The Speyside is Scotland’s most productive whisky region – but the area has a lot more to offer than whisky distilleries! Read on for a guide to fun things to do in Speyside for whisky lovers, history buffs, stargazers and adventurers.
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Tucked away in the northeast of Scotland, between the tall mountains of the Cairngorms and the stunning Moray coast, the Speyside is one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets – although, whisky lovers will be well familiar with the region.
The Speyside is Scotland’s most productive whisky region. Nowhere else can you find more distilleries and together they produce more uisge beatha, or water of life, than anywhere else. For whisky fans, visiting the Speyside and following the Malt Whisky Trail is really a no-brainer.
However, the Speyside has more to offer than just whisky. The region’s lifeline has long been the River Spey, the fastest flowing river in Scotland that runs from the high mountains of the Cairngorms to the beautiful Moray coast.
And as such, it is no surprise that the Speyside is dotted with bustling towns, historical sites and scenic landscapes – everything you could ask from a Scottish destination.
This guide to the Speyside contains travel inspiration and many practical tips for your trip to the region:
- How to get there & how to get around,
- Where to stay & hotel recommendations,
- Places to eat delicious food – especially, if you are vegan,
- and many fun things to do in the Speyside from whisky to stargazing.
Listen to ‘Whisky Galore’ – my Scotland travel podcast about the Malt Whisky Trail!
Where is the Speyside?
The Speyside is a region in the northeast of Scotland, about halfway between Inverness and Aberdeen. It covers the area around the River Spey and its many tributary rivers. Towns in the Speyside include Grantown-on-Spey, Aberlour, Dufftown, Keith and Elgin.
Together with the Moray coast – that stretch of coast from Inverness to Cullen – it makes up the Moray Speyside region. The River Spey meets the sea at Spey Bay near Fochabers.
Getting to Speyside
The Speyside has a fairly decent public transport network. There are train stations in Aviemore, Inverness, Elgin and Keith and you can catch local buses from there to bigger towns in the region, such as Dufftown, Grantown or Aberlour.
You can use my Scotland by Public Transport guide to help you plan your trip.
That said, many distilleries, castles and hikes in the Speyside are located outside the main towns. And so the easiest way to travel around is definitely by car. This, of course, has one downside for whisky lovers – you can’t drink and drive. But don’t fret – you’ll find suggestions below for enjoying a Speyside dram or two, even if you’re on a road trip.
Another way to avoid driving – especially if you want to taste some whisky – is to book a guided tour that includes transport. There are many scheduled whisky tours around the Speyside, where you can join a group. But if you prefer more flexibility, a private guide might be the best choice for you.
Speyside Tours offer scheduled whisky walking tours in Dufftown, unique experiences like a cooperage masterclass or private guiding in the area including transport.
You might also like: My Essential Guide to Trying Whisky
12 Things to do in Speyside
Tour the Whisky Distilleries
There are over 50 whisky distilleries in the Speyside, but only some of them are open for public tours. Nothing beats going right to the source to see where and how whisky is made. And even though, every distillery uses mostly the same process, each tour and tasting is different.
Even if you’re not convinced you’re a whisky lover, I recommend visiting at least one distillery for a basic tour to learn about this local staple. Some of the most popular Speyside distilleries with tours and visitor centres include Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Strathisla, Macallan, Aberlour, Cardhu and Glenfarclas.
A tour normally costs between £10 and £30 and includes at the very least one, but more commonly around three drams. Macallan is the outlier here – the tours at their brand-new distillery start at £50. If you’re driving, you can take the included tasters away in little travel bottles. Whenever possible, tours should be booked in advance as there is usually limited capacity.
Visit the Speyside Cooperage
Coopering is the craft of making and repairing casks and since all Scottish whisky must be stored in casks, it’s an essential part of the industry. There are several cooperages in Scotland, some distilleries like Glenfiddich even have their own coopers on-site.
Most of the casks that come through Scottish cooperages are ex-bourbon casks from America or sherry butts from Spain. Whenever these casks are in need of repair, the coopers take care of it.
The Speyside Cooperage in Craigellachie is a great place to learn about the skill of cask making and see coopers in action. Many of the apprentice coopers who learn the craft here, go on to work for world-famous distilleries or other parts of the global spirit industry. The tour costs just £4 and lasts around 45 minutes. Book a tour via their website.
Go on a Dufftown Distilleries Walk
What if you want to visit several distilleries to try their whisky, but don’t want to drive between them? The Dufftown Distilleries Walk by Speyside Tours is the perfect solution.
The walking tour takes in all 9 distilleries in Dufftown – 7 active and 2 inactive. Your guide Michele knows all the inside scoops of the whisky industry and at each distillery site, she’ll pour you a dram of locally produced whisky. You don’t get a full distillery tour, but lots of tasters and plenty of context about Speyside whisky in general.
I did the “Connoisseur’s Distilleries Walk” which included tasters of around 16 whiskies and local food pairings. My highlight of the tour was to try whiskies I had never even heard of and trying different independent bottlings which I never really dared before. Note, that the food pairing is not suitable for vegans, but this was still one of my favourite Speyside experiences – and great if you travel without a car or want to avoid driving.
Visit Public Art in Tomintoul
Picturesque public art is a great way to attract people to places that otherwise go unnoticed. The sculpture ‘Still’ by Angus Ritchie is such a place – a beautiful viewpoint near the village of Tomintoul.
The mirrored surfaces perfectly reflect the scenic surroundings to create the illusion of never-ending pastures and hills.
There is a spacious layby near the sculpture and the walk up takes about 5 minutes.
Drive the Snow Roads
The Snow Roads is a 90-mile scenic drive throug the heart of the Cairngorms from Grantown-on-Spey in the Speyside to Blairgowrie.
If you fancy a scenic driving day in the Speyside, follow the route from Tomintoul to Ballater. One of the most scenic sections is the approach to Lecht Ski Centre. Another beautiful spot is the viewpoint at The Watchers, just as the road starts to descend towards Cock Bridge.
The Watchers is an installation consisting of four metal casts of standing stones, next to Louise Gardiner’s ‘A Moment in Time’ standing stone sculpture. From here, you can see the solitary tower of Corgarff Castle.
You might also like: 16 Scenic Road Trips in Scotland
Walk across Craigellachie Bridge
As the fastest flowing river in Scotland, crossing the River Spey has long presented a challenge to people. For centuries, the river could only be crossed on small ferries. But in the early 19th century, a new bridge – designed by Thomas Telford – would change that.
The Craigellachie Bridge was built from 1812-14. It consists of a single cast iron arch and was used until the 1970s. Today, cars drive across the Spey on a new concrete bridge, but the old bridge is still there and accessible on foot.
Climb Ben Aigan
Ben Aigan is a small, but prominent hill in the Speyside. I actually never hiked to the top but walked through the forest plantations on its slopes while hiking the Speyside Way. The views were easily my favourite on the entire hike – I can only imagine how beautiful it would be to hike all the way to the top.
The walk from the forestry car park to the top takes around 2-3 hours (return).
The forest at Ben Aigan is also popular among mountain bikers. If you bring a bike or hire one locally, you can choose from a variety of trails in the woods.
Browse the local shops in Aberlour
Attention, foodies! The Spey Larder is a fantastic shop in the heart of Aberlour – it has been there since 1864. The shelves are stacked with local delicatessen and the finest whisky, at the deli you’ll get fresh sandwiches and home bakes. Whether you’re looking for a takeaway lunch, some treats for the roads of gifts to bring home, the Spey Larder is the place to get it.
Nearby you’ll find a lovely cafe (The Gather’n), a yarn shop (3 Bags Wool), the Speyside Whisky Shop and the Walker’s Shortbread Bakery Shop.
Visit the castles of Speyside
There are quite a few castles in the Speyside – some eerie, in ruins, others in much better shape or beautifully restored. Many are open to the public and can be visited.
- Ballindalloch Castle: A dreamy, ivy-covered fairytale castle with sprawling gardens and a tearoom. It’s privately owned and only open from Easter to September. (£12 Castle & Gardens, £6 Gardens only)
- Balvenie Castle: A ruined 13th-century castle in Dufftown, just a stone’s throw from Glenfiddich Distillery. (£6, currently closed due to Covid-19)
- Auchindoun Castle: A ruined 15th-century castle near Dufftown which can be reached on a lovely walk from town. (free)
- Corgarff Castle (pictures below): An isolated castle in the remote hills of Strathdon. The white tower house can be seen from afar. (£6, currently closed due to Covid-19)
Stargaze at the Glenlivet Dark Sky Park
The Tomintoul and Glenlivet area in the Cairngorms National Park has extraordinarily dark skies. Since 2018, the area is officially a Dark Sky Park and invites stargazers to enjoy the sparkling show.
There are three Discovery Sites around Tomintoul and Glenlivet, where the skies are particularly free of light pollution. At those sites you’ll also find panels explaining more about the things you can see in the sky.
Watch out for constellations, shooting stars, the Milky Way and – if you’re lucky – the northern lights.
Walk to the Fairy Village in Dufftown
The Fairy Village of Dufftown lies tucked away on a hike to the Giant’s Chair – a rock feature that looks like a chair carved by the river. Near it, you’ll find another feature called the Giant’s Cradle.
The Fairy Village has everything a Speyside town needs – different houses, a clock tower resembling the one in Dufftown and even a whisky distillery. But be careful when you walk around and don’t disturb the faeries.
The 3-mile hike starts at the Clock Tower in Dufftown, leads through Mortlach and past Dufftown Distillery. It’s easy enough to follow, but I recommend wearing sturdy shoes as the gorge can be wet and muddy.
For more ideas, browse the Paths around Dufftown booklet which is full of suggestions for local walks and hikes.
Hike the Speyside Way
Last, but not least – if you want to explore the Speyside at your own pace, why not hike the Speyside Way?
The main route leads from Aviemore to Buckie and follows the River Spey. However, you can also extend your hike or change the route by following the Tomintoul Spur or the Dufftown Spur.
You will not only walk past whisky distilleries and enjoy the beautiful landscape of the Speyside, but also get the chance to see the ancient Caledonian pinewoods near Abernethy, spot seals along the Moray Coast or go for a dip in the River Spey.
Use my Speyside Way hiking guide to plan your trip!
Where to stay in Speyside
You’ll find many places to stay in the Speyside. I recommend basing yourself in the heart of the Speyside around Dufftown, Aberlour, Craigellachie or Ballindalloch.
Where to stay in Dufftown
Davaar B&B is a traditional bed and breakfast in the heart of Dufftown. Here, you are located just a stone’s thrown from the beautiful clock tower at the centre of the village, and a short walk to many whisky distilleries including Glenfiddich and Balvenie.
The B&B has three spacious en-suite rooms and rates include a hearty cooked breakfast. Susan Cameron and her husband are wonderful hosts!
Where to stay in Craigellachie
I have previously stayed at the lovely Bridge View B&B, a traditional bed and breakfast in the heart of the village. I have also heard great things about the Highlander Inn, a small hotel with an award-winning whisky bar.
The Craigellachie Hotel – one of the leading whisky hotels in Scotland – would be a great choice if you’re looking for a romantic getaway in Scotland. It has elegant rooms in a historic Victorian building, a fantastic restaurant and a whisky bar with over 700 different whiskies.
Where to stay in Aberlour
Consider staying at The Mash Tun, a well-known whisky bar and restaurant with a handful of rooms upstairs.
Where to stay in Ballindalloch
If you’d rather stay somewhere more rural, surrounded by nature, I highly recommend the Delnashaugh Hotel near Ballindalloch. There isn’t much of a village – although a small shop and the post office are nearby – but the scenery on the River Avon is wonderful. The hotel has a sunny terrace and serves delicious evening meals.
Vegan-friendly restaurants in Speyside
Home to so much whisky, bountiful rivers, Highland estates and icons like Walker’s Shortbread, the Speyside has a full Scottish larder. But for vegans, it is still a little harder to find options.
Here are great places to eat in the Speyside where you can also get a delicious vegan meal:
- The Seven Stills in Dufftown: This French-Scottish restaurant has quickly become one of the most sought-after addresses in the Speyside. The menu is tighly curated and there are only a handful of tables. Inside, the atmosphere is cosy and indulgent – luxurious meals, gentle French music and a great selection of whisky.
- Robbie Dhu Terrace at Glenfiddich Distillery: The cafe at Glenfiddich Distillery in Dufftown has a locally-inspired lunch menu. Vegan options are very limited – but if you’re just looking for a soup to warm up, it’s a great place to go.
- The Copper Dog at Craigellachie Hotel: A relaxed gastro-pub with top-notch Scottish cuisine – delicious meals that are beautiful to look at, but not a pretentious vibe at all.
- The Mash Tun in Aberlour: A well-known whisky bar and restaurant in the heart of Aberlour. The menu is distinctly Scottish, although the vegan options are a bit more Asian-inspired.
- Delnashaugh Hotel in Ballindalloch: The hotel is very accommodating – just let them know in advance about your dietary requirements.
You might also like: How to travel Scotland as a Vegan
So whether you are a whisky-lover or not, the Speyside has a lot to offer. I hope this guide to my favourite things to do in Speyside has convinced you to book a trip.
If you do – let me know which places you visit, and if there’s anything you think that I missed.
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