Attractions on Islay
Whisky is obviously a key attraction on Islay, with all distilleries offering tours and tastings. It’s a good idea to book ahead when planning a whisky trip, as most distilleries will close for a few weeks a year. But there is much more to Islay than just whisky. Here are some of the activities that you can enjoy the next time you visit the island:
The American Monument
Located on the Oa in Islay’s south-west corner, the American Monument commemorates the hundreds of lives lost following two shipwrecks in 1918. The monument, designed by architect Robert Walker, bears two plaques, remembering the Tuscania, a liner that was torpedoed en route to France from New Jersey, and HMS Otranto, which collided with another ship, HMS Kashmir, in stormy conditions.
FACT: 131 metres – the height of the American Monument
The Kildalton Cross
A Christian cross erected around 800AD, and one of the finest examples of its kind. The cross, which stands 2.65m high and spans 1.32m across, depicts several Christian scenes, including Cain slaying Abel and Isaac’s sacrifice by Abraham. The cross is located in the Old Parish Church of Kildalton near the south-east tip of the island.
FACT: Chlorite-schist – the grey-green rock used to carve the Kildalton Cross
A place of great historical significance , Finlaggan is the site where the Lords of the Isles controlled Islay nearly 1,000 years ago. Finlaggan sits to the north of the island, and comprises two islands, one of which is linked to the mainland by a walkway. Archaeological digs uncovered numerous tools and weapons which date to the 14th and 15th century, as well as evidence of fortified buildings, graveyards and a council chamber. The ruins of three buildings are still visible today.
FACT: Eilean Mòr – the largest island of Finlaggan
Islay is a great place for angling fans, with plenty of brown trout and salmon swimming in its cool rivers and lochs. The ideal spots are Loch Gorm in the west of the island, Loch Skerrols (central) and Loch Finlaggan (north). Season-long trout permits cost £50 from Islay Estates, which allow fishing on all lochs, although Loch Gorm carries an additional charge. A one-day permit for salmon fishing on the River Laggan costs £50.
FACT: May-July is the best time to fish on Islay
Islay House Square
Established by Walter Campbell in the 1790s, Islay House Square lies just outside Bridgend, and is home to a number of local businesses, including a brewery, carpenter’s workshop, glassmaker and garden centre. Its original use was as a stables and accommodation for employees of Islay House, and was later redeveloped in the 1980s.
FACT: Prime Ministers and members of the Royal Family have stayed at Islay House
Islay Woollen Mill
The Islay Woollen Mill has been run for more than 100 years, and produces rugs, scarves, caps, jackets and kilts. Its designs have been used in major films such as Braveheart and Forrest Gump. Founded in 1883, The Woollen Mill is situated a mile outside Bridgend, in the centre of the island.
FACT: The tweed suit worn by Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump was made at Islay Woollen Mill
One of the most beautiful beaches on Islay, Machir Bay on the island’s west coast stretches for more than one mile with golden sand, and is a perfect spot to watch the sun go down, although strong undercurrents mean swimming is not advised.
FACT: Machir Bay – named one of Britain’s 31 Best Beaches by Condé Nast Traveller
Museum of Islay Life
Based in Port Charlotte, the Museum of Islay Life opened in 1977 and has a huge collection of items, some of which date to 8000BC. You’ll find an illicit whisky still, finds from excavations around the island, and a ‘wee Museum of Childhood’, as well as several thousand photographs taken over the past 100 years.
FACT: 1,500+ items at the Museum of Islay Life
St Columba Church
One of the key churches on Islay, located just south of Bridgend, St Columba (known as ‘The Red Church’ by locals) was the key site for Episcopalian worship on Islay in the late 19th and early 20th century. The church fell into disrepair in the 1930s and 1940s, but was repaired and restored in the 1960s.
FACT: St Columba Church was built in 1888 by Canon CT Wakeham, Rector of St Kiaran’s in Campbeltown
DRINKING ON ISLAY
Located in the heart of Bowmore on Jamieson Street, this family-run hotel stocks more than 700 whiskies, with the majority from Islay. The hotel has 11 rooms to let, and also offers hot food and free Wi-Fi, as well as live music, discos and barbecues throughout the year (except winter).
The Harbour Inn
The Harbour Inn is owned by Bowmore distillery, and is situated just a stone’s throw from Bowmore Harbour. The inn has seven rooms, an award-winning restaurant and a conservatory to relax in, with views across Loch Indaal.
The Islay Hotel
The Islay Hotel is based in Port Ellen in the south-west corner of the island. Guests can choose from more than 100 malts in the whisky bar, plus there’s home-baked cakes, 13 rooms and live music.
The family-run Lochindaal Hotel has a fine collection of whisky started by the landlord’s aunt in the 1930s. Located in Port Charlotte, the nine-room hotel specialises in seafood, all sourced from the nearby fishing boats the same day. There are two bars to choose from, too: a public bar with darts and pool, and the lounge bar with an open fire.
Featuring views of Bowmore harbour and Loch Indaal, the Lochside Hotel has more than 300 whiskies to choose from, as well as local beers and a restaurant. It’s also just a two-minute stroll from Bowmore distillery, and has 10 rooms, five of which have views of the loch.
Port Askaig Hotel
In full view to those who arrive at Islay via ferry to Port Askaig, this hotel is right on the water’s edge overlooking the isle of Jura. The Port Askaig Hotel is on the site of an old inn that existed 400 years ago. The inn is now the hotel’s public bar, which has a large range of Islay single malts. The hotel also owns the adjacent self-catering apartment, which is next to the local shop and post office.
Port Charlotte Hotel
This four-star beachfront hotel is situated in the south-west of the island overlooking the west edge of Loch Indaal. Originally built as three cottages in 1829, the hotel now has . Each room has an en-suite bathroom and free Wi-Fi, and the venue was named National Whisky Pub of the Year in 2009.
An Tigh Seinnse
Pronounced ‘an tie shawn-sher’, this pub is tucked away in Queen Street, Portnahaven. Whisky and local ales are served, along with hot food, pints of prawns and sandwiches. The name means ‘the house of singing’, and many a ceilidh has taken place in this cosy venue.