Speyside is famous as the home of malt whisky, and - incredibly - there are more than 50 distilleries within a 12-mile radius. For whisky lovers, there's practically nowhere better! There's more to Speyside and nearby Moray than malt, though. This area is an outdoor adventure playground, a scenic marvel and a foodie's paradise.
Image: Visit Scotland / Damian Shields - Speyside Cooperage
Whisky & the Malt Whisky Trail
Image: Visit Scotland / Damian Shields - Cardhu distillery
Let's get the obvious one covered off first, then - Speyside is THE place for whisky in Scotland, and what a place it is!
The Malt Whisky Trail takes in eight distilleries (seven of which remain operational today) and the Speyside Cooperage, where whisky casks are still made according to traditional methods. If you can, go for the longer 'VIP' tour of the cooperage, where you'll get a much more in-depth insight into the process. The distilleries featured in the Trail are Glenlivet, Cardhu, Glenfiddich, Glen Grant, Strathisla, Glen Moray, Benromach and Dallas Dhu (the last of which is no longer working but provides an excellent insight into the history of whisky production in Speyside).
Whilst the Malt Whisky Trail is what Speyside is best known for, there are a great many other distilleries worth your time. The right ones to concentrate on will vary depending on your tastes and preferences, so check out our detailed guide to Speyside whisky to help you decide.
A couple of the cooler distilleries to visit include Macallan, where the architecture alone will immediately grab your attention. An engaging tour will take you through the entire production process. This is one of the grandest and most exciting distilleries in the whole of Scotland.
A tasting at Aberlour, guided by the knowledgeable team, is also not to be missed. Dufftown's Balvenie distillery offers a range of experiences to suit your available time and budget, and Glenrothes is another traditional Speyside site full of stories. One of the newer Speyside distilleries (commissioned in 2014), Ballindalloch, is located on the grounds of the castle of the same name. It offers private tours and sampling sessions by appointment only.
Many distilleries are only open to the public for a limited period during the annual Speyside Whisky Festival. But if you don't ask, you don't get - let us know if you're keen on a visit, and we'll see what we can do.
These are just a few examples of the visits, tours and experiences available in Speyside - when you book, we'll ask about your personal interests and your favourite whisky, and we'll use that to decide which distilleries are most likely to suit you best.
If you're looking to buy a particular variety of whisky, especially something rare, the best place to start is the aptly-named Whisky Shop in Dufftown. This stocks the classics, the specials and the weird and wonderful, and the knowledgable team will be able to advise you on new types to try according to your tastes and interests.
Distillery tours and tastings aside, there are some wonderful and well-stocked whisky bars in the region. Two of our favourites are The Still at the Dowans Hotel in Aberlour and the world-renowned Quaich bar at the Craigellachie Hotel, which boasts over 900 varieties of single malt!
With so much whisky around, self-drive itineraries in the region are not recommended. However, if Speyside is part of a longer multi-stop self-drive tour, we can arrange transfers to and from your distillery visits to allow you to take part in tastings to your heart's content! We can also offer fully chauffeured tours accompanied by a knowledgeable guide. You can use the Stagecoach whisky trail bus, which operates 7 days a week in July and the first part of August and connects all the main destinations on the trail.
If this has got you excited about whisky, then check out our guide to the top whisky experiences in Speyside!
Image: Visit Scotland / Damian Shields - the River Spey from Craigellachie Bridge
Whisky tends to take over in any whistle-stop guide to Moray & Speyside, but there's a whole lot more to this area. Outdoor pursuits are available in abundance, and with a variety of terrain and a huge amount of green space, it's easy to see why this area draws visitors from all over the world at all times of year - whether or not they're whisky fans!
For lovers of hiking, there's the long-distance Speyside Way (around 85 miles, rising to just over 100 if the additional spur to Tomintoul is included), which connects with the Moray Coast Trail (72 miles) at Buckie. These are well-marked routes, both scenically stunning and peppered with lovely places to stop for food, drink and something to do. For those wishing to hike but not keen to take on a long-distance route, the area has a range of easier and shorter walks to consider. A few of our favourites are the short but stunning 2-mile circuit to Linn Falls from Aberlour, the Elgin Explorer trail taking in the main sights of this pretty Moray town, the Smuggler's Trail starting from the Glenlivet distillery, and the lovely and well-marked hike to the summit of Ben Rinnes.
Fishing is another popular pastime in Speyside - the River Spey is especially good for salmon and sea trout. Other good fishing spots include the River Findhorn, River Avon and River Livet. Moray Firth is great for sea fishing, with several firms offering shore angling or charter boat excursions to the best spots.
The many rivers in Speyside, which make it such a great location for whisky, also serve as excellent locations for watersports. Canoeing and white-water rafting are particularly good on the River Spey - G2 Outdoor (rafting) and Spirit of the Spey (canoeing) are two local providers offering advice, equipment and guided trips.
The forests and tracks of Speyside are great for mountain-biking too, and in fact, this is a great way to cover more distance on the Speyside Way if the route appeals, but you're too short of time to hike the whole stretch.
Finally, golf in Moray & Speyside is well overdue a mention - courses vary in difficulty and scenic appeal. A few firm favourites are the stunning seaside courses at Cullen Links, Moray Golf Club at Lossiemouth and the green and pleasant Rothes near Aberlour.
Image: Visit Scotland / Damian Shields - Ballindalloch Castle
Castles are a feature throughout Scotland, and Moray & Speyside has a few particularly lovely ones to visit. Here are some of the best to keep your eyes peeled for and perhaps build them into a day out in Moray & Speyside.
Beautiful sandstone Ballindalloch Castle is a jewel in Speyside's crown. In the Macpherson-Grant family since the sixteenth century, it remains a family home with a hint of the fairytale about it. Today, you can tour the castle, visit the gardens, walk in the grounds and visit the tearoom or the new single malt whisky distillery. Even the toilets are award-winning!
Another castle that's well-located to tie in with a whisky distillery visit (or two) is Balvenie Castle, whose ruins stand proudly right next door to Glenfiddich and Balvenie distilleries. This 13th-century curtain-walled castle was built by the earls of Buchan and later transformed into a grand Renaissance residence. These days the only inhabitants of the castle are of the winged variety, but visiting the site gives a good sense of what it must have been like as a stronghold all those centuries ago.
Near the town of Elgin in Moray are the ruins of Duffus Castle, a medieval stronghold of the Moray family and a great example of a motte and bailey castle. Originally built of timber, it was replaced with the current stone structure in the fourteenth century. The castle sits on the Laich of Moray, a flat plain originally next to Spynie Loch, which has since been drained.
Brodie Castle is a stunning turreted building close to the town of Forres in Moray. Like Ballindalloch, it's a Z-plan castle. Over 100 varieties of daffodil in the grounds form a stunning carpet of yellow in the springtime. As well as visiting the castle itself and admiring the collection of Dutch Old Masters, the gardens are a lovely place for a walk, and there's an excellent play area if you're visiting with children. The aptly-named Playful Garden on the estate is a fun educational experience exploring the castle's history and the surrounding area with a touch of fantasy, sculpture and storytelling thrown in for good measure.
Poised on a cliff-edge by the Moray Firth are the ruins of Findlater Castle. First mentioned in the history books in 1246, today's modest stone structure belies a much grander past. The atmosphere of the site makes it worth a visit, and there's a nice 6-mile walk to the site from the pretty seaside village of Cullen.
Drumin Castle sits close to the confluence of the River Avon and River Livet. Much of the structure is nowhere to be seen these days, but the original tower is still impressive, with commanding views across this naturally strategic location. There is a car park nearby and a choice of walks to visit the ruins. Whilst the current castle dates back to the 15th century, there is strong evidence of earlier occupation, and it appears that there may have been an Iron Age Dun on the site.
Cawdor Castle is (somewhat erroneously) famous as the setting of Shakespeare's Macbeth, but the reality is a little more complex. The original castle dates from the 14th century, but the current structure emerged on a nearby site in the 15th century. As well as exploring the grand rooms inside the castle, there are three beautiful gardens on the site and a lovely collection of woodland nature trails. For fans of other outdoor pursuits, there is also salmon fishing available in the castle grounds and even a 9-hole golf course.
Image: Visit Scotland / Kenny Lam - Bow Fiddle Rock
The spectacular Moray coast is still relatively undiscovered, meaning its quieter in the peak months than the west coast but no less beautiful.
Striking rock formations punctuate the expansive sandy beaches of the Moray coast, the most famous of which is the aptly-named Bow Fiddle Rock, best seen from the villages of Cullen and Portknockie.
Attractive towns and villages along the coast make great lunch stops and places to wander through the attractive streets and down to sandy bays. Some of our favourites include Cullen, Sandend, Portsoy and Pennan, the latter being the famous location of the 1983 film Local Hero.
Sometimes referred to as the 'jewel in Moray's crown', Lossiemouth's East and West beaches are vast golden-yellow sandy stretches reaching for miles and meeting crystal clear blue waters of Spey Bay and the Moray Firth.
At the mouth of the River Findhorn is Findhorn Bay, where impressive dunes and machair grasslands back a beautiful stretch of sandy beach.
The wildlife of the Moray coast is also a draw - it's one of the best places to see dolphins and whales in the whole of the UK. Often visible from the shore for keen-eyed locals and visitors alike, you can also take boat trips to get a closer look at these beautiful creatures. A great place to start is the Scottish Dolphin Centre at Spey Bay, where you'll learn all about the dolphins and where best to try and see them. Widely recognised as the best spot to look for the dolphins from the shore is Chanonry Point near Inverness, a key feeding location. However, this is closely followed by Spey Bay, Hopeman and Burghhead in Moray.
As well as the scenery and marine wildlife, the Moray Firth area is famous for its history. Two important sites (although both relevant in very different periods!) include the Burghead Pictish ruins and Culloden battlefield.
Image: Visit Scotland / Damian Shields - Walkers Shortbread factory, Aberlour
Speyside is well-known as a foodie destination, and the Moray coast is famed for its seafood. The combination is tantalising, and food is a huge part of why we love this region so much!
One of our favourite places to eat is 57 restaurant at the Dowans Hotel in Aberlour, with a fabulous menu based around local and seasonal produce. For those looking for a full fine dining experience, try the four-course tasting menu on offer in the sister restaurant, Spé.
The Copper Dog pub at the Craigellachie Hotel also focuses on fresh local produce in a relaxed environment - wherever possible, all ingredients are sourced from within a 50-mile radius of the pub. Just down the road, the Highlander Inn also receives rave reviews for its home-cooked fare.
Whilst you might think visiting distilleries is only good for fans of whisky (or possibly gin), some of the nicest places to eat in the Speyside region can, in fact, be found at or close to the main whisky hotspots. The Seven Stills in Dufftown (close to the whisky shop and the huge number of distilleries in and near the town) is a great example, as is the Mash Tun, just around the corner from Aberlour distillery.
For a quick bite or a leisurely lunch, there are several excellent cafes, including the one at Gordon Castle serving seasonal Scottish dishes using ingredients from the walled garden. Toot's Cafe and Bistro in Rothes is also a great place for lunch, especially well-located if you're keen to play golf. We also really enjoyed Le Petit Gourmand cafe and coffee shop in Aberlour.
Up on the Moray coast, the Bothy Bistro in Burghead is an informal and friendly place for a bite to eat. The restaurant at the Cluny Bank Hotel in Fochabers is great if you'd like something a bit more formal, as is the Knockomie Inn in Forres.
The small village of Cullen on the Moray coast is the original home of the speciality soup, Cullen skink, a creamy and hearty dish made with haddock, potatoes and onions. The dish can still be eaten 'in situ' in one of the seaside cafes - we love Rockpool cafe in particular.
For something a bit different, you can eat a light lunch in an old railway carriage at Dufftown rail station - check out The Sidings.
If you're looking for a pick-me-up in the form of a sweet snack to eat 'on the go', look no further than the fabulous Fochabers Ice Cream Parlour.
As well as having excellent restaurants and cafes, Aberlour in Speyside has been the home of the headquarters of the famous Walker's shortbread for over a century. The enormous factory stretches out from the outskirts of this pretty Speyside town, and visitors can browse the shop on the site to get hold of some samples for themselves.
If you're a foodie looking to visit Speyside, key dates to keep an eye on are the Spirit of Speyside festival, which brings together the very best of the region's food and drink, and the Cawdor Castle food festival - Living Food - which runs over a two-day period each year and focuses on organic and local produce from throughout the Highlands.
Image: Visit Scotland / Damian Shields - Banff Harbour
Whilst whisky has put the Speyside region on the map, it's no surprise that exciting things are going on here in the wider world of spirits. A whisky region may not be the obvious destination of choice for a gin-lover - they could be forgiven for thinking it's an elaborate ruse to make sure they're always the designated driver(!), but there are many really excellent gin distilleries in the region.
Organic distillery Glenrinnes produces gin and vodka under the Eight Lands brand. An impressive modern building on a hillside overlooking a verdant green valley at the foot of Ben Rinnes, this is a great fun site to visit and - despite being relatively new on the Speyside spirits scene (they opened in 2019) - the products are already making waves.
Old favourite Caorunn gin is distilled at Balmenach, near Grantown-on-Spey. You can visit and tour the distillery and follow the full production process of this popular Speyside gin.
Red Door gin is produced at Benromach distillery near Forres, and has a brand new visitor experience launched in 2019. Distilled in a copper pot still with personality, called 'Peggy', the gin has a mix of classic and locally-inspired botanicals.
The Speyside Distillery is the home of Byron's gin. In the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, this has to be one of the prettiest distillery locations in the whole of the UK. The distillery is located in a converted barley mill and has been producing whisky since the 1990s. The gin is a more recent but welcome addition, and visits to the distillery are possible by appointment.
At Gordon Castle, you can visit the shop and buy the full range of award-winning gins made using botanicals from their very own walled garden. Walled garden visits also happen periodically throughout the year, especially during the annual Gin Experience as part of the Spirit of Speyside festival.
Other gins of note in Moray and Speyside include Elgin-based Moray distillery (home of Avva Scottish, a small batch London dry gin), El:Gin (produced using oats, which gives a creamier taste) and Insriach (produced near Aviemore, in a distillery whose claims to fame include winning Channel 4's Shed of the Year in 2015).