sound and has changed ownership many times through the centuries.
Driving Distance: ~6 miles
Stopover on Islay
Exploring Islay -
The guide includes details of the Islay ferry service and links to the website where you can book your tickets.
The road network on Islay is simple, so there is very little risk that you'll get lost. But to help you make the most of your time on Islay, we supply directions for exploring the island's main attractions as well as some lesser-known features such as a wishing stone, a traditional woolen mill, a beautiful beach in a hidden cove, and a ruined church with a gruesome history.
The thing that really makes Islay special is the people, so make sure to schedule in time to relax in our recommended whisky bars so you can get to meet the locals.
Stopover on Islay
Islay to....? -
To let you integrate this Islay tour plan into our other tour plans, we supply directions from the Islay ferry to Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Oban.
So, for example, you could combine this tour plan with our Scenic Flexi East to West tour plan and include a visit to Islay on the way from Oban to Glasgow or Edinburgh.
Islay Ferry to Glasgow -
Returning from Islay, we guide you along the shores of Loch Fyne which is one of our favourite places in Scotland. Loch Fyne enjoys a mild climate and there is a famous botanic garden on this route that you might wish to visit for its collection of Himalayan plants.
We recommend you schedule a journey break in the historical and picturesque village of Inveraray where you will find an ornate castle, an unusual museum, and a popular cafe that we always stop at when we are in the town.
Heading on from Inveraray, you follow an old military road over a mountain pass before joining the shores of Loch Lomond on the way south to Glasgow.
Driving Distance: ~103 miles
Islay Ferry to Edinburgh -
The driving route that we propose for the journey to Edinburgh is not the same route as suggested for the outbound drive from Edinburgh to Islay. Instead, we guide you to Loch Lomond, but instead of continuing into Glasgow, we suggest a quieter country road that swings by the village of Drymen, before picking up the route of the old Military Road towards Stirling.
This isn't the fastest route you could take, but it is more scenic.
On the motorway leg from Stirling to Edinburgh, you can break the journey with a visit to the impressive "Kelpies" statue near Falkirk.
Driving Distance: ~144 miles
Islay Ferry to Oban -
After disembarking from the ferry, we guide you north to Lochgilphead via a road that hugs the shores of Loch Fyne. If you aren't in a hurry, you might wish to follow our suggestion for a detour along a scenic little side road to the village of Crinan where you will find a great place for lunch.
Continuing north, the road passes through a region with one of the highest concentrations of Neolithic monuments in Europe. Within a few miles, you can find evidence of 5000 years of human history. But this route isn't just about history and stone circles, it is also one of the great coastal drives in Scotland.
Along the way to Oban, we recommend a small detour to visit to a very pretty little village on an easily accessible island. There are 2 great wee pubs to be discovered here, but adventurous types may prefer to embark on a speedboat cruise to the world’s 3rd largest whirlpool.
The journey ends in Oban where we can guide you to some excellent seafood restaurants.
Driving Distance ~56 miles
Stopover in Oban Area.
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