10 Great Hotels in Scotland for Whisky Lovers
February 1, 2023 –––––– Larry Olmsted
What Scotland may lack in size, it makes up for in diversity. It boasts the highest peaks in the British Isles, more than 900 offshore islands including Skye, Islay, Arran, and Jura, a couple of thousand miles of hiking trails, prehistoric sites, medieval castles, and endless beaches. It has the world’s best collection of golf courses, as well as just about every other imaginable outdoor diversion. Scotland has big cities, tiny hamlets, and everything in between. Spread among the towns, cities, and countryside is a wealth of fantastic places to stay, with charming inns and hotels of every size, at every price point, and for every taste. What they all have in common is that you’re never far from a distillery, and you’re even closer to a fantastic selection of whisky, something every single one of these hotels offers.
Edinburgh has a lot of great lodging options, but for 120 years the top pick has been The Balmoral, a landmark in the heart of the city’s skyline, at No. 1 Princes Street, overlooking Edinburgh Castle. Scotland’s capital is a great walking city, and a wealth of whisky activities sit close by, including a trio of urban distilleries—Bonnington, Leith, and Holyrood. A short drive away is Diageo’s Glenkinchie Distillery, Lowland cornerstone of the Johnnie Walker blend, with an extensive visitor experience. And just steps from The Balmoral is Johnnie Walker Princes Street, which offers two bars and four options for immersive tasting experiences (starting at £28/$35).
Balmoral’s SCOTCH bar is not to be missed—filled with tartans and overstuffed armchairs, and ringed with endless shelves of scotch, some 500-plus selections altogether. Specialties include several guided Whisky Journey flights, such as The Ambassadors’ Selection (four styles, ages, and regions; £125/$157), A Journey Around Scotland (five drams from Speyside, Islay, Highlands, Lowlands, and Campbeltown; £75/$94), and Rare & Ghosted (four from closed distilleries or rare bottlings; £200/$250). Other highlights include rotating expressions from Lowlands farm distillery Daftmill, a single cask custom bottled for the bar by Royal Mile Whiskies, and several WWII-era bottles, like a Glenlivet distilled in 1943 and matured in a first-fill sherry cask for half a century.
From $375 per night.
Bowmore Cottages and Harbour Inn
Both lodging facilities are owned by and located at the iconic Bowmore Distillery, home to the country’s oldest scotch aging warehouse. The intimate Harbour Inn has seven upscale guest rooms featuring marble bathrooms with rain showers, while the five cottages that once housed distillery workers range from one to four bedrooms with fireplaces and full kitchens. The Inn’s award-winning restaurant offers Scottish- sourced ingredients, most famously local oysters, and has a lineup of Bowmore’s rare Fèis Ìle festival bottlings, released annually for the island’s weeklong music and malt festival. The Inn’s Schooner Bar has more than 70 other whiskies, with an emphasis on Islay, including Lagavulin, Ardbeg, and Laphroaig. The Bowmore Distillery offers a basic tour (£18/$23), the Vaults Secrets Warehouse Tasting tour (£55/$70), and the Bowmore Whisky Tasting Bar.
Inn rooms from £120/$150 per night. Cottages from £115/$144
A suite in the Highlands’ Dornoch Castle.
The Craigellachie Hotel
Built in 1893 at the junction of the Fiddich and Spey Rivers, the 26-room Craigellachie Hotel has an unbeatable location in the heart of Speyside—home to half of Scotland’s distilleries and its Malt Whisky Trail. This well-mapped, tourist friendly route includes a cooperage and eight distilleries: Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glen Grant, Glen Moray, Cardhu, Benromach, Dallas Dhu and Strathisla, “The Home of Chivas.” The culinary-rich region is also known for its Aberdeen Angus beef, Moray Firth fresh fish, Walkers Shortbread, and legendary wild salmon fishing on the Spey, just a short walk from the hotel, which has its own angling guides. Nearby are miles of sandy beaches and the popular hike to the summit of Ben Aigan, which offers views of Craigellachie village and the coast.
The Craigellachie Hotel’s Copper Dog Pub highlights traditional Scottish cuisine.
The Craigellachie itself is a big draw, and proudly calls itself “Scotland’s Oldest Whisky Hotel.” It features the acclaimed Copper Dog pub, whose menu is strictly Scottish fare emphasizing Speyside-sourced ingredients. But the big attraction for whisky lovers is the Quaich Bar, one of the world’s best whisky watering holes, with about 1,000 expressions on its list. It has one of Scotland’s largest selections of single malts—more than 800 bottles—plus over a hundred world whiskies and a lengthy cocktail list. One of the Quaich’s big allures is that it offers something for everyone, from Balmenach 2004 Connoisseurs Choice for £4/$5 to Glengoyne 30 year old at £380/$480 a dram. Of course, they serve the hotel’s proprietary Copper Dog, a blended malt made with eight single malts.
From $185 per night.
Aclassic castle experience, this atmospheric hotel sits in the heart of charming Dornoch, directly across from a 13th-century cathedral. Its oldest parts date to the 1400s, while the “new” wing is only 700-plus years old, and it has been a popular hotel since just after World War II. Dornoch is a great base for exploring the Northern Highlands, with some of Scotland’s finest beaches in summer, excellent cycling, hiking (including the Falls of Shin), and most famously, Royal Dornoch golf course. Four major distilleries ring Dornoch: Glenmorangie, Dalmore, Balblair, and Clynelish. What really sets this medieval castle hotel apart is its on-site distillery, producing organic gin and whiskies.
The hotel’s Whisky Bar is widely considered one of the UK’s best. The bar and distillery are the work of the Thompson brothers, who are also independent bottlers. The bar has well over 400 selections focused on rarities, and many of its own custom bottles, like a 46 year old single grain distilled in 1946 at Invergordon. If still available, you can try their very first Dornoch Distillery whisky release from late 2020, a 3 year old single malt aged in oloroso sherry butts. A dram by the giant fireplace in the bar’s lounge is an unforgettable experience. The hotel’s accommodation options include rooms in the castle or a trio of modernized cottages, and dining choices include a locavore-focused main eatery and the Vault, a fine-dining restaurant serving six-course dinners with optional wine or whisky pairings in the original 15th-century dungeon of the castle.
From £165/$207 per night.
The opulent Bertie’s Whisky Bar in The Fife Arms has 365 whiskies on offer, including rarities.
This brand-new (2021) West Coast golf resort with an acclaimed links course is making a big splash in one of the epicenters of Scottish golf, set among several other pilgrimage courses that lack their own lodging, including British Open venues Royal Troon and Prestwick. Dundonald has 22 suites in 18 standalone lodges around the stunning new clubhouse, built from natural materials including local stone, dark wood walls, and woven grass ceilings. Its Canny Crow restaurant, helmed by award-winning chef Iain Conway, who has earned Michelin stars and the UK’s highest AA three rosettes, focuses on fresh, local Ayrshire produce. The clubhouse has a bar upstairs with a pool table and a dedicated whisky-tasting room offering flights and guided tastings. This is home to around 100 scotches and a private cask of Bunnahabhain 36 year Canasta sherry finished 1980 ($125/dram). The resort has a partnership with one of the UK’s oldest whisky and tobacco merchants, Robert Graham 1874, and offers options such as a three-cigar and three-whisky pairing and trips to visit Robert Graham’s cigar and whisky collection in Glasgow, just 45 minutes away.
From around $215 per night per couple.
The Fife Arms
The village of Braemar is the birthplace of the famed Scottish Highland Games, still held here each September. This solidifies the local reputation for outdoor adventure, and The Fife Arms sits within Cairngorms National Park, giving guests access to myriad activities including fly-fishing, e-biking, horseback riding, golf, off-road 4x4 safaris, and endless hiking. Nearby tours include Balmoral Castle (the royal residence), Royal Lochnagar Distillery, and Speyside Cooperage. The hotel also partners with the Ballindalloch Distillery for more immersive tours. A meticulously renovated stagecoach inn that dates back to 1856, The Fife Arms opened three years ago with 46 rooms, each of them unique. Whatever adventures you undertake, at the end of the day, Bertie’s Whisky Bar will have something to quench your thirst, with its menu of 365 whiskies. Those include tipples you’re unlikely to see elsewhere, like an Aberlour 8 year old bottled specially for the Italian market in the 1960s (£93/$116) or Macallan 10 year old independently bottled by Hall and Bramley in the 1970s distilled from Golden Promise barley (£230/$289). Bertie’s also offers whisky and food pairing workshops (£150/$188 per guest).
Packages, including a three-course dinner and four-dram tasting, start around $650 per night per couple.
Auchterarder, Lowlands/Highlands Border
Scotland’s most venerable grand resort, Gleneagles is aptly nicknamed “The Glorious Playground” and has entertained presidents, kings, and golf and other sports champions, and has hosted everything from the Ryder Cup to the G8 Summit. Its 850 acres of sporting options include three golf courses, an off-road driving school, fishing, tennis, and world-class equestrian and shooting facilities. There are several distilleries nearby, including Glenturret, Edradour, Dalwhinnie, Deanston, Blair Athol, and Aberfeldy. The nine dining and drinking venues include the only Michelin 2-Star in Scotland, Andrew Fairlie, along with plenty of whisky. A golfer’s favorite is the Blue Bar in Gleneagles’s clubhouse, featuring heated sofas and indoor and outdoor spaces in partnership with Johnnie Walker Blue Label. The Roaring Twenties-style The American Bar dispenses classic and artisanal cocktails, while The Century Bar has a seven-page whisky menu with more than 170 options from around the world. There’s a menu of three-dram tasting flights studded with oddities like Octomore 10.4 from Bruichladdich. The 2021 inaugural release of the Gleneagles private bottling of Glenturret 11 year old can only be found here, by the dram (£20/$25) or bottle (£79/$100). The priciest tasting is a 1967 Dalmore Constellation (£3200/$4,000), followed by the 1953 Glenfarclas Coronation (£2000/$2,500) and Royal Brackla 1924 (£1800/$2,300). But there are many surprisingly affordable pours, even on the “Occasion, Rare & Particular Whiskies” sub-menu, including Orkney Thompson Brothers 12 year old (£14/$18) and Teaninich 12 year old (£11/$14).
Rooms from £405/$510 per night, per couple, with breakfast included
Gleneagles in the summertime. GLEESONPAULINO
St Andrews is home to the world’s oldest and most famous golf course, but most experts consider Muirfield to be Scotland’s best. A round on this 13-time British Open venue is at or near the top of every golfer’s bucket list. All-time great Jack Nicklaus came here as an amateur for the Walker Cup (1959), returned to win the 1966 Open, then named his famed Ohio home course Muirfield Village in its honor. Greywalls is a luxury hotel that literally sits on the golf course, just half an hour from Edinburgh, a popular day trip for guests. Muirfield is one of the toughest courses to reserve, and the hotel has coveted stay-and-play packages that sell out quickly upon release each spring. (There are half a dozen other standout courses nearby, including North Berwick, Gullane, and Archerfield.) It’s also an exceptional spot for scotch lovers, with a dedicated whisky room, whisky and food pairing dinners, and as a sister property to Inverlochy Castle also offers a great value proposition. The 29-page whisky menu starts with a matrix of smoky/ light/delicate/rich and each selection’s place within the intersecting quadrants, then details each offering. These range from bargains like a 1993 Clynelish Distillers Edition double matured in oloroso sherry casks (£9/$11) to affordable luxuries such as the 36 year old 1970 release from long-closed Glenury Royal (£50/$63) or Springbank 40 year old 1968 independently bottled by whisky consultant Regis Whisky Mad (£52/$65).
Seventeen rooms—each unique and with luxury bathrooms—occupy the main hotel, and there are six more cottage rooms in a separate building from £325/$410 per night, per couple, with breakfast included
The waterfront Pierhouse Hotel is known for its locally sourced seafood.
Fort William, Highlands
A lot of “castle” hotels don’t live up to the vision, but this is the real deal, a gorgeous 19th-century crenelated stone classic. The architecture and stunning setting are the main attractions, set on a lake at the foothills of Great Britain’s highest peak, Ben Nevis, at about 4,400 feet. One of the most scenic spots in Scotland and hugely popular with hikers, it was good enough for Queen Victoria, who after a week commented, “I never saw a lovelier or more romantic spot.” The opulent interior has Venetian crystal chandeliers, antique furniture, retro wallpaper, taxidermy, and marble fireplaces. All 17 rooms and suites are unique but modernized, with waterfall showers and current technology. The acclaimed fine-dining restaurant is overseen by consulting chef Michel Roux of London’s 2-Star Le Gavroche. Ben Nevis Distillery is just half a mile away on a scenic walking path, and it produces a whisky exclusively for the hotel. Nearby outdoor activities include golf, whitewater rafting, and hiking, while winter offers downhill skiing— a British Isles rarity—and the world’s largest indoor ice climbing facility. For a luxury hotel, drinks are relative bargains, especially since house pours are a generous 50 ml (25 or 35 ml is the norm in the UK). The custom Inverlochy Castle Ben Nevis is just £13/$16 while the 22-page whisky menu covers all of Scotland’s regions and includes offbeat single grain options like Girvan Patent Still No. 4 Apps (£22/$28) and Cameron Brig 8 year old (£13/$16).
Rooms from £335/$420 per night, per couple, with breakfast included
The Pierhouse Hotel
Port Appin, Highlands
This gourmet-focused 12-room inn sits on the shore by the dock where you catch the ferry to Lismore, with stunning views to the large Inner Hebridean island. It shares a culinary aesthetic with its sister hotel, the famed epicurean Three Chimneys Inn on the isle of Skye, and is a regional draw for both its restaurant and bar. The former is a renowned Scottish seafood specialist, utilizing fresh langoustines and mussels harvested right outside from Loch Linnhe. Oysters arrive from a few minutes further away, the next loch over. Travelers come for the food and stay for the whisky, as the Ferry Bar has 120 options, predominantly scotch along with selections from Ireland, Wales, England, and Japan. A newly launched whisky flight can take you on a tour of Scotland without leaving your seat in front of the fire. Signature cocktails are based on specialty whiskies, and as the only approved outlet of Lismore whisky on the Scottish mainland, one top choice is a Lismore Old Fashioned. Drams of note include Lismore 21 year old, single malt from an undisclosed Speyside distillery named for an island across the water and a bargain at £9/$11. At these prices you can taste several, including the Raasay R-02, a newcomer among local distillers near the Isle of Skye (£6/$8) or Nc’Nean Organic single malt (£8/$10). There are numerous boat trips to nearby islands, e-bike rentals, kayaking, Highland hikes, and the closest distillery you can tour is Oban, just 30 minutes away.
Rates for two from £130/$165 per night.